Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles
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U.S. sprint show in Rabat; Diamond League preview, TV schedule

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The world’s four fastest men since the Rio Olympics gather for a 100m showdown on Friday. They’re all Americans.

Christian ColemanNoah LylesRonnie Baker and Mike Rodgers headline a Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, live on NBC Sports Gold at 1:55 p.m. ET and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 3 p.m.

The question when Usain Bolt retired last year was who would succeed him as the world’s fastest man. Bolt is irreplaceable in the sport, so, fittingly, it has been a group effort. Though none of these Americans have come close to Bolt’s world record 9.58.

Coleman came first. In 2017, he ran a 40-yard dash in 4.12 seconds, one tenth faster than the NFL Combine record. Then he clocked 9.82 seconds at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships, which remains the fastest time in the world since the Rio Games. Then he beat Bolt in the semifinals and final of the 2017 Worlds, taking silver to Justin Gatlin overall.

This past winter, Coleman ran faster than the 60m world record three times in the indoor season. He looked like the next sprint king — especially given Gatlin is 36 years old — until slowed by a hamstring injury in the spring. Rabat marks Coleman’s first race since May 31.

Lyles and Baker took the baton from Coleman this outdoor season. Baker, who grew up running cross-country backdropped by moose in Alaska, beat Coleman in back-to-back May meets.

Lyles, fourth in the 200m at the Olympic Trials shortly after his high school graduation, dropped down to the 100m at USATF Outdoors last month and won in the fastest time in the world this year, edging Baker. Baker responded by matching Lyles’ 9.88 a week later.

Rodgers, a 33-year-old veteran without any global championship 100m medals, has clocked his best times in three years in a bit of a resurgent season.

There are no world championships this summer. Looking ahead, Coleman, Lyles and Baker have the credentials and the youth to be early favorites for the 2019 Worlds and 2020 Olympics.

Jamaica’s men’s sprint program has tumbled like the bizarre end to Bolt’s career. They have no men in the top 20 in the world this year. Olympic bronze medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada just prematurely ended his season for a second straight year due to hamstring injuries.

Maybe somebody else comes along — Great Britain’s Zharnel Hughes (personal best 9.91) must be mentioned — but for now the U.S. owns the 100m for the first time in a more than a decade. That will be clear to anybody watching Rabat on Friday.

Here are the Rabat entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:55 p.m. — Men’s Long Jump
2:07 — Women’s High Jump
2:23 — Women’s Shot Put
2:30 — Men’s Pole Vault
3:04 — Men’s 400m
3:12 — Women’s 800m
3:21 — Men’s 1500m
3:32 — Women’s 200m
3:34 — Men’s Javelin
3:39 — Men’s 3000m
3:42 — Women’s Triple Jump
3:57 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
4:05 — Women’s 5000m
4:30 — Men’s 100m
4:38 — Women’s 1000m
4:46 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s Pole Vault — 2:30 p.m. ET
London Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie and world champion Sam Kendricks even split their six head-to-heads so far this season, with Lavillenie holding a 16-14 career heat-to-head, according to Tilastopaja.org. The last time both men entered a meet and neither won was the Rio Olympics. That gold medalist, the struggling Thiago Braz of Brazil, hasn’t won an international outdoor competition since the Games and ranks No. 92 in the world this outdoor campaign. All are in the Rabat field.

Women’s 200m — 3:32 p.m. ET
Six women could realistically win this. Like rising Harvard senior Gabby Thomas, who was runner-up at the NCAA Championships on June 9, then won the Lausanne Diamond League 200m last Thursday. The Rabat field is clearly tougher, with Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, world indoor 60m champion Murielle Ahoure of Cote d’Ivoire and U.S. champion Jenna Prandini

Men’s 3000m — 3:39 p.m. ET
This field has just about every 5000m star one could hope for, minus Selemon Barega, the Ethiopian who was grabbed by the shorts by countryman Yomif Kejelcha in the Lausanne 5000m last Thursday. Kejelcha is in this field, but their grudge match must wait. Also here: Bahrain’s Birhanu Balew, who took advantage of the Ethiopian exchange to win in Switzerland. And world champion Muktar Edris of Ethiopia, plus Olympic and world medalist Paul Chelimo of the U.S.

Women’s 5000m — 4:05 p.m. ET
World champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya takes on a diverse field. Start with Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world-record holder who ranks fourth all-time in the 5000m and handed Obiri her first defeat at the distance since 2016 at the Pre Classic on May 26. There’s also Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan, once arguably the world’s top 1500m runner who was third in the 5000m at 2017 Worlds. Then there’s American Molly Huddle, who has transitioned to the marathon but makes her Diamond League season debut here.

Men’s 100m — 4:30 p.m. ET
The key will be Coleman’s health. The Coleman from last summer and winter beats Lyles and Baker. If Coleman is not 100 percent, things get interesting. Coleman and Baker are excellent starters — Coleman a bit better than Baker — while Lyles should be in chase mode. He had enough track to pass Baker at nationals and win by .02.

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Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, also began her career there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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Chloé Dygert wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. Then Larry Bird. Now, her coach.

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Chloé Dygert is the U.S.’ top cyclist, an Olympic medalist and world champion in line to race on the track and the road at the Tokyo Games.

To get to this point — leading the American contingent at the world track cycling championships this week — Dygert was kicked off a soccer team, bribed by her father and, when she thought her career was over, enrolled in 5 a.m. classes to get back on the bike.

“I had no interest in being a cyclist. I did not want to be a cyclist,” she said. “The funny thing is, my dad kept getting me bikes.”

It began in Brownsburg, Ind., a 25,000-person town 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Dygert had an older brother, younger brother and a BMX dirt bike track on a 4.5-acre property.

She played soccer, but was moved from the girls’ team to the boys. Dygert developed physically earlier than the other girls. And, “I was a little too mean and aggressive,” she said.

She played basketball but broke too many bones — her own and those of other girls. “Not on purpose,” she said, “but I was just so much bigger and naturally so much stronger.”

Dygert ran cross-country, too, but none of those sports worked out.

“I was going to be Steve Prefontaine,” she said of the fabled 1972 Olympian. “I had some injuries, and I started playing basketball. I was going to be Larry Bird. I had some more injuries, and cycling was just kind of my go-to.”

Dygert, at first reluctant, picked up cycling at the urging of her father, David, a mountain biker. She received bikes for Christmas and her New Year’s birthday, but it wasn’t until later, when she was 15, that her father’s words changed her life.

That summer, when Dygert needed a shoulder surgery from a basketball injury, she went for a ride at a local park with her father. David marveled.

“He said, ‘Chloe, I don’t think a girl your age should be able to put out the power that you’re putting out,'” Dygert remembered. “That kind of stuck with me and got me into wanting to ride a little bit more and seeing where I could go with it.”

David lured her: a pair of Oakleys if Dygert won at her first major competition. She entered junior nationals and grabbed a victory.

“That’s kind of what gave me the motivation to keep going,” she said. “It took me a while to actually love the sport. It definitely was not an interest that I had. But I thrive on winning. I love to win.”

Dygert pursued cycling, but she didn’t stop basketball. Everything changed when she tore an ACL on the court at age 17, a nine-month injury. She never returned to competitive basketball, but she also lost motivation to get back on the bike. Again, David urged her. One last time.

She joined the cycling team at Marian University, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis. David signed her up for 5 a.m. classes.

“I’m still not happy about it,” she said. “I got really disciplined.”

And reinvigorated. The freshman Dygert noticed in a power booster class that her wattage was impressive.

“If it wasn’t for that and the structure and the discipline that I had gotten from that and my dad, I would not be here,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by, I’m just so thankful for that and for him.”

Dygert dropped out after that first fall semester to focus on a cycling career. That winter, she won a world title with the U.S. team pursuit and was named to become the youngest female U.S. Olympic track cyclist in history.

“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” Dygert said before earning team pursuit silver at the Rio Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

Armstrong earned her third Olympic road time trial title in Rio, a day before turning 43. She retired and transitioned from Dygert’s mentor to her coach. Dygert recently moved to Armstrong’s native Idaho.

On the eve of September’s world road cycling championships time trial, Armstrong told Dygert to make sure she hurt more than any other rider on the 18-mile course. Dygert obeyed. She went out and won by 92 seconds, the largest margin in history, to become the youngest world champion ever in the event. She collapsed onto the pavement getting off her bike.

“I didn’t race with a power meter,” Dygert said that day, “and I think that really helped not restricting myself, just kind of going as fast as I could the entire time and not really have anything to gauge it off of.”

It qualified Dygert for the Tokyo Olympics on the road. The track team hasn’t been named, but Dygert will surely anchor a new team pursuit quartet. The U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s track title, but the pursuit has been its trademark event — world titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Olympic silver medals in 2012 and 2016.

The only woman on both of those Olympic teams retired (Sarah Hammer).

The cycling community was floored when Kelly Catlin, on all three world title teams with Dygert, committed suicide last March at age 23.

“It’s definitely hard not having her there, but we will carry her legacy on,” Dygert said. “She will be with us every step of the way when we win gold in Tokyo.”

The U.S. women’s team pursuit finished seventh at last year’s worlds without Catlin and without Dygert, who sat out nearly a year after a May 2018 concussion from a road crash. Dygert wondered if she might not be able to come back from the head injury. Expectations were tempered when she and a new team entered a November World Cup in Belarus.

A coach predicted nothing faster than 4 minutes, 17 seconds. They clocked 4:13 and won in what Dygert believed was the U.S.’ second-fastest time since the Rio Games.

“We’ve never raced together before,” Dygert said. “We didn’t really know what we would be able to do.”

Dygert is bidding to race in three events in Tokyo — road race (July 26), road time trial (July 29) and team pursuit (Aug. 3-4). People compare combining the road and the track to training for both the sprints and the marathon. The plurality of the focus will be on the time trial and follow the path set by Armstrong.

“We’re going to be smart about which event that we choose to be full gas for so my fitness is still there for all the other events,” Dygert said. “Being fit for the time trial will also correlate for the track.”

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