Michael Norman leads young phenoms starring in Stockholm

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Michael Norman is 21 years old. Dina Asher-Smith and Timothy Cheruiyot are each 23. All are running like Olympic gold-medal favorites and showed why at a Diamond League stop in chilly Stockholm on Thursday.

Norman, who turned pro after his sophomore season at USC last year, took the 400m in 44.53 seconds, winning by six tenths over fellow Trojan Rai Benjamin. Norman was actually disappointed with the time, given he clocked 43.45, the sixth-fastest ever, on April 20.

“Today was challenging, both mentally and physically, and there’s a lot of things I need to work on,” Norman said, according to meet organizers. “Need to work on the second part of the race still, and I’ll readjust and reevaluate as I go.”

The Diamond League moves to Rome next Thursday, when Norman is scheduled to race Noah Lyles at 200m.

Lyles and Norman went fourth and fifth in the 200m at the 2016 Olympic Trials, when they were coming off senior seasons in high school. But the 200m is Lyles’ primary event, while Norman has become the Olympic 400m favorite with world-record holder Wayde van Niekerk out injured most of the last two years. Lyles and Norman likely will not go head to head at the world championships in Doha in four months.

STOCKHOLM: Full Results

In other events Thursday, the Brit Asher-Smith crushed a loaded 200m in 22.18 seconds, the world’s fastest of 2019. Olympic champ Elaine Thompson of Jamaica was second (22.66), followed by Dutch world champion Dafne Schippers (22.78). U.S. champion Jenna Prandini was fifth (23.09).

“I didn’t expect to run that kind of time as it is quite cold out and late at night,” Asher-Smith said.

She consolidated favorite status for worlds. The world’s other best half-lapper, Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, is expected to stick to the 400m in Doha given the two events overlap.

The Kenyan Cheruiyot won a deep 1500m in 3:35.79. Norwegian 18-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the youngest sub-four-minute miler ever, took third in 3:37.30 in the same time to the hundredth as runner-up Ayanleh Souleiman. Cheruiyot has been battling countryman Elijah Manangoi for 1500m supremacy the last two years, but Manangoi ended up 10th in Stockholm.

Cuban phenom Juan Miguel Echevarria took second in the long jump at 8.12 meters, one year after nearly jumping out of the pit in Stockholm. Echevarria, a 20-year-old who has battled a foot injury, leaped a wind-aided 8.83 meters a year ago and a wind-aided 8.92 in March. The latter made Echevarria the No. 2 jumper in history in all conditions, trailing only world-record holder Mike Powell.

Olympic champion Jeff Henderson was third and world champion Luvo Manyonga fourth.

Ajeé Wilson took the women’s 800m in 2:00.87, the slowest winning time in a Diamond League points race since 2012. That’s more notable given it’s the first top-level 800m since the IAAF’s testosterone cap that is keeping all three Olympic medalists out — Caster Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui.

World-record holder Kendra Harrison won the 100m hurdles in 12.52, edging countrywoman Sharika Nelvis by .17. Harrison is tuning up for what could be a worlds showdown with the last two Olympic champions, Brianna McNeal and Sally Pearson.

World champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya got clipped and fell with one kilometer to go in the 5000m. She finished 12th and limped off, snapping a year-long win streak in the event.

Olympic and world champion Sandra Perkovic was a shocking fifth in the discus, the Croat’s first time off a podium since returning from a six-month doping ban in 2011, according to Tilastopaja.org.

World champ Sam Kendricks won the pole vault with a 5.72-meter clearance. The field lacked his biggest rivals, Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie and Swede Mondo Duplantis.

MORE: Matthew Boling, high school track phenom, chooses summer meets

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Simone Biles, her name sparkling, extends 6-year win streak

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Simone Biles has long stood out for her gymnastics, but on Saturday she competed with her last name sparkling in silver beads on her World Champions Centre leotard for the first time. The gym’s other athletes had “WCC” on the back.

Biles lived up to the billing, extending her six-year win streak to 19 straight all-arounds, capturing the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for next month’s U.S. Championships.

Biles, the four-time Rio Olympic champion, scored 60 points in Louisville at the meet where she made her comeback last year after nearly two years off from competition. She prevailed by a comfortable 2.1 points over Riley McCusker, her largest margin of victory of her four U.S. Classic titles.

“I’m very satisfied,” she said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’m a little sad that I went out of bounds on floor [exercise], but overall I feel like there are improvements to be made.”

Full results are here.

Biles is prepping for nationals in Kansas City in three weeks, when she eyes a sixth U.S. all-around title to tie Clara Schroth Lomady‘s record from the AAU era in the 1940s and ’50s.

Then come the world championships in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles could win a fifth all-around to move one shy of Kohei Uchimura‘s record.

The world’s other top gymnasts may be her countrywomen.

Biles was outscored on balance beam on Saturday by 2018 World teammates Kara Eaker and McCusker and beaten on uneven bars by 2017 World all-around champion Morgan HurdSunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and McCusker. Biles swept all the gold medals at last year’s nationals.

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MORE: USA Gymnastics revamps Safe Sport policy amid abuse scandal

Geraint Thomas struggles; Julian Alaphilippe ups Tour de France lead

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LA MONGIE, France (AP) — When the team of Geraint Thomas was in its pomp at the Tour de France, a time trial followed by a big mountain stage would have been playgrounds for Sky — now in new colors as Ineos — to take cycling’s greatest race by the scruff of the neck and leave everyone else fighting for second place.

Not this year.

Thomas, the defending champion, cracked on Saturday on the Tour’s first encounter with a climb to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), exposing unprecedented weaknesses in his team that has won six Tours in the past seven years.

The time trial on Friday and the climb up to the legendary Tourmalet pass on Saturday seemed primed for Thomas to reel in Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey-holder from France who is setting the Tour alight with his punchy riding and determination to keep the race lead, filling French fans’ heads with dreams of a first homegrown winner since 1985.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

But instead, Thomas has seen Alaphilippe only get further and further away. In two days, the Frenchman has put 50 seconds of extra daylight between him and the Welshman. His lead — up to 2 minutes, 2 seconds — is becoming large enough to start realistically envisioning Alaphilippe in yellow in Paris next weekend as the first French winner since Bernard Hinault.

Fueling the ecstasy of delirious crowds that lined Saturday’s steep uphill finish, French rider Thibaut Pinot won Stage 14, putting him back in the picture to fight for the podium after he lost mountains of time on Stage 10.

Thomas rightly pointed out that the Tour is far from done, with six more ascents to above 2,000 meters still to come.

But his inability to stay with Pinot, Alaphilippe and other title contenders at the top of the Tourmalet — he was eighth, 36 seconds behind Pinot — was a mini-earthquake for the Tour dominated by his British team since 2012 — with champions Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and, in 2018, Thomas.

“Not the best day. I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start. I was quite weak,” Thomas said.

“At the end I knew I just had to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked. I just thought I should ride my own pace rather than follow them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end. It’s disappointing. I just tried to limit the damage.”

Having taken cycling to a new level since 2012 with its vast budget and attention to the minutest of details, the team run by David Brailsford has been hit both by misfortune and by the inevitability that, eventually, other teams would start to close the gap.

A horror crash in training for four-time winner Froome, now recovering from career-threatening broken bones, robbed the team of its ace. Thomas’ own preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.

And Egan Bernal, being groomed by Brailsford to succeed Froome and Thomas, looks increasingly unable to compete for the title this year. Bernal was fifth on the Tourmalet and is fourth overall, 3 minutes behind Alaphilippe.

Pinot, now sixth overall and 3:12 behind Alaphilippe, is showing remarkable grit in bouncing back from his Stage 10 misfortune, when he was part of a group that got separated from other title contenders in crosswinds.

“I have this rage inside me, because in my opinion it was an injustice,” said Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014.

“Since the start of the Tour I had this stage in the back of my mind. The Tourmalet, it’s mythical,” said Pinot, who has three career stage wins at the Tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on hand at the top of the Tourmalet to see Pinot win and Alaphilippe extend his lead, gushed about the “two fantastic riders.”

“They attack and they have heart,” Macron said.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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