Christian Coleman beats Justin Gatlin for the first time; Pre Classic recap

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Christian Coleman used to look up to Justin Gatlin, a fellow former University of Tennessee athlete. But now it’s Coleman who is firmly atop U.S. and world sprinting, consolidating fastest man status by beating the world champion Gatlin for the first time at the Pre Classic on Sunday.

Coleman clocked 9.81 seconds with a trace of headwind, lowering his fastest time in the world this year from 9.85. Gatlin, 37, was strong to take second in 9.87, his first sub-10 since becoming the oldest world champ in 2017, his fastest time since winning the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and the fastest ever for somebody that old.

“I ask that same question every day I wake up and my muscles hurt,” Gatlin said of defying age. “I get out of bed and am like, how am I doing this? I have a goal set, and I want to go ’til 2020. I want to take my son to the Olympics, at that’ll be the end of my show.”

Coleman is the only man in the world to break 9.85 seconds in 2017, 2018 or 2019, doing so all three years in this Olympic cycle. Quite a rise for a man who was sixth at the Rio Olympic trials.

“Obviously we’re friends,” Coleman said of Gatlin in an interview with Lewis Johnson on NBC. “I’m just happy I’m able to compete against somebody like him.”

The Pre Classic relocated to Stanford, Calif., from its usual home in Eugene, Ore., while Hayward Field undergoes reconstruction ahead of the 2020 Olympic Trials.

Full Pre Classic results are here. The Diamond Leagues moves to Lausanne, Switzerland, for its next meet Friday, featuring Noah Lyles in the 200m. Athletes are preparing for the USATF Outdoor Championships in three weeks, when the top three per event are in line to make the team for the September/October world championships in Doha.

In other events Sunday, Caster Semenya won her 31st straight 800m dating to 2015, clocking 1:55.70 to prevail by a hefty 2.66 seconds over American record holder Ajeé Wilson.

The two-time Olympic champion from South Africa was allowed to race by the Swiss Supreme Court, which ordered her temporarily eligible while she appeals a Court of Arbitration for Sport decision upholding the IAAF’s rule capping testosterone in female events between the 400m and mile.

Semenya was asked whether she thought about going for the 35-year-old world record of 1:53.28 or whether she considered the fact it could be her last 800m given the court’s looming decision. “Not really,” was her response to both questions.

“Flying into the U.S., it’s not easy to run here,” Semenya said. “Other people’s perceptions is not my problem. My problem is to have my shit together.”

Wilson, the world bronze medalist, was glad to see Semenya cleared to race.

“Absolutely I think she should be allowed to run,” she said. “I think everybody should be allowed to participate. The parameters surrounding that, I’m not sure about, but I definitely think she should be able to do what she wants.”

What’s next for Semenya is uncertain. She plans to take four weeks off before resuming her circuit, and will await the final ruling from the Swiss court.

Michael Norman extended an undefeated 400m streak dating to the start of 2018, clocking 44.62 against a field that lacked Olympic champions Wayde van NiekerkKirani James and LaShawn Merritt. Norman, who on April 20 clocked 43.45, said he was coming down with a bit of a cold.

Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou upset two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and NCAA champion Sha’Carri Richardson to win the 100m in 11.02. Fraser-Pryce ran 10.73 nine days earlier to become the fastest mom in history, while Richardson clocked 10.75 three weeks ago for a world junior record.

Nigerian Blessing Okagbare upset the Olympic, world, European and U.S. champions in the 200m in 22.05. Rio gold medalist Elaine Thompson, who was second, remains fastest in the world this year in 22.00.

Rai Benjamin recorded the ninth-fastest 400m hurdles ever, 47.16. Benjamin, who switched representation from Antigua and Barbuda to the U.S. last year, knocked absent Qatari rival Abderrahman Samba (47.27) off the top of the 2019 world rankings.

Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech ran the fifth-fastest 3000m steeplechase in history. She crossed in 8:55.58, which was 11.26 seconds off her world record from 2018. World champion Emma Coburn showed she’s again a medal contender, beating the other three fastest Kenyans in history for second place in 9:04.90 despite falling in a race for the third time this year.

Vashti Cunningham, the Olympian daughter of retired All Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, became the eighth U.S. woman to clear two meters in the high jump. But she fell to 0-8 in her career against Russian Mariya Lasitskene, who cleared 2.04.

Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon sprinted past Laura Muir to win the 1500m in her first race since Sept. 1, 2017, following childbirth. Kipyegon clocked 3:59.04, edging Muir by .43 and U.S. champion Shelby Houlihan by .61.

Louisiana-born Swede Mondo Duplantis won in his second pole vault competition since turning pro after his freshman year at LSU. Duplantis cleared 5.93 meters to hand world champion Sam Kendricks his first loss in four Diamond League meets this season.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan ran the sixth-fastest women’s 3000m in history in 8:18.49. The time was bettered only by three dubious Chinese athletes between two days in Beijing in September 1993 in the non-Olympic event.

Olympic champ Ryan Crouser was upset in the shot put by Brazilian Darlan Romani who launched 22.61 meters for the best throw in Diamond League history.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MORE: Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-two marathon bid moved out of London

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40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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MORE: Japanese athlete’s bid to become oldest Olympian in history still alive

With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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