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Olympic champion to compete in his garden as track meet sets alternative format

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A Diamond League track and field meet in Oslo on June 11 will go on without spectators and with athlete restrictions, including Olympic pole vault champion Renaud Lavillenie competing in his home garden.

Also Thursday, the Pre Classic and another Diamond League meet in Paris, both scheduled for June, were postponed due to the coronavirus.

The Diamond League is track and field’s premier circuit, gathering the world’s top athletes every spring and summer around national championships, world championships and the Olympics.

The Diamond League season was due to start April 17, but now eight of the first nine meets have been postponed.

Doha: April 17 (postponed indefinitely)
China: May 9 (postponed indefinitely)
Shanghai: May 16 (now Aug. 13)
Stockholm: May 24 (postponed indefinitely)
Naples, Italy: May 28 (postponed indefinitely)
Rabat, Morocco: May 31 (postponed indefinitely)
Pre Classic (Eugene, Ore.): June 7 (postponed indefinitely)
Oslo: June 11
Paris: June 13 (postponed indefinitely)

The Oslo meet, called the Bislett Games, will be held as “an alternative athletics competition under Norwegian coronavirus regulations,” according to the Diamond League.

Oslo organizers are still in planning stages, but some notable champions are committed to compete at a stadium without fans:

Mondo Duplantis, the freshly minted world-record holder in the pole vault, will compete at Bislett against at least two others. One of them will be former world-record holder Lavillenie, who will compete against them from his garden at his central France home. Duplantis is Swedish but was raised in Louisiana, where he has been training in a backyard pole vault setup.
-Norwegian Karoline Bjerkli Grøvdal will race a 3000m solo — “with the help of wavelight technique” — in a bid to break nine-time New York City Marathon winner Grete Waitz‘s Norwegian record of 8:31.75. Norwegian media reported that she will race with a light in front of her showing the pace to beat Waitz’s time from 1979.
-Norwegian Karsten Warholm (400m hurdles world champion) will race the 300m hurdles, eyeing the fastest time in history in the non-Olympic event of 34.48, in a solo race, according to Norwegian media.
-Swede Daniel Ståhl (discus world champion) will compete against at least two others — a Swede and a Norwegian.

No athletes will fly into Oslo. Rather, foreign athletes will be transported via electric cars from the Swedish border.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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With Anthony Fauci’s eyes on closed-door return, which Olympic sports can be played?

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Anthony Fauci, the now-ubiquitous director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has outlined a path for sports to return in the United States behind closed doors.

Fauci, speaking with Good Luck America’s Peter Hamby, pointed toward a path for having public sports events this year.

“There’s a way of doing that,” Fauci said. “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them in big hotels wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled … and have them tested every week.”

Such a plan might work for Major League Baseball, in which talk of a plan to put all 30 teams in Arizona has met with skepticism, or Germany’s Bundesliga, in which soccer teams have returned to training with the prospect starting play in May even after Chancellor Angela Merkel extended a ban on public gatherings through Aug. 31.

Olympic sports, though, might have a more difficult path back to action.

Even without fans, athletes are often packed into close quarters. A track and field meet like the Prefontaine Classic, which is still scheduled to take place June 6-7 in Eugene, Ore., would have more 100 athletes cycling through the stadium in addition to coaches and officials. Those athletes would also be traveling in and out of Oregon, not confined to a hotel and a ballpark.

The athletes’ youth and fitness may help them stave off serious issues if infected, but Fauci also warned that the risk of illness for young people from COVID-19 — while less than the risk to older people — is greater than initially believed.

“What we’re disturbingly starting to see now, which is really troublesome is that the initial cases from China made it seem that young people and healthy people get a mild illness it goes away, no problem,” Fauci said. “Now we’re starting to see that people who are younger are getting ill, and some of them are getting seriously ill and even dying from this.”

That discovery means athletes themselves, not just older or unhealthier fans, could be at risk of illness.

Fauci also talked with NBC’s “Today Show” Wednesday morning to talk about the possibility of states relaxing restrictions that were imposed with the onset of the pandemic:

Most Olympic sports events in the United States through June have already been canceled or postponed:

April 15-19: Equestrian, World Cup show jumping and dressage finals, Las Vegas canceled

April 16-26: Ice hockey, world under-18 men’s championships canceled 

April 20: Track and field, Boston Marathon postponed to Sept. 14

April 28-May 3: Water polo, World League intercontinental tournaments, Indianapolis postponed, no new date set, may be relocated

April 29-May 3: Road cycling, Tour of the Gila, New Mexico canceled

May 14-17: Golf, PGA Championship, San Francisco postponed to Aug. 6-9

May 26-31: BMX racing, world championships, Houston  postponed, no new date set

June 4-7: Golf, U.S. Women’s Open, Houston postponed to Dec. 10-13

June 6-7: Track and field, Prefontaine Classic, Eugene, Ore. still set to run as scheduled

June 12-14: Artistic swimming, World Series, Rochester, N.Y. canceled

June 12-14: Sport climbing, World Cup, Salt Lake City postponed, no new date set

June 18-21: Golf, U.S. Open, Mamoroneck, N.Y. postponed to Sept. 17-20

June 25-28: Golf, Women’s PGA Championship still set to run as scheduled

Aug. 6-15: Track and field, world championships, Eugene, Ore. postponed to July 2021 due to postponement of the 2020 Olympics

Aug. 31-Sept. 13: Tennis, U.S. Open still set to run as scheduled

The AVP beach volleyball tour has canceled two events and postponed two more, with the first event of the year now set for June 19-21.

In golf, the PGA Tour still has a May 21-24 tournament on the calendar. The next LPGA Tour event that has not been postponed or canceled is set for June 11-14.

In tennis, the ATP Tour‘s next U.S. event is the Hall of Fame Open, set for July 13-19 in Newport, R.I. The WTA Tour isn’t due in the United States until August.

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Christian Coleman beats Justin Gatlin for the first time; Pre Classic recap

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Christian Coleman used to look up to Justin Gatlin, a fellow former University of Tennessee athlete. But now it’s Coleman who is firmly atop U.S. and world sprinting, consolidating fastest man status by beating the world champion Gatlin for the first time at the Pre Classic on Sunday.

Coleman clocked 9.81 seconds with a trace of headwind, lowering his fastest time in the world this year from 9.85. Gatlin, 37, was strong to take second in 9.87, his first sub-10 since becoming the oldest world champ in 2017, his fastest time since winning the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and the fastest ever for somebody that old.

“I ask that same question every day I wake up and my muscles hurt,” Gatlin said of defying age. “I get out of bed and am like, how am I doing this? I have a goal set, and I want to go ’til 2020. I want to take my son to the Olympics, at that’ll be the end of my show.”

Coleman is the only man in the world to break 9.85 seconds in 2017, 2018 or 2019, doing so all three years in this Olympic cycle. Quite a rise for a man who was sixth at the Rio Olympic trials.

“Obviously we’re friends,” Coleman said of Gatlin in an interview with Lewis Johnson on NBC. “I’m just happy I’m able to compete against somebody like him.”

The Pre Classic relocated to Stanford, Calif., from its usual home in Eugene, Ore., while Hayward Field undergoes reconstruction ahead of the 2020 Olympic Trials.

Full Pre Classic results are here. The Diamond Leagues moves to Lausanne, Switzerland, for its next meet Friday, featuring Noah Lyles in the 200m. Athletes are preparing for the USATF Outdoor Championships in three weeks, when the top three per event are in line to make the team for the September/October world championships in Doha.

In other events Sunday, Caster Semenya won her 31st straight 800m dating to 2015, clocking 1:55.70 to prevail by a hefty 2.66 seconds over American record holder Ajeé Wilson.

The two-time Olympic champion from South Africa was allowed to race by the Swiss Supreme Court, which ordered her temporarily eligible while she appeals a Court of Arbitration for Sport decision upholding the IAAF’s rule capping testosterone in female events between the 400m and mile.

Semenya was asked whether she thought about going for the 35-year-old world record of 1:53.28 or whether she considered the fact it could be her last 800m given the court’s looming decision. “Not really,” was her response to both questions.

“Flying into the U.S., it’s not easy to run here,” Semenya said. “Other people’s perceptions is not my problem. My problem is to have my shit together.”

Wilson, the world bronze medalist, was glad to see Semenya cleared to race.

“Absolutely I think she should be allowed to run,” she said. “I think everybody should be allowed to participate. The parameters surrounding that, I’m not sure about, but I definitely think she should be able to do what she wants.”

What’s next for Semenya is uncertain. She plans to take four weeks off before resuming her circuit, and will await the final ruling from the Swiss court.

Michael Norman extended an undefeated 400m streak dating to the start of 2018, clocking 44.62 against a field that lacked Olympic champions Wayde van NiekerkKirani James and LaShawn Merritt. Norman, who on April 20 clocked 43.45, said he was coming down with a bit of a cold.

Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou upset two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and NCAA champion Sha’Carri Richardson to win the 100m in 11.02. Fraser-Pryce ran 10.73 nine days earlier to become the fastest mom in history, while Richardson clocked 10.75 three weeks ago for a world junior record.

Nigerian Blessing Okagbare upset the Olympic, world, European and U.S. champions in the 200m in 22.05. Rio gold medalist Elaine Thompson, who was second, remains fastest in the world this year in 22.00.

Rai Benjamin recorded the ninth-fastest 400m hurdles ever, 47.16. Benjamin, who switched representation from Antigua and Barbuda to the U.S. last year, knocked absent Qatari rival Abderrahman Samba (47.27) off the top of the 2019 world rankings.

Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech ran the fifth-fastest 3000m steeplechase in history. She crossed in 8:55.58, which was 11.26 seconds off her world record from 2018. World champion Emma Coburn showed she’s again a medal contender, beating the other three fastest Kenyans in history for second place in 9:04.90 despite falling in a race for the third time this year.

Vashti Cunningham, the Olympian daughter of retired All Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, became the eighth U.S. woman to clear two meters in the high jump. But she fell to 0-8 in her career against Russian Mariya Lasitskene, who cleared 2.04.

Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon sprinted past Laura Muir to win the 1500m in her first race since Sept. 1, 2017, following childbirth. Kipyegon clocked 3:59.04, edging Muir by .43 and U.S. champion Shelby Houlihan by .61.

Louisiana-born Swede Mondo Duplantis won in his second pole vault competition since turning pro after his freshman year at LSU. Duplantis cleared 5.93 meters to hand world champion Sam Kendricks his first loss in four Diamond League meets this season.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan ran the sixth-fastest women’s 3000m in history in 8:18.49. The time was bettered only by three dubious Chinese athletes between two days in Beijing in September 1993 in the non-Olympic event.

Olympic champ Ryan Crouser was upset in the shot put by Brazilian Darlan Romani who launched 22.61 meters for the best throw in Diamond League history.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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