Christian Coleman edges Ronnie Baker, Noah Lyles in Rabat 100m

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Who is currently the world’s fastest man? Christian Coleman staked another claim Friday, but just barely.

Coleman won a Diamond League 100m in Rabat in 9.98 seconds, edging countrymen Ronnie Baker by .006 and Noah Lyles by .01 into a slight headwind. The field included the world’s four fastest men since the Rio Olympics — Coleman, Baker, Lyles and Mike Rodgers (fourth in 10.01).

Nobody has been faster since Rio than Coleman’s 9.82 last year. At 2017 Worlds, he finished between Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt. Then last winter, he ran faster than the 60m world record three times.

But Coleman was beaten by Baker at consecutive May meets before taking all of June off from competition with a hamstring injury. Rabat marked his first race in 44 days.

“This is a relief, finally getting a win under my belt,” Coleman said. “I look at this as kind of my re-season opening. It’s the first time I came into a meet with full confidence in my leg.”

Lyles, the U.S. 100m champion in Coleman’s absence, nearly came from behind to steal the win. It’s no surprise as Lyles is known for his 200m prowess. He would have won a 105-meter race on Thursday.

Full Rabat results are here.

Christian Coleman

In other events, Olympic and world 800m champion Caster Semenya ran the fastest women’s 1000m in nearly 16 years, clocking 2:31.01 in the non-Olympic event.

World champion Mariya Lasitskene‘s 45-meet high-jump win streak ended as she finished third behind Bulgarian Mirela Demireva. Lasitskene’s last loss had been on June 23, 2016, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Kenyan Hellen Obiri beat a strong 5000m field in 14:21.75. Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan broke the European record for second place in 14:22.34, while U.S. Olympian Molly Huddle was 10th, one minute behind Obiri.

Olympic gold medalist Brianna McNeal won the 100m hurdles in 12.51, leading a U.S. sweep of the top four with Sharika Nelvis (12.58), Christina Manning (12.72) and Dawn Harper-Nelson (12.86). McNeal has the fastest time this year of 12.38. World-record holder Kendra Harrison was not in the field.

U.S. Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz faded to 10th in a 1500m won by Moroccan Brahim Kaazouzi in 3:33.22. Centrowitz clocked 3:35.17, the fastest time by an American this year by .88 of a second.

Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas won the 200m in 22.29 seconds, overtaking Brit Dina Asher-Smith. U.S. champion Jenna Prandini was third in 22.60, one tenth ahead of rising Harvard senior Gabby Thomas, who won the Lausanne Diamond League 200m on July 5. Nigerian Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor holds the fastest time in the world this year of 22.04.

Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha won the 3000m by 1.33 seconds in 7:32.93, eight days after he was disqualified from a 5000m for nearly pulling another runner down by his shorts in Lausanne. American Paul Chelimo, the Olympic 5000m silver medalist, was fourth.

World champion Sam Kendricks of the U.S. won the pole vault with a 5.86-meter clearance. Rival and world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie was shockingly eighth with three fails at 5.60 meters.

The Diamond League moves to Monaco next Friday, with love coverage on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold.

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Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue can make it 10 straight at Skate America

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If Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue ever lacked motivation in the post-Olympic summer, they needed only scan their Montreal training ice.

They would spot France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the only ice dancers from the Olympic podium who return this season. Papadakis and Cizeron relegated the Americans to silver at March’s world championships, one month after Hubbell and Donohue were fourth in PyeongChang (the French took silver). They have trained under the same coaches in Quebec for three years.

They would also see Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, the third- and fourth-place finishers from January’s U.S. Championships. Those couples moved to the Montreal group in the spring. They are Hubbell and Donohue’s top threats to repeat as national champions in Detroit in three months, given U.S. silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are also taking a break.

Practicing next to rivals is often shunned in sports. It has elevated ice dance the last several years.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White trained together in Michigan and split the Olympic gold and silver medals in 2010 and 2014.

When Virtue and Moir returned from a two-year break in 2016, they joined the Montreal group and went one-two with training partners Papadakis and Cizeron at every major competition through PyeongChang.

Hubbell and Donohue thrived last season, their third in Montreal, winning their first national title after six straight years of finishing third or fourth. They were in position for an Olympic medal, third after the short dance, but Donohue fell in the free dance (as he did at 2017 Worlds after they were third in the short).

Then at worlds in March, they delivered back-to-back podium-worthy performances on the global stage for the first time for that silver medal. They are the world No. 2 and the favorites at this weekend’s Skate America, with the French not in the field.

U.S. couples have won nine straight Skate Americas, more than the other three disciplines combined in the last decade.

MORE: Skate America TV/Stream Schedule

“Clearly this formula is working for them,” NBC Sports analyst and 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist Tanith White said. “It has proven to work for many of the greatest teams in ice dance over the last few decades. … I cannot see a drawback.”

Hubbell and Donohue (and Papadakis and Cizeron) appear to agree.

They joked back and forth at a press conference after worlds in March. Asked how they would spend the offseason, Cizeron looked straight at Hubbell and Donohue and said, jokingly, “Our goal is to get drunk together as many times as we can.”

“As much as our own personal accomplishment is pretty incredible, being on the podium with training mates and having, literally, everyone from our training center skate the best programs of their season, all at the same competition, was pretty incredible,” Donohue said last week.

Hubbell and Donohue should breeze through Skate America in Everett, Wash. Nobody else from the top nine in PyeongChang is in the field. They’re the favorites next week at Skate Canada, too.

The first real test will be at December’s Grand Prix Final, where Papadakis and Cizeron should join them. Hubbell and Donohue never outscored the French in nine head-to-head competitions and were more than 10 points adrift at worlds.

“The French, where they left off last season, I think that they are still in a category on their own based on the last time we saw those two teams go up against each other,” White said. 

Hubbell said the world silver medal showed that they had tackled their demons, fear and history of errors. If the next goal is gold, they must conquer a much more visible foe, one they see every day on the ice.

“The podium at worlds,” Hubbell said, “was the moment I was able to leave that season behind me and go into the future.”

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NHL helped end USA Hockey, women’s national team wage dispute

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The NHL’s support of women’s hockey included the league stepping in at the last moment to end a wage dispute between USA Hockey and national team players threatening to boycott the 2017 World Championship on home ice.

Two people familiar with the situation said the NHL agreed to pay USA Hockey to help fund the four-year agreement reached in March 2017. The people spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the league and USA Hockey have not made that information public.

The NHL also supports the idea of one women’s professional league and has several member teams involved in both leagues.

The Buffalo Sabres purchased the Buffalo Beauts in December to become the NHL’s first franchise to fully own an National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) team. The Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens each have partnerships with Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) teams based in their respective cities.

The NHL has been careful to avoid the appearance of favoring one league over the other. Commissioner Gary Bettman told the AP last month he has no interest in forming a third league because he doesn’t want the NHL “to look like a bully” by pushing the existing leagues out of business.

Players want a single North American women’s professional hockey league. Bettman does, too. And now NWHL founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan is on record saying she is working toward that objective.

“One league is inevitable,” Rylan wrote in an email to the AP, her strongest statement regarding a potential merger with the rival CWHL.

Rylan’s comments come nearly four years after she split from the CWHL to establish the NWHL, which became the first women’s hockey league to pay its players a salary.

The investor-funded NWHL has provided a framework for how a pro women’s league can function, but most observers agree that two leagues competing for the same talent pool and limited financial resources isn’t going to last — or help the game grow.

The U.S.-based NWHL, in its fourth season, grew to five teams after expanding into Minnesota this year. The CWHL, in its 12th season, began paying its players a salary for the first time last year and has six teams, including ones in Worcester, Massachusetts, and China.

Rylan is now echoing what Jayna Hefford said in July upon being named the CWHL’s interim commissioner. The former Canadian star called the formation of one league “a priority” and projected it could happen within two years.

Rylan’s comments also come after both leagues discussed merger options this summer, a person with direct knowledge of the discussions told The AP. Also on the table is an NWHL proposal for both league champions to compete in an end-of-season playoff, the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the talks were private.

Rylan confirmed she’s spoken to Hefford, and added: “There is a path, and Jayna and I and our business partners will continue those discussions.”

Hefford expressed cautious optimism regarding the possibility of joining forces.

“It’s certainly something we have to figure out,” she said, while noting she’s still new on the job. “I’m trying to understand what the challenges are, what the roadblocks are and try to figure out a way to get us to the point where we have one truly professional women’s hockey league.”

Hefford was scheduled to meet this week with NHL officials, including Bettman, for the first time since replacing former commissioner Brenda Andress.

Bettman is hesitant of the NHL assuming control of the CWHL or NWHL because, as he put it, “we don’t believe in their models.”

“We need to start on a clean slate,” Bettman said.

“If at some point the leagues say, ‘We’ve had enough, we don’t see this as a long-term solution, we’d like you to start up and we’ll discontinue operations,’ then we’ll do it. But we’re not pushing it,” he said. “If we’re going to get involved, it cannot fail, which means it has to be on us.”

Rylan, who previously worked at the NHL, took exception to the comments.

“What’s it like when Gary Bettman tells the media the model for our women’s league doesn’t work? Of course, it’s really disappointing,” said Rylan, who nonetheless called Bettman a “gracious adviser.”

“Can we improve? No question about it,” she added. “If Gary and more NHL owners want to get involved in women’s hockey, that’s an awesome an exciting thing. Let’s get started now.”

Hayley Wickenheiser, a retired six-time Olympian and newly hired Maple Leafs assistant director of player development, said, “I think the NHL should and could do more and in a heartbeat make it happen.” But she placed more of an onus on the players to make it happen.

“They need to take control and move it forward, and the NHL is there and ready when they are,” said Wickenheiser, the first woman to be hired to a hockey operations role.

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