Noah Lyles, Michael Norman meet in Rome; preview, TV schedule

Noah Lyles, Michael Norman
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Noah Lyles puts undefeated streaks at stake in his first 200m of the season at a Diamond League meet in Rome, live on NBC Sports on Thursday.

Lyles, unbeaten in outdoor 200m races since the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, takes on fellow 21-year-old phenom Michael Norman at Stadio Olimpico (11:05 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold, and 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Lyles is 3-0 all time against Norman, according to Tilastopaja.org.

The U.S. boasts its best young sprint talent in more than a decade among Christian Coleman (100m), Lyles (200m) and Norman (400m), all fastest in the world since the Rio Olympics in their respective signature events. Coleman is not racing in Rome, but headlines a Diamond League stop in Oslo next week.

It evokes memories of 15 years ago, when first-time Olympians Justin GatlinShawn Crawford and Jeremy Wariner swept the 100m, 200m and 400m at the Athens Olympics.

Lyles is the showman of this generation. He raps. He dances. He roars like a Dragon Ball Z character before races and then wins them wearing Speed Racer socks. He had the word “ICON” tattooed on his side at age 20, after a season in which injury kept him out of the U.S. and world championships.

When Lyles beat Coleman in a 100m for the first time in their senior careers two weeks ago, he said it was the beginning of his legacy as a 100m and 200m sprinter (though Lyles repeated this week that he will not attempt to double at worlds in September). A rivalry was born with Coleman, who (along with his girlfriend), vented on Twitter.

Lyles and Norman have a friendlier history, finishing fourth and fifth at the 2016 Olympic trials 200m. Lyles turned professional two weeks later, forgoing college. Norman turned pro after two seasons at USC and is now the sixth-fastest 400m runner in history. While Coleman indicated he plans to go for a 100m-200m double this year, Norman is expected to focus on the 400m at nationals and, should he qualify, worlds.

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

11:05 a.m. — Women’s Javelin
12:30 p.m. — Men’s Shot Put
12:35 — Women’s Long Jump
1:15 — Women’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:13 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:15 — Men’s High Jump
2:23 — Men’s 800m
2:30 — Men’s Triple Jump
2:35 — Women’s 100m
2:45 — Men’s 5000m
3:05 — Women’s 400m
3:15 — Women’s 1500m
3:25 — Men’s 200m
3:35 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
3:45 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 1:15 p.m.
The four most decorated active women gather in 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr, 2016 Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi, Olympic and world silver medalist Sandi Morris and 2015 World champion Yarisley Silva. They’ll all be eyeing the 37-year-old Suhr’s world-leading clearance of 4.91 meters for 2019. Suhr’s last Diamond League win outside of the U.S. came in 2012.

Women’s 400m Hurdles — 2:13 p.m.
Every Olympic and world champion since 2013 is represented in this field among Kori Carter (2017 Worlds), Dalilah Muhammad (2016 Olympics) and Zuzana Hejnova (2013 and 2015 Worlds). Plus the second- and third-fastest women of 2018 — Shamier Little and Janieve Russell. The only missing superstar is Sydney McLaughlin, whose 52.75 was fastest in the world last year. Muhammad is fastest this season at 53.61.

Women’s 100m — 2:35 p.m.
The two phenoms of this event — U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs and European champion Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain — go head-to-head for the first time. Hobbs won her Diamond League debut in Shanghai in 11.03 seconds, beating Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica (who is also in the Rome field). Asher-Smith won the first two Diamond League 200m of this season in the world’s fastest times of the year. The winner here likely becomes world champs favorite.

Women’s 1500m — 3:15 p.m.
Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson faces world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba for the first time since the 2017 Worlds. Simpson followed her surprise 2011 World title with national titles in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, but the 32-year-old last won a Diamond League race in 2015 and ceded the U.S. crown to Shelby Houlihan last year. This field lacks Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon (out since 2017 due to pregnancy) and Houlihan, but it does boast Brit Laura Muir.

Men’s 200m — 3:25 p.m.
It’s not just Lyles v. Norman. Also in the field: 2017 World gold and bronze medalists Ramil Guliyev and Jereem Richards. None of them have ever beaten Lyles, though. A time to note: 19.65 seconds. That’s Lyles’ personal best. Last year, Lyles joined Usain Bolt as the only men to break 19.7 four times in one season. But Lyles is still far from Bolt-at-his-best territory. He is the joint-eighth-fastest 200m man in history.

MORE: Wayde van Niekerk sets first international race since 2017

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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