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

Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir back Gracie Gold for discussing weight in figure skating

SPOKANE, WA - APRIL 23:  Gracie Gold of Team North America competes in the Ladie's Free Program on day 2 of the 2016 KOSE Team Challenge Cup at Spokane Arena on April 23, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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NBC Sports figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir supported Gracie Gold‘s transparency in her comments about weight and figure skating.

“These are thoughts that every skater’s thinking about, but I think you don’t [see skaters] talk about it because in reality saying you need to lose weight when you’re already thin is a bit crazy,” Lipinski said. “In figure skating, gymnastics, ballet, there is always this pressure to be very thin, not only for aesthetics, but just for your actual sport and how you use your body. Weight definitely does play an issue. In skating, you’re three times your weight in the air, and you’re landing on one foot on a tiny blade.”

Lipinski and Weir said they struggled with weight issues while skating. They became too thin.

“Being a skater, I understand where Gracie was coming from,” Weir said. “To the masses, whenever you talk about diet and food and getting in shape physically, when you are an athlete on TV and you look like you are in shape compared to most of the country, it can be a little bit of a disconnect between the athletes appearing on TV and the audience.”

Weir lauded Gold for not only being open about not being at peak fitness — after taking much of the summer off — but also to compete at a top-level event like Skate America under those circumstances. (Gold said she considered skipping the Grand Prix season.)

“It’s all about telling the truth, saying, ‘I’m not in shape. I’m not there yet, but just wait, and I’ll give it to you,'” Weir said.

Weir said it could lead to more open discussions in the sport.

“You hope that, over time, you can start to look at the skaters that have been great champions and realize everyone has a different body type,” Lipinski said.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Matthew Centrowitz, Michelle Carter win USATF Athlete of the Year honors

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20:  Matthew Centrowitz of the United States reacts after winning gold in front of Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria and Nicholas Willis of New Zealand in the Men's 1500 meter Final on Day 15 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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Olympic champions Matthew Centrowitz and Michelle Carter were voted USA Track and Field’s Athletes of the Year, the first of their kinds to win the awards.

Centrowitz, who became the first American to win an Olympic 1500m since 1908, took the Jesse Owens Award. He’s the first male track distance runner to win a USATF Athlete of the Year, which was established in 1981.

Centrowitz beat out fellow Rio gold medalists Kerron Clement (400m hurdles), Ryan Crouser (shot put), Ashton Eaton (decathlon) and Jeff Henderson (long jump).

Carter, the first U.S. woman to win the Olympic shot put, earned the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Award. She’s the first female shot put thrower to win Athlete of the Year and third thrower of any kind (John Godina, Stephanie Brown Trafton).

Carter topped other gold medalists Tianna Bartoletta (long jump), Dalilah Muhammad (400m hurdles) and Brianna Rollins (100m hurdles) in voting.

Eaton and Allyson Felix earned the awards in 2015.

A full list of USATF Athlete of the Year winners is here.

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