Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Diamond League season set to open in Doha; preview

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Usain Bolt might not race until June. Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell are suspended. Allyson Felix withdrew from her first two scheduled meets of the season.

The absence of stars (to a U.S. audience) as the Diamond League season begins in Doha, Qatar, on Friday is a reminder that this is what athletes call the “off year” in track and field.

There are no Olympics or World Outdoor Championships for the only time in the four-year cycle. It’s a season for Rio Olympic medal hopefuls to dabble in different events, rest and/or play it safer than normal to avoid injury.

But this spring and summer could also see the emergence of new names to watch as we cross the halfway point between the London and Rio Games.

It was in 2010 that the Diamond League debuted. Also that year, Yohan Blake ran his first sub-9.9 100m and jumped from No. 83 to No. 4 in the world in the 200m. He would win World Championships 100m gold in 2011 and Olympic 100m and 200m silver in 2012. London Olympic champions David Rudisha and Ashton Eaton also broke their first world records in 2010.

Doha marks the first of 14 Diamond League meets over the next four months. Universal Sports will have coverage beginning at 12 p.m. ET. The full schedule and entry lists can be found here. Here’s the schedule of events Friday (all times Eastern):

10:25 a.m. — Men’s long jump
10:30 — Men’s discus
10:35 — Women’s shot put
11:10  — Women’s pole vault
11:40 — Men’s high jump
12:04 p.m. — Women’s 400m hurdles
12:10 — Women’s javelin
12:14 — Men’s 1500m
12:26 — Men’s 400m
12:30 — Women’s triple jump
12:35 —  Women’s 800m
12:46 — Men’s 110m hurdles
12:56 — Men’s 800m
1:09 — Women’s 100m
1:18 — Men’s 3000m steeplechase
1:36 — Men’s 200m
1:45 — Women’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s high jump

The event is missing 2013 world champion and world record chaser Bohdan Bondarenko of Ukraine. But it includes London Olympic gold, silver and bronze medalists — Ivan Ukhov (Russia), Erik Kynard (U.S.) and Derek Drouin (Canada).

Drouin has impressed in the early season, winning the Drake Relays with a personal-best 2.40m, becoming the 10th man ever to clear that mark.

Men’s 400m

Reigning world champion LaShawn Merritt takes on the Dominican Republic’s Luguelin Santos in what could be a budding rivalry.

The previous two seasons had been about the Merritt-Kirani James showdowns, but it was the world bronze medalist Santos who edged Merritt in Kingston, Jamaica, on Saturday.

World Championships silver medalist Tony McQuay is also in the field.

Women’s 100m

Jamaican Olympic and world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the headliner in Doha. She said at a press conference Thursday that she’s focusing on improving her 200m this season, but she’ll start off her Diamond League campaign in her bread and butter event.

The top competition should come from 2013 U.S. champion English Gardner, 2008 Olympic silver medalist Kerron Stewart of Jamaica and Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare.

Okagbare won a 100m in 11.19 seconds in Kingston on Saturday, beating Stewart (11.32) and Gardner (11.50).

Fraser-Pryce went sub-11 seven times last season, including a 10.71 at the World Championships.

Men’s 200m

Jamaican Olympic bronze medalist Warren Weir is the favorite here after taking fourth in a 100m in Kingston on Saturday.

The current world-leading time for 2014 is 19.97, a time Weir beat in five races last season.

If anybody is to upset Weir, it could be American Curtis Mitchell, the upstart bronze medalist at last year’s World Championships.

Women’s 3000m

The final event features perhaps the hottest athlete of the indoor season, Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba.

Dibaba blew away the 3000m field by 2.68 seconds at the World Indoor Championships in February after breaking the world record in February.

Friday’s field includes several other major meet medalists, including Kenyan Mercy Cherono and Ethiopian Almaz Ayana, who won 5000m silver and bronze at the 2013 World Championships.

The 3000m is not an event run at the Olympics or World Outdoor Championships.

Report: Tyson Gay offers to pay back nearly $500,000

Too early to say whether virus threatens Olympics, WHO says

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GENEVA (AP) — Despite a virus outbreak spreading from China, a top World Health Organization official said Tuesday it’s much too soon to say whether the Tokyo Olympics are at risk of being cancelled or moved.

Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly said they have no contingency plans for the July 24-Aug. 9 Summer Games since the WHO declared a global health emergency last month.

The U.N. agency’s emergencies program director, Michael Ryan, said Tuesday the sporting event was “way too far” away to consider giving advice that would affect Tokyo’s hosting of the Olympics.

“We are not there to make a decision for that,” Ryan told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a news conference at WHO headquarters.

Geneva-based WHO has been in regular contact with the IOC in nearby Lausanne since the virus known as COVID-19 emerged in December.

“We don’t give them judgments,” Ryan said. “We assist them with their risk assessment. We will be working closely with them in the coming weeks and months.”

The death toll in mainland China due to the virus rose to almost 1,900 on Tuesday, with more than 72,000 confirmed cases.

The outbreak has caused numerous sports events in China to be canceled, postponed, or moved, including qualifying events for the Tokyo Olympics.

Chinese athletes and teams have also been unable to travel for some competitions. China sent a team of more than 400 athletes to the Rio Olympics. It won 70 medals, including 26 gold, to place second in total medal standings.

Around 11,000 athletes and many more team coaches and officials from more than 200 national teams are expected in Japan for the Olympics.

Japan has experienced the most significant outbreak of the virus outside of China, on the cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in quarantine at Yokohama in Tokyo Bay.

During a 14-day isolation that ends Wednesday, 542 cases have been identified among more than 3,700 passengers and crew.

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For Mike Eruzione, Al Michaels, it’s no miracle that 1980 Olympics endure

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Mike Eruzione has been reminded on a daily basis about the Miracle on Ice for nearly four decades. While playing celebrity golf tournaments. At speaking engagements. Or that time he auctioned his jersey and stick from the Soviet game to a 9-year-old boy named Seven.

Eruzione, now 65, likes to open conversations with one anecdote about meeting strangers, which he repeated in a call with reporters last week.

“The stories I hear, 40 years later, it’s depending on their age — I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated, I remember where I was on 9/11. I remember where I was when the Challenger blew up. And I remember where I was when we won,” Eruzione said. “And I always say, ‘We? I didn’t know you were on the team.’

“But people felt a part of it. … It’s nice to know that people remember and share some great stories about what we did so long ago.”

The captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team owns a last name that means “eruption” in Italian. Eruzione scored the decisive goal in the U.S.’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union en route to a shock gold medal during the Cold War in Lake Placid, N.Y.

NBCSN airs a 30-minute special marking the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice on Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. ET. It will feature a conversation between Olympic primetime host Mike Tirico and Al Michaels, the play-by-play voice of the game dubbed by Sports Illustrated the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

Eruzione has grandchildren now. Three of them skate at the Mike Eruzione Center in his hometown of Winthrop, Mass.

“They don’t even know who Mike Eruzione is,” Eruzione said of the 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, “but they know about the Miracle.”

All credit to the U.S. Olympic team of 20 players between ages 19 and 25, back when the NHL did not participate in the Olympics. The Soviets were essentially a team of professionals. The nation won the previous four Olympics and throttled the U.S. 10-3 in a pre-Olympic exhibition at Madison Square Garden.

Enter Michaels, calling hockey at the Lake Placid Winter Games alongside Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden. Michaels, then 35, said he was assigned the sport because he had the most hockey experience on the ABC Olympic talent roster — one game. He called the 1972 Olympic hockey final by himself.

Feb. 22, 1980: As the U.S. led the Soviet Union 4-3 and the final seconds ticked down, one word came to mind: miraculous.

“It got morphed into a question and quick answer, and away we went,” Michaels said.

Eruzione said he didn’t learn of Michaels’ call — “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” — until two weeks after the Olympics. He didn’t watch the game broadcast until years later.

“I never thought it was a miracle, but it was a catchy phrase and it sounded right,” Eruzione said, noting he preferred Michaels’ call in the final comeback win over Finland to clinch the gold: “This impossible dream comes true.”

Team members since gathered often — to light the 2002 Olympic cauldron in Salt Lake City, for fantasy camps in Lake Placid and for coach Herb Brooks‘ 2003 funeral. Eighteen of the 20 players are scheduled to reunite this weekend in Las Vegas.

Absent will be Mark Pavelich, who was jailed last year on assault charges and ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. And Bob Suter, who died in 2014 of a heart attack at age 57.

It was Suter’s death that motivated Eruzione and others to commemorate the 35th anniversary together in Lake Placid. It was believed to be the first time all living players were together in Lake Placid since the 1980 Winter Games.

Eruzione said that the 2004 film “Miracle” introduced the team to a new generation. Now at many of his speeches, the majority of Eruzione’s audience was born after 1980.

“I’ll say, how many people watched the movie ‘Miracle,’ and almost everybody raises their hand,” he said. “So I think what the movie did for us as a team was kind of rejuvenated our team as far as people knowing who we were and what we are and what we were about.”

NFL coaches set up “Miracle” viewings for their teams before games. Michael Phelps watched it for motivation at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Phelps told relay teammates, “This is our time,” before they beat rival Australia. An ode to Brooks’ pregame speech before the Soviet game.

Michaels, whose 13-year-old grandson won an October hockey tournament in Lake Placid, said he watched “Miracle” last week for the first time in about a decade. He helped do voiceovers in production more than 15 years ago, though the original Lake Placid audio was used for his signature call.

“The great thing is, in a way, when you watch it back or you watch highlights back, you almost become like in the third person, like somebody else is doing this and announcing this game,” Michaels said. “I exult the way I think most of the country did and do when they see highlights of it. So it’s kind of an out-of-body experience in a way, but it’s a beautiful thing.”

After Eruzione shared his tale of strangers’ memories, Michaels added one of his own.

“One of my favorite stories is Mike Eruzione calling me maybe eight to 10 years ago and saying, ‘The greatest thing about this is every time I come home and maybe I’m a little down, I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll put the tape in,'” Michaels said. “‘Every time I shoot, the puck goes in. It will forever.'”

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