Aries Merritt wins first Diamond League race since kidney transplant

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Aries Merritt won his first Diamond League 110m hurdles race since his 2015 kidney transplant in Rome on Thursday.

Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion, prevailed in 13.13 seconds while jetlagged.

It’s well off his world record of 12.80, but Merritt beat a decent field that included Rio silver medalist Orlando Ortega and the last two world champions, Sergey Shubenkov and David Oliver.

“I made many mistakes, hit a lot of hurdles today, but my speed is getting better,” Merritt said, according to the IAAF. “The time 13.13 is not that terrible in the end. After 2015, it was tough, but I am here, I am healthy, so I just need to stay focused and the results will come.”

Merritt is 21 months removed from a kidney transplant. He won bronze at the 2015 World Championships with kidney function at less than 20 percent. He missed the 2016 Olympic team by .01 at trials, 10 months after his transplant surgery.

Merritt ranks second in the U.S. this year behind Devon Allen. The top three at the U.S. Championships in two weeks qualify for the world championships in London in August.

Sprint favorites Andre De Grasse and Dafne Schippers also won in Rome, the first of three Diamond League meets in an 11-day span.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold will also air live coverage of Oslo (next Thursday and Stockholm (June 18), the last two meets before the U.S. Championships.

Full Rome results are here.

In other events Thursday, the Canadian De Grasse won the 200m, his first Diamond League victory of 2017. De Grasse, billed as the top challenger to Usain Bolt, impressively pulled away in 20.01 seconds.

De Grasse now ranks No. 6 in the world in the 200m this year. American Christian Coleman is the world leader at 19.85 seconds. Bolt said he’s not racing the 200m in his farewell season.

Dutchwoman Schippers won the 100m on Thursday in 10.99. Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, fastest in the world this year at 10.78, was not in the Rome field.

In the women’s 5000m, Hellen Obiri broke the Kenyan record with her winning time of 14:18.37. Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world-record holder, was sixth.

Rio triple jump champion Caterine Ibarguen of Colombia lost for just the second time in her last 42 competitions since her 2012 Olympic silver, according to Tilastopaja.org. Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas, who took silver to Ibarguen in Rio, edged her by six centimeters Thursday (14.84 meters to 14.78).

There were more upsets.

Rio gold medalist Michelle Carter was third in the shot put. Rio silver medalist Sandi Morris was sixth in the pole vault.

The men’s 100m lacked any individual Olympic or world medalists, but it still produced a surprise winner in Brit CJ Ujah. Ujah clocked 10.02 seconds, while Pre Classic winner Ronnie Baker was third in 10.05.

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UCI looks for new host for 2020 World Road Cycling Championships

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The International Cycling Union (UCI) is looking for a new host for the 2020 World Road Cycling Championships due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Switzerland can no longer host the week-long event in late September after a national decision to extend a ban on events with more than 1,000 people through next month.

Amid reports the competition has been canceled, the UCI clarified Wednesday that it still hopes to hold it in some form, perhaps without some of the junior or senior races.

It now seeks an “alternative project,” preferably still in Europe and on the same dates (Sept. 20-27).

Worlds were due to start in Switzerland on the same day that the rescheduled Tour de France ends, though the senior elite men’s races are typically not on the first three days.

The Tour de France is still scheduled to start Aug. 29.

Last year, American Chloe Dygert starred at road worlds, winning the time trial in dominant fashion. Other world champions in Olympic events: Annemiek van Vleuten (road race), Rohan Dennis (time trial) and Mads Pedersen (road race).

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Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15 in 2000

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In the biggest race of his young life, a 15-year-old Michael Phelps turned for the last 50 meters in fourth place of the U.S. Olympic Trials 200m butterfly final on Aug. 12, 2000.

His mom, Debbie, couldn’t watch. She turned away from the Indianapolis Natatorium pool and stared at the scoreboard. Both Debbie and Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, mentally prepared their consolation speeches for the rising Towson High School sophomore outside Baltimore.

Then Phelps, fueled by nightly Adam’s Mark chicken sandwich-and-cheesecake room service and amped by pre-race DMX on his CD player, turned it on. He zoomed into second place, becoming the youngest U.S. male swimmer to qualify for an Olympics since 1932.

Phelps had “come out of nowhere in the last six months” to become an Olympic hopeful, NBC Sports swimming commentator Dan Hicks said on the broadcast. True, Phelps chopped five and a half seconds off his personal best that March.

“He doesn’t know what it means to go to the Olympics and how it’s going to change his life,” Tom Malchow, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist who held off Phelps in that trials final, said that night, according to The Associated Press. “He’s going to find out soon.”

Phelps, who did his trademark arm flaps before the trials final, made Bowman look like a prophet. Four years earlier, the coach sat Debbie down for a conversation she would not soon forget.

“Told me what he projected for Michael,” Debbie said, according to the Baltimore Sun‘s front-page story on a local 15-year-old qualifying for the Sydney Games. “He said that in 2004, he would definitely be a factor in the Olympics. He also said that he could be there in 2000, to watch out for him. At the time, he was only 11.”

The trials were bittersweet for the Phelps family. Whitney, one of Phelps’ older sisters, withdrew before the meet with herniated discs in her back that kept her from making an Olympics after competing in the 1994 World Championships at age 14.

After Phelps qualified for the Olympics, one of the first people to embrace him was Whitney on the pool deck.

The next week, Phelps, still with bottom-teeth braces, did his first live TV sitdown on CNN, swiveling in his chair the whole time, according to his autobiography, “Beneath the Surface.”

The next month, Phelps finished fifth in his Olympic debut, clocking a then-personal-best time that would have earned gold or silver at every previous Olympics.

Following the Olympic race, gold medalist Malchow patted Phelps on the back, according to “No Limits,” another Phelps autobiography. What did Malchow say?

“The best is ahead of you.”

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