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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Figure skating Grand Prix: Five things to watch

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World champions Nathan Chen and Alina Zagitova. Former U.S. champions Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell. Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou. World champion ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, and two-time U.S. ice dance champions/world championship medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. Quads, quads, quads.

All of these skaters and jumps will be featured in figure skating’s Grand Prix, which runs from this weekend’s Skate America to the Grand Prix Final Dec. 5-8 at the 2006 Olympic venue of Torino, Italy. January has the U.S. Championships and European Championships, February has the Four Continents Championships, and the season wraps up with the world championships in March.

TV SCHEDULE: How to watch Skate America

Here’s what to watch over the next two months:

1. Dominant dancers due for defeat? 

France’s Papadakis and Cizeron have won four of the last five world championships. The only duo to beat them since 2014, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moirhas officially retired. They’re still in their mid-20s. They posted the four highest scores last season.

The reigning world championship silver medalists, Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, had a major breakthrough last season. Until last season, they had never won the Russian championships, never skated in a Grand Prix Final, never finished higher than fourth in the European championships and never finished higher than ninth in the world championships. They still haven’t won a medal in the European championships or won a Grand Prix event. Were their second-place finishes in the world championships and Grand Prix Final a fluke or a sign that they’re ready to challenge for the top?

The top U.S. contenders, Madison Chock/Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue, train in Montreal with Papadakis and Cizeron, so they know what it takes to get to the top. Hubbell and Donohue posted the highest scores after the French champions and Russian runners-up last year to take their second straight world championship medal and a win at the Grand Prix Final ahead of Sinitsina/Katsalapov. Chock and Bates earned world championship medals in the middle of the decade and finished sixth last year as Chock returned from a long injury layoff.

Oddsmakers would surely favor Papadakis and Cizeron in every competition, but will the underdogs have their day?

The GP schedule for the top dancers and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Hubbell/Donohue, Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko, Caroline Green/Michael Parsons
  • Skate Canada: Hubbell/Donohue, Green/Parsons, Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
  • Internationaux de France: Papadakis/Cizeron, Chock/Bates
  • Cup of China: Sinitsina/Katsalapov, Chock/Bates, Hawayek/Baker
  • Rostelecom Cup: Sinitsina/Katsalapov
  • NHK Trophy: Papadakis/Cizeron, Carreira/Ponomarenko, Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter

2. Can Vincent Zhou topple Chen and Hanyu?

The 2017 world junior champion has steadily and rapidly climbed the ranks since moving to senior level, taking sixth in the 2018 Olympics and third in the 2019 Four Continents before laying down two stunners, taking third in the world championships and posting a score of 299.01 in the World Team Trophy, a mark bested only by Chen and Hanyu.

This season, after spending his youth in Colorado and California, he’ll go across the country to start college at Brown.

Chen and Hanyu have been over the 300-point mark, and Japan’s Shoma Uno is consistently over 275 — the only skater other than Chen, Hanyu and Zhou to beat that standard last season. (Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world championship runner-up, picked a bad time to fall just under 275 — the world championships, where he finished fourth behind the other three high scorers.)

The GP schedule for the top men’s skaters and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Chen, Jason Brown, Alexei Krasnozhon
  • Skate Canada: Hanyu, Camden Pulkinen
  • Internationaux de France: Uno, Chen, Tomoki Hiwatashi
  • Cup of China: Pulkinen, Zhou
  • Rostelecom Cup: Uno, Zhou, Krasnozhon
  • NHK Trophy: Hanyu, Brown, Hiwatashi

MORE: Zhou balances Brown University with overseas assignments

3. Can the Tampa-trained pair of Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès follow up their big year?

James has taken a long and winding road to the top of the pairs world. She was born in Canada, then lived in Bermuda and Virginia before competing as a singles skater for Britain. When she moved to pairs, she also switched to France to partner first with Yannick Bonheur and then Ciprès.

For several years, the pair won the French championship but not much else. In the 2017-18 season, they earned a couple of Grand Prix medals and placed fifth in the Olympics before claiming their biggest international prize to date, a bronze medal in the world championships.

Last year, the pair went on a hot streak. They won Skate Canada. They won the Internationaux de France. They won the Grand Prix Final. They won the European championship. Finally, their streak ended at a bad time, and they took fifth in the world championships.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won their second world championship last season after missing the GP season because of Han’s foot injury. Russia’s Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were second in the world championships.

U.S. champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc skated in the U.S. Classic last month and posted a higher score than any of their compatriots last year. The previous champions, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, were seventh last year. The last two U.S. champions — Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier and Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — also are continuing to compete this year.

The GP schedule for the top pairs and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier, Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson
  • Skate Canada: Tarasova/Morozov, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim, Calalang/Johnson
  • Internationaux de France: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier
  • Cup of China: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea
  • Rostelecom Cup: Tarasova/Morozov, Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov
  • NHK Trophy: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim

4. How many more young quad-jumping Russians can women’s skating handle? 

Zagitova is the defending world champion, and she isn’t even the Russian with the biggest buzz heading into the new season.

Back-to-back world junior champion Alexandra Trusova is the first woman to land a quadruple Lutz in competition. She’s also the first to land a quad toeloop. She landed two quads in one program at the 2018 world juniors, and she has done three in an unofficial skate this fall. She’s only 15. Her free skate this season includes music from “Game of Thrones.”

Anna Shcherbakova, also 15, has landed a quadruple Lutz and was second in last year’s world juniors, and she upset Trusova and Zagitova to win the Russian championship.

Trusova and Shcherbakova both lost in last year’s junior Grand Prix Final to yet another Russian, Alena Kostornaia, who’s 16 now and has the good taste to skate to the Muse song “Supermassive Black Hole” in her free skate.

Kostornaia, Trusova and Shcherbakova will make their senior-level Grand Prix debuts this season. Trusova already has competed this year and posted the highest score recorded under the new scoring system, just ahead of prior marks from Zagitova and Kostornaia.

5. Can the U.S. women put it together this year? 

Chen and Zhou give the U.S. men two legitimate medal threats in any competition, and the U.S. ice dance machine continues to spin forth contenders. But women’s skating has been in a long dry spell since the era of Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen ended. Ashley Wagner, the last U.S. woman on the podium in a major event, has retired.

Today, 2018 U.S. champion Bradie Tennell has shown she’s capable of big numbers, but cracking the top five has been difficult.

The reigning U.S. champion, Alysa Liu, is age eligible for only the Junior Grand Prix series. She’s 14, and she has already posted a score higher than any U.S. woman other than Tennell posted last year.

The good news for the U.S. women is the return of 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen after an injury-riddled 2018-19 season. Like Zhou, she’s heading to an Ivy League school, enrolling at Cornell.

Two-time U.S. medalist Mariah Bell and the ever-entertaining Starr Andrews also have two Grand Prix assignments this season.

Ting Cui, the bronze medalist after Trusova and Shcherbakova in the 2019 world junior championships, withdrew from her Grand Prix events with an ankle injury.

The GP schedule for the top women and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Shcherbakova, Chen, Tennell, Amber Glenn
  • Skate Canada: Trusova, Tennell
  • Internationaux de France: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Andrews, Bell
  • Cup of China: Shcherbakova
  • Rostelecom Cup: Trusova, Bell
  • NHK Trophy: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Chen, Andrews, Megan Wessenberg

MORE: Tennell on self-doubt, lessons learned in 2019

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast 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. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. 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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World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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