LaShawn Merritt, Justin Gatlin joined in 200m final by high schoolers

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Those two high schoolers really can fly. So can that relative newcomer to the 200 meters, LaShawn Merritt.

Be ready, Justin Gatlin, they’ll be chasing you.

A pair of 18-year-olds, Michael Norman and Noah Lyles, turned heads Friday after blistering performances in the semifinals at the U.S. Track and Field Trials. Norman won his heat over Gatlin. Lyles wasn’t really challenged in his heat.

Moments later, Merritt stole the show; the runner known more for the 400 turned in a 200 time of 19.74 seconds, the fastest mark in the world this season.

“These kids, man, they’re good,” the 34-year-old Gatlin said. “They’re good at what they do. They’re strong. They’re brave man.

“Got to compete against them like they’re real competitors.”

Oh, they’re real all right. Maybe a little in awe and perhaps still a little green, but definitely real.

After crossing the line in 20.21 seconds, Norman reached over and shook Gatlin’s hand. He leaned in and said, “Do you remember me?”

Gatlin sure did. They once hung out at a Nike Elite camp. Norman thought about bringing up their encounter before the race, but didn’t want to interrupt the sprinter who figures to be the biggest threat to Usain Bolt at the Rio de Janeiro Games.

Probably a wise move. Gatlin was all business.

“They’re coming out to be giant killers,” he said.

And Gatlin would be the giant in the final Saturday. Or perhaps it’s Merritt, given the time he ran.

“Came off the curve with everybody, felt good so I made a move,” said Merritt, who’s dabbling in the 200 after already earning a spot by winning the 400. “The key was to win the race. That’s what I did.”

Track and Field Trials: Results Daily Schedule | TV Schedule

Norman is from Murrieta, California, and plans to go to Southern California this fall. Lyles hails from Alexandria, Virginia, and will attend Florida.

They have a friendly rivalry on the junior circuit, with Norman beating out Lyles for the Gatorade Athlete of the Year award. But it was Lyles who beat Norman in the only 200 race in which they’ve squared off – at USATF Junior National Championships in 2015.

“We’re pretty close. We talk to each other all the time,” Norman said.

Feed off each other, too.

“Watch them in the call room, they look at each other, and you can tell they’re like, `We got this,”‘ Gatlin said. “I’m going to rise to the occasion when it’s time.”

Anything one does, the other tries to do better.

“Saw him going and I thought, `Oh, dang, he ran outside Gatlin. He just passed Gatlin,”‘ Lyles said. “I was like, `Oh, I got to get out there.’

“I don’t mean to brag, but we’re pretty extraordinary. We come out here and try to do our best, then try to show up for the crowd.”

Don’t be surprised if they earn a spot on the 200. They are that talented.

“Trying to go to the Olympics – it’s been a goal for four years and we’re trying to make it happen,” Lyles said.

Of course, Gatlin will have something to say about it. He’s already qualified in the 100, but hopes to earn a place in the 200, too. Merritt will be in the mix as well. He had the fastest 200 time coming in and has only gotten stronger despite running three rounds of the 400 earlier at trials.

“Just have to stay humble, stay grounded, get some rest and come out tomorrow and do it all over again,” Merritt said.

Merritt could be in line to try to become the first man to win a 200-400 Olympic double since Michael Johnson in 1996. But that’s a decision for down the road.

“I’m just trying to take it a race at a time,” Merritt said.

Flying under the radar are Ameer Webb and veteran Tyson Gay, who didn’t make the team in the 100.

“That’s two rounds down, one more to go,” Lyles said. “We’re just trying to make something cool happen.”

MORE: LaShawn Merritt eyes Michael Johnson-like double in Rio

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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