Yomif Kejelcha

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Sydney McLaughlin takes on Olympic, world champions; Oslo preview, TV schedule

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For as much as Sydney McLaughlin has accomplished already, there is still much to prove.

The 19-year-old phenom races her most competitive 400m hurdles in two years at a Diamond League meet in Oslo on Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold, and 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

“It’s going to be a good experience to see what it’s like to race with high-level competition,” McLaughlin said by phone from Norway, where she will make her Diamond League 400m hurdles debut. “It’s going to become a normal thing. The first one is exciting and a little nerve-racking to get the experience and see what it’s like.”

She takes on 2016 Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad, 2017 World champion Kori Carter and 2015 World silver medalist Shamier Little in an appetizer for next month’s USATF Outdoor Championships, where the top three finishers qualify for the fall world championships (aside from the already qualified Carter).

In 2016, McLaughlin became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, reaching the semifinals in Rio. Last year, as a freshman at Kentucky, she lowered personal bests in the 200m, 400m and 400m hurdles, all by more than a second, and ran the world’s fastest 400m hurdles of 2018 by .57.

After winning the 2018 NCAA Championships, McLaughlin said that, although she still wanted to see a ton of improvement in her young career, “once it comes together, hopefully the world record will go.”

A year later, McLaughlin said she’s not looking at any time goals this season, her first since turning pro and moving to Southern California to train under 2004 Olympic 100m hurdles champion Joanna Hayes.

“I have my whole career to chase something like that,” McLaughlin said of the world record of 52.34, set by Russian Yuliya Pechonkina in 2003. McLaughlin has studied many races of Lashinda Demus, the American record holder at 52.47, “because she was so aggressive from beginning to end, and she made it look so effortless.”

“This year for me is kind of adjusting to everything, being a professional, being with a new coach, being in a new atmosphere,” she continued. “Everything is brand-new right now.”

McLaughlin will focus on making her first world championships team in one of the U.S.’ strongest events. In the last world championships year, she finished sixth at 2017 Nationals in the fastest 400m hurdles race in history.

Though she was also fourth-fastest in the U.S. in the flat 400m last year, McLaughlin said she hasn’t discussed going for a double this year or next (the 400m and 400m hurdles overlap at worlds this year and also to a lesser extent at the Olympics).

She has never beaten Muhammad, who with Little and Carter took the top three spots at nationals in 2017 to make that world team. This would be the most impressive win of McLaughlin’s life.

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

1 — Women’s High Jump
1:15 — Women’s Shot Put
1:30 — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:11 — Men’s 800m
2:16 — Women’s 800m
2:17 — Women’s Triple Jump
2:25 — Men’s 3000m
2:30 — Men’s Javelin
2:47 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
3 — Men’s 100m
3:10 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
3:32 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
3:41 — Women’s 200m
3:51 — Men’s Mile

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 400m Hurdles — 2:03 p.m. ET
A pretty strong argument that Muhammad is the favorite. She’s broken 54 seconds in her last four races dating to last season, all wins, and owns the world’s fastest time this year (53.61) and this Olympic cycle (52.64). McLaughlin boasts a 52.75 from the May 2018 SEC Championships and opened with a 54.14 this season. This is the first international 400m hurdles of McLaughlin’s pro career. It will be the biggest harbinger for nationals next month in Des Moines.

Men’s 3000m — 2:25 p.m. ET
Muktar Edris, who upset Mo Farah to win the last world title at 5000m, takes on two of the three fastest 5000m men from last year, Yomif Kejelcha and Selemon Barega, in an Ethiopian clash. The U.S. sends Ben True, the first American man to win a Diamond League distance race (in 2015), and Drew Hunter, who in 2016 became the eighth U.S. high schooler to break four minutes in the mile. This meet is key for Edris, who hasn’t raced on the top international level yet this year and was 10 seconds behind in the epic Brussels 5000m with Kejelcha and Barega at last season’s Diamond League finals.

Men’s Javelin — 2:30 p.m. ET
Strongest field of the meet? The top four men so far this year. The top five from last year. And the Nos. 2 and 3 all time in Germans Johannes Vetter and Thomas Röhler, the reigning world and Olympic champions. Yet again, they will try to crack into the top four throws of all time, all held by retired Czech legend Jan Zelezny. The magic number is 94.64 meters. Vetter, competing for the first time since August, has thrown 94.44; Röhler 93.90.

Men’s 100m — 3 p.m. ET
Christian Coleman is a strong favorite here in the absence of new rival Noah Lyles. The top threats are countryman Mike Rodgers and Brits Reece Prescod and CJ Ujah, but Rodgers and Prescod didn’t make Coleman sweat in Shanghai on May 18, and Ujah’s lone 100m this season was a 10.13. Expect Coleman to eye 9.85, which would give him the 2019 world lead outright.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 3:10 p.m. ET
World champion Emma Coburn faces world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech for the first time this season. Coburn eyes her first win in a race with Chepkoech or fellow Kenyans Celliphine Chespol or Hyvin Kiyeng outside of the 2017 Worlds. And her second Diamond League victory to pair with a stunner in Shanghai in 2014, when the favored East Africans let her go, reportedly thinking she was a pacer.

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Noah Lyles wins duel with Christian Coleman in Shanghai

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Noah Lyles won the first of what will hopefully be multiple head-to-heads with Christian Coleman this season, taking a 100m at a Diamond League meet in Shanghai on Saturday.

Both U.S. sprint phenoms clocked 9.86 seconds, with Lyles coming from about fifth place at 50 meters to edge Coleman by .006 with a lean.

“This was a message to myself,” Lyles said, according to the IAAF. “The 100 has never been my dominant thing so I wanted to make sure this year that everybody knew I was a 100 and 200 runner, and not just a 200 runner kind of running the 100.”

It’s a personal best for Lyles. Coleman has run 9.79.

Lyles, undefeated in outdoor 200m races since finishing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials at age 18, beat Coleman for the first time in three career senior 100m head-to-heads.

While Lyles prefers the 200m, Coleman has said he hopes to qualify for this fall’s world championships in both the 100m and 200m.

If Coleman follows through on that, he and Lyles will face off in the 200m at the USATF Outdoor Championships in July. Saturday marked Coleman’s first individual race since Aug. 31.

“It is always a struggle to get in good form after such a long time away from competition, so I didn’t have any specific expectations for today,” Coleman said. “In general I am fine with 9.86 today.”

Full Shanghai results are here. The Diamond League next visits Stockholm on May 30.

In other events, Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba won his anticipated duel with Rai Benjamin in a matchup between the second- and third-fastest 400m hurdlers in history. Samba, who took up the event full-time two years ago, clocked 47.27 seconds, which would have been the fastest time in a decade if not for Samba and Benjamin’s rapid times last June.

Benjamin, born in the Bronx and raised partly in Antigua and Barbuda, was passed before the last hurdle and crossed in 47.80. Last June, Benjamin won the NCAA title in 47.02, then matching Edwin Moses as second-fastest in history. Samba ran 46.98 later that month.

Kevin Young remains the longest-standing world-record holder in men’s track racing, setting 46.78 in the 1992 Olympic final.

Sydney McLaughlin, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, was an impressive second in the 400m in her Diamond League debut. The 19-year-old pro, whose focus is the 400m hurdles, clung to world 400m silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser in the final straight and crossed in 50.78, just .13 back of Naser.

Naser hasn’t lost to anyone other than Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo since the 2017 Worlds. Miller-Uibo was absent from Shanghai.

U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs won her senior international 100m debut in 11.03 seconds, beating a field that included Olympic champ Elaine Thompson. Hobbs did so two weeks after fracturing a wrist playing laser tag. Thompson, who last won a Diamond League race in 2017, was third in 11.14.

Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha won a battle among the three fastest active 5000m runners, bounding from Selemon Barega to win by .55 in 13:04.16. Barega won last year’s Diamond League Final in 12:43.02, the world’s fastest time in 13 years.

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Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles lead Diamond League duels in Shanghai; how to watch

Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles
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Sprint showdowns are rare this early in a track and field season, let alone two at the same meet. Saturday’s Diamond League slate in Shanghai is one of the most anticipated May events in recent history.

Americans Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles go head-to-head at 100m. Rai Benjamin, who switched from Antigua and Barbuda to the U.S., takes on Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba in the 400m hurdles, where the oldest men’s world record on the track is on notice.

NBC Sports Gold streams live and commercial-free at 6 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs coverage Sunday at 8 p.m.

For Coleman, Lyles, Benjamin and Samba, these are the first top-level races of their outdoor seasons. Americans are preparing for the USATF Outdoor Championships in July in Des Moines, Iowa, and the world championships in Doha in late September and early October.

Coleman swept three head-to-heads with Lyles last year, but they were all in Coleman’s favored short sprints. Coleman was the world’s fastest in the 100m in 2017 (9.82) and 2018 (9.79), while Lyles is undefeated in outdoor 200m races since finishing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials at age 18.

Lyles has said he will not try to make the world championships team in the 100m, leaving fans waiting for a possible 200m showdown at worlds. By then, Coleman could be going for a Usain Bolt-like double.

Perhaps no sprinters were more electric last year than Benjamin and Samba. At the NCAA Championships last June, Benjamin ran the joint-second-fastest 400m hurdles in history, matching Edwin Moses‘ personal best of 47.02. Three weeks later, Samba clocked 46.98, trailing only Kevin Young‘s world record of 46.78 from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It’s the oldest men’s track record on the books, and it could fall this season, perhaps in Shanghai.

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

6:10 a.m. — Women’s Javelin
6:19 — Men’s High Jump
6:27 — Women’s Shot Put
6:35 — Women’s Pole Vault
7:04 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
7:13 — Men’s 5000m
7:25 — Men’s Long Jump
7:36 — Women’s 400m
7:45 — Men’s 200m
7:46 — Men’s Javelin
7:52 — Women’s 1500m
8:06 — Women’s 100m
8:15 — Men’s 400m
8:26 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
8:34 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
8:53 — Men’s 100m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 6:35 a.m.
Sandi Morris and Katerina Stefanidi renew their rivalry. Stefanidi has bettered Morris in four of their last five head-to-heads, according to Tilastopaja.org, in addition to relegating her to silver at the Rio Games and 2017 World Championships. Morris may have the edge going in given the Greek hasn’t competed since March 3. The woman with the world’s top clearance this early outdoor season, 2012 Olympic champ Jenn Suhr, is not in the Shanghai field.

Men’s 400m Hurdles — 7:04 a.m.
Benjamin and Samba go head-to-head for the first time. Young is on record saying he hopes his record falls, that it’s about time after nearly 27 years. But records rarely get broken this early in a year. Benjamin, though, already clocked a personal-best 400m on April 20, a 44.31 that ranks second in the world this year. And Samba on April 22 clocked the fastest-ever 400m hurdles (47.51) this early in a year.

Men’s 5000m — 7:13 a.m.
The three fastest active 5000m runners go here — Ethiopians Selemon Barega, Hagos Gebrhiwet and Yomif Kejelcha. They thrilled at last season’s Diamond League Final in Brussels, all setting PRs and becoming the Nos. 4, 5, and 7 men all time. Kejelcha finished third in that race but has been the most impressive this year, breaking the legendary Hicham El Guerrouj‘s indoor mile world record. Also in this race: Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo of the U.S. and Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei, the world 10,000m silver medalist.

Women’s 400m — 7:36 a.m.
Sydney McLaughlin, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, races her first Diamond League and just her second senior international meet after the 2016 Olympics. It’s a complementary event for the world’s fastest 400m hurdler of 2018, though McLaughlin also ranked seventh in the 400m last year. If McLaughlin can challenge world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser, it will be a mighty impressive debut.

Men’s 100m — 8:53 a.m.
Coleman is the man in the 100m right now, but a loss here would call that into question. Lyles, who won the 2018 U.S. 100m title in Coleman’s absence, is the biggest threat. He’s the only other man in this field who has broken 9.89 since the Rio Olympics. Two men not in the field who could be watching intently are Justin Gatlin, who has a bye into worlds as defending champion, and Ronnie Baker, who beat Coleman twice last year while Coleman nursed a leg injury.

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