Thomas Roehler

Aries Merritt wins first Diamond League race since kidney transplant

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Aries Merritt won his first Diamond League 110m hurdles race since his 2015 kidney transplant in Rome on Thursday.

Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion, prevailed in 13.13 seconds while jetlagged.

It’s well off his world record of 12.80, but Merritt beat a decent field that included Rio silver medalist Orlando Ortega and the last two world champions, Sergey Shubenkov and David Oliver.

“I made many mistakes, hit a lot of hurdles today, but my speed is getting better,” Merritt said, according to the IAAF. “The time 13.13 is not that terrible in the end. After 2015, it was tough, but I am here, I am healthy, so I just need to stay focused and the results will come.”

Merritt is 21 months removed from a kidney transplant. He won bronze at the 2015 World Championships with kidney function at less than 20 percent. He missed the 2016 Olympic team by .01 at trials, 10 months after his transplant surgery.

Merritt ranks second in the U.S. this year behind Devon Allen. The top three at the U.S. Championships in two weeks qualify for the world championships in London in August.

Sprint favorites Andre De Grasse and Dafne Schippers also won in Rome, the first of three Diamond League meets in an 11-day span.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold will also air live coverage of Oslo (next Thursday and Stockholm (June 18), the last two meets before the U.S. Championships.

Full Rome results are here.

In other events Thursday, the Canadian De Grasse won the 200m, his first Diamond League victory of 2017. De Grasse, billed as the top challenger to Usain Bolt, impressively pulled away in 20.01 seconds.

De Grasse now ranks No. 6 in the world in the 200m this year. American Christian Coleman is the world leader at 19.85 seconds. Bolt said he’s not racing the 200m in his farewell season.

Dutchwoman Schippers won the 100m on Thursday in 10.99. Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, fastest in the world this year at 10.78, was not in the Rome field.

In the women’s 5000m, Hellen Obiri broke the Kenyan record with her winning time of 14:18.37. Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world-record holder, was sixth.

Rio triple jump champion Caterine Ibarguen of Colombia lost for just the second time in her last 42 competitions since her 2012 Olympic silver, according to Tilastopaja.org. Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas, who took silver to Ibarguen in Rio, edged her by six centimeters Thursday (14.84 meters to 14.78).

There were more upsets.

Rio gold medalist Michelle Carter was third in the shot put. Rio silver medalist Sandi Morris was sixth in the pole vault.

The men’s 100m lacked any individual Olympic or world medalists, but it still produced a surprise winner in Brit CJ Ujah. Ujah clocked 10.02 seconds, while Pre Classic winner Ronnie Baker was third in 10.05.

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Justin Gatlin, Andre De Grasse beaten in Diamond League opener

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South African Akani Simbine is looking like the biggest threat to Usain Bolt this season.

Simbine dusted the Olympic silver and bronze medalists, Justin Gatlin and Andre De Grasse, to open the Diamond League season in Doha on Friday. Bolt, in his final season, is expected to race for the first time since Rio on June 10.

Simbine clocked 9.99 seconds into a 1.2 meter/second headwind on Friday. Former world-record holder Asafa Powell was second in 10.08, with Gatlin fourth (10.14) and De Grasse fifth (10.21).

Full Doha results are here. NBCSN will air Diamond League highlights on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Simbine owns five of the eight fastest times in the world this year and has broken 10 seconds a total of six times. Nobody else has done it more than once. The 23-year-old has risen steadily the past few years, breaking 10 for the first time in 2015 and then finishing fifth in Rio.

Gatlin and De Grasse raced individually outdoors for the first time this year on Friday. They did not impress.

Gatlin, 35, finished outside the top three of a 100m for the first time since 2013. It also marked Gatlin’s slowest 100m time against a full field in a final since 2011, according to Tilastopaja.org.

De Grasse, 22, notched the second-slowest 100m final time of his two-year professional career. He looked much more impressive two weeks ago, overtaking Gatlin in an IAAF World Relays 4x100m heat anchor leg.

In other events, South African Caster Semenya eased to win a loaded 800m in 1:56.61, the fastest time in the world this year.

The Olympic champion Semenya and Rio bronze medalist Margaret Wambui pulled away in the final 100 meters. Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world-record holder making her 800m debut, faded behind them to fifth in 1:59.37.

Jamaican Elaine Thompson outdueled Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers in a matchup of the Rio Olympic 200m gold and silver medalists, 22.19 to 22.45 into a 2.3 meter/second headwind. Rio bronze medalist Tori Bowie, who was not in the Doha field, has the fastest time this year at 22.09.

In the javelin, Rio Olympic champion Thomas Roehler of Germany launched 93.9 meters, making him the No. 2 performer all time. Czech Jan Zelezny, the Olympic champion in 1992, 1996 and 2000, owns the world record (98.48) and the five best throws of all time.

The Diamond League continues in Shanghai on May 13, with live streaming coverage on NBC Sports Gold.

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