Absel Kiprop

Monaco Diamond League on world record watch; preview

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The eyes of track and field will be on Kenyan Asbel Kiprop in Monaco on Friday.

The Kenyan World champion is expected to take a run at the 1500m world record in a Diamond League meet, a 16-year-old mark held by the greatest middle distance runner of all time, Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj.

El Guerrouj set the mark of 3 minutes, 26 seconds on July 14, 1998. Kiprop ran 3:27.72 in Monaco last year to become the fourth fastest man of all time and spark talk of challenging 3:26.

The last Olympic track event to see a world record fall was the 110m hurdles, with Olympic champion Aries Merritt breaking it on Sept. 7, 2012.

The men’s 1500m will be the marquee event at the 10th of 14 Diamond League meets this season, but other stars are in action (broadcast coverage starts at 2 p.m. ET on Universal Sports).

Here are five events to watch (all times Eastern):

Women’s pole vault — 1:45 p.m.

Olympic champion Jenn Suhr‘s switch to a carbon pole yielded defeats in her first two Diamond League meets. Both were won by Brazilian Fabiana Murer, who may be positioning herself as the 2016 Olympic host nation’s best hope for a track and field gold medal.

Monaco will see Suhr take on not only Murer but also Olympic and World medalist Yarisley Silva of Cuba and seven of the top eight pole vaulters this year overall.

Men’s high jump — 2:05

The other world record watch comes in an event where the mark has been under pressure all season. All the usual contenders convene in Monaco — World champion Bohdan Bondarenko, Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov, World silver medalist Mutaz Barshim, Olympic silver medalist Erik Kynard and Olympic bronze medalist Derek Drouin.

The world record, set by Cuban Javier Sotomayor in 1993, is 2.45m. Bondarenko and Barshim have cleared 2.42m this year (and attempted and failed at world record heights). Ukhov has cleared 2.41m, Drouin 2.4m and Kynard 2.37m.

Men’s 1500m — 2:35

Kiprop’s competition makes it no certainty he will win the race, let alone challenge El Guerrouj’s world record.

It includes the reigning Olympic and World silver medalists — Americans Leo Manzano and Matthew Centrowitz — as well as 2011 World silver medalist Kenyan Silas Kiplagat and 800m World bronze medalist Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti.

Women’s 100m — 2:45

This event is more wide open than at any time since the London Olympics. Olympic and World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce hasn’t broken 11.1 this year, hampered by injury.

Instead, the world’s fastest women have been Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye and Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown, who are separated by 10 years in age.

Ahye is not in the Monaco field, but Fraser-Pryce and Campbell-Brown are. As are Olympic 200m champion Allyson Felix and the fastest American this year, Tori Bowie, who has been sidelined by injury since running a personal best 10.91 at the U.S. Championships on June 27.

Men’s 200m — 3:35

Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay meet for the second time since the end of Gay’s doping suspension, but this time it’s over 200m, which Gatlin rarely races.

Gatlin and Gay won’t have to worry about the Jamaicans who swept the Olympic medals — Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir — but the field does include World bronze medalist Curtis Mitchell and Jamaican Nickel Ashmeade, the only man in the field who has run sub-20 this year.

Photos: Lindsey Vonn, Roger Federer play tennis in the Alps

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross beat top-ranked Brazilians for first time

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross
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Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross beat Brazil’s best beach volleyball team for the first time and extended the longest winning streak of their partnership in winning the Moscow Grand Slam on Sunday.

“That just shows our growth,” Ross said. “We’re still on the up and up.”

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, and Ross, an Olympic silver medalist, beat Olympic qualifying top seed Larissa and Talita 22-20, 21-17 in the final for their third straight international title.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have now won 22 straight FIVB World Tour matches, the best run of their three-year parternship. Walsh Jennings last reached a streak this long from 2007 to 2010, when she won 78 straight international matches with Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh, according to BVBInfo.com

The Americans had lost all three of their previous matches (one a one-set exhibition) versus Larissa and Talita:

Feb. 27, 2015 — 26-24 in Rio de Janeiro
Aug. 23, 2015 — 21-18, 21-16 in Long Beach, Calif.
March 20, 2016 — 22-20, 21-19 in Vitoria, Brazil

“You know what makes me happy? This is done. Now we’ve done it, we’ve beaten them and put it to rest,” Walsh Jennings said, according to USA Volleyball.

Larissa and Talita, seeking to become Brazil’s first Olympic women’s beach volleyball champions in 20 years, have won 12 of their 20 international tournaments since pairing in July 2014.

The FIVB World Tour continues in Hamburg, Germany, next week, the final event in Olympic qualifying. Walsh Jennings and Ross are expected to play there.

Walsh Jennings and Ross and Larissa and Talita are already qualified for the Rio Games.

MORE: Logan Tom continues volleyball career in Indonesia

Star goalie Ashleigh Johnson set to make U.S. Olympic water polo history

Ashleigh Johnson
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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. — Donna Johnson just wanted her five children to be safe around the pool at her Miami home. That was it, really, the first step in Ashleigh Johnson‘s path from prodigy to USA water polo.

Swim lessons turned into meets when their instructor told Donna Johnson her children were so good she had nothing left to teach them. When Ashleigh and her siblings continued to show athletic potential as they got older, Donna Johnson, a single mother and nurse from Jamaica, delivered a simple message to them.

“For everything that they do, it’s not about pressure, it’s about maximizing your potential,” she said.

Now her oldest daughter is about to make history this summer. Ashleigh, a goaltender blessed with jaw-dropping athleticism, is a lock for Rio de Janeiro, putting her on track to become the first black woman to play water polo for the U.S. Olympic team.

While this is just the fifth Games for the women’s tournament, Johnson’s ascension to elite goaltender is a welcome development for a sport looking for more diversity and growth outside of water polo-crazy Southern California.

Each of Johnson’s teammates is from the Golden State, and the same three Pac-12 schools — UCLA, Southern California and Stanford — dominate the roster. Seventy-five percent of USA Water Polo’s roughly 42,000 members live in California.

After starring at Ransom Everglades High School in Florida, Johnson opted for Princeton instead of USC.

“I think Ashleigh Johnson’s the future of our sport in the U.S.,” USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey said. “She’s an out-of-California athlete who grew up in Florida. She went to Princeton, high academic achiever from a different background than a lot of traditional water polo families are from.”

Just a short while ago, Johnson, 21, wasn’t interested in that future, at least with the national team. The thought of moving away from her tight-knit family and joining a new team in California wasn’t appealing to her, but several conversations with coach Adam Krikorian helped change her mind.

“I didn’t really know that the Olympics was a possibility for me,” Johnson said. “I thought it was just like coming and training like I had been doing for years, but just living out here, and he made me realize that the Olympics was a great opportunity and a possibility for me.”

Krikorian first heard of Johnson about 10 years ago when he was the head coach at UCLA. Nicolle Payne, one of his assistants with the Bruins and a former national team goaltender, was working a camp in Miami when she sent an email to Krikorian about America’s next great goaltender.

“She said, ‘Adam, keep this name in your mind,’ and she told me her name — Ashleigh Johnson,” Krikorian said. “‘She is the most amazing goalie I have ever seen.”‘

It’s easy to see what got Payne’s attention.

The 6-foot-1 Johnson has long arms, perfect for firing outlet passes for U.S. counterattacks and guarding the top parts of the goal, and she cuts through the water with impressive ease. Sick of swimming in high school, she was offered an out by her mother and coach if she won the 50-meter freestyle at states as a sophomore. So she won and walked away.

She collected 54 saves while helping the United States qualify for the Olympics at a tournament in the Netherlands in March, including 10 stops in an 11-6 victory over Italy in the final, capping an 8-0 performance for the Americans. But that gifted sprinter is still inside her.

At a recent practice, assistant coach Chris Oeding gave the team a chance to cut short the swimming portion of training if the players could assemble a sub-1:40 200-yard freestyle relay team. Krikorian and assistant coach Dan Klatt offered a nodding Johnson as a candidate, but four different players were chosen.

They made the time, but Johnson stole the show by swimming the second leg alongside the relay, leaving Krikorian and Klatt shaking their heads as she churned through the pool like a motorboat.

“She’s a freak,” Princeton coach Luis Nicolao said. “She’s just athletic. I often joke she could probably start for our basketball team, track team, swim team, she just has that natural ability to succeed at anything she does.”

Johnson and her sister, Chelsea, play for Nicolao with the Tigers. They have two older brothers, Blake and William, and one younger brother, Julius.

Their parents got divorced when Ashleigh was little, and Donna Johnson raised the kids mostly on her own. It’s a challenging juggling act not lost on her children.

“I mean she’s such a hard-working, loving and determined woman,” Ashleigh said, “and she’s taught me that hard work ethic and just to try my best at everything and love what I do.”

Chelsea Johnson, who joked that she followed her sister to Princeton because she didn’t want to play against her, said she sees similarities between Ashleigh and their mother.

“I think the biggest thing from her, she and Ashleigh, is that she’s always smiling, no matter what,” she said. “Like her and Ashleigh, not matter what they’re doing, no matter how hard the thing is, they’re always smiling and trying to make everyone around them feel better about whatever’s happening.”

VIDEO: Ashleigh Johnson stands out on U.S. water polo team