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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U.S. to play in snow volleyball tour, led by 4-time Olympian

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When USA Volleyball asked four-time Olympian Lloy Ball to put together a team for a snow volleyball tournament in Moscow this week, the 2008 gold medalist was eager to accept.

Never mind that he’s never played on the snow before.

Or that, at 46, he’s not a likely candidate for the U.S. Olympic team if the discipline is eventually added to the Winter Games.

“I’ve been playing volleyball my entire life. It would just be an amazing feeling to know that me and my friends would be able to help volleyball grow,” Ball said. “To help be one of the forefathers, to get another discipline of volleyball into the Olympics, it would be awesome.”

The son of a volleyball coach and a member of the U.S. indoor team that won gold in Beijing, Ball played professionally in Russia for six years and was a natural choice to be a part of first American team to play on the European snow volleyball tour. After what he is calling an exploratory mission, he hopes to report back to the national governing body on how it can help the sport grow.

The ultimate goal: helping snow volleyball earn a spot in the Olympics — perhaps by 2026.

“We want to climb this mountain step by step. We do not want to rush,” said Fabio Azevedo, the general director of the sport’s international governing body, adding that snow volleyball will join the Olympics “as soon as the discipline has an amazing relevance in the world.”

“We have our road map, we have our timeline,” he said. “We really believe it is premature now to mention anything about Winter Olympic Games. I cannot say to you 2026 is realistic or not.”

Still, they are plowing ahead.

After a demonstration at the PyeongChang Olympics, the European governing body held its first snow championships in March. With its 2018-19 tour starting this weekend in Moscow it has invited teams from the United States to compete. (Teams from Kazakhstan and Brazil were also offered wild-card entries.)

Knowing that he spent time in Russia and would make a good ambassador, USA Volleyball chief Jamie Davis called Ball, who remains active as a coach and a semi-pro grass and beach volleyball player. He pulled together a team with Will Robbins, Kevin Owens and Tomas Goldsmith.

Although they have been training outside in Indiana to get used to the cold, the first time they will play on a snow court will be in Moscow.

“I’m going to rely on my massive amount of repetition and skill training and experience,” Ball said with a laugh. “Hopefully we won’t embarrass ourselves too badly and hopefully we’ll know what to do better next time. I’m going to come back and sit down with Jamie, and maybe say ‘Hey, this is something that can take off.’”

The women’s team for the Moscow tournament, which USA Volleyball put together, consists of Allie Wheeler, Emily Hartong, Katie Spieler and Karissa Cook.

“It’s a milestone for us,” Davis said. “We’re starting at level zero and building this up from scratch.”

“My hope is that we’ll get more and more athletes that are concentrating on snow, in addition to beach and indoor,” he said. “What I would hope for snow volleyball is that we’re going to be able to have players — north, south, east or west — be able to go outdoors to play the sport they love to play.”

Although snow volleyball has kicked around Europe for a decade, its growth accelerated the last five years. The European volleyball federation officially recognized the sport in 2015, and a seven-stop European tour is planned for 2018-19, starting with this week’s event in Moscow.

Azevedo said the FIVB is hoping to add three more events of its own, including one in Argentina that will be the first outside of Europe. Davis said he hopes to host one in the United States next winter.

From there, the FIVB is planning for a snow volleyball competition at the Youth Olympics and World University Games in 2020 and the winter Military World Games in 2021, along with a possible world championship.

“We are really shaping this new discipline around the world,” Azevedo said, adding that it would have much lower barriers to entry than many winter sports, which require ice rinks or luge runs or mountains.

That could help open the Winter Olympics to countries with successful volleyball programs but no ice or snow.

“Possibly snow volleyball is the only winter sport you can just pass by and play,” Azevedo said. “You just need proper clothes, football cleats, and you can play.”

An earlier incarnation of the sport had two-person teams, like beach volleyball, but organizers tinkered with the rules and settled on three-on-three, with a fourth teammate as a substitute. While indoor sets go to 25 and the beach goes to 21, snow volleyball games are up to 15

“Thank God, because it is minus 20 in Russia — Celsius,” Ball said.

Although the court layout is similar to beach, the ball is heavier when it gets wet and players wear thermal clothing and soccer cleats for traction. Ball said the sport puts a premium on ball control and serving, because it’s harder to move quickly in the snow.

“As long as you control the serve receive and serve well, I think on any surface you can be successful,” he said.

Martin Kaswurm, who is credited with inventing the sport when he set up a court outside his restaurant in Austria, said having different rules helps distinguish the sport from “its older brother beach volleyball” and could make it more appealing to Olympic officials.

“This should help to position snow volleyball as a unique version of the game,” he said.

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Ester Ledecka must decide between ski, snowboard worlds

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SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — Skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka will not be able to follow up her dual sport gold-medal performances at the PyeongChang Olympics with a similar haul of world titles this season.

That’s because the schedule won’t allow it, and she’s not happy about it.

The parallel giant slalom at the world freestyle skiing and snowboard championships in Utah is Feb. 4 — the same day downhill training opens at Alpine skiing worlds in Are, Sweden, and a day before the super-G.

“I was a little bit hoping they would reschedule the snowboard race — put it a week earlier so I could do it both — but they didn’t want to so I have to choose,” Ledecka said Tuesday after placing 29th in a World Cup downhill.

In PyeongChang, Ledecka followed her super-G title by winning the parallel GS in snowboarding — becoming the first athlete to win two golds at one Winter Games using two different types of equipment.

The 23-year-old Czech is the reigning world champion in parallel GS.

Ledecka said she brought up the issue with the International Ski Federation, which governs both sports.

“On one side I see their point. For one athlete why should they do that, right? But from the other side I think I made snowboarding a little more popular, and I think a lot of fans would be happy to see me compete in both,” Ledecka said. “It’s their decision, and I have to respect it.”

Ledecka has not decided which worlds she’ll compete in. She’s currently going back and forth between the snowboard and ski circuits.

Last week, she finished first and second in two parallel GS events in Italy and then switched to downhill skis this week. She was fastest in a downhill training run Monday before finishing 29th in Tuesday’s race.

“I think I can decide right before,” Ledecka said. “But it will probably be early, so I’m well prepared.”

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