Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles, Michael Norman
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Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles, Michael Norman take sprint stage at USATF Outdoors

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A lot of people don’t know this, Michael Norman pointed out, but Norman, Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles were once all in the same race. It was the 200m final at the 2015 USATF Junior Outdoor Championships.

Coleman rocketed from the starting blocks, from lane eight mind you. Norman established the lead off the curve. Lyles surged in the straightaway for the title. Four years later, those three teens are the world’s fastest active men and the 100m, 200m and 400m and favorites for the Tokyo Olympics.

“To see where we are now is, you know, crazy,” Norman said in recounting that junior race.

They are collective headliners at this week’s USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, seeking national titles, world championships spots and a further cementation that America has reclaimed the global sprint mantle. A TV schedule is here.

“I don’t think anybody could have predicted three years ago that the United States would be dominating the sprint scene this much,” NBC Sports analyst and four-time Olympic sprint medalist Ato Boldon said. “It’s exciting times for U.S. sprinting because they’ve been sort of overshadowed by the whole Bolt thing for a long while.”

Boldon predicts the U.S. men could win every event with starting blocks at worlds in Doha in two months.

In the flat sprints, Coleman is No. 1 in the world in the 100m (9.81 seconds). Lyles is No. 1 at 200m (19.50). Norman is No. 1 at 400m (43.45). All each has to do this week is finish in the top three in his respective event to clinch a world team spot. Piece of cake.

The U.S. used to dominate these distances, sweeping them at the Olympics as recently as 2004 and the world championships in 2007. Usain Bolt put a stop to that starting in 2008. Then Kirani James of Grenada and Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa emerged in the 400m.

But Bolt is retired. James and van Niekerk have been out with injury and illness for much of the last two years. Only the Americans have been consistently strong throughout this Olympic cycle.

Coleman, Lyles and Norman are bonded by that one junior race, rivalry and by what happened the weekend of July 9, 2016, at the Olympic trials. Lyles and Norman finished fourth and fifth in the 200m, just missing the three-man Olympic team out of high school. Soon after, Coleman learned he officially made the Olympic team, chosen as the sixth and last member of the 4x100m relay pool, one week after placing sixth in the individual 100m at those trials.

“Maybe you could have seen it [coming] with Lyles and Norman,” Boldon said. “Coleman, not so much. I think Coleman has maybe progressed the most.”

Coleman didn’t get the same attention at trials as Lyles and Norman, for he was no longer a teen, having graduated high school two years earlier. Still, he was listed in the 2014 Our Lady of Mercy yearbook, 20 miles south of Atlanta, as most likely to receive a Nike endorsement.

By 2017, Coleman signed with the Swoosh after going viral by clocking a 40-yard dash in 4.12 seconds, one tenth faster than the NFL Combine record. Later that summer, he finished between Justin Gatlin and Bolt in Bolt’s last individual race at the world championships. Though Coleman struggled through a hamstring injury last summer, he still owns the world’s fastest 100m time each year of this Olympic cycle.

Coleman and Lyles began intersecting this season. Coleman lost his 100m season opener to Lyles on May 18, a surprise given Lyles’ primary event is the 200m. Social media comments sparked a rivalry, with Lyles embracing the fact that they simply aren’t friends.

They are slated to go head-to-head for the second time this season in the 200m at trials, with Coleman trying to pull off the 100m-200m sprint double.

“I don’t necessarily look at us as rivals,” Coleman said last month. “If the media wants to create whatever storylines, whatever, so be it. I just treat everybody the same way, all of my competition.”

Lyles considered entering the 100m at trials but kept his focus on the 200m given he has never made an Olympic or world championships team, pulling out of nationals in 2017 with an injury. The man has “ICON” tattooed on his side, a white 2019 BMW i8 roadster in his Central Florida driveway and triple gold ambitions in Tokyo.

Lyles’ greatest feat to date on the track came July 5, when he clocked 19.50 seconds in a 200m in Switzerland, becoming the fourth-fastest man in history behind Bolt, Yohan Blake and Michael Johnson. Nobody has run that fast at such a young age.(though Bolt was just 12 days older when he won the Beijing Olympics in 19.30).

But Lyles tasted defeat at 200m for the first time in this Olympic cycle on June 6, when Norman stepped down from his preferred 400m and got a jump on Lyles from the start in Rome.

Lyles said before that meet that his competitive relationship with Norman is pretty friendly, but at the time he was 3-0 against Norman head-to-head. Norman, who roomed with Lyles at the 2016 World Junior Championships, never forgot that stat.

“Noah Lyles is, like, the first real competitor that I’ve had in track and field that has really, like, pushed me over each edge and has beat me non-stop,” Norman said. “When I finally beat Noah in a 200m in Rome, I was like, ‘Finally. Oh my gosh. Like, four years and counting.’ It took me four years to beat this guy just one time. And it was just a sigh of relief.

“People keep hyping up the rivalry between us, which is great, but I just felt like I needed to put a number on the board for it to be, like, a legitimate rivalry.”

It also meant that Norman could go to his home in Southern California, where he was raised by former college runners (American dad, Japanese mom), and rip a piece of paper off the wall.

As a high school senior, Norman wrote four goals in gold Sharpie on computer paper. As he achieved each one, he tore off that portion of the paper. But the one unmet goal was to beat Lyles, then a prep runner on the other side of the country at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia (of “Remember the Titans” fame).

“I still have the headband that I lost to him in pinned on the wall,” Norman, who hasn’t been in that room since the Rome race to redecorate, told NBC Sports in a sitdown interview. “Now I get to go home and take that paper down and write some new goals.”

Norman is sticking to the just the 400m this week. The 200m and 400m overlap with races in both events on the same day at nationals and at worlds.

It doesn’t get much easier at the Olympics, where the 200m semifinals and final are on the two days between the 400m semifinals and final, but he wants to try.

“It’s going to take a very, very, very special person to do something like that,” Norman said. “Is it feasible? Of course, it’s feasible. But maybe not feasible to perform very well. Shoot, is it enticing to do it? Yes. Am I gonna be ready for it? I won’t know until the end of this year if I’ll be ready to do it. But I think I’ve just got to keep progressing as an athlete, and then I think, if I can keep progressing the way that I am, I think eventually I will be ready.”

Norman could also petition for the Olympic schedule to be changed, as was done for Johnson in 1996 and Allyson Felix in 2016.

But since he has no global championship medals, he has little clout in approaching the sport’s governing body. That can all change if Norman gets to worlds and does what Boldon predicts — breaks van Niekerk’s world record this year.

If that happens, Boldon said, “Now you can go to the IAAF and say, look, you haven’t had somebody pull off that double since 1996. That’s been long enough. How about changing that schedule in Tokyo so I can do a 200m-400m double? … Now you’re back to really being able to capture headlines, somebody trying to capture something that’s only been done once [for the men, Johnson in Atlanta]. Michael Norman’s the guy that I could bet can do it.”

And he could do it in Tokyo against Lyles and Coleman, five years after their first 200m together.

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Blake Leeper, Olympic hopeful double amputee, has prosthetics ruled ineligible

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Blake Leeper, a double amputee who finished fifth in the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships 400m, had his prosthetic legs ruled ineligible for major international able-bodied competition such as the Olympics.

World Athletics made the ruling as part of a months-long case that will go on. Leeper confirmed Thursday morning a Washington Post report that he is appealing.

A World Athletics review group “concluded that Mr. Leeper had not established that his prostheses do not provide him with an overall competitive advantage,” according to a World Athletics statement. “Under the current rule [introduced in 2015], the burden of proof lies with the athlete to show that prostheses do not provide them with an overall competitive advantage.”

Leeper, a 2012 Paralympic medalist, sprints fast enough to be a contender for the U.S. Olympic team, should he be deemed eligible. A fifth-place finisher in the 400m at nationals usually makes an Olympic or world team for the 4x400m relay.

But when Leeper recorded that finish in Des Moines last summer, he was running under conditional allowance while his World Athletics case was ongoing. He was not ultimately selected to race at worlds last fall.

World Athletics said then that his nationals results would not be ratified because he had not proven that his legs did not provide “an overall competitive advantage over an athlete not using such aid.”

Leeper’s case is reminiscent of South African Oscar Pistorius.

Pistorius won a legal battle to race on his prosthetics at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics in the 400m with a personal best of 45.07. He was eliminated in the semifinals at both meets.

Leeper lowered his personal best to 44.38 seconds at nationals, a time that would have easily made the 2016 Olympic team.

“They keep changing the rules,” Leeper, who has been coached by, among others, Super Bowl champion wide receiver Willie Gault, said last summer. “For somebody to try to dictate and tell me how tall I should be or whatever I should be running on I think is just really unfair.”

In 2018, the International Paralympic Committee said Leeper was running on invalid blades for its record purposes because he had yet to be classified under a new maximum allowable standing height (MASH) formula.

Michael Norman, the world’s fastest 400m sprinter last year, said he had no issue racing with Leeper. But others in the past, when Pistorius became the first double amputee to race at worlds and the Olympics, said they wouldn’t have been so sure had Pistorius been running the kind of times that Leeper posted in recent years.

“Walk a mile in my legs,” Leeper said of those who believe he has a competitive advantage. “Understand the things that I go through as a double-leg amputee. There’s some days my legs are swollen, they’re sore, they’re bleeding, they’re bruised. I can’t even have the strength to put ’em on to walk to the bathroom.

“Anybody that faces a disability, to actually look them in the face and say they have an advantage is just crazy to me. I guarantee if that’s the case, you’ll see a lot more people amputating their legs and coming and trying to qualify for the U.S. trials.”

Leeper was born without lower legs and has used prosthetics since he was a toddler. He earned 200m bronze and 400m silver (behind Pistorius) in his class at the 2012 London Paralympics, then served a cocaine ban.

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Chad le Clos seeks Sun Yang’s Olympic gold medal for doping case

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NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Chad le Clos believes he has a claim on Sun Yang’s gold medal from the Rio Olympics, with a verdict imminent on the Chinese swimmer’s latest doping case.

“He should be banned. It’s as simple as that,” Le Clos said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “Anyone who tests positive should be banned. I should get my gold medal back from Rio.

“Not for the moment. I lost that. I don’t really care about that,” Le Clos added on Wednesday. “It’s just for my record. If I break my leg and I can’t swim again I want my record to say, ‘Two individual golds, two individual silvers.’ Because that’s what it should be.”

Le Clos’ Olympic record currently contains one gold medal and three silvers — including a second-place finish to Sun in the Rio Olympic 200m free

Odds are, though, that Sun won’t lose any Olympic titles when the Court of Arbitration for Sport issues its ruling over his alleged refusal to provide blood and urine in September 2018 in a visit by sample collectors to his home in China. During the late-night confrontation, a security guard used a hammer to smash a container holding Sun’s blood as the swimmer lit the scene with his mobile phone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed after swimming federation FINA merely warned Sun and cited doubts about credentials shown by three sample collection officials.

A three-time Olympic champion, Sun could be banished from the sport for up to eight years but any ban likely won’t be backdated before September 2018 — meaning all of his Olympic medals seem safe.

But there’s also the fact that international swimming authorities worked to protect Sun from being banned, according to a Swiss supreme court document.

FINA has faced criticisms in the past for favoring Sun during his career. It did not announce Sun’s three-month ban for doping imposed by Chinese authorities until after it ended in 2014.

“I just hope the system and whatever we have is really accurate,” said Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú, who won three golds in Rio. “I just hope the decisions they are making is fair and is for the sport and not for other reasons.”

The medals that Sun risks losing most are the two golds that he won at last year’s world championships in the 200m and 400m frees. At the event in Gwangju, South Korea, fellow medalists Mack Horton of Australia and Duncan Scott of Britain refused to stand with him on the podium.

Sun has denied any wrongdoing. Any ban imposed in the coming days would likely prevent him from competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I have nothing against anybody. It’s not personal,” Le Clos said. “It’s just how the world should be. If you cheat or if you do something wrong, like if you false start, you get disqualified. It’s simple as that.”

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