Andre De Grasse storms to first Diamond League win in two years

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If Andre De Grasse is to make another Olympic podium push, this summer would be a good time to start surging. The triple Rio Olympic medalist earned his first Diamond League win in two years in Rabat on Sunday.

De Grasse, who suffered season-ending right hamstring injuries the last two summers, won a 200m over world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey in 20.19 seconds. It marked De Grasse’s fastest 200m since this meet in 2017, his last individual race before the first of the hamstring problems.

“I am very grateful with the victory but not happy with the time,” De Grasse said, according to meet organizers. “I want to achieve sub-20 seconds.”

De Grasse, the Olympic 100m bronze medalist and 200m silver medalist, must get faster before this fall’s world championships in Doha.

The world’s swiftest 200m men this year are comfortably sub-20 performers — Americans Michael Norman (19.70, though not expected to race the 200m at worlds) and Noah Lyles (19.72) and Nigerian Divine Oduduru (19.73). None of them were in Rabat. De Grasse’s personal best is 19.80 from Rio.

“It is a long process,” De Grasse said. “I am not fully healthy, I still have a lot of work to do to be really back in shape. I want to be back where I was two years ago.”

Full Rabat results are here. The Diamond League next stops in Stanford, Calif., for the Prefontaine Classic, live on NBC on June 30 from 4-6 p.m. ET.

In other Rabat events, world champion Phyllis Francis took fourth in the 400m won by world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain in 50.13 seconds. Naser ranks second in the world this year behind Bahamian Olympic champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo (absent from Rabat), the only woman to beat Naser since the 2017 Worlds.

Francis was fourth in 50.76, ranking her second among Americans this year. Francis has a bye into worlds as a defending champion.

Nigerian veteran Blessing Okagbare took the 100m in 11.05, upsetting world silver and bronze medalists Marie-Josee Ta Lou (second, 11.09) and Dafne Schippers (fifth, 11.32). The race lacked world championships favorites Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain and American Sha’Carri Richardson, all of whom have easily broken 11 this season.

In the 110m hurdles, Olympic champion Omar McLeod led from the start before hitting the last hurdle and stumbling into 2015 World champion Sergey Shubenkov. Shubenkov fell across the finish line but still won in 13.12, while McLeod was fifth in 13.48. The early world championships favorite appears to be American Grant Holloway, who won the NCAA title in 12.98 and turned pro.

Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba ran the fastest women’s 1500m since August 2016, a 3:55.47 to hold off Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan by .46. Dibaba, who holds the world record of 3:50.07, is undefeated at 1500m since finishing 12th at the 2017 Worlds. Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson was seventh in Rabat in 3:59.83, breaking four minutes for the second time in three seasons.

Botswana’s Nijel Amos edged past Kenyan Emmanuel Korir by .03 in a matchup of the two best 800m runners the two previous seasons. Amos clocked 1:45.57, well off the fastest time in the world this year held by American Donavan Brazier, who was absent from Rabat but beat Amos in Rome two weeks ago. Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy was third in Rabat.

Olympic and world pole vault silver medalist Sandi Morris cleared 4.82 meters for her first Diamond League win since August. The field did not include 2012 Olympic champ Jenn Suhr, who has the world’s best clearance this year of 4.91.

Croatian discus thrower Sandra Perkovic, long one of the most dominant athletes in the sport, lost for the second straight Diamond League meet as she returns from injury.

The double Olympic and double world champion took third with a 64.77-meter effort, trailing Cubans Yaime Perez (68.28) and Denia Caballero (65.94). Perkovic has now lost three straight times dating to last season after going seven straight seasons without back-to-back defeats, according to Tilastopaja.org.

MORE: Why Caster Semenya did not race Rabat

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Simone Biles, her name sparkling, extends 6-year win streak

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Simone Biles has long stood out for her gymnastics, but on Saturday she competed with her last name sparkling in silver beads on her World Champions Centre leotard for the first time. The gym’s other athletes had “WCC” on the back.

Biles lived up to the billing, extending her six-year win streak to 19 straight all-arounds, capturing the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for next month’s U.S. Championships.

Biles, the four-time Rio Olympic champion, scored 60 points in Louisville at the meet where she made her comeback last year after nearly two years off from competition. She prevailed by a comfortable 2.1 points over Riley McCusker, her largest margin of victory of her four U.S. Classic titles.

“I’m very satisfied,” she said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’m a little sad that I went out of bounds on floor [exercise], but overall I feel like there are improvements to be made.”

Full results are here.

Biles is prepping for nationals in Kansas City in three weeks, when she eyes a sixth U.S. all-around title to tie Clara Schroth Lomady‘s record from the AAU era in the 1940s and ’50s.

Then come the world championships in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles could win a fifth all-around to move one shy of Kohei Uchimura‘s record.

The world’s other top gymnasts may be her countrywomen.

Biles was outscored on balance beam on Saturday by 2018 World teammates Kara Eaker and McCusker and beaten on uneven bars by 2017 World all-around champion Morgan HurdSunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and McCusker. Biles swept all the gold medals at last year’s nationals.

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Geraint Thomas struggles; Julian Alaphilippe ups Tour de France lead

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LA MONGIE, France (AP) — When the team of Geraint Thomas was in its pomp at the Tour de France, a time trial followed by a big mountain stage would have been playgrounds for Sky — now in new colors as Ineos — to take cycling’s greatest race by the scruff of the neck and leave everyone else fighting for second place.

Not this year.

Thomas, the defending champion, cracked on Saturday on the Tour’s first encounter with a climb to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), exposing unprecedented weaknesses in his team that has won six Tours in the past seven years.

The time trial on Friday and the climb up to the legendary Tourmalet pass on Saturday seemed primed for Thomas to reel in Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey-holder from France who is setting the Tour alight with his punchy riding and determination to keep the race lead, filling French fans’ heads with dreams of a first homegrown winner since 1985.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

But instead, Thomas has seen Alaphilippe only get further and further away. In two days, the Frenchman has put 50 seconds of extra daylight between him and the Welshman. His lead — up to 2 minutes, 2 seconds — is becoming large enough to start realistically envisioning Alaphilippe in yellow in Paris next weekend as the first French winner since Bernard Hinault.

Fueling the ecstasy of delirious crowds that lined Saturday’s steep uphill finish, French rider Thibaut Pinot won Stage 14, putting him back in the picture to fight for the podium after he lost mountains of time on Stage 10.

Thomas rightly pointed out that the Tour is far from done, with six more ascents to above 2,000 meters still to come.

But his inability to stay with Pinot, Alaphilippe and other title contenders at the top of the Tourmalet — he was eighth, 36 seconds behind Pinot — was a mini-earthquake for the Tour dominated by his British team since 2012 — with champions Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and, in 2018, Thomas.

“Not the best day. I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start. I was quite weak,” Thomas said.

“At the end I knew I just had to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked. I just thought I should ride my own pace rather than follow them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end. It’s disappointing. I just tried to limit the damage.”

Having taken cycling to a new level since 2012 with its vast budget and attention to the minutest of details, the team run by David Brailsford has been hit both by misfortune and by the inevitability that, eventually, other teams would start to close the gap.

A horror crash in training for four-time winner Froome, now recovering from career-threatening broken bones, robbed the team of its ace. Thomas’ own preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.

And Egan Bernal, being groomed by Brailsford to succeed Froome and Thomas, looks increasingly unable to compete for the title this year. Bernal was fifth on the Tourmalet and is fourth overall, 3 minutes behind Alaphilippe.

Pinot, now sixth overall and 3:12 behind Alaphilippe, is showing remarkable grit in bouncing back from his Stage 10 misfortune, when he was part of a group that got separated from other title contenders in crosswinds.

“I have this rage inside me, because in my opinion it was an injustice,” said Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014.

“Since the start of the Tour I had this stage in the back of my mind. The Tourmalet, it’s mythical,” said Pinot, who has three career stage wins at the Tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on hand at the top of the Tourmalet to see Pinot win and Alaphilippe extend his lead, gushed about the “two fantastic riders.”

“They attack and they have heart,” Macron said.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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