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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Justin Gatlin, Tori Bowie win 100m at USATF Outdoor Championships

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Justin Gatlin isn’t relinquishing his U.S. sprint crown just yet.

The 35-year-old overtook young phenom Christian Coleman to win the 100m at the USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, in Sacramento, Calif., on Friday night.

Gatlin, who took silver to Usain Bolt at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, came back to beat Coleman in 9.95 seconds. Coleman, 21, hung on for second in 9.98, well off his world-leading 9.82 from earlier this month.

Chris Belcher, 23, grabbed the last 100m spot on the London world championships team in 10.06.

“These two young guns trying to make a name for themselves, and I’m just trying to keep coming,” Gatlin told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN.

Gatlin was an underdog Friday, having not broken 10 seconds in four wind-legal races this year going into the final.

He missed weeks of training this season, slowed by a quadriceps/groin problem since February, according to The Associated Press.

If Bolt is anywhere near top form, Gatlin’s 9.95 won’t challenge for gold at worlds in August. It’s the slowest winning time at nationals in a championship year since Gatlin’s first title in 2005.

“It wasn’t spectacular times you see me run the last couple of years,” Gatlin told media in Sacramento. “It was a time where I needed to fight. … I’m balancing accomplishment and hunger, and I’ve got to be able to find that hunger again.”

USATF OUTDOORS: Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

Earlier Friday, Olympic silver medalist Tori Bowie won the women’s 100m easily in 10.94.

Bowie was followed by Rio Olympian Deajah Stevens (11.08) and Ariana Washington (11.10). Allyson Felix was eighth, but she wasn’t planning on racing the 100m at worlds anyway.

“The goal was to make the [world] team [by finishing top three],” Bowie told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN. “I’m using each race as a training cycle before I get to London.”

Meanwhile in Jamaica, Olympic 100m champion Elaine Thompson won her national title in 10.71 seconds, one hundredth off her shared national record. Bowie is as of now an underdog going into worlds in August.

Yohan Blake won the Jamaican 100m title in 9.90, his fastest time since 2012, when he became the second-fastest man of all time. Bolt skipped the Jamaican Championships as he has a bye into worlds as defending champion.

Gatlin, Coleman, Blake and Canadian Andre De Grasse are looking like the biggest threats to Bolt at the final meet of his career.

In other USATF Outdoors events Friday, Blake Leeper took Oscar Pistorius off the IPC athletics record book by running 45.25 in the 400m semifinals.

Though Leeper didn’t make Saturday’s final, he is the first double amputee to compete at a USATF Outdoor Championships. Leeper raced for the first time since the end of a cocaine ban earlier this week.

“I can remember back in 2008, when I was in my college dorm room [pre-med at the University of Tennessee], never run a track meet in my life, seeing [Pistorius] run for the first time,” Leeper said. “That inspired me.”

Trey Hardee completed his first decathlon in nearly two years and won the U.S. title with 8,225 points. That ranks him 10th in the world this year.

Hardee, 33, captured the 2009 and 2011 World Championships, beating the now-retired Ashton Eaton, plus a 2012 Olympic silver medal. He withdrew on the second day of the 2016 Olympic Trials decathlon after suffering a left hamstring injury on the first day and suffered a heel tear earlier this year.

“I’m worried about my foot every single event,” said Hardee, who was listed as retired on Wikipedia as of Friday evening. “I’m a snake in the grass right now. No one really knows what to expect.”

Vashti Cunningham, daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, won her first U.S. outdoor title in the high jump.

Cunningham, who finished 13th in Rio at age 18, cleared an outdoor personal best of 1.99 meters on Friday. She ranks No. 2 in the world this year.

“I want to win world championships, and I want to break 2.0 [meters],” Cunningham said.

London Olympic silver medalist Brigetta Barrett was fourth, just missing the world team.

Rio silver medalist Paul Chelimo and Olympian Shelby Houlihan won the 5000m titles.

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