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Christian Coleman set to stare down elders Justin Gatlin and Yohan Blake in world championships

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Usain Bolt has moved on, but sprinters of a certain age are not yet ready to cede the spotlight just yet in the men’s 100 meters.

The world championship semifinals and final will be the marquee event of Saturday’s session in Doha, Qatar. The session also includes finals in the women’s hammer throw, men’s long jump and women’s 10,000 meters, all of which have U.S. medal contenders.

Justin Gatlin, who won the 2004 Olympic gold and 2005 world championship in the 100 meters before serving a lengthy suspension for a doping infraction, won his heat Friday to extend his effort to defend the world title he won two years ago at age 35. Now 37, Gatlin has posted the fourth-fastest time (9.87) in the world this year. (No. 2, Noah Lyles, is focusing on the 200 meters; No. 3, Divine Oduduru of Nigeria and Texas Tech, did not start Friday’s heats.)

Mike Rodgers, a fellow American in his mid-30s, advanced from his heat as well.

Another heat winner, Jamaica’s Yohan Blake, won’t turn 30 for another couple of months but has been around for years, winning the world title in 2011 when Bolt was disqualified.

But the fastest man in the world this year and the fastest man in Friday’s heats is from the next generation.

Christian Coleman, a 23-year-old sprinter who finished between Gatlin and Bolt to take silver in 2017, laid down an emphatic run in his heat Friday, blasting away from the pack and finishing in 9.98 seconds despite slowing down toward the end. No other runner broke the 10-second mark.

Coleman’s heat sent a message that he is ready to roll after missing time to deal with a drug-testing issue. He missed two Diamond League meets in late August, missing out on prize money and some opportunities to rev up for the world championships.

The Americans will be spread between the three semifinals — Coleman in the first, Gatlin alongside Blake and Canadian star Andre de Grasse in the second, Rodgers in the third. The top two in the each semifinal and the next two fastest runners across all three semis will advance to the final.

READ: Coleman wants apology after drug-test saga

The women’s hammer throw had three U.S. medal contenders who ranked first, second and third coming into the competition, but Brooke Andersen failed to advance from Friday’s qualification round. Gwen Berry, one of two athletes to draw attention to social issues with gestures on the podium at the Pan Am Games, also didn’t throw near her best but still advanced. DeAnna Price had no such issue, throwing 73.77m on her first effort to qualify automatically. Her throw stood as the day’s best.

READ: Berry raises fist, Imboden kneels at Pan Am Games

The men’s long jump will include Olympic champion Jeff Henderson, who has had an erratic season. The favorite is Cuba’s Juan Miguel Echevarria, who has the best jump in the world this year and easily took top honors in the Diamond League.

In the women’s 10,000 meters, world and Olympic champion Almaz Ayana has withdrawn, but her fellow Ethiopians have the potential for a sweep. Letesenbet Gidey has the world’s fastest time this year. The U.S. contingent includes veteran Molly Huddle, who finished fourth in the 2015 world championships and sixth in the 2016 Olympics, and Emily Sisson, who has posted the fastest time in the world this year by anyone not from Ethiopia.

Huddle actually has the fastest career best in the field with her American record 30:13.17 in the 2016 Olympics.

READ: Ayana withdraws from championships

Other events in the evening session include qualification rounds in the women’s 100m, men’s discus, men’s 800m, men’s pole vault and men’s 400m hurdles. The women’s 800m semifinals, featuring Americans Ajee Wilson and Raevyn Rogers, also are on the schedule, as is the first round of the mixed 4x400m relay.

After the evening session, near midnight local time, the men and women will compete simultaneously in the 50km walk.

NBC will carry the men’s 100m final and other action from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. EDT, while earlier action will start on the Olympic Channel at 9:30 a.m. EDT. NBC Sports Gold will stream live coverage of every event over the 10-day meet.

TRACK AND FIELD WORLDS: TV Schedule | U.S. Roster

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Ragan Smith finds joy in college gymnastics after life-changing decision

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Ragan Smith, after her first two weeks of college gymnastics, quickly pointed out the coolest part of competing for the Oklahoma Sooners. It’s the noise that erupts on the last pass of her floor exercise, or upon her dismount off the uneven bars or balance beam.

They are similar sounds to what drew her to commit to Oklahoma back in 2015, when she was 15 years old.

“The girls in practice were all cheering for each other,” she recalled in a phone interview earlier this month.

Last spring, Smith called Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler with a request. The Texan wanted to enroll at OU that summer, a year earlier than planned. Originally, Smith committed to the university with the intention of deferring until after the 2020 Olympic season.

Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate in her first year at the senior elite level, began this Olympic cycle in 2017 by winning the U.S. all-around title. Granted, the triumph came during Simone Biles‘ one-year break. But consider that Smith’s margin of victory — 3.4 points — was greater than Biles’ average margin for her four national titles from 2013-16.

Everything changed for Smith on Oct. 6, 2017. Minutes before she was to compete as the favorite in the world championships all-around, she suffered an ankle injury warming up on vault (reportedly three torn ligaments). She was withdrawn from the meet and fought injuries for the rest of her elite career.

In calling Kindler last spring, Smith signaled she was ready to move on from Olympic-level or “elite” gymnastics. It is possible for collegians to compete at U.S. Championships or Olympic trials, but no woman with NCAA experience has made any of the last three Olympic teams.

“I felt like my time was done in elite,” said Smith, whose mother and aunt competed for Auburn and Maryland, respectively. “I really just wanted to move on with my life and everything.”

Kindler was walking in an academic center on campus when Smith called her last spring.

“[Smith] said, ‘I was in the shower, and I was thinking, and I think I really, really want to come,'” Kindler said. “‘My body is ready to be done with elite gymnastics, and my mind is ready to move forward, and I would love to come to school this year. Is there a spot for me?’

“We saved a spot in case she changed her mind [about waiting until after the Olympics], but the plan was always for her to defer. We never talked about anything else, so I was very surprised by the phone call.”

Kindler urged Smith to think it over. Discuss it with her elite coach, 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal.

“[Zmeskal] and I had a really good understanding of what Ragan’s goals were, which is why I think it had to be Ragan’s decision,” Kindler said. “I didn’t want to place any influence on anything. Kim thinks the world of Ragan. She was in full support. Her and I texted back and forth and spoke about it. She said she wanted Ragan to think about it a little bit, and she did do that, and still had decided that this was for her. I think Kim supported that decision, just as I said I would support whatever she wanted to do.”

Smith shared the news on July 7.

“I have moved on from the 1st chapter of my life and on to the 2nd,” was posted on her Instagram, accompanied by a photo of her in a crimson leotard. “I am so excited to be joining the class of 2019.”

Smith joined the defending national champion program, one that captured three of the last four NCAA titles. By enrolling a year early, Smith gets to be teammates with senior Maggie Nichols.

Nichols was second to Biles at the 2015 U.S. Championships, making her a bona fide contender for the Rio Olympic team. Early in 2016, Nichols tore a meniscus on a vault landing and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. She announced retirement from elite gymnastics two days after finishing sixth at the Olympic trials, one spot behind Smith, and not being named to the Olympic team.

Smith said she has already benefited from Nichols’ experience, coming to her with questions to aid her transition.

“What an incredible opportunity to have Ragan and Maggie on the same team,” Kindler said.

The Sooners are 9-0 this year and 26-0 since the start of 2019. Smith was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week each of the season’s first three weeks. Not incredibly surprising, given Smith’s pedigree.

Perhaps more notable: Kindler said Smith hasn’t had a single ankle problem since arriving in Norman in July.

Back in August 2018, Smith said the ankle still hurt sometimes, that she had not completed a practice without pain that whole year and a coach joked to her, “You already have a 100-year-old body.”

Smith is competing easier routines collegiately than as an elite, as is the norm. But Kindler found that her passion for the sport has not waned.

“As an elite athlete, you don’t necessarily have to learn anything when you come to college,” Kindler said. “In fact, you can scale back what you’re doing, but I feel like she has a real eagerness to continue to refine what she’s doing and to learn new skills. She wants to continue to get better, and I love that about her.”

At her first college meet, Smith remembered the feeling of adrenaline brought on by competing not just for herself, but for women with whom she will call teammates week in and week out for the coming years.

“I didn’t want to let go of elite because it’s been, like, my whole life and my dream and everything,” said Smith, who was inspired by McKayla Maroney‘s 2012 Olympic vault and then had a dog named Rio. “But at the same time, my mind was telling me to come to college and have fun. I’m glad I made that decision, because I love it here.”

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MORE: Athletes warily embrace progress as USA Gymnastics evolves

Dustin Johnson wonders if Olympic golf will properly fit into his schedule

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Dustin Johnson, the world’s fifth-ranked golfer, said he isn’t sure the Tokyo Olympics will fit well into his schedule, assuming he qualifies for what will be a very competitive U.S. team of four.

“Obviously representing the United States in the Olympics is something that, you know, definitely be proud to do,” he said when asked if the Ryder Cup and the Olympics are goals this year. “But is it going to fit in the schedule properly? I’m not really sure about that, because there’s so many events that are right there and leading up to it. So you know, I’m still working with my team to figure out what’s the best thing for me to do.”

Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner and world No. 1 in 2017 and 2018, is the third-highest ranked American at the moment behind Brooks Koepka (who also spoke about the Olympics on Tuesday, saying they’re not as important as majors) and Justin Thomas.

Johnson is ranked one spot ahead of Tiger Woods, who has voiced intent to play in Tokyo should he qualify.

But the current world rankings, based on a two-year, rolling window of results, do not exactly mirror Olympic qualifying, which takes into account only results after the 2018 U.S. Open. Rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter has Thomas, Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay as the current U.S. top four in Olympic qualifying. Woods is fifth and Johnson seventh.

The cutoff to determine the Olympic field of 60 golfers overall is after the U.S. Open in June.

The Olympic golf tournament is July 30-Aug. 2. There is no PGA Tour event that weekend. The FedEx Cup Playoffs start two weeks after the Olympics. Last season, Johnson did not play the tournaments that will immediately precede and follow the Olympics — the 3M Open and the Wyndham Championship.

Johnson did qualify for the Rio Olympics but withdrew a month before the Games, citing Zika virus concerns as other golfers did.

“This was not an easy decision for me, but my concerns about the Zika virus cannot be ignored,” Johnson said in a statement at the time. “[Wife] Paulina and I plan to have more children in the near future, and I feel it would be irresponsible to put myself, her or our family at risk.”

Paulina gave birth to their second son in June 2017.

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