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Five men’s events to watch at USATF Outdoor Championships

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The face of U.S. men’s track and field is changing.

Double Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton retired.

The sprint leaders in the last decade — Justin GatlinLaShawn MerrittTyson GayWalter Dix — are all entered in the USATF Outdoor Championships (Summer Champions Series) in Sacramento this week. But they are all also into their 30s, twilight years for speedsters.

Nationals, which begin Thursday on NBC Sports (broadcast schedule here), will determine the team for the world championships in London in August. 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.

In the year after the Olympics, many familiar stars could be on the way out. New faces could emerge.

Here are five men’s events to watch this week:

100m
Thursday (first round)
Friday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: Justin Gatlin (silver), Trayvon Bromell (8th), Marvin Bracy (15th)
2017 World Rankings: Christian Coleman (first, 9.82), Cameron Burrell (4th, 9.93), Chris Belcher (4th, 9.93), Ronnie Baker (9th, 9.98)

Outlook: The three-man team for worlds may well have zero Olympic 100m experience. That’s because Gatlin hasn’t broken 10 seconds this year, though he has only raced three times and twice into a headwind. Bromell hasn’t raced period since the Rio Olympics (Achilles surgery). And Bracy won’t race this week following surgery.

Enter Coleman, who finished sixth in the Olympic Trials 100m but on June 7 at the NCAA Championships ran the fastest-ever 100m for his age. Enter Baker, who beat the Olympic silver and bronze medalists (Gatlin and Andre De Grasse) to win the Prefontaine Classic on May 27. Baker was bounced in the semifinals of the Olympic Trials. All of the six U.S. men who have run 10.0 or faster this year are age 23 and younger.

MORE: Five women’s events to watch

1500m
Thursday (first round)
Saturday (final)
2016 Olympics: Matthew Centrowitz (gold), Ben Blankenship (8th), Robby Andrews (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Centrowitz (10th, 3:33.41), Clayton Murphy (40th, 3:36.34), John Gregorek (47th, 3:36.61), Cristian Soratos (48th, 3:36.73)

Outlook: Excitement injected this event when Olympic 800m bronze medalist Murphy announced last week he would attempt the 800m-1500m double in Sacramento. No U.S. man has competed in both the 800m and 1500m at a single worlds. While Centrowitz, the first U.S. 1500m gold medalist in 108 years, is a clear favorite, the other two world team spots are there for the taking. Murphy is a proven 1500m runner, winning the 2016 NCAA title for Akron and then turning pro before his senior season.

110m Hurdles
Saturday (first round)
Sunday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: Devon Allen (6th), Ronnie Ash (8th), Jeff Porter (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Allen (3rd, 13.11), Aries Merritt (5th, 13.13), Aleec Harris (7th, 13.18), David Oliver (28th, 13.40)

Outlook: The U.S. failed to put a man on the Olympic 110m hurdles podium in Rio for the first time at a non-boycotted Games. Jamaica is now home to the world’s best hurdlers, but the U.S. field is deep with two world champions (Jason RichardsonDavid Oliver), plus an Olympic champion and world-record holder in Merritt. But the favorite may be Allen. The former University of Oregon wide receiver came back from a second torn ACL suffered in September to top the U.S. rankings going into Sacramento.

200m
Saturday (first round)
Sunday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: LaShawn Merritt (6th), Justin Gatlin (semifinals), Ameer Webb (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Christian Coleman (2nd, 19.85), Noah Lyles (3rd, 19.90), Chris Belcher (6th, 20.01), Brandon Carnes (20th, 20.25)

Outlook: Like with the 100m, this could be a changing-of-the-guard weekend. Coleman, Lyles and Belcher have never raced individually at an Olympics or worlds, but they are the only American men to rub sub-20.18 this year. And they’ve each done it multiple times.

The veterans Gatlin and Merritt will make the U.S. team if they repeat their 19.75 and 19.79 times from the Olympic Trials, but that appears unlikely. Gatlin is entered in the 200m but maybe only as a safety net if he doesn’t make top three in the 100m. He hasn’t raced a 200m since Rio. Merritt’s focus may also be on another event — the 400m. He already has a world team bye in the one-lap race but must enter one nationals event to be eligible for worlds.

Long Jump
Sunday
2016 Olympics: Jeff Henderson (gold), Jarrion Lawson (4th), Mike Hartfield (25th)
2017 World Rankings: Henderson (19th, 8.15m), Charles Brown (22nd, 8.14m), Jarvis Gotch (24th, 8.13m), Marquis Dendy (24th, 8.13m)

Outlook: Henderson may be the Olympic champion, but his leaps in five meets in 2017 might not be enough if repeated Sunday. Really, no American man has distinguished himself this year. The top six are within three centimeters of each other in the world rankings. Keep an eye on Gotch, who was 11th at Olympic Trials but leaped 8.37 meters (with an illegal tailwind of 2.8 meters/second) on May 27. And Lawson, who appeared to cost himself a medal in Rio by dragging his left hand in the sand behind his landing on his final jump.

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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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Rome Diamond League preview, broadcast schedule

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Canadian Andre De Grasse, who won a medal of every color in Rio, headlines a Diamond League meet in Rome, live on Thursday starting at 12:15 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold and 2 p.m. on NBCSN.

Rome, the site of Usain Bolt‘s last individual defeat in 2013, is the first of three Diamond League meets in an 11-day span.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold will also air live coverage of Oslo (June 15) and Stockholm (June 18), the last two meets before the U.S. Championships. Nationals serve as the qualifying meet for the world championships in London in August.

Rio Olympic medalists prepping for nationals in Rome include shot putter Michelle Carter and pole vaulter Sandi Morris.

The meet is deeper with international stars like 1500m world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, world 200m champion Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands and of course De Grasse.

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

12:15 p.m. — Women’s shot put
1 — Women’s triple jump
1:20 — Women’s pole vault
2:03 — Women’s 400m hurdles
2:10 — Women’s high jump
2:15 — Men’s 3000m steeplechase
2:30 — Men’s 100m
2:35 — Men’s javelin
2:40 — Men’s 800m
2:50 — Women’s 400m
3:05 — Men’s 110m hurdles
3:13 — Women’s 1500m
3:23 — Women’s 100m
3:30 — Men’s 200m
3:40 — Women’s 5000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s pole vault — 1:20 p.m. ET

Every Rio Olympic medalist is here — gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, Morris and bronze medalist Eliza McCartney of New Zealand.

Little separates the trio this year. Stefanidi cleared 4.85 meters indoors, best in the world this year. Morris has cleared 4.84 meters outdoors, best in the world this year. McCartney has cleared 4.82 meters outdoors. The only woman to rival the trio in top clearances this year is 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr, who is not in Rome.

Men’s javelin — 2:35 p.m. ET

Perhaps the deepest field of the meet. It includes the top four from the Rio Olympics, plus two more men who have earned world championships medals.

The headliner is German Olympic champion Thomas Rohler, who on May 5 moved up to No. 2 on the all-time list behind Czech legend Jan Zelezny. Rohler threw 93.90 meters, but he’s still 15 feet shy of Zelezny’s world record from 1996.

Men’s 110m hurdles — 3:05 p.m. ET

Aries Merritt and David Oliver, the top two U.S. hurdlers over the last decade, go head-to-head here in a teaser for the U.S. Championships in two weeks. With Rio Olympic champion Omar McLeod not in the field, it’s wide open.

Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder, has the fastest time this season of those in Rome. The recipient of a 2015 kidney transplant eyes his first Diamond League victory in four years.

Rio silver medalist Orlando Ortega of Spain and 2015 World champion Sergey Shubenkov of Russia are also entered.

Men’s 200m — 3:30 p.m. ET

The 200m is in a transition year now that both Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin have said they don’t plan to race the half-lap event anymore.

While new names have popped up in the 200m this season — Wayde van NiekerkNoah Lyles and Christian Coleman — the Rome entries represent the old guard in the event.

There are Rio Olympic silver and bronze medalists Andre De Grasse and Christophe Lemaitre. There is Panamanian Alonso Edward, the Diamond League season champion the last three years. And U.S. Olympian Ameer Webb.

De Grasse has struggled in the 100m this season, but this is a prime opportunity to notch his first Diamond League win of 2017.

Women’s 5000m — 3:40 p.m. ET

Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba and Kenyan Hellen Obiri, two of the six fastest women all-time in this event, go head-to-head for the first time.

Dibaba, best known for her 1500m prowess (world record, 2015 World title), is also the indoor 5000m world-record holder. She won the Pre Classic 5000m in 14:25.22 on May 26.

Obiri is the only woman to run faster this year, winning in 14:22.47 in Shanghai on May 13. Obiri, raised a 1500m runner, took 5000m silver in Rio in a personal-best time after a year off to have a baby. Obiri was added to the Rome field as Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana withdrew last month due to a physical problem.

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