Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles lead Diamond League duels in Shanghai; how to watch

Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles
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Sprint showdowns are rare this early in a track and field season, let alone two at the same meet. Saturday’s Diamond League slate in Shanghai is one of the most anticipated May events in recent history.

Americans Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles go head-to-head at 100m. Rai Benjamin, who switched from Antigua and Barbuda to the U.S., takes on Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba in the 400m hurdles, where the oldest men’s world record on the track is on notice.

NBC Sports Gold streams live and commercial-free at 6 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs coverage Sunday at 8 p.m.

For Coleman, Lyles, Benjamin and Samba, these are the first top-level races of their outdoor seasons. Americans are preparing for the USATF Outdoor Championships in July in Des Moines, Iowa, and the world championships in Doha in late September and early October.

Coleman swept three head-to-heads with Lyles last year, but they were all in Coleman’s favored short sprints. Coleman was the world’s fastest in the 100m in 2017 (9.82) and 2018 (9.79), while Lyles is undefeated in outdoor 200m races since finishing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials at age 18.

Lyles has said he will not try to make the world championships team in the 100m, leaving fans waiting for a possible 200m showdown at worlds. By then, Coleman could be going for a Usain Bolt-like double.

Perhaps no sprinters were more electric last year than Benjamin and Samba. At the NCAA Championships last June, Benjamin ran the joint-second-fastest 400m hurdles in history, matching Edwin Moses‘ personal best of 47.02. Three weeks later, Samba clocked 46.98, trailing only Kevin Young‘s world record of 46.78 from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It’s the oldest men’s track record on the books, and it could fall this season, perhaps in Shanghai.

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

6:10 a.m. — Women’s Javelin
6:19 — Men’s High Jump
6:27 — Women’s Shot Put
6:35 — Women’s Pole Vault
7:04 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
7:13 — Men’s 5000m
7:25 — Men’s Long Jump
7:36 — Women’s 400m
7:45 — Men’s 200m
7:46 — Men’s Javelin
7:52 — Women’s 1500m
8:06 — Women’s 100m
8:15 — Men’s 400m
8:26 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
8:34 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
8:53 — Men’s 100m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 6:35 a.m.
Sandi Morris and Katerina Stefanidi renew their rivalry. Stefanidi has bettered Morris in four of their last five head-to-heads, according to Tilastopaja.org, in addition to relegating her to silver at the Rio Games and 2017 World Championships. Morris may have the edge going in given the Greek hasn’t competed since March 3. The woman with the world’s top clearance this early outdoor season, 2012 Olympic champ Jenn Suhr, is not in the Shanghai field.

Men’s 400m Hurdles — 7:04 a.m.
Benjamin and Samba go head-to-head for the first time. Young is on record saying he hopes his record falls, that it’s about time after nearly 27 years. But records rarely get broken this early in a year. Benjamin, though, already clocked a personal-best 400m on April 20, a 44.31 that ranks second in the world this year. And Samba on April 22 clocked the fastest-ever 400m hurdles (47.51) this early in a year.

Men’s 5000m — 7:13 a.m.
The three fastest active 5000m runners go here — Ethiopians Selemon Barega, Hagos Gebrhiwet and Yomif Kejelcha. They thrilled at last season’s Diamond League Final in Brussels, all setting PRs and becoming the Nos. 4, 5, and 7 men all time. Kejelcha finished third in that race but has been the most impressive this year, breaking the legendary Hicham El Guerrouj‘s indoor mile world record. Also in this race: Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo of the U.S. and Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei, the world 10,000m silver medalist.

Women’s 400m — 7:36 a.m.
Sydney McLaughlin, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, races her first Diamond League and just her second senior international meet after the 2016 Olympics. It’s a complementary event for the world’s fastest 400m hurdler of 2018, though McLaughlin also ranked seventh in the 400m last year. If McLaughlin can challenge world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser, it will be a mighty impressive debut.

Men’s 100m — 8:53 a.m.
Coleman is the man in the 100m right now, but a loss here would call that into question. Lyles, who won the 2018 U.S. 100m title in Coleman’s absence, is the biggest threat. He’s the only other man in this field who has broken 9.89 since the Rio Olympics. Two men not in the field who could be watching intently are Justin Gatlin, who has a bye into worlds as defending champion, and Ronnie Baker, who beat Coleman twice last year while Coleman nursed a leg injury.

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