Vashti Cunningham

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Usain Bolt set for test in last race before world championships

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Usain Bolt‘s four-year winning streak, and his unbeatable aura, are definitely on the line Friday in his last race before the world championships.

Bolt headlines what should be the final Diamond League meet of his career in Monaco, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold at 2 p.m. ET.

Bolt goes in the 100m at 3:35 p.m. It’s his third race of the season, but the first against decent competition.

Bolt clocked 10.03 and 10.06 to win two June races, marking his slowest ever start to a summer, then said he would visit a doctor about his usual back tightness.

In Monaco, Bolt will very likely need to break 10 seconds to extend a win streak of more than 20 100m and 200m races since June 6, 2013. If he loses, Bolt will likely go into his farewell world championships in three weeks as an underdog.

The Monaco field he faces includes two of the five fastest men in the world this year — South African Akani Simbine and American Chris Belcher — and four men overall who have broken 10 seconds in 2017.

It does not include the medal favorites for worlds next month — Jamaican Yohan Blake, Canadian Andre De Grasse and Americans Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin.

Bolt’s slow times this season are reminiscent of 2015, when he struggled to win a June 200m race and then pulled out of two early July meets with a leg injury. But Bolt returned four weeks before worlds to show medal-worthy form for the first time in nearly two years. He then edged Gatlin by .01 at worlds.

Few are pressing panic on Bolt this season like they were two years ago. For one, Bolt has shown he can overcome injury and slow times to win each of the last two years. Second (maybe more important), every other 100m star has doubts right now (different than 2015, when Gatlin was lighting the world on fire).

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

1:30 p.m. — Men’s Pole Vault
1:55 p.m. — Men’s Javelin
2:03 p.m. — Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:15 p.m. — Men’s 1500m
2:20 p.m. — Women’s High Jump
2:25 p.m. — Men’s 400m
2:35 p.m. — Women’s 800m
2:45 p.m. — Women’s 200m
2:45 p.m. — Women’s Triple Jump
2:55 p.m. — Men’s 800m
3:05 p.m. — Women’s 100m Hurdles
3:15 p.m. — Women’s 3000m
3:35 p.m. — Men’s 100m
3:45 p.m. — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s 1500m — 2:15 p.m.
Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz and world champion Asbel Kiprop go head to head for the first time since August in what should be a world championships preview. All four Kenyans on the world team are in this race, including the two fastest men in the world this year — Timothy Cheruiyot and Ronald Kwemoi.

Centrowitz, the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, finished seventh in two international races since taking runner-up at the USATF Outdoor Championships. He may still be rounding into form after a series of ailments had him considering pulling the rip cord on his season a month ago.

Women’s High Jump — 2:20 p.m.
U.S. champion Vashti Cunningham takes her third crack at world champion Maria Lasitskene of Russia this season. Lasitskene is the only woman to clear two meters this year, which she has done 11 times, with six failed attempts at a world record to boot, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Cunningham, the 19-year-old daughter of NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, has blossomed into the world No. 2 jumper this year. A personal-best clearance in Monaco would make her the eighth American woman to clear two meters.

Women’s 800m — 2:35 p.m.
The deepest field of the meet features the eight fastest women in the world this year. Olympic champion Caster Semenya hasn’t lost an 800m since September 2015. Olympic silver and bronze medalists Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui haven’t lost to anybody outdoors other than each other and Semenya in the same span.

U.S. champion Ajee’ Wilson may be in form to disrupt all that. She ran her fastest time since 2014 to win the national title. Now, she faces the world’s best for the first time since bowing out in the Rio semifinals.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — 3:05 p.m.
The six fastest in the world this year go here, including world-record holder Keni Harrison and 2012 Olympic champion Sally Pearson. With Rio Olympic champion Brianna Rollins suspended for missing drug tests, this is close to a world championships preview field.

Harrison hasn’t lost since shockingly missing the Olympic team. She is the only woman to break 12.40 seconds this year with a top time of 12.28. That’s not surprising. Pearson, meanwhile, was a revelation in their last meet, clocking 12.48 seconds in London on July 9, her fastest time in five years.

Men’s 100m — 3:35 p.m.
In two 100m races this year, Bolt spotted unaccomplished sprinters marginal leads out of the blocks, caught them, but could not break 10 seconds despite giving pretty close to full effort.

Bolt will likely lose if he repeats either of those races Friday.

Akani Simbine of South Africa has broken 10 seconds a total of eight times in 11 tries this year, though his best time without the benefit of altitude is 9.99.

American Chris Belcher has a best of 9.93 this year, but that came on the notoriously fast track in Eugene, Ore. Belcher hasn’t broken 10 seconds elsewhere. This is his first career Diamond League race and only his second meet outside the U.S.

Brit C.J. Ujah has won three Diamond League races this year, including running 9.98 into a slight headwind in Rabat, Morocco, on Sunday.

There is also Omar McLeod, who makes this race the first time reigning Olympic 100m and 110m hurdles champions face off since 1998, according to Tilastopaja. McLeod has rarely raced the 100m, but does have a personal best of 9.99 with the maximum allowable tailwind from April 2016.

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Mo Farah leads Olympic champs, world-record chasers; London preview

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Mo Farah, Allyson Felix and Elaine Thompson headline a Diamond League meet in London on Sunday, while world-record watch is on for two athletes who aren’t Olympians.

NBC Sports Gold coverage starts at 7:20 a.m. ET. Universal HD’s broadcast is at 9 ET.

Farah, Felix and Thompson, who own a combined 12 Olympic gold medals, are ramping up for the world championships from Aug. 4-13, also at London’s Olympic Stadium.

Also keep an eye on American Keni Harrison, who broke the 100m hurdles world record at this meet one year ago, two weeks after shockingly failing to make the U.S. Olympic team. Harrison’s recent form suggests another world record is possible Sunday.

Then there’s Russian high jumper Mariya Lasitskene, who was locked out of Rio due to the Russian track and field ban that is still in effect. But Lasitskene, the 2015 World champion, is now competing as a neutral athlete after appeal to the IAAF with a sufficient clean doping record.

On Thursday, Lasitskene had the highest clearance in the world since 2011 and then took three failed attempts at a world record at a Diamond League meet in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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

7:20 a.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
7:25 a.m. — Women’s 400m Hurdles
7:30 a.m. — Men’s Discus
8:03 a.m. — Men’s Long Jump
8:14 a.m. — Men’s 400m
8:40 a.m. — Women’s 800m
8:50 a.m. — Men’s 1500m
9:03 a.m. — Men’s 400m Hurdles
9:10 a.m. — Women’s High Jump
9:13 a.m. — Men’s 200m
9:27 a.m. — Women’s Javelin
9:37 a.m. — Women’s Long Jump
9:40 a.m. — Women’s 100m
9:49 a.m. — Women’s 400m
9:58 a.m. — Men’s 800m
10:07 a.m. — Men’s 100m
10:17 a.m. — Women’s 100m Hurdles
10:28 a.m. — Men’s 110m Hurdles
10:38 a.m. — Women’s Mile
10:48 a.m. — Men’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s High Jump — 9:10 a.m. ET
Russian Mariya Lasitskene went on a tear after being shut out of the Olympics due to Russia’s anti-doping problems. Lasitskene, who hasn’t had any public doping issues of her own, is the only woman to clear two meters outdoors this year, which she has done nine times, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Lasitskene had the highest clearance for any woman since 2011 in Lausanne on Thursday and has taken six attempts at a world record in the last month. In London, Lasitskene faces U.S. champion Vashti Cunningham (ranked No. 2 in the world outdoors this year) and Olympic champion Ruth Beitia of Spain.

Women’s 100m — 9:40 a.m. ET
The three fastest women in the world this year face off in a potential world championships preview — Olympic champion Elaine Thompson (10.71), Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye (10.82) and Ivorian Murielle Ahoure (10.83).

Thompson puts a two-year, 15-meet 100m winning streak on the line (save one race she did not finish). She could take a crack at her shared national record of 10.70 seconds. An interested spectator could be Olympic silver medalist Tori Bowie, who has not decided which race(s) she will enter at worlds.

Women’s 400m — 9:49 a.m. ET
This is Allyson Felix‘s last scheduled meet before worlds in August. It also marks her second 400m since she took silver in Rio behind a diving Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas.

Miller-Uibo isn’t in the London field. Neither are any of the three U.S. women who will join Felix on the world team. With the world’s four fastest women this year absent, Felix has a fine opportunity to win, but it will definitely take faster than the 50.52 she clocked in Kingston on June 10.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — 10:17 a.m. ET
The top three from the USATF Outdoor Championships headline, led by world-record holder Keni Harrison. Harrison shockingly missed the Rio Olympic team and clocked the world record 12.20 two weeks later at the London Olympic Stadium.

This season, Harrison’s first six races were between 12.54 and 12.60, all victories but far off her unbeatable form. Then came Tuesday, when she ran 12.28 in Hungary with miniscule tailwind. Another world record in London could be in the cards.

Men’s 3000m — 10:48 a.m. ET
Mo Farah is the only individual British Olympic medalist competing in London with the retirement of Jessica Ennis-Hill and injury to long jumper Greg Rutherford. This will mark one of Farah’s final track races, as he prepares to move to road racing and marathons after worlds in London in August.

The field here sets up well for a Farah victory. It doesn’t include Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha, whom Farah held off by a half-second to win the Pre Classic 5000m on May 27. No Ethiopians at all, actually. Nor anybody who has shared an Olympic or world championships podium with Farah.

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Once-homeless sisters mingle with track stars at nationals

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The three once-homeless sisters recited all the athletes they met at nationals and the souvenirs they received as they slurped shaved ice.

Nine-year-old Brooke Sheppard got pointers from high jumper Vashti Cunningham. Rainn, 11, showed off the shirt she picked out at the merchandise tent. And 12-year-old Tai, well, her family’s story moved Justin Gatlin so much that he gave her the first-place medal he won in the 100 meters at the U.S. track and field championships.

The siblings from New York City were guests of USA track and field after their rise to prominence in the sport, with their exploits bringing them medals, TV appearances and a magazine cover. It also helped get them something more – a home. They and their mom moved out of a homeless shelter and into a two-bedroom apartment in April.

“A whole different world,” Brooke said, referring to all the paths that have opened up through track.

For a few days at nationals, they were treated like royalty. The sisters were accompanied by their coach Jean Bell, their “track mom,” since their actual mother, Tonia Handy, couldn’t make the trip because of work.

“Their lives have changed so much,” said Bell, who helped develop the talent of the sisters through the Jeuness Track Club in Brooklyn. “Track keeps them focused and positive. They’re good at it. They’re really good at it.”

The trio earned medals at the AAU Junior Olympics in Houston last summer, with Rainn winning the 3,000 meters, Tai finishing runner-up in the 80-meter hurdles and Brooke taking second in the high jump. In December, the sisters appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated Kids.

Gatlin was touched by all they’ve gone through.

“I wanted them to take the medal as a symbol of believing in yourself,” Gatlin said. “People are going to say that you can’t or you’re too young or you don’t have the will to do so, but I wanted them to know they can do it. If they believe in themselves, they can do it. That’s what that medal meant to me.”

With wide eyes, they went behind-the-scenes at nationals. They even presented medals – Brooke to the women’s high jumpers, Rainn to the women’s 1,500 winners and Tai to the 100-meter hurdlers.

They socialized with 800-meter runner Ajee Wilson, along with sprinters Tori Bowie and Allyson Felix. They talked to Hall of Famer John Carlos and received gift bags containing Team USA running apparel and Nike shoes. Brooke also came away with a new appreciation for the high jump after chatting with Cunningham.

“She’s really tall and kind and talented,” Brooke said. “She jumped 6 feet, 6 inches.”

“One day, I’ll jump 6-6, too.”

Many athletes stopped to pose for pictures with the sisters, including Olympic shot put gold medalist Michelle Carter and decathlete Trey Hardee, who showed them a picture of his new baby wearing the first-place medal he captured at nationals.

“It’s been so fun,” Rainn said. “I learned new tips on how to think in my mind when I run.”

They got into track around January 2015 when their baby sitter signed them up for a track meet that did not require any entry fees. Bell happened to be there looking for new talent. She had given her business cards to each of the girls separately with the instructions to have their mother call her or just show up to practice.

“They came to practice together and I’m like, `You three are sisters?”‘ Bell recounted. “That was a bonus, because I had three good athletes, from one family. That’s easy to hold on to. They just took off from there.”

According to Bell, the Sheppard family had been homeless for around two years. They made an appearance on ABC’s “The View” in November, when co-host Whoopi Goldberg presented the family with $10,000, along with $40,000 to their track club.

Handy took a job working in the financial department of a hospital in February, with the goal of going back to school in September.

They moved into their new place on April 1. At first, the family had no furniture, so they slept on air mattresses.

Entertainer Tyler Perry saw their story and pledged to help out. Bell said Perry had the family’s apartment redecorated, with the family surprised by the remodel on a recent episode of “The View.”

Being invited to nationals meant quite a bit to them. The sisters hope to come back again – as participants.

“They’re there (in a few years) and they’re on the podium,” Bell said. “They have the talent. They have everything it takes.”