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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Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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