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Five women’s events to watch at USATF Outdoor Championships

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The women’s fields at the USATF Outdoor Championships (Summer Champions Series) feature the most decorated female track and field athlete of all time (Allyson Felix).

They feature the deepest races of the meet (100m hurdles, 400m hurdles).

And two inspiring stories — Gabriele Grunewald contesting the 1500m in between chemotherapy treatments and Alysia Montano in the 800m while five months pregnant.

Then there’s the world-record holder who shockingly missed the Rio Olympics (Keni Harrison) and two strong head-to-head rivalries (noted in events to watch).

The top three finishers per event make the roster, should they reach the qualifying times or marks.

In addition to the top three, reigning world champions from 2015 and Diamond League champions from 2016 receive automatic byes into worlds, should they toe the start line in Sacramento.

The women could well produce the headlines every day at nationals, beginning Thursday on NBC Sports Gold. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Here are five women’s events to watch:

100m
Thursday (first round)
Friday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: Tori Bowie (silver), English Gardner (7th), Tianna Bartoletta (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Aleia Hobbs (4th, 10.85), Mikiah Brisco (7th, 10.96), Deajah Stevens (8th, 11.00), Ashley Henderson (9th, 11.01)

Outlook: Hobbs, Brisco, Stevens and Henderson are all collegians and may be hard-pressed to repeat those best times two weeks after the NCAA Championships. Hobbs’ 10.85 was an outlier during a 12-race season where her second-best time was 11.02, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Bowie is just behind them in this year’s rankings but also ran a wind-aided 10.80 in April. She’s the favorite. Less certain are fellow pros Gardner and Bartoletta. Gardner dealt with a reported calf tear this spring and came back to run 11.32 on June 10. Bartoletta may be focusing more on the long jump, her Olympic gold-medal event. Her last three wind-legal 100m times were 11.26, 11.47 and 11.49.

The door could be open for Allyson Felix, who ran 11.07 on May 20, her only 100m in the last two years. She is planning to race the 100m in Sacramento, but with a bye into the worlds 400m, the short sprint may not be in her long-term gameplan.

MORE: Five men’s events to watch

1500m
Thursday (first round)
Saturday (final)
2016 Olympics: Jenny Simpson (bronze), Shannon Rowbury (4th), Brenda Martinez (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Kate Grace (17th, 4:03.59), Simpson (19th, 4:04.16), Rowbury (23rd, 4:04.61), Lauren Johnson (34th, 4:05.88)

Outlook: Storylines on both days here. First, Gabriele Grunewald will be magnetic on the opening day in Sacramento, racing in between chemotherapy treatments. The final will likely be a battle between rivals Simpson and Rowbury. Simpson is the three-time reigning U.S. champion. Rowbury is the American record holder. Martinez is only racing the 800m in Sacramento, despite holding the two fastest 1500m times this year among Americans.

400m Hurdles
Friday (first round)
Saturday (semifinals)
Sunday (final)
2016 Olympics: Dalilah Muhammad (gold), Ashley Spencer (bronze), Sydney McLaughlin (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Spencer (1st, 53.38), Shamier Little (2nd, 54.44), McLaughlin (3rd, 54.03), Georganne Moline (4th, 54.09)

Outlook: Unquestionably the U.S.’ best event this year — male or female. In only one other event does the U.S. have the top two in the world rankings (men’s triple jump). Americans make up the top four here, and that’s not even including the Rio Olympic champion Muhammad or the Diamond League champion Cassandra Tate, who has a bye into worlds. Two world medal threats are guaranteed to be left off the London team.

200m
Saturday (first round)
Sunday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: Tori Bowie (bronze), Deajah Stevens (7th), Jenna Prandini (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Bowie (1st, 21.77), Kyra Jefferson (4th, 22.02), Stevens (5th, 22.09), Allyson Felix (7th, 22.33)

Outlook: Bowie, a sprint medalist of every color in Rio, shaved .22 off her personal best to win the Prefontaine Classic on May 27. She beat the Rio Olympic 200m and 400m gold and silver medalists handily. She is in a class of her own. Felix, who used to own this event, will have to oust either Jefferson or Stevens for one of the other two berths. Felix is 31 years old. Jefferson and Stevens are each 22 but could be at a disadvantage if they peaked for the NCAA Championships two weeks ago.

Pole Vault
Sunday
2016 Olympics: Sandi Morris (silver), Jenn Suhr (7th), Lexi Weeks (19th)
2017 World Rankings: Morris (2nd, 4.84m), Suhr (3rd, 4.83m), Morgan Leleux (9th, 4.65m), Annie Rhodes (15th, 4.61m)

Outlook: Morris and the 2012 Olympic champion Suhr are both near locks to make the world team, but the excitement is in their head-to-head battle. Morris was second to Suhr at nationals in 2014, 2015 and 2016 before breaking out in Rio. Suhr coughed up blood the morning of the Rio final, affected by illness. This year, Suhr and Rio gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi of Greece are the only women to clear 4.80 meters both indoors and outdoors.

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MORE: Chemo, then U.S. Champs for distance runner

Aries Merritt wins first Diamond League race since kidney transplant

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Aries Merritt won his first Diamond League 110m hurdles race since his 2015 kidney transplant in Rome on Thursday.

Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion, prevailed in 13.13 seconds while jetlagged.

It’s well off his world record of 12.80, but Merritt beat a decent field that included Rio silver medalist Orlando Ortega and the last two world champions, Sergey Shubenkov and David Oliver.

“I made many mistakes, hit a lot of hurdles today, but my speed is getting better,” Merritt said, according to the IAAF. “The time 13.13 is not that terrible in the end. After 2015, it was tough, but I am here, I am healthy, so I just need to stay focused and the results will come.”

Merritt is 21 months removed from a kidney transplant. He won bronze at the 2015 World Championships with kidney function at less than 20 percent. He missed the 2016 Olympic team by .01 at trials, 10 months after his transplant surgery.

Merritt ranks second in the U.S. this year behind Devon Allen. The top three at the U.S. Championships in two weeks qualify for the world championships in London in August.

Sprint favorites Andre De Grasse and Dafne Schippers also won in Rome, the first of three Diamond League meets in an 11-day span.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold will also air live coverage of Oslo (next Thursday and Stockholm (June 18), the last two meets before the U.S. Championships.

Full Rome results are here.

In other events Thursday, the Canadian De Grasse won the 200m, his first Diamond League victory of 2017. De Grasse, billed as the top challenger to Usain Bolt, impressively pulled away in 20.01 seconds.

De Grasse now ranks No. 6 in the world in the 200m this year. American Christian Coleman is the world leader at 19.85 seconds. Bolt said he’s not racing the 200m in his farewell season.

Dutchwoman Schippers won the 100m on Thursday in 10.99. Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, fastest in the world this year at 10.78, was not in the Rome field.

In the women’s 5000m, Hellen Obiri broke the Kenyan record with her winning time of 14:18.37. Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world-record holder, was sixth.

Rio triple jump champion Caterine Ibarguen of Colombia lost for just the second time in her last 42 competitions since her 2012 Olympic silver, according to Tilastopaja.org. Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas, who took silver to Ibarguen in Rio, edged her by six centimeters Thursday (14.84 meters to 14.78).

There were more upsets.

Rio gold medalist Michelle Carter was third in the shot put. Rio silver medalist Sandi Morris was sixth in the pole vault.

The men’s 100m lacked any individual Olympic or world medalists, but it still produced a surprise winner in Brit CJ Ujah. Ujah clocked 10.02 seconds, while Pre Classic winner Ronnie Baker was third in 10.05.

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MORE: Bolt ducks fastest rivals in final Jamaican meet

Matthew Centrowitz beaten at Millrose Games; American records fall

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NEW YORK — Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz felt heavy and sluggish. Rio teammates Courtney Okolo and Ajee’ Wilson were anything but, breaking American records at the Millrose Games on Saturday evening.

Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first American to win an Olympic 1500m since 1908, finished seventh in a two-mile race at the historic indoor meet in Manhattan. He never challenged for the lead in an event won by veteran Ben True.

“I felt pretty heavy; I felt pretty sluggish,” Centrowitz said. “I think it was maybe 4:08, 4:09 at the mile, and it felt like we were going a lot faster than that.”

Afterward, Centrowitz’s coach, three-time New York City Marathon winner Alberto Salazar, told the runner that he might have worked him too hard in training the last week.

“I’m not out of shape,” said Centrowitz, who clocked 8:21.07 after winning the mile race at Millrose the previous two years. “Maybe coming back from Rio, or maybe I’m sort of tired from the workouts in my legs the past week and a half.”

Meanwhile, True clocked 8:11:33 to notch one of the biggest wins of his career and complete a unique New York trifecta. In 2015, True became the first American man to win a Diamond League 5000m, at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York. He also won the 2015 Healthy Kidney 5K road race in Central Park.

“It’s something special,” said True, a Maine native. “I’m a New England and a Boston fan for cities, but I’ve had some incredible luck down here in New York City for races.”

Full Millrose Games results are here. Americans are preparing for the U.S. Indoor Championships in three weeks (with coverage on NBC Sports).

In other Millrose events, U.S. Olympians Okolo and Wilson broke the American indoor records in the 500m and 800m, respectively.

American Eric Jenkins and the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan won the meet’s prestigious mile races.

In the pole vault, Greece’s Katerina Stefanidi held off American Sandi Morris to repeat their Rio one-two finish.

Shaunae Miller, the Bahamian who dived at the finish line and beat Allyson Felix in the Olympic 400m, won the women’s 300m against a field that included U.S. Olympians Ashley SpencerNatasha Hastings and Sydney McLaughlin. Miller then said she still hopes to race both the 200m and the 400m at the world championships in London this summer.

In the 60m hurdles, Olympic champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica prevailed in his first competition since Sept. 1. McLeod said one of his goals this year is to enter the same 100m race as countryman Usain Bolt for the first time. McLeod’s personal best in the 100m is 9.99 seconds.

Canadian Olympian Phylicia George won the women’s 60m hurdles, edging American Sharika Nelvis.

Rio long jump gold medalists Jeff Henderson and Tianna Bartoletta each finished sixth in 60m sprints won by Dezerea Bryant and Clayton Vaughn.

MORE: Centrowitz comes to New York for Millrose, dad’s tattoo