Ashton Eaton

Ashton Eaton headlines Oslo Diamond League; preview

Leave a comment

Ashton Eaton, perhaps the most recognizable U.S. male track and field athlete, was until this year largely absent from the sport’s premier meet series — the Diamond League — across America, Europe and Asia.

That’s because the Diamond League does not include decathlons, the event in which Eaton is the reigning Olympic and World champion and world-record holder.

Eaton has a passion for track and field beyond times, heights and lengths — he’s asked for historic data on Twitter — and has wished his primary trade could be included.

“I believe decathlon should have a hand in the Diamond League circuit,” he told Spikes in April 2013. “I would say we should compete across five competitions, with two events per competition like, 100m and long jump for one meeting and then shot and high jump the next.

“I think this would be a good timeframe and keep people interested in the multis. A similar competition could also be run for the women multi-eventers.”

Well, the decathlon is not yet on the Diamond League program. But Eaton is in Oslo for his second Diamond League meet of this season Wednesday.

That’s because Eaton is taking a break from decathlons this season in favor of the 400m hurdles, which is not one of the 10 decathlon events. It’s a luxury he can afford given it’s the one year in the four-year cycle with no Olympics and no World Outdoor Championships.

“I was good at [400m hurdles] and was always curious so tried it, and I needed a break from the past few years especially ahead of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons,” he said in Oslo on Tuesday. “The 400m is my base training so we just took a step further with the hurdles, and that’s why I chose that event.”

Eaton has said focusing on the 400m hurdles has reinvigorated him, especially mentally, for when he reverts to the decathlon going toward the 2016 Olympics. Eaton, 26, feels he could compete until 2020 or 2024.

In 2016, he could become the first man since Daley Thompson in 1984 to successfully defend an Olympic decathlon title (and first since Bob Mathias in 1952 to do it in non-boycotted Games).

Eaton has run in Diamond League meets before — contesting the 110m hurdles at the Prefontaine Classic — but Oslo marks his circuit debut in the 400m hurdles.

Universal Sports will have TV and online coverage of Oslo beginning at 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Full start lists are here.

Here are four events to watch Wednesday:

Men’s 400m hurdles

Eaton’s personal best 49.07 set Sunday ranks ninth in the world this year. That would have placed sixth at the 2013 U.S. Championships.

It’s also made him the second fastest man this year in the Oslo field, behind 2011 World bronze medalist LJ Van Zyl. It’s a bit of an open race, without any of the reigning Olympic or World medalists. Close competition could give Eaton extra juice to sub sub-49.

Men’s 5000m

Galen Rupp competes for the first time since smashing his American 10,000m record at the Pre Classic on May 30. His primary competition in the Norwegian capital will be Kenyan Caleb Ndiku, who is the fastest 5000m man this year, and Ethiopian Olympic silver medalist Dejen Gebremeskel.

Women’s 200m

Four-time Olympic champion Allyson Felix is still looking for her first victory of 2014. She finished fifth in a 400m in Shanghai and third in a 200m in Eugene, Ore., in her first races since tearing a hamstring at the 2013 World Championships.

That win could very well come in Oslo, where she won’t have to worry about longtime 200m rival Veronica Campbell-Brown or World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Felix is the fastest woman this year among the field, just better than 2013 World silver medalist Murielle Ahoure.

Men’s 100m

Justin Gatlin, the fastest man in the world this year, is sitting this one out. The sprinter to watch instead is Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson, the second man to cross the finish line in the 2008 Beijing Olympic 100m final, well behind Usain Bolt.

Thompson reportedly ran a 9.74 in Clermont, Fla., two weeks ago, a time lacking a wind reading and not registered on the IAAF’s top lists page. Gatlin ran a wind-aided 9.76 at the Pre Classic on the same day.

Apolo Ohno completes Ironman 70.3 Boise (photos)

U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP
Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
Leave a comment

Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order