Wayde van Niekerk rides record into Lausanne Diamond League; preview

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Wayde van Niekerk set personal bests in the 100m, 200m and 300m in the last month. On Thursday, the South African races his first international 400m since breaking Michael Johnson‘s world record at the Rio Olympics.

Van Niekerk headlines a Diamond League stop in Lausanne, Switzerland, live on Thursday at 1:15 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold and 2 p.m. on NBCSN.

Van Niekerk is preparing for the world championships in London in August, when he is expected to race both the 200m and 400m. The only man to sweep both races at a worlds? Johnson in 1995.

Last Wednesday, Van Niekerk ran the fastest 300m of all time — breaking Johnson’s record — with a 30.81 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

On June 20, Van Niekerk lowered his 100m personal best to 9.94 seconds. He’s the only man to run sub-10 for the 100m, sub-20 for the 200m and sub-44 for the 400m. On June 10, Van Niekerk dropped his 200m personal best to 19.84 seconds, a national record.

The last month has certainly boosted hopes that Van Niekerk may be able to lower his 400m world record this year. That makes Lausanne a must-watch meet.

Lausanne start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

1:20 p.m. — Men’s shot put
1:25 p.m. — Women’s javelin
1:30 p.m. — Women’s long jump
2:03 p.m. — Women’s 400m hurdles
2:13 p.m. — Men’s 1500m
2:23 p.m. — Women’s 100m hurdles
2:25 p.m. — Men’s pole vault
2:33 p.m. — Women’s mile
2:44 p.m. — Women’s 200m
2:45 p.m. — Women’s high jump
2:54 p.m. — Men’s 400m hurdles
2:55 p.m. — Men’s triple jump
3:04 p.m. — Men’s 5000m
3:20 p.m. — Men’s 100m
3:30 p.m. — Women’s 800m
3:40 p.m. — Men’s 400m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 400m hurdles — 2:03 p.m.
Every Rio Olympic medalist is in this field — Americans Dalilah Muhammad and Ashley Spencer and Dane Sara Petersen. Plus 2015 World gold and silver medalists Zuzana Hejnova and Shamier Little.

Watch Muhammad. She is coming off winning the U.S. title in the fastest 400m hurdles race of all time — three women under 53 seconds and six under 54, both unprecedented. Her time — a personal-best 52.64 — is .17 off Lashinda Demus‘ American record.

Women’s 200m — 2:44 p.m.
It looks like Elaine Thompson and Tori Bowie are skipping the 200m at worlds after taking gold and bronze in Rio. Bowie, in fact, was signed up for the 200m in Lausanne but recently withdrew.

In their absence, the Olympic second- and fourth-place finishers headline Thursday’s field — Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers and Ivorian Marie Josee Ta Lou. They’re joined by Kimberlyn Duncan, who was runner-up at the USATF Outdoor Championships. They’re among those in world medal contention behind favorite Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the Olympic 400m champion who is not in Lausanne.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:55 p.m.
Double Olympic champion Christian Taylor headlines the strongest triple jump field since Rio. It includes all three Olympic medalists, the top three jumpers in the world this year and the top three all time among active athletes.

It will be a test for Taylor, who hasn’t lost internationally since May 2015 and is seeking his first undefeated season overall (USATF Outdoors no-mark aside). In their last three meetings, Taylor edged countryman Will Claye by six, 11 and 10 centimeters, respectively.

Men’s 100m — 3:20 p.m.
Justin Gatlin needs a win here to be considered a world championships medal favorite. The other London contenders — Usain BoltAndre De GrasseYohan Blake and Christian Coleman — are not in this field. But Gatlin does face South African Akani Simbine and Ivorian Ben Youssef Meite, who finished fifth and sixth in Rio, and surprise U.S. bronze medalist Chris Belcher.

Gatlin ran 9.75 at this meet two years ago at the peak of his post-doping ban career. But he has been slow this season, impacted to some degree by a leg injury. Gatlin has one sub-10 to his name in five wind-legal races this season, but at least it came in his most recent outing, when he won the national title. The 35-year-old could be ramping up for worlds.

Men’s 400m — 3:40 p.m.
Van Niekerk should have no problem here. His top rivals — LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James — and the fastest men this year — Fred KerleyGil RobertsSteven Gardiner — are not in Lausanne. What’s left are the USATF Outdoors fifth- and sixth-place finishers (Tony McQuay and Michael Cherry) and Olympic fourth-place finisher Machel Cedenio of Trinidad and Tobago.

Van Niekerk memorably ran 43.03 in Rio. His best time in four 400m races this year (all in South Africa in March and April) was 46.28 seconds, which ranks him near No. 200 in the world in 2017, according to Tilastopaja.org. Given Van Niekerk’s more recent form in shorter sprints, he should challenge the world’s top time this year, Kerley’s 43.70.

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New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

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Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

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When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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