Genzebe Dibaba

Andre De Grasse storms to first Diamond League win in two years

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If Andre De Grasse is to make another Olympic podium push, this summer would be a good time to start surging. The triple Rio Olympic medalist earned his first Diamond League win in two years in Rabat on Sunday.

De Grasse, who suffered season-ending right hamstring injuries the last two summers, won a 200m over world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey in 20.19 seconds. It marked De Grasse’s fastest 200m since this meet in 2017, his last individual race before the first of the hamstring problems.

“I am very grateful with the victory but not happy with the time,” De Grasse said, according to meet organizers. “I want to achieve sub-20 seconds.”

De Grasse, the Olympic 100m bronze medalist and 200m silver medalist, must get faster before this fall’s world championships in Doha.

The world’s swiftest 200m men this year are comfortably sub-20 performers — Americans Michael Norman (19.70, though not expected to race the 200m at worlds) and Noah Lyles (19.72) and Nigerian Divine Oduduru (19.73). None of them were in Rabat. De Grasse’s personal best is 19.80 from Rio.

“It is a long process,” De Grasse said. “I am not fully healthy, I still have a lot of work to do to be really back in shape. I want to be back where I was two years ago.”

Full Rabat results are here. The Diamond League next stops in Stanford, Calif., for the Prefontaine Classic, live on NBC on June 30 from 4-6 p.m. ET.

In other Rabat events, world champion Phyllis Francis took fourth in the 400m won by world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain in 50.13 seconds. Naser ranks second in the world this year behind Bahamian Olympic champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo (absent from Rabat), the only woman to beat Naser since the 2017 Worlds.

Francis was fourth in 50.76, ranking her second among Americans this year. Francis has a bye into worlds as a defending champion.

Nigerian veteran Blessing Okagbare took the 100m in 11.05, upsetting world silver and bronze medalists Marie-Josee Ta Lou (second, 11.09) and Dafne Schippers (fifth, 11.32). The race lacked world championships favorites Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain and American Sha’Carri Richardson, all of whom have easily broken 11 this season.

In the 110m hurdles, Olympic champion Omar McLeod led from the start before hitting the last hurdle and stumbling into 2015 World champion Sergey Shubenkov. Shubenkov fell across the finish line but still won in 13.12, while McLeod was fifth in 13.48. The early world championships favorite appears to be American Grant Holloway, who won the NCAA title in 12.98 and turned pro.

Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba ran the fastest women’s 1500m since August 2016, a 3:55.47 to hold off Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan by .46. Dibaba, who holds the world record of 3:50.07, is undefeated at 1500m since finishing 12th at the 2017 Worlds. Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson was seventh in Rabat in 3:59.83, breaking four minutes for the second time in three seasons.

Botswana’s Nijel Amos edged past Kenyan Emmanuel Korir by .03 in a matchup of the two best 800m runners the two previous seasons. Amos clocked 1:45.57, well off the fastest time in the world this year held by American Donavan Brazier, who was absent from Rabat but beat Amos in Rome two weeks ago. Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy was third in Rabat.

Olympic and world pole vault silver medalist Sandi Morris cleared 4.82 meters for her first Diamond League win since August. The field did not include 2012 Olympic champ Jenn Suhr, who has the world’s best clearance this year of 4.91.

Croatian discus thrower Sandra Perkovic, long one of the most dominant athletes in the sport, lost for the second straight Diamond League meet as she returns from injury.

The double Olympic and double world champion took third with a 64.77-meter effort, trailing Cubans Yaime Perez (68.28) and Denia Caballero (65.94). Perkovic has now lost three straight times dating to last season after going seven straight seasons without back-to-back defeats, according to Tilastopaja.org.

MORE: Why Caster Semenya did not race Rabat

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U.S. Olympic medalists eye responses in Rabat; stream schedule, preview

Clayton Murphy, Jenny Simpson
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Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy just watched a countryman notch his first Diamond League win. Olympic 1500m bronze medalist Jenny Simpson just saw her longtime rival clock her fastest time since 2015.

Murphy and Simpson get chances to answer at a Diamond League stop in Rabat, Morocco, on Sunday (live at 1 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

In Rio, Murphy became the first U.S. Olympic 800m medalist in 24 years. At 21, he looked like the American face of the event for years to come. But Donavan Brazier, who is two years younger, won the 2017 U.S. title in Murphy’s absence, then broke the U.S. indoor record on Feb. 9.

Last week in Rome, Brazier did something Murphy has yet to accomplish, winning a Diamond League race. Murphy was fourth, falling to 0-3 in his career against Brazier, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Rabat provides a chance for Murphy ahead of next month’s USATF Outdoor Championships, where the top three per event are in line to make the team for the fall world championships. Brazier is not in the Rabat field, but the only two men to run faster than Murphy in 2018 are — Kenyan Emmanuel Korir and Botswana’s Nijel Amos.

The women’s 1500m is another marquee event in Rabat with Simpson facing world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia.

Only once has Simpson won a race that involved Dibaba, and that was five years ago. The 32-year-old American was fourth in Rome last week, 4.9 seconds behind Dibaba, who clocked her fastest time since her world-record run four years ago.

Like Murphy, Simpson recently relinquished her domestic hold of the 1500m to a younger runner, Shelby Houlihan, who was second-fastest in the world last year to Dibaba but is not in Rabat. Houlihan hasn’t raced anywhere since Feb. 24 but is entered in the Pre Classic in two weeks.

For Simpson, getting the better of Dibaba would be a heck of a message to send before nationals. Houlihan snapped Simpson’s four-year national title streak in 2018.

Here are the Rabat entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:01 p.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
1:03 — Women’s Discus
1:38 — Men’s High Jump
2:04 — Women’s 400m
2:11 — Men’s 1500m
2:25 — Women’s 100m
2:31 — Men’s Long Jump
2:33 — Men’s 800m
2:41 — Men’s Discus
2:41 — Women’s 1500m
2:54 — Men’s 200m
3:02 — Men’s 5000m
3:28 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
3:37 — Women’s 800m
3:47 — Men’s 300m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Discus — 1:03 p.m.
Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic is the headliner, but the Olympic and world champion ranks just 13th in the world this year after missing a discus podium for the first time in eight years at her season debut two weeks ago, according to Tilastopaja.org. The world’s top four women are in Rabat to challenge her, including American Valarie Allman, who in April launched the best throw by a U.S. woman since 2014.

Women’s 400m — 2:04 p.m.
Two of the four Americans to break 50 seconds since August 2017 are here, but the favorite has to be world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain, who hasn’t lost to anybody other than Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo since the 2017 World Championships. But the 2017 World champion is in this field, American Phyllis Francis. As is Kendall Ellis, who is in her first pro season. Miller-Uibo, not in this field, is the lone woman to break 50 this year.

Men’s Long Jump — 2:31 p.m.
Olympic champ Jeff Henderson, world champ Luvo Manyonga and 2018 world leader Juan Miguel Echevarria gather for the second time this season. Last time out, they were all beaten. Still, Henderson and Manyonga rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year, and nobody has approached the Cuban Echevarria’s monster 8.68-meter leap from last year.

Men’s 800m — 2:33 p.m.
Murphy has never won a race that involved Amos and has never finished ahead of Korir in six meetings, according to Tilastopaja. While Murphy remains likely to make the three-man world team, Brazier has to be the favorite for nationals unless Murphy can win here or beat Brazier’s time from Rome — 1:43.63.

Women’s 1500m — 2:41 p.m.
Dibaba is the overwhelming favorite after her 3:56.28 in Rome last week. The only woman to go faster since the start of 2017, Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan is also here with Simpson. Missing is Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon of Kenya, who is working her way back from childbirth.

MORE: Caster Semenya says she’s blocked from Rabat

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Michael Norman edges Noah Lyles in Rome 200m

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Noah Lyles‘ undefeated 200m record this Olympic cycle is gone. So is his unblemished head-to-head history with friendly rival Michael Norman.

Norman won a duel between the 2016 World Junior Championships roommates, clocking a personal-best 19.70 seconds at a Diamond League meet in Rome on Thursday night.

Norman, the world’s fastest 400m man since the Rio Olympics, got a jump on Lyles off the start and never relinquished that lead. Lyles closed in the final straight but crossed in 19.72 for his first outdoor 200m loss since the 2016 Olympic trials.

“I still have a lot of technical issues with myself, like: be patient,” Norman said, according to meet organizers, after taking .14 off his previous best and beating Lyles for the first time in four tries dating to 2015, according to Tilastopaja.org. “I did not have any expectations coming into this race. I just want to improve myself and not chase a time.”

Lyles and Norman finished fourth and fifth in those Rio trials, just missing the Olympic team, but beamed for performing so well as 18-year-olds. Lyles turned pro two weeks later. Norman matriculated at USC, where he focused on the 400m.

While the outgoing Lyles gained more attention for lighting up the international Diamond League circuit, the calmer Norman finished his NCAA career last year by becoming the sixth-fastest 400m runner ever. He lowered his personal best to 43.45 on April 20, the fastest time ever that early in a year and by somebody that young.

Last season, Lyles joined Usain Bolt as the only men to break 19.7 in the 200m four times in one year.

But now, Lyles is the fastest this year in the 100m, and Norman leads the world in the 200m. Neither is expected to race those events at the USATF Outdoor Championships next month, the qualifier for worlds. Lyles is focused on the 200m; Norman the 400m as they eye world championships debuts in September.

Full Rome results are here. The Diamond League moves to Oslo next Thursday, with Christian Coleman, the world’s fastest man since the Rio Olympics, headlining.

Olympic champion Elaine Thompson ran a statement 100m with her fastest time in nearly two years (10.89) to overtake new phenom Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain by .05. U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs was third in 11.12.

Thompson, who swept the 100m and 200m in Rio, has since battled injuries and went winless outside her native Jamaica in 2018. She’s now fastest in the world this season.

“If I can run 10.94 when I’m feeling rusty, it’s not bad at all,” Asher-Smith said, according to meet organizers.

Donavan Brazier notched his first Diamond League win in the 800m, edging 2012 Olympic silver medalist Nijel Amos of Botswana by .02 with a lean. The 2017 U.S. champion clocked 1:43.63, fastest in the world since August. Double Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha of Kenya has been sidelined since July 2017 due to quad problems.

Genzebe Dibaba prevailed in the 1500m in 3:56.28, her fastest time since lowering the world record to 3:50.07 in 2015. Dibaba held off Brit Laura Muir by .45, with Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson taking fourth.

Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad won the 400m hurdles in 53.67 seconds, giving her victories in both Diamond League races this season. However, the 2018 world leader Sydney McLaughlin wasn’t in either field. McLaughlin, 19, clocked the fastest time of 2018 at 52.75.

American Rai Benjamin clocked 47.58 to take the men’s 400m hurdles by a hefty 1.41 seconds over a field that lacked Qatari rival Abderrahman Samba. Samba, the second-fastest man ever in the event, owns the two fastest times of the year: 47.27 and 47.51.

Two-time Olympic javelin champion Barbora Spotakova had the worst Diamond League finish of her career, taking seventh in her first top-level meet since 2017, according to Tilastopaja.org. Spotakova, a 37-year-old Czech, gave birth to her second child last year. Her best throw Thursday — 61.51 meters — was more than 35 feet shy of her world record from 2008.

“I tried not to set any goals or to expect anything from myself here,” she said. “Every competition for me now is like a new start of my career.”

Swede Angelica Bengtsson upset Olympic gold and silver medalists Katerina Stefanidi and Sandi Morris in the pole vault, clearing 4.76 meters. Stefanidi and Morris each failed at three attempts at that height. Jenn Suhr, the 2012 Olympic champ, no-heighted with three 4.56 misses after having issues getting her poles on her flight.

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