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Christian Coleman ponders record more than rivalry as Diamond League moves to Oslo

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Christian Coleman‘s sights are on gold medals and, perhaps as early this season, an American record. They’re certainly not on the men chasing him, usually the rest of the field, in the last half of 100m races.

Coleman, the world’s fastest man in this Olympic cycle, headlines a Diamond League meet in Oslo on Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold, and 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN). He is the clear favorite in the 100m against a field lacking his biggest recent foes.

One of those absentees is Noah Lyles. The world’s fastest 200m sprinter in this Olympic cycle dipped down to the 100m on May 18 in Shanghai and rallied to beat Coleman by .006. The photo finish and following social media posts sparked talk of a new rivalry in the post-Usain Bolt era.

“I don’t necessarily look at us as rivals,” Coleman said Monday. “I think I’ve done a lot of things in the sport. I’m just focusing on me and trying to be the best me that I can be. If the media wants to create whatever storylines, whatever, so be it. I just treat everybody the same way, all of my competition. I don’t single out one person and say this is my competition that I’m focusing on.”

What Coleman is targeting is a cleaner sprint in Oslo than his season opener in Shanghai. The goal is to better 9.86, which would make him the fastest man in the world this year.

“My start was decent [in Shanghai], but I feel like I can work on my acceleration being a lot smoother, my transition, standing up tall, holding my form, composure so I can finish out the race,” Coleman said of his first meet since Aug. 31. “When you come back, and it’s your first race in a while, it’s hard to reciprocate real-life competition in practice. You never know how your body’s going to react when you actually get in competition. It’s just old, bad habits I’ve been trying to fix in practice creeped up on me in the competition.”

Coleman’s start is unrivaled. He’s best known outside the track world for covering a 40-yard dash in 4.12 seconds, a tenth faster than the NFL Combine record. He’s also the fastest 60m sprinter in history.

In the biggest race of his life, Coleman had a step on Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin in the first 10 meters at the 2017 World Championships. He led until the last few strides, before Gatlin edged him by two hundredths. Then on May 18, Coleman again surged to the early lead and held it until Lyles, known more for his finish than his start, nudged ahead at the line.

“Track and field is an art,” Coleman said. “It’s a difficult sport to be able to say, just stay relaxed at the end of the race and just hold your form well. Whatever people like to say online about critiquing world-class athletes’ races, it is harder than it looks.

“It’s much easier to fix the back end of my race than to have a better start. Getting a better start and having that acceleration is more like strength and technique, and one of those things that you can’t just teach overnight and you can’t just think about mentally and get better at. I feel like I’m in a good spot.”

Coleman is certainly better positioned than a year ago, when he struggled in the spring with a hamstring injury.

Coleman, after running faster than the previous indoor 60m world record three times that winter, didn’t hit his summer stride until late August. He ran a personal-best 9.79 into a headwind in the Diamond League Final, arguably the most impressive sprint by anybody outside the Bolt era.

“Last year, I think just indoors I took my body to a place where nobody had ever been before,” Coleman said. “I think, maybe, if I had taken a little bit of time off before I started my outdoor season … I wasn’t doing the things properly off the track to be able to stay healthy.”

Still, the 9.79 put Coleman within a tenth of the American record set by Tyson Gay in 2009.

“It’s not necessarily a goal,” Coleman said, “but it’s something that’s been in the back of my head.”

Coleman may not be ready to approach that in Oslo, given he plans to peak for worlds in almost four months.

He hopes to qualify for the world team in both the 100m and the 200m at next month’s USATF Outdoor Championships. Next week, Coleman races a 200m for the first time since June 2017.

“I know what it feels like to be on that stage, and I know what it takes to get there,” he said, looking ahead to worlds in Doha. “I know how to set my season up to be at my best when it really matters. That’s all I’m focusing on. Everything else is irrelevant. The name of our sport and what we get paid to do is represent our countries and go out there and try and get gold medals.”

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Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

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