Justin Gatlin, Ameer Webb
IAAF

Justin Gatlin nearly upset by new U.S. sprint sensation in Rome

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Justin Gatlin nearly lost to a countryman for the first time since 2013 at a Diamond League meet in Rome on Thursday.

Gatlin, the reigning World 100m and 200m silver medalist, won a 100m in the Italian capital in 9.93 seconds, edging Ameer Webb by .01.

Gatlin moved to 33-0 in competitions not including Usain Bolt since the start of 2014, according to Tilastopaja.org, but his time was much slower than his 9.75 in Rome last year, continuing an unimpressive overall start relative to 2015.

“I want to start slow and then progress steadily,” Gatlin said, according to the IAAF.

Webb extended his torrid start to 2016 by nearly sweeping the 200m and 100m in 80 minutes on Thursday. The 26-year-old who has never made an Olympic or World Championships team won the 200m in 20.04 seconds and came back to nearly upset Gatlin.

Full Rome results are here.

Webb came to Rome already owning two of the three fastest 200m times in the world this year. His 100m personal best set Thursday ranks him No. 4 in the world in that event this year.

Another U.S. sprinter, World 100m co-bronze medalist Trayvon Bromell, is under greater scrutiny after finishing seventh in the 200m behind Webb on Thursday. Following a breakout 2015, Bromell has not put up any 100m or 200m times this year that would make him a favorite to make the Olympic team individually, though he still has one month before the Olympic Trials.

Also Thursday, controversial South African Caster Semenya matched her fastest time in the world this year in winning the 800m in 1:56.64. In typical style this spring, Semenya took the lead with a little less than 100 meters to go and quickly opened up a large gap. She won by a comfortable 1.56 seconds.

“I did a lot of traveling with very little rest,” Semenya said, according to the IAAF. “I am trying to keep up the shape. It is not easy.”

Ethiopian World champion Almaz Ayana won the 5000m with the second-fastest time ever — 14:12.59 — 1.44 seconds off Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record from 2008.

In the long jump, Olympic champion Greg Rutherford of Great Britain held off Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. Rutherford leaped 8.31 meters to Goodwin’s 8.19 meters, but Goodwin still has the best jump in the world this year at 8.45 meters from May 14.

Jamaican Elaine Thompson won the 100m in 10.87 seconds, with American English Gardner taking second in 10.92. American Tori Bowie owns the fastest time in the world this year at 10.80, while Olympic and World champion Shelly Ann-Fraser-Pryce has been slowed by a toe injury. Neither Bowie nor Fraser-Pryce was in the Rome field.

World champion Wayde van Niekerk won the 400m in 44.19 seconds against a field that did not include the last two Olympic champions, Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt. James is fastest this year with a 44.08 from April 29.

Colombian triple jumper Caterine Ibarguen extended the longest winning streak in the sport with her 34th straight victory since taking silver at the London Games, according to Tilastopaja.org.

The Diamond League continues with a meet in Birmingham, Great Britain, on Sunday.

PHOTOS: Justin Gatlin to race on track over water

Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

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Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

NATIONALS PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Alysa Liu | Vincent Zhou | Pairs | TV Schedule

Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.