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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Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, planted her athletic roots there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games

Chloé Dygert wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. Then Larry Bird. Now, her coach.

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Chloé Dygert is the U.S.’ top cyclist, an Olympic medalist and world champion in line to race on the track and the road at the Tokyo Games.

To get to this point — leading the American contingent at the world track cycling championships this week — Dygert was kicked off a soccer team, bribed by her father and, when she thought her career was over, enrolled in 5 a.m. classes to get back on the bike.

“I had no interest in being a cyclist. I did not want to be a cyclist,” she said. “The funny thing is, my dad kept getting me bikes.”

It began in Brownsburg, Ind., a 25,000-person town 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Dygert had an older brother, younger brother and a BMX dirt bike track on a 4.5-acre property.

She played soccer, but was moved from the girls’ team to the boys. Dygert developed physically earlier than the other girls. And, “I was a little too mean and aggressive,” she said.

She played basketball but broke too many bones — her own and those of other girls. “Not on purpose,” she said, “but I was just so much bigger and naturally so much stronger.”

Dygert ran cross-country, too, but none of those sports worked out.

“I was going to be Steve Prefontaine,” she said of the fabled 1972 Olympian. “I had some injuries, and I started playing basketball. I was going to be Larry Bird. I had some more injuries, and cycling was just kind of my go-to.”

Dygert, at first reluctant, picked up cycling at the urging of her father, David, a mountain biker. She received bikes for Christmas and her New Year’s birthday, but it wasn’t until later, when she was 15, that her father’s words changed her life.

That summer, when Dygert needed a shoulder surgery from a basketball injury, she went for a ride at a local park with her father. David marveled.

“He said, ‘Chloe, I don’t think a girl your age should be able to put out the power that you’re putting out,'” Dygert remembered. “That kind of stuck with me and got me into wanting to ride a little bit more and seeing where I could go with it.”

David lured her: a pair of Oakleys if Dygert won at her first major competition. She entered junior nationals and grabbed a victory.

“That’s kind of what gave me the motivation to keep going,” she said. “It took me a while to actually love the sport. It definitely was not an interest that I had. But I thrive on winning. I love to win.”

Dygert pursued cycling, but she didn’t stop basketball. Everything changed when she tore an ACL on the court at age 17, a nine-month injury. She never returned to competitive basketball, but she also lost motivation to get back on the bike. Again, David urged her. One last time.

She joined the cycling team at Marian University, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis. David signed her up for 5 a.m. classes.

“I’m still not happy about it,” she said. “I got really disciplined.”

And reinvigorated. The freshman Dygert noticed in a power booster class that her wattage was impressive.

“If it wasn’t for that and the structure and the discipline that I had gotten from that and my dad, I would not be here,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by, I’m just so thankful for that and for him.”

Dygert dropped out after that first fall semester to focus on a cycling career. That winter, she won a world title with the U.S. team pursuit and was named to become the youngest female U.S. Olympic track cyclist in history.

“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” Dygert said before earning team pursuit silver at the Rio Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

Armstrong earned her third Olympic road time trial title in Rio, a day before turning 43. She retired and transitioned from Dygert’s mentor to her coach. Dygert recently moved to Armstrong’s native Idaho.

On the eve of September’s world road cycling championships time trial, Armstrong told Dygert to make sure she hurt more than any other rider on the 18-mile course. Dygert obeyed. She went out and won by 92 seconds, the largest margin in history, to become the youngest world champion ever in the event. She collapsed onto the pavement getting off her bike.

“I didn’t race with a power meter,” Dygert said that day, “and I think that really helped not restricting myself, just kind of going as fast as I could the entire time and not really have anything to gauge it off of.”

It qualified Dygert for the Tokyo Olympics on the road. The track team hasn’t been named, but Dygert will surely anchor a new team pursuit quartet. The U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s track title, but the pursuit has been its trademark event — world titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Olympic silver medals in 2012 and 2016.

The only woman on both of those Olympic teams retired (Sarah Hammer).

The cycling community was floored when Kelly Catlin, on all three world title teams with Dygert, committed suicide last March at age 23.

“It’s definitely hard not having her there, but we will carry her legacy on,” Dygert said. “She will be with us every step of the way when we win gold in Tokyo.”

The U.S. women’s team pursuit finished seventh at last year’s worlds without Catlin and without Dygert, who sat out nearly a year after a May 2018 concussion from a road crash. Dygert wondered if she might not be able to come back from the head injury. Expectations were tempered when she and a new team entered a November World Cup in Belarus.

A coach predicted nothing faster than 4 minutes, 17 seconds. They clocked 4:13 and won in what Dygert believed was the U.S.’ second-fastest time since the Rio Games.

“We’ve never raced together before,” Dygert said. “We didn’t really know what we would be able to do.”

Dygert is bidding to race in three events in Tokyo — road race (July 26), road time trial (July 29) and team pursuit (Aug. 3-4). People compare combining the road and the track to training for both the sprints and the marathon. The plurality of the focus will be on the time trial and follow the path set by Armstrong.

“We’re going to be smart about which event that we choose to be full gas for so my fitness is still there for all the other events,” Dygert said. “Being fit for the time trial will also correlate for the track.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics