Noah Lyles, as he returns to 200m, embraces Christian Coleman rivalry

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Noah Lyles races his first 200m of the season on Thursday, but he actually clocked the slowest 200 meters of his career on Easter.

“Definitely the slowest,” Lyles confirmed, “and it was hot that day.”

Lyles and younger brother/fellow sprinter Josephus were passengers when their mom, Keisha Caine Bishop, pulled the car over suddenly on April 21. She stopped because a woman was pushing her blue Volkswagen along the road near Lyles’ home in Clermont, Fla.

“Without question, my guys, along with another guy, jumped out and pushed her car to the gas station,” she tweeted. “Yes, I’m a proud mom!”

Lyles estimated the nearest gas station was about 200 meters away. He is somewhat familiar with the distance.

“Luckily we were on a hill, so we were able to give it a push, and the hill was able to do most of the work,” he said. Lyles’ new dress shoes were damaged, but it was worth it. 

Lyles covers 200m on a competition track for the first time this season at a Diamond League meet in Rome on Thursday (preview/TV schedule here). He will race fellow 21-year-old Michael Norman, a longtime friendly rival who has never beaten Lyles.

“Roomed together on world junior team,” Lyles said. “Mike’s one of the kindest people you’ll meet out there.”

Lyles’ rival in the more traditional sense is Christian Coleman. Lyles, whose focus is the 200m, won a head-to-head (barely) in Coleman’s best event, the 100m, in Shanghai on May 18: 9.852 seconds to 9.858.

Lyles, who set a personal best in that international season opener, then said on Instagram that it was the start of his legacy as a 100m and 200m sprinter. Coleman followed that with tweets that stoked the new rivalry.

“Some of y’all got the game messed up,” tweeted Coleman, the world’s fastest 100m sprinter since the Rio Olympics at 9.79. “The name of the game is World medals. But PRin in May is cool for social media doe.

“Seems as if some people are confused,” Coleman tweeted the next day. “It’s nothing wrong with a PR. But if your goal is to run fast in May to taunt and flex online then your priorities aren’t straight imo. The season is just getting started.”

Lyles was asked to describe his relationship with the 23-year-old Coleman, whom he has faced since junior competition in 2015.

“It’s not good,” he said, followed by a short laugh. “I don’t know man. He just never liked me. I don’t know. You can’t like everybody. It’s not the same as me and Mike.”

Neither sprinter previously commented publicly on the post-Shanghai tweets from Coleman and his girlfriend: “Someone gets an inch, or a win by .006 & they take a mile,” University of Georgia sprinter Micaiah Ransby posted before Coleman’s tweets.

“I like it,” Lyles said of the whole situation. “We talk about it a lot in the track world: there needs to be more rivalries. There needs to be more talk. It gets more exciting when people start talking. ‘Oh man, Noah won’t get away with it next time,’ or such and such. It makes me excited. It makes me think that people are actually paying attention to the sport.”

As for Coleman’s specific opinions?

“He’s right,” Lyles said. “It doesn’t matter until worlds [in Doha in September]. But I’ll definitely be ready for worlds to get that gold in the 200m.”

Lyles added that hearing Coleman wants to challenge him in the 200m this season was “the best news I’ve heard all year, to be honest.”

As for the 100m, Lyles repeated Wednesday that he will not race the shorter sprint at July’s USATF Outdoor Championships nor at worlds.

“Until I see something in the 100m that is very definitive of, I can walk away with a [world championships 100m] medal and still be able to get away with a gold in the 200m, it’s going to be the 200m in Doha right now,” Lyles told a press conference in Rome.

Lyles, speaking by phone after that presser, was told that only one man has run faster than his 9.86 since the Rio Olympics (Coleman), and that Lyles just beat him two weeks ago. Is that not definitive enough?

“No,” he said. “I need to know that I can run three rounds of the 100m at 9.8 or faster [the format at nationals and worlds, but not at Diamond League meets] and then still be able to come back the next day and run three rounds of the 200m. Until I can see that, I don’t think there’s too much of a reason this year to do it. Sacrificing a gold medal to maybe get two silvers or a silver and a gold, I feel that it’s very risky. It’s a lot easier just to get the gold and be known going into the 200m as the ultimate world champ.

“The biggest idea with only doing the 200m is we [Lyles and coach Lance Brauman] want to go in [to the Olympics] being known already as having a gold.”

Lyles said he hopes to race the 100m at least two more times this season — a Diamond League stop in Monaco on July 12 and another to-be-announced meet. It’s not known if Coleman will be there. Coleman’s reps haven’t replied to an interview request to respond to Lyles’ first public comments on the rivalry.

Lyles is approaching two years since perhaps the toughest moment of his young career. Three years ago, he finished fourth at the Olympic trials 200m, which normally upsets an athlete, as the top three make the team. But at age 18, Lyles beamed for he broke the national high school record. He turned pro two weeks later.

Then came 2017. Lyles announced his professional arrival with a 19.90-second 200m, also in Shanghai, that May 13. He became the fourth teen to break 20 seconds in the half-lap, and the first American. But he also felt his hamstring cramp 15 or 20 meters into that victory. He flew to Germany, where a doctor told him it was a two-centimeter tear.

Lyles remembers crying and the psychological pain of nationals the next month, when he withdrew before the 200m semifinals because of the hamstring. That meant no worlds that summer. He would have to wait another two years for the next global championship.

“I knew if I ran, something would have popped, torn. I wasn’t ready to have my career end as soon as it started,” he said. “It was definitely a hard decision … I just knew that I was going to win. It’s so hard to see your goal right in front of your face and then have to turn around and say, I’ll come back for it another time. It’s like seeing your dream car and you know you have the money to buy it and then you get a call saying your mom needs surgery, and you’re the only person who can help. You know what the right thing to do is.”

He watched the August 2017 World Championships from his Florida home, then beat Turkey’s surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev at the Diamond League final three weeks later. Guliyev is in Thursday’s field, too, looking for his first win over Lyles in their sixth meeting.

Lyles is undefeated in outdoor 200m races since the 2016 Olympic trials. Last year, he joined Usain Bolt as the only men to break 19.7 in the 200m on four occasions in one season. Nobody else has broken 19.8 more than once in this Olympic cycle.

It’s clear that Lyles has an interest in speed, in addition to his drawing, rapping and sock designing. He recently bought that dream car, a white 2019 BMW i8 roadster.

“I think I hit 100 [miles per hour] once in the back roads,” he said. 

His goal time in the 200m this season? “Just to get as close as I can to the world record,” Lyles said. His personal best is 19.65. Bolt’s world record is 19.19.

“The 100m in Shanghai was kind of like a shock on time for me,” Lyles said of that personal best. “Now I’ve got a ton of confidence going into the 200m. You know, I might be trying to shock the world again.”

MORE: Wayde van Niekerk sets first international race since 2017

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Ilia Malinin’s quadruple Axel sheds light on first figure skater to land triple Axel

Vern Taylor
Vern Taylor, the first figure skater to land a triple Axel in competition. (Getty Images)
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Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 15 to do what he has done at that rink for the last three decades: coach figure skaters. But this day was different.

Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, was told that 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the previous night.

“When we heard that he landed it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrific,'” Taylor said by phone.

He was then shown video of Malinin’s feat.

“Anything’s possible,” Taylor said. “43 years [later], that’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it challenging.”

Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the most difficult jump in skating and checked off the only remaining quad yet to be performed.

At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, a 20-year-old Taylor broke through a similar barrier in hitting the last remaining unchecked triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career seems to be just getting started, and many medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of ardent figure skating followers.

He finished 12th at those 1978 World Championships. Taylor’s 1980 Olympic prospects were dimmed by the fact that Canada had just one men’s singles spot, and he had taken runner-up at nationals in 1978 and 1979 to Brian Pockar, who also outscored Taylor at those years’ world championships. So Taylor stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.

“I didn’t have a reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”

Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He can still remember the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters also planned to attempt a triple Axel. They were unsuccessful, though Taylor didn’t know it.

“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what was ahead of me.”

American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreel footage reported to be from 1957, but that was not in competition.

Taylor, skating to music from “Rocky,” put the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The one YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half revolution jump on one foot and spinning out of it while managing to stay on that single skate blade amid a crowd roar.

“During that program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I got the energy from the audience.”

The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchetti, the men’s referee at the 1978 Worlds, said she met with the assistant referee, the ISU president and a technical delegate.

“During this short meeting it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulsen jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully rotated and landed on one foot.”

One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Centre that day was 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with the jump — labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and landing it en route to silver medals at the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and the 1987 World title.

Orser remembered Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor doing an Axel takeoff exercise off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.

Yet another Canadian, Kurt Browning, was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition — a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.

“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”

Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning was handed the keys to a Quattro — quad/Quattro — after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealer was merely leasing it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.

Browning was inspired by American Brian Boitano, whom he previously saw land a quad outside of competition. Taylor motivated him, too.

“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.

Browning also pointed to Jozef Sabovčík, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially given credit for a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships, but weeks later it was invalidated because he touched down with his free foot, according to reports.

“I never want to come off as arrogant, but despite what ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I do know that I landed the jump on that day,” Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthdays through age 44, wrote in an email. “The fact that most of the people in the skating world believe the same thing, it means everything to me that Kurt is one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but I am also not trying to change history.”

Sabovčík, now 58 and coaching in Salt Lake City, attended March’s world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There, he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Russian-born Uzbek Olympic skaters Tatyana Malinina and Roman Skornyakov, whom he calls friends.

“They told me that he was already doing a quad Axel on a fishing pole harness [in practice], and that it was coming,” Sabovčík said.

Less than two months after that talk, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean quad Axel — at a U.S. Figure Skating jump camp.

“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “It really has to be an athlete that can combine the technical ability with jumping ability with the speed of rotation. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively speaking slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to these kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an unbelievably fast rotation.”

The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions and improvements in technology that can aid coaching. Still, there are concerns about if and how the pounding of training quads can wear down a skater physically.

“It’s a lot of pain you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly, who started training a quad in 1989 and attempting it through the mid-1990s. Bonaly had two hip surgeries after her competitive career.

Even Taylor faced those questions.

“People said, ‘Aren’t you worried about injuring yourself?'” he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done.'”

Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel in his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.

“Just playing with it,” said Browning, who never tried it in competition. “Ilia has that special ability to not only get up in the air, but then he has that beautiful rotation that doesn’t look hurried. It’s fast, it’s quick as lightning, but it doesn’t look hurried. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easy, and the ball goes 400 yards.”

Browning recalled a conversation he had with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it in competition last season but did not land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said upon retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.

“I asked Yuzu one day, ‘When you do quad Axel, does it just feel like you’re up there forever?'” Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me funny, and he goes, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”

The skating world awaits the reserved Hanyu’s thoughts on Malinin’s quad.

“Knowing Yuzu, I would think he’d be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He appreciates that kind of athleticism.”

Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who headlines Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the quad Axel in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel a responsibility to land it all the time.

“But I don’t think [Malinin] thinks too much about it,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he’ll be fine.”

The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said that Hanyu did five-rotation Salchows in practice with the aid of a harness.

“It’s just a little bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unratified quad toe loop came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the quad Axel, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

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Aleksandra Trusova splits from coach Eteri Tutberidze, months after Olympic tears

Alexandra Trusova, Eteri Tutberidze
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Olympic figure skating silver medalist Aleksandra Trusova reportedly split from coach Eteri Tutberidze‘s group, eight months after a tearful scene after the Olympic free skate.

Trusova, 18, will now be coached by Svetlana Sokolovskaya, according to Russian media reports dating to Saturday. All Russian skaters are ineligible to compete internationally indefinitely due to the national ban over the war in Ukraine, but Russia is still holding domestic events.

At the Beijing Winter Games, Trusova became the first woman to land five quadruple jumps in a free skate. She had the highest score that day, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap to fellow Tutberidze pupil Anna Shcherbakova from the short program.

Moments after the competition ended, Trusova was seen crying and yelling at Sergey Dudakov, a member of Tutberidze’s coaching team.

“Everyone has a gold medal! Everyone has! Only I don’t! I hate figure skating! I hate! I will never step on the ice again! Never!” she said in Russian.

Shcherbakova had the individual gold, and the other Russian women’s singles skater at the Games, Kamila Valiyeva, skated both programs of the team event. The Russians placed first in the team event, but medals will not be awarded until Valiyeva’s doping case is adjudicated. It’s possible that Valiyeva gets retroactively disqualified, the Russian team gets disqualified and the other nations all move up with the U.S. going from silver to gold.

Trusova performed at the Russian test skates last month, withdrawing after her short program due to a back injury.

Trusova previously left Tutberidze in 2020 for two-time Olympic champion turned coach Yevgeny Plushenko‘s group, then moved back to Tutberidze’s group after the 2020-21 season.

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