Shelby Houlihan stars, Noah Lyles outduels Michael Norman in Lausanne (video)

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Noah Lyles and Michael Norman were supposed to author the race of the year at the Diamond League meet in Lausanne on Thursday, but the most impressive performance of the night came from Shelby Houlihan.

Houlihan, an Olympic 5000m runner who has surged in the 1500m this season, won her third straight major 1500m, lowering her personal best by 1.72 seconds, clocking 3:57.34 and beating a field that included Caster Semenya. Houlihan kicked from fourth place with 150 meters left, while Semenya was already out of it, finishing sixth.

In all, Houlihan has dropped her 1500m personal best by 6.05 seconds in the last month and a half, winning the Prefontaine Classic on May 26 and the USATF Outdoor Championships on June 23.

“I didn´t have many expectations coming into the race today and was actually a bit worried as I was not feeling very well,” Houlihan said, according to race organizers. “I had to talk to myself during the race to stay in a comfortable position and the incredible crowd here brought my home during the last 200 meters.”

Houlihan is now the fourth-fastest U.S. woman in history in the 1500m behind Shannon RowburyMary Slaney and Jenny Simpson.

Minutes after Houlihan crossed the line, Lyles matched his personal best and the fastest time in the world this year to win the 200m in 19.69 seconds. Norman was second in 19.88.

“Yesterday I said I want to be an icon, being consistent is the first step towards that,” Lyles said. “19.69 is great, but you can always improve. I feel I can do a lot better. I need to improve my technique on the bends and who knows. I don’t want to put a limit on myself. My life goals are big. I want to be as good if not better than Michael Johnson and Justin Gatlin.”

Lyles and Norman raced each other for the first time since they finished fourth and fifth in the 2016 Olympic Trials 200m as 18-year-olds. Both were undefeated in outdoor 200m races since trials, though neither raced at 2017 Worlds.

Full Lausanne results are here.

The Diamond League next moves to Rabat, Morocco, on July 13 with live coverage on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold.

In other events, Marie-Josée Ta Lou of Cote d’Ivoire continued her undefeated season in the 100m, winning in 10.90 seconds. Olympic champion Elaine Thompson was second in 10.99, while U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs did not start in what would have been her senior international debut.

In the men’s 5000m, Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha nearly pulled countryman Selemon Barega down by his shorts coming around the final turn. Kejelcha failed and ended up falling himself. Bahrain’s Birhanu Balew won in 13:01.09, the fastest time in the world this year.

Olympic and world champion Katerina Stefanidi cleared 4.82 meters in the pole vault to beat 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr on count back. Seven women cleared 4.72 meters in a competition for the first time in history, according to the IAAF’s Jon Mulkeen.

Russian Sergey Shubenkov beat Olympic and world 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica for the second time this week, clocking 12.95 seconds. McLeod was fifth in 13.41. Shubenkov has the four fastest times in the world this year and is the only man to break 13 seconds in 2018.

U.S. champion Shamier Little won the 400m hurdles over a field that included Olympic gold and bronze medalists Dalilah Muhammad and Ashley Spencer. Little clocked 53.41, well off the fastest time in the world this year held by Sydney McLaughlin (52.75), who was not in the Lausanne field.

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

Sam Mikulak
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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

April Ross, Alix Klineman
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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

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