Michael Norman edges Noah Lyles in Rome 200m

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Noah Lyles‘ undefeated 200m record this Olympic cycle is gone. So is his unblemished head-to-head history with friendly rival Michael Norman.

Norman won a duel between the 2016 World Junior Championships roommates, clocking a personal-best 19.70 seconds at a Diamond League meet in Rome on Thursday night.

Norman, the world’s fastest 400m man since the Rio Olympics, got a jump on Lyles off the start and never relinquished that lead. Lyles closed in the final straight but crossed in 19.72 for his first outdoor 200m loss since the 2016 Olympic trials.

“I still have a lot of technical issues with myself, like: be patient,” Norman said, according to meet organizers, after taking .14 off his previous best and beating Lyles for the first time in four tries dating to 2015, according to Tilastopaja.org. “I did not have any expectations coming into this race. I just want to improve myself and not chase a time.”

Lyles and Norman finished fourth and fifth in those Rio trials, just missing the Olympic team, but beamed for performing so well as 18-year-olds. Lyles turned pro two weeks later. Norman matriculated at USC, where he focused on the 400m.

While the outgoing Lyles gained more attention for lighting up the international Diamond League circuit, the calmer Norman finished his NCAA career last year by becoming the sixth-fastest 400m runner ever. He lowered his personal best to 43.45 on April 20, the fastest time ever that early in a year and by somebody that young.

Last season, Lyles joined Usain Bolt as the only men to break 19.7 in the 200m four times in one year.

But now, Lyles is the fastest this year in the 100m, and Norman leads the world in the 200m. Neither is expected to race those events at the USATF Outdoor Championships next month, the qualifier for worlds. Lyles is focused on the 200m; Norman the 400m as they eye world championships debuts in September.

Full Rome results are here. The Diamond League moves to Oslo next Thursday, with Christian Coleman, the world’s fastest man since the Rio Olympics, headlining.

Olympic champion Elaine Thompson ran a statement 100m with her fastest time in nearly two years (10.89) to overtake new phenom Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain by .05. U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs was third in 11.12.

Thompson, who swept the 100m and 200m in Rio, has since battled injuries and went winless outside her native Jamaica in 2018. She’s now fastest in the world this season.

“If I can run 10.94 when I’m feeling rusty, it’s not bad at all,” Asher-Smith said, according to meet organizers.

Donavan Brazier notched his first Diamond League win in the 800m, edging 2012 Olympic silver medalist Nijel Amos of Botswana by .02 with a lean. The 2017 U.S. champion clocked 1:43.63, fastest in the world since August. Double Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha of Kenya has been sidelined since July 2017 due to quad problems.

Genzebe Dibaba prevailed in the 1500m in 3:56.28, her fastest time since lowering the world record to 3:50.07 in 2015. Dibaba held off Brit Laura Muir by .45, with Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson taking fourth.

Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad won the 400m hurdles in 53.67 seconds, giving her victories in both Diamond League races this season. However, the 2018 world leader Sydney McLaughlin wasn’t in either field. McLaughlin, 19, clocked the fastest time of 2018 at 52.75.

American Rai Benjamin clocked 47.58 to take the men’s 400m hurdles by a hefty 1.41 seconds over a field that lacked Qatari rival Abderrahman Samba. Samba, the second-fastest man ever in the event, owns the two fastest times of the year: 47.27 and 47.51.

Two-time Olympic javelin champion Barbora Spotakova had the worst Diamond League finish of her career, taking seventh in her first top-level meet since 2017, according to Tilastopaja.org. Spotakova, a 37-year-old Czech, gave birth to her second child last year. Her best throw Thursday — 61.51 meters — was more than 35 feet shy of her world record from 2008.

“I tried not to set any goals or to expect anything from myself here,” she said. “Every competition for me now is like a new start of my career.”

Swede Angelica Bengtsson upset Olympic gold and silver medalists Katerina Stefanidi and Sandi Morris in the pole vault, clearing 4.76 meters. Stefanidi and Morris each failed at three attempts at that height. Jenn Suhr, the 2012 Olympic champ, no-heighted with three 4.56 misses after having issues getting her poles on her flight.

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Punahou, Barack Obama’s school, produced Olympic talent in 4 sports

Punahou School
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Some high schools have a swimming tradition. Others produce great ice hockey or water polo players. The Punahou School in Honolulu, private and K-12, is best known for a student who also played basketball — its most famous graduate, Barack Obama.

Also this: Dating to Obama’s tenure in 1976, at least one Punahou student went on to make the last 11 U.S. Summer Olympic teams.

And with the addition of skateboarding and surfing to the Olympic program, there are former Punahou students among the best in the country in four different Olympic sports, plus another Paralympic sport.

“One of my favorite things about going to Punahou was that I felt like I was surrounded by a lot of excellence,” said Carissa Moore, the reigning world champion in surfing and a Punahou grad. “A lot of my friends are some of the smartest girls, women. … The whole school, everyone is doing something.”

Moore, 27, qualified for the U.S. Olympic team with her fourth world title last year. Heimana Reynolds is the reigning world champ in park skateboarding.

Brothers Taylor and Trevor Crabb are on different beach volleyball teams ranked among the top three in the country. Erik Shoji is a veteran libero and Micah Ma’a a promising setter and outside hitter for the U.S. indoor volleyball team.

Shelby Baron is a Rio Paralympic wheelchair tennis player who is now ranked third in the country.

It’s possible that they could all qualify for the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed to summer 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Punahou, whose name means “the New Spring,” referencing renewal and a spring at the center of the campus, bills itself as the largest single-campus independent school in the U.S. and reportedly the oldest west of the Mississippi.

It was founded in 1841 with a first class of 15 students who were children of congregational missionaries. Now, it has more than 3,700. Annual tuition is $26,000, though there are financial aid options.

“This used to be an elite school, you know. Mostly rich. Predominantly Caucasian,” said Eric Kusunoki, who was Obama’s homeroom teacher for four years as part of his four decades working at Punahou. “But then when I stepped foot here, I said, wow, you know, it’s so diverse. Hawaii’s golden people, you know.

“It’s [a] very cosmopolitan campus and very reflective of what Hawaii is like.”

The school has been compared to Stanford. Sports Illustrated ranked it the No. 1 high school athletic program in 2008, replete with an eight-page magazine spread, and again in 2009. The magazine deemed it a “76-acre citadel of academic and athletic excellence where Aristotle meets Duke Kahanamoku.”

Kahanamoku, the Olympic swimming champion and surfing pioneer, never attended Punahou.

But several famous athletes are among the alumni. Like Michelle Wie, Manti Te’o and Obama, who played one season of varsity basketball on the Buff n’ Blue’s 1979 state title team.

In fact, Obama wrote in his autobiography that the lure of Punahou helped keep him in the States with his grandparents rather than flying back to Indonesia with his mom.

Obama, needing a financial aid scholarship to attend, toured the campus with his grandfather before the fifth grade. “Gramps grabbed me by the arm. ‘Hell, Bar,’ he whispered, ‘this isn’t a school. This is heaven,’” Obama wrote.

“He wasn’t a big standout,” Kusunoki said of the student they called Barry. “But yet everybody knew him. He was well-liked, well-known, but he did it real subtly.”

Others followed Obama with athletic success. Reynolds was a skateboard prodigy, profiled by the local NBC affiliate as a 10-year-old before leaving Punahou after 10th grade. He switched to online classes to accommodate all his traveling for competition.

Skateboarding and surfing are not sanctioned high school sports in Hawaii. Moore still won a record 11 National Scholastic Surfing Association titles. In her spare time, she was such a convincing tour guide for prospective Punahou students that admissions officers called her “The Closer,” according to SI.

“I have heard this,” Moore said, smiling when told the nickname. “It wasn’t really ever a big thing for me, but yes, I would bring potential prospects that would come to the school and stuff and give them tours.

“It’s just a beautiful environment to learn. It’s a very comfortable, free environment. The best part of this community is they’re going to support you in chasing your dreams.”

Moore said she was classmates with Taylor Crabb, one half of the U.S.’ top-ranked men’s beach volleyball team. Taylor’s mom, Paula, a champion canoe racer, has been a Punahou P.E. teacher since Obama was there. Taylor and partner Jake Gibb have been competing against Taylor’s older brother, Trevor, and Tri Bourne for Olympic beach volleyball berths.

It’s possible both Crabb brothers, who grew up a five-minute walk from the Punahou campus, can make it to Tokyo.

“Whenever someone says, oh, I went to Punahou, the first thing someone says is, oh, it’s where Barack Obama went,” said Trevor, who won a state basketball title and goes back to campus about once a year to see the old gym.

Shoji’s father, Dave, was the University of Hawaii’s women’s volleyball coach for 42 years, capturing four national titles and retiring in 2017 as the winningest coach in NCAA history. Ma’a won four state titles in volleyball at Punahou and others in football and basketball. At 22 and fresh out of UCLA, he was the second-youngest U.S. player at the 2019 Volleyball Nations League.

Both Trevor Crabb and Moore said you wouldn’t know it by walking around campus that Obama once roamed the grounds. He contributed to just one of a reported 505 state championships in the school’s history, a record for any state.

“There’s nothing up there yet,” of the 44th U.S. President, Moore said, “but it’s definitely something the school is very proud of.”

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IOC, sport federations in talks about Tokyo Olympic age rules

Gabriel Jesus
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The International Olympic Committee and Olympic sport federations hope to finalize any adjustments to age rules for the Tokyo Games within the next two weeks.

Two sports’ rules stand out in particular.

Since the 2000 Sydney Games, an age minimum in artistic gymnastics requires female Olympians to turn 16 years old or older in the Olympic year (men must turn 18, though the age rule is less of a factor for top male gymnasts). As such, Tokyo Olympic eligibility rules state all female artistic gymnasts must be born Dec. 31, 2004, or earlier.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) can choose to keep the Dec. 31, 2004, deadline. Or it could keep the 16 or older mandate by moving that date to Dec. 31, 2005 for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. The federation hasn’t announced its plan.

Its decision could impact U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team selection. At least one woman who turned 16 or younger in the Olympic year made the last 10 U.S. Olympic teams. That includes Kyla Ross, the 2011 U.S. junior all-around silver medalist who made the 2012 Olympic team. And Laurie Hernandez, the 2015 U.S. junior all-around champion who made the 2016 Olympic team.

The 2019 U.S. junior all-around champion, Kayla DiCello, turned 16 on Jan. 25. The 2019 U.S. junior all-around silver medalist, Konnor McClain, turns 16 on Feb. 1, 2021. Under the 2020 Olympic eligibility rules, McClain is 32 days too young for the Tokyo Games. If the birthdate deadline is moved one year forward, McClain would be eligible.

Another sport facing an age decision: men’s soccer. Olympic men’s soccer tournaments are limited to players who turn 23 or younger in the Olympic year with three over-age exceptions. Similar to the FIG, FIFA can keep its 2020 deadline of Jan. 1, 1997. Or it can keep its under-23 mandate and move the birthdate deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

“You can imagine there’s a logic to looking at that, having the same athletes or teams that achieved the qualification place to be the ones taking part next year, but aiming to confirm that with the respective federations,” IOC sports director Kit McConnell said Thursday.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, was born Sept. 18, 1998, and thus will be unaffected. Same goes for French superstar Kylian Mbappe, born Dec. 20, 1998.

Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus was born April 3, 1997, and would become an over-age exception if the birthdate rule is moved to Jan. 1, 1998.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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