Sanya Richards-Ross

Athletes to watch at USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships

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The USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships began in Sacramento, Calif., with the shot put at the state Capitol on Wednesday. Events continue through Sunday at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium featuring several Olympic and World champions.

NBC, NBCSN and Universal Sports coverage begins Thursday (full broadcast schedule here).

Here are some stars to watch:

Allyson Felix, 100m

The Olympic 200m champion said she would focus more on the 400m than the 100m as her complementary event this season, but she scratched the 400m in Sacramento and is entered in only the 100m.

Felix slowly ramped up her season after last year’s torn hamstring at the World Championships. She notched her first race wins since the injury in the last two weeks, 200m races in Oslo and Ostrava, Czech Republic.

Tori Bowie, 100m

The Southern Miss product was primarily a long jumper until March and has been a sprint revelation in the last two months. She’s the world leader in the 200m at 22.18 seconds, beating Felix and World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at the Pre Classic on May 31.

But she plans to only contest the 100m in Sacramento. She’s the second fastest American in that sprint this season, clocking 11.05. She’ll face Felix as well as the 2013 U.S. gold and silver medalists, English Gardner and Octavious Freeman.

Sanya Richards-Ross, 400m

Richards-Ross, like Felix, is back from injury. Toe problems derailed her 2013 season after her breakthrough individual Olympic title in 2012.

She has catching up to do, being the joint eighth-fastest U.S. woman over one lap this season. World Indoor champion Francena McCorory is the favorite this week.

Brianna Rollins, 100m hurdles

Rollins won NCAA and World Championships last season, continuing a tradition of strong U.S. sprint hurdles runners. She’s the world leader again this year, but Beijing Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson and Queen Harrison have been within .04 of her best time for 2014.

Sochi Olympic bobsledder Lolo Jones is also in the field, hoping to improve on her season’s best of 12.74, which ranks eighth among Americans.

Jenn Suhr, pole vault

The Olympic champion can match the first Olympic women’s pole vault gold medalist, Stacy Dragila in 2000, at eight career U.S. titles in the event this week. Suhr switched from fiberglass to carbon poles this season and finished second at the Adidas Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Her biggest rivals are not Americans, but she was defeated by Mary Saxer at the U.S. Indoor Championships in February.

LaShawn Merritt, 400m

Like Suhr, the 2008 Olympic champion Merritt’s top competition is not domestic. He won’t have to sweat Grenada’s Kirani James this week, when he goes for his fourth U.S. outdoor title.

Tony McQuay, who took silver behind Merritt at the World Championships, has scratched, giving Merritt even more breathing room.

Galen Rupp, 5000m/10,000m

Rupp provided fireworks at the Pre Classic, breaking his own U.S. 10,000m record. He’s entered in both the 5000m and 10,000m in Sacramento. The finals are held on back-to-back nights.

If he runs both, Rupp will go against Bernard Lagat, the 39-year-old five-time U.S. champion in the 5000m. Rupp’s 10,000m qualifying time is nearly one minute faster than anybody else.

David Oliver, 110m hurdles

Oliver won the 2013 World Championship after surprisingly missing the 2012 Olympic Team. He has run 13.21 this year, making him fourth best among Americans.

The hurdles field is very bunched, not only with Oliver, reigning U.S. champion Ryan Wilson and 2011 World champion Jason Richardson, but also less seasoned men. Take NCAA champion Devon Allen, the fastest American this year (13.16) who doubles as an Oregon wide receiver.

Christian Taylor, triple jump

The Olympic champion tried his hand at the 400m this year and posted a solid season’s best of 45.17. But the triple jump is his forte, and it’s shaping up to be a head-to-head showdown with Olympic silver medalist Will Claye.

Trey Hardee, decathlon

Hardee won the 2009 and 2011 World Championships before ceding the world’s greatest athlete title to Ashton Eaton. Eaton isn’t entered in Sacramento, leaving Hardee a path to his second U.S. title (the other in 2009).

Earlier this month, the Texan completed his first decathlon since he won silver at the London Olympics. He struggled with injuries last year, but is the world leader this year with 8,518 points, which would have taken bronze at the 2013 World Championships.

Ryan Bailey hopes to return to 2012 Olympic sprinting form

Ashley Wagner ends ‘turbulent season’ as Yevgenia Medvedeva breaks record

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Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva beat her world-record free skate score by six points, while Japan won World Team Trophy to close the figure skating season in Tokyo on Saturday.

Americans Ashley Wagner and Karen Chen were sixth and ninth, respectively, in the free skate. The U.S., which had won the last two World Team Trophy titles, finished third in the this year’s standings behind Japan and Russia.

“This has been a turbulent season for me, so to finish with such a strong performance was really nice,” Wagner said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “That wasn’t perfect, but I fought for every single thing. I’m very happy.”

The 17-year-old Medvedeva hasn’t lost an individual competition since November 2015, a run that includes the last two world titles.

She came into World Team Trophy having broken the women’s scoring record at her last two competitions (European and world championships). The mark was formerly held by Yuna Kim, set at the 2010 Olympics.

At World Team Trophy, Medvedeva became the first female skater to break 80 points in a short program and 160 points in a free skate. She won the free skate by a whopping 14 points over Japan’s Mai Mihara.

Wagner, 25, ended her least successful season since 2010-11 with her highest score of the campaign.

She followed up a breakout 2016 World Championships, where she won silver, by finishing seventh at worlds last month. She also was beaten by Chen at the U.S. Championships and failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final for the first time in five seasons.

Chen, the surprise U.S. champion and fourth-place finisher at worlds, struggled at World Team Trophy. The 17-year-old totaled 168.95 points, 30 points fewer than her personal best at worlds. She fell twice in her free skate.

In eight competitions this season, Chen had poor results in six of them.

But she peaked for the two biggest events — nationals and worlds.

“It was a tough season for me, but I feel like I learned a lot,” Chen said Saturday, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I’m going to use all of this experience to help me be more consistent next season.”

Chen remains a strong contender for the three-woman Olympic team, which will be named after the U.S. Championships in January.

As does Wagner.

Others in the running include U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell (12th at worlds) and Mirai Nagasu (fourth at the last two nationals). Plus, two-time U.S. champion Gracie Gold, who changed coaches after a dreadful season.

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Ashton Eaton competes on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

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Items on the to-do list for two-time Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton now that he’s retired: Play with the puppy. Sharpen his snowboarding skills. Take a space shuttle to Mars.

That’s right, warp speed to the Red Planet.

Not tomorrow or anything, but it remains on the agenda. He’s also trying to get his wife, Canadian heptathlon bronze medalist Brianne Theisen-Eaton, on board with the futuristic excursion.

“Not as interested,” she laughed. “Too big of a lifestyle change.”

The first couple of multi-events have down-to-earth retirement plans as well. Here’s a sampling: Appearing on American Ninja Warrior (Ashton), starting a food-education website (Brianne), supporting a worldwide 6-kilometer walk for clean water and preparing for a move to San Francisco after spending a decade in Eugene, Oregon.

An urge to compete? No longer present, they insisted.

“I will always have a love for it. But missing it? That means I want to do [the decathlon],” said the 29-year-old Ashton, who won’t be going for his third straight world title crown in August. “I’m just fond of it.”

They’re still figuring this retirement thing out after announcing the surprising news in side-by-side essays in January. Ashton walked away after accomplishing all he wanted to accomplish — winning gold at the 2012 London Games and defending his title at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He also exited with his world record standing at 9,045 points, which he amassed at the 2015 World Championships.

Brianne was ready to move on to Act II of their lives following a hard-earned bronze in Rio. She was emotionally and physically worn out.

“My parents were asking us, ‘Do you miss anything?'” the 28-year-old Brianne said. “I think the answer is no. It was a perfect time to retire. When we watch competitions, it’s relaxing and fun. There’s not a little bit that’s like, ‘We wish we were there competing.”‘

The Eatons recently expanded their family when they brought home Zora, who’s a cross between a Bernese mountain dog and a poodle. Now, there are puppy classes and walks on their plate.

“A change in lifestyle, for sure,” Brianne said.

On the horizon, an even bigger lifestyle transformation: Their move to the Bay Area this fall for more entrepreneurial opportunities. It’s bittersweet, because the couple met while competing at the University of Oregon as teenagers and married in July 2013. It’s home.

“We just need a change of environment,” Ashton said, “and this checks a lot of boxes.”

Memo to NASA: Ashton has space on his mind. The moon would be nice. So would a trip to the International Space Station. And that pledge to someday make it to Mars? It’s genuine.

“I like things that are really ambitious goals and being first person on Mars would be a good one,” Ashton said. “If in the future, things kind of come around and there’s an opportunity, I’ll take it.”

Recently, Ashton and Brianne were in Peru and staying at a hotel on the side of the cliff with a glass roof. Using a phone “app,” they located the stars and planets in the night’s sky.

“We saw Mars, clear as day,” Ashton said. “It was funny to imagine being there. Brianne was like, ‘Why go there? The earth would be a little green star in the sky.’ I was like, `Yeah, wouldn’t that be incredible? We could say that’s where we’re from, but we are way over here now.”‘

Earlier this month, Ashton helped stage a video-game and technology expo in Portland. He was nervous because, “it’s the first thing nonathletic thing I’ve done in my entire life. But it ended up really well.”

This was definitely more in his comfort zone: Competing in a celebrity edition of “American Ninja Warrior,” a contest that features athletes tackling a series of demanding obstacle courses. The episode is set to air next month.

“I was just as sore after that as after a decathlon,” Ashton said.

One of Brianne’s passions is cooking, leading her to launch a site that features healthy recipes and nutritional tips. It’s expected to go live in June.

They also took up snowboarding. Ashton fell hard for the sport — even after a few run-ins with trees.

“After every day of snowboarding, he’d be like, ‘Let’s go again this week!”‘ Brianne said. “I’d be like, ‘Ash, I need a couple of weeks to heal my tailbone.’ I would be so bruised.”

Of course, they’re still running, too, especially for a good cause. On May 6, the Eatons will participate in World Vision’s global 6-kilometer race, which is the average distance that people in the developing countries walk for water.

See, they’re quite busy.

“Retirement is good,” Brianne said. “We are enjoying our time, and just figuring out what we want to do with ourselves.

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