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New U.S. men’s sprint stars emerge after Olympics

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A year ago, Christian Coleman squeezed onto the Rio Olympic team, but only in the relay pool. Noah Lyles just missed the Olympic team at 18 years old. Ronnie BakerCameron Burrell and Fred Kerley didn’t come close at the trials in Oregon.

Those men, all 23 years and younger, combined to set personal bests this spring (some drastically), notch Diamond League victories and capture NCAA titles. They dot the top of the 2017 world rankings in the 100m, 200m and 400m.

They are the new American sprint forces going into the USATF Outdoor Championships (Summer Champions Series) in Sacramento, beginning Thursday (broadcast schedule here).

The top three finishers in the 100m, 200m and 400m make the team for the world championships in London in August (relays aside).

The old guard — headed by 35-year-old Justin Gatlin — may fade away in the stifling Northern California heat.

“Nobody retires in the Olympic year; they’re forced out after,” NBC Olympic analyst Ato Boldon said. “I think 2017 is the beginning of the forcing out of a lot of the aging American veterans.”

Boldon is mostly referring to the 100m, the sport’s glamour event.

It starts with Coleman, who owns the fastest time in the world this year, a 9.82 clocked in the NCAA Championships heats in Eugene, Ore., on June 7. He turned pro after sweeping the NCAA 100m and 200m titles in Eugene, forgoing his senior year at the University of Tennessee.

At the same Hayward Field track 11 months ago, Coleman finished sixth in the Olympic Trials 100m.

The top three made the Olympic 100m team. If Coleman had repeated his semifinal time of 9.95 (his first sub-10, run with similar tailwind as the final), he would have finished third.

Instead, Coleman waited more than one week in Eugene before learning he made the Olympic team as the final member of the U.S. 4x100m pool. USA Track and Field generally takes the top six from the 100m, but it’s not determined until after the 200m final on the last weekend of Trials.

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Coleman did his job in the Rio 4x100m preliminary heats and then watched the final from the stands at Olympic Stadium. The U.S. crossed the finish line in silver-medal position (Coleman, too, would have gotten a medal) but was later disqualified for a baton exchange out of the zone.

Coleman got over the disappointment quickly at his second Olympics (his first was attending the 1996 Atlanta Games in a stroller). He enjoyed the final weekend in Rio, even coming across Usain Bolt partying one night.

Bolt and Coleman shared newsprint last month. When NFL rookie wide receiver John Ross challenged Bolt to a 40-yard dash, it was Coleman who responded with video of a 4.12-second 40. It was one tenth faster than Ross’ NFL Combine record.

Coleman remains best known for that clip, even though he ran the fastest 100m ever for somebody his age and younger on June 7.

“If you know track and field and you hear my name, you think of something other than the 40-yard dash,” Coleman said before that 9.82 in the NCAA prelims. “But if you’re just a general sports fan, you just saw the video but you don’t really watch track, I guess that would be the first thing you think of.

“It’s not necessarily what I want to be known for, but at the end of the day it’s good publicity.”

Boldon called Coleman the next great U.S. sprinter.

“I don’t think that because of one race at NCAAs,” Boldon said. “I thought he could be last year when he made the Olympic Trials final.”

Burrell, eliminated in the Olympic Trials 100m heats, took second to Coleman in the NCAA 100m final last month.

Profiled by The New York Times in 2013, he is the son of former 100m world-record holder Leroy Burrell and Michelle Finn-Burrell, a 1992 Olympic 4x100m gold medalist.

He ran four years at the University of Houston, where his dad is the head coach and Carl Lewis, the most decorated Olympic sprinter of all time, is an assistant.

Burrell slots right behind Coleman on the U.S. 100m rankings this year, running 9.93, also in the NCAA 100m heats at Hayward. It’s Burrell’s only race going sub-10.1 with legal wind.

Only Coleman and Olympic 100m finalist Akani Simbine of South Africa have run faster than Burrell this year (and Simbine did so by .01 with the benefit of altitude).

When Boldon looks at Burrell, he remembers the baby boy he saw 22 years ago. He also sees another potential Marvin Bracy, who busted form charts to take third in the Olympic Trials over veterans Mike Rodgers and Tyson Gay.

“If Cameron Burrell runs a low 9.9, he can keep somebody established off the team,” Boldon said. “I want to see if that 9.93 was a one-off kind of performance, or if he is finally living up to that sort of potential.”

Coleman and Burrell may be the fastest U.S. men of 2017, but nobody has notched a bigger win than Ronnie Baker.

Baker, who exhausted his NCAA eligibility at TCU last year, beat the Olympic 100m silver and bronze medalists (Gatlin and Andre De Grasse) to win the Prefontaine Classic on May 27.

Baker clocked 9.86, but it was slightly wind-aided. He had gone two years since his last 100m personal best before breaking 10 seconds for the first time on May 20.

Born in Louisville, Baker’s family moved to Alaska when he was 5. Baker ran cross-country in elementary school in Anchorage, avoiding the moose, before coming back to Kentucky in middle school.

He was recruited to TCU in the 400m but went down to the 100m and 200m as a sophomore when the team was loaded with one-lap talent.

Baker won the 2016 NCAA 60m title but couldn’t translate that success outdoors in the 100m. He was eliminated in the semifinals of the NCAA and Olympic Trials 100m. A balky hamstring did not help, but he said it affected him more mentally than physically.

Baker then watched the Olympic Trials 100m final on a TV in the warm-up area at Hayward.

“All that put together really put a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. “Really wanted to come back and be better and be the guy I knew I could be.”

Newcomers Coleman, Burrell and Baker will go up against the likes of aging Gatlin, Mike Rodgers and Tyson Gay on Thursday and Friday.

The field could be less crowded in the 200m on Saturday and Sunday. Burrell, Baker and Rodgers aren’t in that event, and it’s not a favorite of Gatlin and Gay.

Instead, the man there is Lyles, who nearly made the Rio Olympic team out of high school last July.

The Virginian finished fourth in the Olympic Trials 200m final in 20.09 seconds, .09 shy of the last of three spots on the Olympic team.

“I’m not disappointed at all,” Lyles said that day. “I came out here, proved a point. Next year, you’re going to see something even better.”

Lyles turned professional later that month and, in his lone international individual race this season, won a Diamond League 200m in Shanghai in 19.90 seconds on May 13. Only Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk and Coleman have run faster this year.

Boldon believes Lyles represents the best chance for a U.S. men’s sprint medal of the new crowd. He has a stronger pedigree than Baker (2014 Youth Olympic champion, 2016 World junior champion). And he didn’t run collegiately this year like Coleman, Burrell and Kerley.

He’s rested.

Lyles didn’t touch the track for his first five months under new coach Lance Brauman in the fall and winter. He last raced May 13, recouping from the exhaustion of traveling to Shanghai.

The former high jumper did serious weight-room work for the first time and put on seven pounds. He’s up to 156.

“We’ve seen collegians leave school and they get to worlds, Olympics, and they have nothing left because they’ve been running since January,” Boldon said. “Three people are not beating Noah Lyles at worlds.”

Nobody is beating Kerley in the 400m in Sacramento if he keeps up his out-of-nowhere season.

In 2016, Kerley failed to make it out of the 400m heats at the Olympic Trials. He was green.

The Texan was a great athlete, but growing up there he played a lot of basketball and football. Kerley didn’t focus on track until walking on at South Plains junior college in 2014 at the urging of friends and family. He ran so well he transferred to Texas A&M after one season.

Kerley went into 2016 with a personal best 400m of 46.38 seconds and lowered it to 45.10.

This year, Kerley has gone faster than 45.1 a total of nine times. The peak was a 43.70 in a quarterfinal heat at the NCAA West Regionals.

It’s the fastest time in the world this year. Nobody else has been within a half-second of it.

Kerley, the middle child of five adopted by an aunt at a young age, speaks confidently. But with few words. He watched Van Niekerk run a world-record 43.03 at the Rio Olympics and thought, I can do that.

Why is he so much faster this year?

“I remember some of my friends saying all the work I put in the year before [in 2016] is going to pay off next year,” said Kerley, a cousin of NFL wide receiver Jeremy Kerley. “I just have to get through the season healthy.”

His goal going into the season was to win every race. He’s perfect so far and a huge favorite in Sacramento. The 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt has a bye into worlds and is only racing the 200m this weekend.

That means Kerley doesn’t need to break 44 seconds to win on Friday. But could he go faster than 43.70?

“As my coach say, greatness don’t got no peak,” Kerley said. “Wherever the lord takes me, that’s where my legs take me.”

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Iran banned from judo for instructing athlete to withdraw rather than face Israel opponent

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Iran has been banned from international judo for instructing one of its athletes to withdraw from August’s world championships rather than face an Israeli judoka.

The International Judo Federation said Iran authorities instructing Saeid Mollaei to withdraw rather than face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki was “a serious breach and gross violation” of its code of ethics and the Olympic Charter.

IJF spokesman Vlad Marinescu said any ban won’t apply to the Tokyo Olympics. That’s because it’s the Iranian Olympic Committee, not the Iranian Judo Federation, which formally enters the Olympic team.

“We have been informed by IJF that they will launch a proper procedure giving all concerned parties the right to be heard,” an International Olympic Committee spokesperson said. “Should the issue become an Olympic issue we will take the result of this procedure into consideration.”

An IJF disciplinary commission said it “has a strong reason to believe that the Iran Judo Federation will continue or repeatedly engage in misconduct” given its history of similar actions with its athletes potentially facing Israelis.

Mollaei, a 2018 World champion, said he was afraid to return to Iran after disobeying those orders at worlds. He competed anyway but lost one round before a potential final with Muki.

“I want to compete wherever I can,” Mollaei said in a statement from the IJF. “I live in a country whose law does not permit me to. We have no choice, all athletes must comply with it. All I did today was for my life, for a new life.

“I need help. Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid.”

The IJF said it would help Mollaei prepare for next year’s Olympics, also in Tokyo. If Iran refuses to enter him, one option could be the International Olympic Committee-backed team of refugee athletes.

Iranian sports teams have for several decades had a policy of not competing against Israelis, which the country does not recognize. The IJF has said Iranians have thrown matches and used “questionable injuries” to avoid competing against Israelis.

Mollaei’s case came four months after judo officials hailed a breakthrough in relations with Iran, publishing a letter signed by Salehi Amiri pledging to “fully respect the Olympic charter and its non-discrimination principle.”

Back in August, Iranian Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar accused the IJF of trying to “create problems” with Mollaei, the IRNA news agency reported. He said Iran will send a protest letter to the IOC.

Iranian team manager Majid Zareian also criticized the IJF, saying “everything was set in advance to put Mollaei against a participant from (Israel).”

“They did not allow me to be present next to my athlete in exercise salon,” Zareian said. “After the competitions they changed hotel of Mollaei without my permission, against the regulations.”

He denied reports Iranian authorities had put pressure on Mollaei.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Jacarra Winchester, after foe bites her, wins first wrestling world title

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Jacarra Winchester missed the Rio Olympic wrestling trials after tearing her knee playing soccer. She missed a medal at the 2018 World Championships after a semifinal-winning takedown was reversed.

There was no denying her on Wednesday.

Winchester, who picked up wrestling a decade ago as a high school junior, became the first American to earn a medal at the worlds in Kazakhstan this week. And it was gold.

She came back to beat Japanese Nanami Irie 5-3 in the final of the 55kg division, a weight class that is not on the Olympic program. Winchester must move to 53kg or 57kg next year.

But for now she can celebrate quite a journey. At 26, she’s one of the older wrestlers to become a first-time world champion. She believed she had what it took last year, when a reversed call kept her from the final and she subsequently lost a bronze-medal match.

Winchester, who has problems sleeping, said she replayed the end of that semifinal in her head ever since.

“There’s no reason why I should have gotten beat,” she said Wednesday. “Clearly I have what I need on the mat. I just need to change my mindset. … Just knowing you’re the best, pushing yourself and not letting anything get to me.”

That helped in Tuesday’s semifinals, where Winchester said her Turkish opponent bit her, pulled her hair and twisted her fingers. Winchester, who grew up in the Oakland, Calif., area, said that when she started wrestling she had no Olympic goals.

“I had a mindset of I’m not a quitter,” she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Adeline Gray reached Thursday’s 76kg final, where she will try to become the first American to earn five world titles.

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