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How to watch Rome Diamond League; preview

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In a year without an Olympics or a world outdoor championships, there is no uniform time to peak or single goal for U.S. track and field athletes. Some eye personal-best times and marks. Others a Diamond League season title and the 2019 Worlds bye that can come with it. Still others are tinkering, competing less frequently.

The Diamond League season, now three meets old, has shown this. Just look at Thursday’s meet in Rome, which airs live on NBCSN and streams commercial-free on NBC Sports Gold at 2 p.m. ET.

Of the U.S. Olympic and world medalists entered, some have been on fire in the early outdoor season. Like Brianna McNeal, who beat 100m hurdles world-record holder Kendra Harrison earlier this month after missing of all of 2017 for missing three drug tests.

Others started a little more slowly, like Christian Coleman, the world star of the winter indoor season. Coleman, who ran faster than the 60m world record three times between January and March, withdrew from his first scheduled outdoor meet three weeks ago for precautionary reasons, then was upset at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday, citing rustiness.

Emma Coburn hasn’t started at all. Coburn, who led the groundbreaking U.S. one-two in the steeplechase at worlds, races outdoors on Thursday for the first time since September.

Here are the Rome entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

11:40 a.m. — Women’s Discus
1:20 p.m. — Men’s Discus
1:30 — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:10 — Women’s High Jump
2:13 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:23 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
2:38 — Men’s 800m
2:40 — Men’s Long Jump
2:53 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
3:07 — Women’s 400m
3:16 — Men’s 400m
3:25 — Women’s 200m
3:35 — Men’s 100m
3:50 — Men’s 1500m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s Discus — 1:20 p.m. ET
The deepest field of the meet, featuring the top seven finishers from the 2017 World Championships, plus Rio gold medalist Christoph Harting, who was shockingly fourth at last year’s German nationals and missed worlds. The American in that group is Mason Finley, who in August became the first U.S. man to earn an Olympic or world championships discus medal since 1999. The Rio Olympian extended his personal best by four feet to take bronze at worlds with a 68.03-meter throw.

Women’s High Jump — 2:10 p.m. ET
American Vashti Cunningham gets her sixth head-to-head with Maria Lasitskene, still seeking her first win over the dominant Russian. Lasitskene has won 39 straight meets dating to 2016 and had the top seven clearances in the world in 2017, indoors or outdoors, according to Tilastopaja.org. However, Olympic heptathlon champion Nafi Thiam cleared 2.01 meters in a heptathlon on Saturday, giving her the top clearance this year. Thiam isn’t competing in Rome, though. Cunningham, the 19-year-old daughter of retired NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, took silver behind Lasitskene at the world indoor championships on March 1, her only defeat in five meets this year.

Men’s 400m Hurdles — 2:13 p.m. ET
All three 2017 World medalists are here, led by the surprise champion Karsten Warholm of Norway and the bronze medalist and Rio Olympic champion, American Kerron Clement. But the favorite has to be Abderrahman Samba of Qatar, who on May 4 clocked the world’s fastest time in nearly eight years and the fastest time ever this early in a year.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 2:23 p.m. ET
World champion Emma Coburn races outdoors for the first time in eight months against a field that includes the three fastest Kenyans of all time. That doesn’t include the absent Olympic champion Ruth Jebet, Kenyan-born but representing Bahrain, who hasn’t raced anywhere since Jan. 28 and is reportedly dealing with a doping issue.

Men’s 100m — 3:35 p.m. ET
A rematch between Americans Christian Coleman and Ronnie Baker. Coleman, who finished between Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt at worlds in August, lost his outdoor 100m season opener to Baker at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday. Baker has never finished better than seventh at a U.S. Championships, let alone excelled on the global championship stage like Coleman. Coleman said after Pre he was still working his way into shape after a minor leg injury kept him from competing at a Diamond League meet in Shanghai earlier this month. South African Akani Simbine, who was fifth at the Olympics and worlds, could play spoiler.

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Ginny Fuchs hopes to emerge from OCD, tearful Olympic experience

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None of the boxers at this week’s U.S. Olympic Trials competed at a prior Olympics, but flyweight Ginny Fuchs remembers the specifics of her one Olympic experience in Rio.

Fuchs, who won the 2016 Olympic trials but failed to clinch a spot at the Games in international qualifiers, was nonetheless named team captain and brought to Rio as a sparring partner.

She had mixed feelings. Watching from the crowd as Claressa Shields repeated as Olympic champion on the final day of the Games was motivating. Fuchs had toyed with turning professional but, after talking to Shields, decided to forge another four years as an amateur for another chance to become an Olympian.

The Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony, two weeks before that Shields final, was too much for Fuchs to bear. She could not stay in the Athletes’ Village nor march with the U.S. delegation at the Maracana.

“I remember watching the Opening Ceremony at the place I was at with everybody,” she said. “I couldn’t watch. It was hard for me to watch. I went back to my room, cried and went to bed.”

Fuchs is favored to win the 51kg/112-pound division this week at Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Lake Charles, La., with finals streaming live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday (4-7 p.m. ET). It’s one of five women’s Olympic weight classes, up from three in 2012 and 2016, the first two editions of the Games for female boxers.

No boxer can clinch an Olympic spot this week, but failing to make a final would all but end Tokyo hopes.

Fuchs’ toughest opponent in this Olympic cycle — which included an undefeated 2017 and a 2018 World bronze medal among more than 130 fights — may be herself. Fuchs has been open about struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It started in fifth grade.

“I can remember the first time I was on the school bus, and I was looking at the ground and looking at everybody’s backpacks on the floor,” said Fuchs, a 31-year-old from the Houston area. “And an instant thought came in mind, like, Oh my god. Everybody’s backpack is getting contaminated by this dirty floor on the bus.”

She cited a more recent example: spending up to 40 minutes washing her hands searching for that “perfect clean feeling.” Fuchs found boxing via a boyfriend after she was kicked off the LSU cross-country running team as a freshman walk-on for damaging school property in a prank.

She said the disorder hit her hardest this year. In January, she was driving to a Walmart three times a day to buy cleaning supplies, according to The New York Times.

She underwent intensive therapy and skipped October’s world championships, where she could have established herself as a clear Olympic gold-medal favorite.

“I still am going to probably do therapy for the rest of my life,” Fuchs said. “Maybe not as intense as I’m doing it right now, but it’s almost like training for boxing.

“You’ve got to keep training to keep winning in boxing. So I’ve got to keep training my OCD thoughts and how to handle and manage it. … Boxing is giving me hope almost. Like OK, outside the ring and in my room and the bathroom, I feel like [OCD] controls me and feel trapped. But I have this environment in this space in the gym, in the boxing ring, where I can be myself. And not let it attack me in a way where I can still enjoy life and not be trapped.”

Should Fuchs make the final of her division in Lake Charles, she will advance to a January camp and tournament, after which the U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying will be named.

If selected, Fuchs would head to a North and South American Olympic qualifying event in early spring in Buenos Aires to clinch the spot she could not secure four years ago. If necessary, she could get a second chance at a global qualifier in May in Paris.

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Yulia Efimova has lawyer ready if Russia ban affects her

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Yulia Efimova, the Russian swimmer who earned two Rio Olympic silver medals after initially being excluded from the Games for serving a prior doping ban, is bracing for another legal fight after the latest sanctions against her nation.

On Monday, Russia was banned from the 2020 and 2022 Olympics and the next four years of world championships in Olympic sports due to more recent anti-doping violations. However, its athletes can still compete as neutrals, if meeting specific anti-doping criteria, similar to how they did at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Efimova was initially barred from the Rio Olympics under an IOC mandate that any Russian who previously served a doping ban would be ineligible due to the country’s anti-doping violations at that time.

Efimova appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled that IOC stipulation unenforceable. She went on to earn 100m and 200m breaststroke silver medals and develop a rivalry with American Lilly King, who said Efimova should not have been eligible.

It’s unclear from Monday’s ruling whether Efimova will be allowed to compete as a neutral, should Russia accept the sanctions or any appeal to CAS by the nation be denied.

“I will behave in a similar way,” to 2016, Efimova said, according to RT.com. “I have already hired a lawyer. There is a rule that a person can’t be punished twice for the same offense. If you violate a driving code or instigated a brawl you will not be punished twice for that. I hope it will work, but I cannot be sure of [a positive outcome].

“Right after my race at the Rio Games, I said that this doping controversy was not over, it was just the beginning, and we would have problems in the future. It was quite clear. And with every new year the situation is only getting worse and worse.”

Efimova, 27 and the two-time reigning world 200m breast champion, was banned 16 months between 2013 and 2015 after testing positive for a steroid. A FINA panel ruled that Efimova was not intentionally trying to cheat but was negligent in failing to read the label of a GNC store supplement.

“Yes, long ago I made a doping violation,” Efimova said this week, according to RT. “But there are a great number of U.S. and European athletes who have a similar situation regarding doping, and they are competing without any restrictions. If you want to introduce those regulations, they must be equally applied to all athletes, not only Russian competitors.”

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