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

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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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A 1983 world champion will become the oldest Olympic table tennis player ever

Ni Xia Lian
European Table Tennis Union
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Ni Xia Lian, a 55-year-old, Chinese-born table tennis player for Luxembourg, is set to become the oldest Olympian ever in her sport.

Ni earned Luxembourg a quota spot at the 2020 Tokyo Games by bagging bronze at the European Championships on Wednesday. Ni will fill that spot and compete at her fifth Games next summer, according to Luxembourg’s table tennis federation.

Ni’s first senior medal at a global competition came with China at the world team championships in 1983.

Ni moved to Luxembourg in the 1990s, running a hotel with her husband. She kept competing, with a five-year break between 2002 and 2007, and set a record in 2017 for the longest table-tennis match at 1 hour 33 minutes.

She would already be the oldest Olympic table tennis player if not for He Zhiwen, who was born in China and competed for Spain with the nickname Juanito at the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics. He retired after Rio at age 54, according to the International Table Tennis Federation.

Ni will be 57 next summer, older than any previous female Olympians outside of archery, equestrian, shooting and art competitions, according to the OlyMADMen. Her best Olympic finish was ninth in Sydney in 2000.

Chinese-born players represent many countries in table tennis, including European Games gold and silver medalists, Fu Yu of Portugal and Han Ying of Germany.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MORE: Most experienced Olympian in history retires at age 72

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Phil Dalhausser, tempted by retirement, partner switch, forges to final Olympics

Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena
AVP
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At one point last summer, Nick Lucena made an unusual move for an Olympic beach volleyball player. He suggested to his partner, 2008 Olympic gold medalist Phil Dalhausser, the best American for the last decade, that Dalhausser might be happier playing with somebody else.

“I thought, man, Phil’s not enjoying this, he wants to retire,” said Lucena, who at the time was sidelined by a minor injury. “The last thing I want to do is slow you down. I was like, if he’s going out, it’s not going to be on my account.”

Lucena even offered a replacement: the up-and-coming Taylor Crabb, who at 27 is 12 years younger than both Lucena and Dalhausser, Floridians who paired at the Rio Olympics (lost in the quarterfinals), for the last four years and to start their careers from 2003-05.

“Taylor is a special player,” Lucena said. “Them together, I thought they’d be a special team.”

Dalhausser agreed to an extent. Crabb is the best defender in the world, he said. But Dalhausser, the bald, 6-foot-9 blocker known as the “Thin Beast,” waved off Lucena’s humility.

“If I were to rate a defender one through 10, Taylor being a 10, say Nick is a nine,” Dalhausser said earlier this month. “But we’re buddies. We get along. We’ve been friends for 20 years. That just adds a point value to him, so now he’s a 10.”

Crabb, based in California, sensed from afar that Dalhausser might be interested in a change last year. So, he called him.

“I’d be crazy not to ask Phil or for us to talk,” said Crabb, in his third season with three-time Olympian Jake Gibb. “We had talked a little bit, but at the end of the day … “

Crabb cut his answer short in a Midtown Manhattan hotel breakfast booth as Lucena walked by.

Even though they didn’t split, Lucena worried that Dalhausser’s heart was not in the sport anymore. Dalhausser isn’t one to show emotion on the sand, but it was clear that 15 years traveling the world took its toll. He’s married now with 4- and 6-year-olds, but he spends more time every summer with Lucena, a fellow 39-year-old father of two.

“I just wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t going to become happy with making a change in volleyball or whatever,” Dalhausser said. “It had to come from inside.”

An epiphany came last offseason. Dalhausser dived into self-help books: Jack Canfield‘s “The Success Principles,” Eckhart Tolle, Tony Robbins.

“One day, I was walking around the kitchen, thinking aloud, what the hell is my purpose?” he said. “I said, I guess it’s volleyball. My wife [former beach volleyball pro Jennifer Corral] was sitting right there and said, you’re an effing idiot if you don’t think it’s volleyball.

“Since then, I was like, all right, I guess I’m going to make a run.”

An Olympic run. Dalhausser and Lucena are about to start a crucial stretch of international tournaments in Tokyo 2020 qualifying. It begins this weekend at the world championships in Hamburg, Germany.

MORE: Beach Volleyball Worlds TV/Stream Schedule

A maximum of two U.S. pairs can qualify for the Games. Dalhausser and Lucena are outside the world top 25, but, more importantly, third among Americans about halfway through qualifying. They’ve only played four events; most have played at least six. Each team’s 12 best finishes in the two-year qualifying window count when the Olympic field is determined next summer.

“Results wise haven’t been great up to this point,” said Dalhausser, who won at least one international event each of the previous 13 seasons, but none since Olympic qualifying began last June. “I feel like we’re going to hit our stride here, the more we play consistently and get into a rhythm. I think we’ll be fine. I’m not really worried about it.”

Come next summer, Dalhausser and Lucena will both be older than all but one previous Olympic beach volleyball player. Dalhausser said this is his last Olympic cycle and that he will not play internationally after the 2020 season, but could continue on the domestic AVP tour.

“You see these grays here?” Dalhausser said, pointing to his chin stubble. “Obviously, when I was 28 in Beijing [the 2008 Olympics with Todd Rogers], that was probably my peak as far as vertical goes. But I’m not so sure I’m that far under it.”

Still, injuries are creeping up. They withdrew from a recent event in Poland, citing Dalhausser’s ab injury that has limited his jump serving.

While Dalhausser and Lucena were arguably medal favorites going into Rio, there is no debate about the new No. 1 going into worlds.

“Hands down,” Dalhausser said. “Norway.”

Anders Mol, 21, and Christian Sørum, 23, have won eight of their last 11 international events together. Norway has never put a men’s or women’s team into an Olympic beach volleyball quarterfinal. But the Beachvolley Vikings, who honed their skills at a Hogwarts-like academy called Top Volley Norge in a village named Sand, are unlike any team Dalhausser has ever seen.

“They just don’t have any holes in their game,” Dalhausser said.

It was about this time five years ago when Dalhausser was part of the world’s hottest team. He and Sean Rosenthal won three Grand Slams in a four-event stretch in the summer of 2014. But Dalhausser suffered an oblique injury at about this time in the last Olympic cycle, and they plateaued. Lucena emailed Dalhausser about his availability, and they reunited a year before the Rio Games.

Dalhausser actually wanted to retire after he and Lucena lost to eventual gold medalists Alison and Bruno in the Olympic quarterfinals. He spoke with his alma mater, the University of Central Florida. Had the school started a beach volleyball program, he would have left for a job there.

Even up until this past January, Lucena said he was trying to talk Dalhausser into playing this summer’s world championships. Finally, Dalhausser was asked by his agent and USA Volleyball for a 2019 season schedule. He submitted one with 15 events, mostly international ones, and shared it with Lucena.

“It kind of told me, oh damn, we’re going to try to make a run, which I was not ready for, but I was kind of excited,” Lucena said. “I still felt like I had a lot left in the tank. Maybe not a lot, but enough to make a push.”

Lucena said he’s seen a change in Dalhausser’s demeanor. They won for the first time in seven events together this season at the AVP New York City Open earlier this month, rallying past Crabb and Gibb in a three-set semifinal. Lucena, known more for his defense, earned the AVP’s Hammer Award, given to the top offensive player of the tournament.

“A wise man once said,” Dalhausser deadpanned, sitting next to Lucena at the event, “a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.”

Lucena and Dalhausser came up together in the early 2000s, playing for a few hundred dollars a tournament and holding part-time jobs, including as substitute teachers. When Dalhausser left to pair with Rogers, Lucena spent nearly a decade with the motivation to become a strong enough player to get Dalhausser back as a partner.

It didn’t surprise NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong that Lucena would willingly let Dalhausser leave for another partner in the middle of their last Olympic cycle.

“Those guys are lifelong friends,” Wong said. “Nick’s that guy who can see the bigger picture, life outside of volleyball. The crazy thing was last year on tour, Phil never told me this, but there were two or three different people saying, hey, we think Phil’s going to retire after this year. His motivation, his energy were pretty low and so the question was, is this like a little lull, recharging the battery before one last Olympic push? Or is this the swan song?”

Now Dalhausser seems firm in pushing ahead for one more year.

“It was tempting [to switch partners], but, again, at the end of the day, family then volleyball,” Dalhausser said, noting that sticking with the Tallahassee-based Lucena allows him to spend more time at home in the Orlando area. Most elite beach volleyball players live in California, including Crabb.

“I guess I can be like, hey, Taylor, you want to make a run? It’s not too late,” Dalhausser said. “But my gut’s not telling me that’s the right thing.”

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