Christian Coleman, no longer writing out his goals, wins first U.S. 100m title

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DES MOINES — When Christian Coleman was in high school, he kept a goal sheet on his wall and scratched out every time he met a mark. As the world’s fastest man every year of this Olympic cycle, one could wonder what drives Coleman, aside from the obvious — his first world 100m title in two months and a gold medal in the Olympics’ marquee event next summer.

“I got it all up here,” Coleman pointed to his head on Friday after comfortably winning the U.S. 100m title in 9.99 seconds into a 1.0 meter/second headwind, flashing a pair of peace signs (or Vs for victory) as he crossed the finish line. “Right now what I’m just looking in on is getting a gold medal [at worlds] in Doha. And it’s hard not to think about the Olympics.”

Coleman, 23, has no shortage of motivation in his career thus far. He wasn’t recruited to major college football programs, despite being an all-state defensive back in Georgia, reportedly due to his size. Coleman is listed at 5 feet, 9 inches. He went to Tennessee to run track and broke the NCAA 100m record.

Coleman received the least fanfare of the U.S.’ three new phenoms in their teenage years. Noah Lyles, 22, and Michael Norman, 21, are the world’s fastest men in the 200m and 400m this year. Lyles and Norman garnered more headlines than Coleman at the 2016 Olympic Trials for just missing the 200m team coming out of high school. Coleman made that Olympic team (as the last man in the 4x100m relay pool).

“Maybe you could have seen it with Lyles and Norman,” NBC Sports analyst Ato Boldon said last week. “Coleman, not so much. I think Coleman has maybe progressed the most since [trials].”

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In an 11-month span in 2016 and 2017, Coleman broke 10 seconds for the first time and lowered his personal best to 9.82 seconds as a collegian. No other man has run that fast in this Olympic cycle.

The world’s fastest man title was there for the taking, given Rio gold medalist Usain Bolt‘s retirement, silver medalist Justin Gatlin‘s age (now 37) and bronze medalist Andre De Grasse‘s season-ending leg injuries the last two years. Coleman seized it. Nobody in modern timing history, not even Bolt, ranked No. 1 in the 100m in all four years of an Olympic cycle.

“The media puts out stories like this guy is the guy to beat. This guy is the fastest in the world,” Coleman said. “I don’t really pay attention to it. … I try to officially be the fastest man in the world come the end of September in Doha.”

At the 2017 World Championships, Coleman faced Bolt for the first time and beat him in the semifinals. Ninety minutes later, Coleman got a jump on the field off the gun in the final (this has become his trademark). Bolt, towering one lane to Coleman’s left, and Gatlin, three lanes to his right, closed in the final meters. Coleman held off Bolt by .01, but Gatlin edged him by .02.

“I’m sitting up here on a podium with Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin, guys I’ve looked up to my whole life,” Coleman said in that post-race press conference with all three medalists, where he was asked one question in 22 minutes.

Coleman opened his 2018 outdoor season with consecutive losses, slowed by a hamstring injury. He entered his last meet of the year on Aug. 31 ranked 10th in the world. But at that Diamond League final in Brussels, Coleman clocked the world’s fastest time in three years, a 9.79 that, adjusting for wind and altitude, may have been the most impressive time outside of the Bolt era.

“Mine,” Coleman repeated in a head-shaking, chest-thumping, finger-pointing celebration in Brussels.

This season, Coleman again lost his opener, this time to Lyles in matching 9.86s, that sparked a rivalry. Lyles said they simply aren’t friends; Coleman said he doesn’t single out any of his competitors.

Coleman insisted that what really counts is what happens at the end of the season in Doha. Lyles is focused on his best event, the 200m, where he and Coleman will hopefully go head-to-head here in Sunday’s final.

“Hopefully I can get many more in the future, but this is a big one,” Coleman said of his first national outdoor title. “I’ll be a little more comfortable on that big stage.”

Gatlin, the favorite for second place here and at Doha, scratched out of the final because he already has a bye into worlds as defending champion. They’re joined on the Doha team by veteran Mike Rodgers and Christopher Belcher, who each clocked 10.12.

Teahna Daniels was the surprise women’s 100m champion in 11.20 seconds, a month after placing fourth at the NCAA Championships. Daniels goes to Doha with Rio Olympian English Gardner, who was second (11.25) coming back from meniscus, ACL and hamstring tears in this Olympic cycle. Rio Olympic 4x100m member Morolake Akinosun grabbed the third individual worlds spot.

Pre-meet favorites Aleia Hobbs (2018 U.S. champion) and Sha’Carri Richardson (2019 NCAA champion in 10.75) were sixth and eighth, respectively.

In other events, Allyson Felix is in strong position to make her ninth straight world championships team after qualifying fifth into Saturday’s eight-woman 400m final. USA Track and Field can take at least six 400m runners to worlds for women’s and mixed-gender 4x400m relays.

Felix, at her first meet in more than a year and since Nov. 28 childbirth by emergency C-section, clocked 51.45 seconds in her semifinal, surging in the last 50 meters to ensure she was one of the four qualifiers for the final.

Felix said before the meet that she was “far from” her best. After she ran 52.20 as 11th-fastest in the first round, she said she was rusty and not quite up to her standard. The nine-time Olympic medalist is building momentum for trying to make her fifth Games next year yet still said her expectation coming into the meet was to win, “because I’m a competitor.”

“Just because I haven’t raced in so long, I’m just trying to use the rounds to kind of feel myself, like where I’m at, work out some kinks,” she said. “Just trying to put myself in a position to give myself a shot.”

Paralympic medalist and double amputee Blake Leeper won a 400m semifinal in a personal-best 44.38 seconds, but even if he does well in Saturday’s final, he may not make the world team. Leeper said his team is working on getting him eligible for the major international competition but would not get into specifics. Presumably, it is regarding the eligibility of his prosthetic legs.

“Blake has filed an application with the IAAF,” a USATF spokesperson said. “We allowed him to run conditionally at this event. We await the result of his legal case with the IAAF.”

Leeper’s time would have placed second at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. It would rank fifth in the world this year. Leeper said that he would have been eligible for the able-bodied world championships two years ago when he ran at nationals, but he didn’t make the final in 2017.

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. An IPC spokesman said Saturday that he does not believe Leeper’s status has changed. The IAAF did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on his eligibility on Friday night.

“Hopefully with my times and my story, everybody else will accept me,” Leeper said, adding that he’s been running at the same height for the last nine years. “They keep changing the rules.

“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.”

Leeper was born without lower legs and has used prosthetics since he was a toddler. He earned 200m bronze and 400m silver (behind Oscar Pistorius) in his class at the 2012 London Paralympics and has long harbored a goal of racing at the Olympics.

Two-time Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor merely needed to show up to secure his bye into worlds as the defending champion. He did little more than that, running through the pit on his first attempt and then calling it a day. Taylor is joined on the Doha roster by two-time Olympic silver medalist Will Claye, who is ranked No. 1 in the world this year.

Olympic champion Ryan Crouser threw 22.62 meters to win the shot put and will again be joined on the world team by Joe Kovacs (22.31) and Darrell Hill (22.11). They ranks Nos. 1, 3 and 5 in the world this year.

Devon Williams won the decathlon to clinch a world championships spot on a team that will include neither the retired Ashton Eaton nor Trey Hardee for the first time since 2007. Rio Olympian Zach Ziemek suffered a knee injury in Thursday’s high jump and withdrew. He can file for a medical exemption onto the world team, NBC Sports’ Paul Swangard said.

In the 800m, the favorites made Sunday’s finals — Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy, U.S. indoor record holder Donavan Brazier and U.S. record holder Ajeé Wilson, who is joined in the women’s final by 17-year-old Athing Mu.

MORE: Sydney McLaughlin takes juggling act to USATF Outdoor Champs

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Nathan Chen, from flu-ridden on the floor, fights for 4th U.S. title

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Rafael Arutunian showed me a photo on his phone of Nathan Chen sleeping on the floor in a dressing room at Great Park Ice Arena when he was supposed to be practicing earlier this month.

Arutunian said he could have taken the same picture on eight days in the 2 1/2 weeks they spent together at his Irvine, Calif., training base during Chen’s semester break from Yale.

Arutunian would see the flu-ridden and feverish Chen curled up asleep, turn off the light, leave the room and wait until Chen woke up before trying to have him do any training.

In the past, Arutunian said, Chen could train through sickness. This time it was futile.

“He couldn’t move,” Arutunian said.

It wasn’t until about 10 days ago, after Chen returned to college on the East Coast, that he was able to do anything resembling training.

At that point, the coach knew he had to be more hands-on than usual, or as much as he could be from 3,000 miles away.

“This time, I was managing everything, calling every day to give him exactly what he needed to do to get ready for the U.S. Championships,” Arutunian said.

NATIONALS: Full results | World championships team named

What Chen did on the ice Saturday and Sunday left Arutunian shaking his head in admiration.

He landed six clean quads in six attempts, two in the short program Saturday, four in the free skate Sunday. The short program was of the surpassing excellence that forces writers to exhaust the superlatives in our language for accurate portrayals of his skating.

The free skate did not require consulting a dictionary for new ways to say extraordinary. That was not unexpected, given how diminished fitness figured to take a toll over the length of a free skate, four minutes, compared to the two minutes, 50 seconds in the short.

Yet Chen’s overall skating still drew superlatives from Arutunian, not a coach given to gushing.

“I don’t know anybody who could recover and do what he did after that sickness,” Arutunian said.

This time, his performance was one for historians more than lexicographers, making it one for the ages from a different perspective.

Chen, 20, became the first U.S. man to win four straight U.S. titles since Olympic champion Brian Boitano in 1988. Others who have done that since World War II include Olympic champions Scott Hamilton, David Jenkins, Hayes Jenkins and Dick Button, the last a winner of seven straight.

Chen was fifth at his only Olympics so far, in 2018.  He has won 10 straight events since, including two world titles, two Grand Prix Final titles and the third and fourth U.S. titles.

“It’s a huge deal for me to be able to take the next step to not necessarily being one of the legends but to sort of follow their footsteps,” Chen said. “These guys have done amazing things, well beyond what I have accomplished. It’s amazing to have that inspiration in front of you, to see how far I can take myself.”

For the fourth straight year, Chen was far ahead of his contemporaries, even if his winning margin of 37.29 points was less than any of the previous three: 58.21, 40.72, 55.44.

That smaller gap owed less to Chen’s flaws in the free skate than to Jason Brown’s having done what his coach, Tracy Wilson, thought was the best skating of Brown’s career, especially for its interpretive maturity.

Chen finished with 330.17 points to 292.88 for Brown and 278.08 for Tomoki Hiwatashi, who had a breakthough performance. World bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, who has had only a few weeks of good training after taking a leave from Brown University and moving to Toronto, was fourth at 275.23.

“A couple jump landings were a little shaky,” Chen said. “I wasn’t as controlled and calm as I was in the short program.”

Chen, Brown and Zhou were named to the U.S. team for the March world championships in Montreal. Better results over the past year, notably the world bronze, gave Zhou the third spot over Hiwatashi.

Brown, 25, once again failed to land a quadruple jump, with his quad toe attempt ending in a downgrade and two-footed landing. But he did everything else so brilliantly in a mesmerizingly beautiful performance to music from “Schindler’s List” that his individual grade of execution marks were higher than Chen’s. This was a Brown at a level he had not approached since his 2014 Olympic season.

“I think that was just a glimpse of what’s to come,” Brown said. “One hundred percent, it’s probably the best skating I have done. I think I still have a long way to go as far as the technical aspect as well as the skating skills, but as far as being strong and confident, I really feel things coming together.”

Chen, on the other hand, felt as unprepared as he ever had been for a nationals because of the illness. So he was “absolutely pleased” with his performance to music from the Elton John biopic, “Rocketman.”

“I was able to make good use of the week I had relatively healthy to sort of get myself back in check before this competition,” Chen said.  “I’ve had a lot of experience over the past few years competing in different sorts of situations, and that helped me here in how to still keep myself in a positive, confident mindset.”

Chen’s concession to his physical condition was no quad Lutz. His execution of three of the four quads he did, two toes, a salchow and a flip, was exceptional – especially the opening flip in combination and the final toe. The judges also rewarded him with 15 perfect component scores, six for composition and five for interpretation. 

As much as he impressed the judges, Chen impressed his coach more.

“Amazing,” Arutunian said. “Who else could do this?”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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MORE: Why retired Adam Rippon was at nationals 

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.

Nathan Chen wins fourth straight U.S. figure skating title in dominant fashion

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Nathan Chen has leaned on Brian Boitano during times of crisis and injuries. At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships the last two days, Chen showcased not only his jumps — six quads between two programs — but some of the mental strength gleaned from the 1988 Olympic champion.

Chen, who said he competed on one week of full training after a flu bout, was his usual standout self, becoming the first man to win four straight national titles since Boitano in 1988.

He distanced runner-up Jason Brown by 37.29 points, totaling 330.17. Chen won all of his national titles by at least 37 points. No other skater, pair or dance couple has won by more than 33 points since the Code of Points was instituted in 2006.

Chen landed a pair of quad toe loops, a quad flip and a quad Salchow in his Elton John-themed free skate.

“I was, again, pretty worried about my stamina coming into this competition, but the audience really helped me get through it,” the Yale sophomore told Andrea Joyce on NBC.

NATIONALS: Full results | World championships team named

Boitano and Scott Hamilton, the other most recent man to win four straight, sat together inside the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum.

“It’s a huge deal for me to be able to take the next step to, not necessarily becoming one of these legends, but sort of follow in their footsteps,” Chen said. “These guys have done amazing things well beyond what I’ve already accomplished. It’s amazing to be able to have that sort of inspiration in front of you and have something to look forward to.”

Besides Chen, five of the six men to earn four straight U.S. titles since World War II went on to earn Olympic gold, which Chen will aim for in 2022. He’s undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics with a disastrous 17th-place short program followed by a leading free skate. He was arguably the favorite for gold.

Chen now heads to March’s world championships for another matchup with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. Chen routed Hanyu twice in 2019, by 22.45 points at worlds and 43.87 at December’s Grand Prix Final.

“If I start focusing too much on the results, and I start trying to focus on going to this competition because I want to continue this quote-unquote streak, it will probably be the end of it,” Chen said. After his Grand Prix Final romp, Chen called Hanyu a “skating god” and said the Japanese megastar was still capable of outperforming him.

Brown, skating Sunday to music from “Schindler’s List,” earned his best nationals finish since winning the title in Greensboro five years ago.

He did so without a clean quad, having his one attempt in the free skate downgraded. Brown has never landed a quad in competition. Still, he beat Chen in artistic scores in the short program, coming back from a preseason concussion in a car accident.

“It’s probably the best skating that I’ve done,” said Brown, a 2014 Olympian who changed coaches after missing the PyeongChang Olympics, moving to Brian Orser‘s group in Toronto.

Tomoki Hiwatashi, the world junior champion, jumped from fifth after the short program onto the podium in third. He landed a pair of quads in a clean free skate, making his case to be named to the three-man world championships team.

But that spot was instead given by a U.S. Figure Skating committee to fourth-place finisher Vincent Zhou.

Zhou, the world bronze medalist, finished fourth with one quad in his free skate. Zhou had minor jump landing errors, competing after not training properly for the entire autumn while a freshman at Brown. He moved to Toronto in late December, changed coaches and resumed training a month before nationals.

Andrew Torgashev, the surprise third-place skater from the short program, fell twice on quad attempts and dropped to fifth.

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MORE: Why retired Adam Rippon was at nationals 

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.