Prefontaine Classic schedule, broadcast info, preview

Allyson Felix, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
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The stars are out for the third Diamond League meet of the season — Allyson FelixShelly-Ann Fraser-PryceAshton Eaton and David Rudisha, among others.

The Prefontaine Classic is the most mouth-watering outdoor meet of 2014 so far, living up to its venue, revered Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

Competition starts Friday night, with Olympic and world champion Brittney Reese in the long jump, Mary Cain in the 800m and Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp in the 10,000m. USATF.TV will have live coverage.

NBCSN will have live coverage Saturday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. ET, followed by NBC from 4:30-6. NBC Sports Live Extra will be available for the entire 3:30-6 window (HERE from 3:30-4:30 and HERE from 4:30-6). The full schedule and entry lists can be found here.

Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

Friday
10 p.m. — Women’s discus
10:03 — Women’s long jump
10:30 — Women’s 800m I
10:50 — Women’s 800m II
11:10 — Men’s shot put
12:17 a.m. (Saturday) — Men’s 10,000m

Saturday
3:22 p.m. — Men’s triple jump
3:25 — Men’s pole vault
3:33 — Men’s mile
3:44 — Women’s two mile
3:59 — Women’s high jump
4:03 — Women’s 400m hurdles
4:11 — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
4:25 — Men’s 400m
4:34 — Men’s 100m
4:38 — Men’s javelin
4:42 — Women’s 400m
4:49 — Women’s 1500m
5:05 — Men’s 110m hurdles
5:13 — Women’s 200m
5:20 — Men’s 5000m
5:41 — Men’s 800m
5:49 — Bowerman Mile

Here are five track events to watch Saturday:

Men’s 100m

No Usain Bolt or Yohan Blake, but all seven men in the field have a personal best of 10.0 or better. The favorite is Justin Gatlin, who owns the fastest time of the year at 9.87. His top competition should be France’s Jimmy Vicaut, the second fastest man this year (9.95), and Jamaica’s Nesta Carter, who was second to Gatlin at a Diamond League meet in Shanghai on May 18.

Women’s 1500m

Ethiopian-born Swede Abeba Aregawi has owned this event the last year, winning all six Diamond League races she entered in 2013, then the World Championship and then the World Indoor Championship.

American Jenny Simpson, the 2011 world champion and 2013 world silver medalist, will try to break Aregawi’s streak. As will Kenyan Hellen Obiri, who set a meet record in winning in Eugene last year (it wasn’t a Diamond Race event in 2013).

Men’s 110m hurdles

Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton will try his hand against all six hurdles medalists from the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships, including world-record holder Aries Merritt and world champion David Oliver.

Eaton has been running the 400m hurdles this season, dabbling outside the decathlon in a non-outdoor World Championships year. His personal best in the 110m hurdles, 13.35 from the 2011 Pre Classic, would have placed fourth in the London Games final.

Women’s 200m

Bill this as Allyson Felix vs. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Olympic champion vs. world champion. Remember, Felix collapsed to the track with a torn hamstring in this race at the World Championships on Aug. 16. Fraser-Pryce, in a neighboring lane, went on to win gold.

Fraser-Pryce has said she’s focusing on the 200m in 2014, while Felix is putting greater emphasis on the 400m. Both have pulled out of meets so far this year, reportedly due to injuries, giving hope to reigning U.S. champion Kimberlyn Duncan and world silver and bronze medalists Murielle Ahoure and Blessing Okagbare.

Men’s 800m

Olympic champion and world record holder David Rudisha will race for the first time in more than one year. The field is worthy of his return, including world champion Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia, Olympic silver medalist Nijel Amos of Botswana and American Duane Solomon, the fastest man in the world this year seeking to break the American 800m record.

Watch Maya Angelou recite her Olympic poem

John McFall, Paralympic medalist, becomes first parastronaut in Europe

John McFall
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The European Space Agency made history Wednesday by selecting an amputee who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident to be among its newest batch of astronauts — a leap toward its pioneering ambition to send someone with a physical disability into space.

John McFall, a 41-year-old Briton who lost his right leg when he was 19 and later won a Paralympic 100m bronze medal in 2008, called his selection at Europe’s answer to NASA “a real turning point and mark in history.”

“ESA has a commitment to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space … This is the first time that a space agency has endeavored to embark on a project like this. And it sends a really, really strong message to humanity,” he said.

The newly-minted parastronaut joins five career astronauts in the final selection unveiled during a Paris news conference — the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade aimed at bringing diversity to space travel.

McFall will follow a different path than his fellow astronauts because he will participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study exploring whether physical disability will impair space travel. It’s uncharted land, since no major Western space agency has ever put a parastronaut into space, according to the ESA.

Speaking with pride amid flashes of emotion, McFall said that he was uniquely suited to the mission because of the vigor of his mind and body.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I lost my leg about twenty plus years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to be a Paralympic athlete and really explored myself emotionally … All those factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength — the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to,” he added.

“I never dreamt of being an astronaut. It was only when ESA announced that they were looking for a candidate with a physical disability to embark on this project that it really sparked my interest.”

The feasibility study, that will last two to three years, will examine the basic hurdles for a parastronaut including how a physical disability might impact mission training, and if modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are required, for example.

ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said it was still a “long road” for McFall but described the fresh recruitment as a long-held ambition.

Parker said it started with a question. “Maybe there are people out there that are almost superhuman in that they’ve already overcome challenges. And could they become astronauts?”

Parker also says that he “thinks” it may be the first time the word “parastronaut” has been used, but “I do not claim ownership.”

“We’re saying that John (McFall) could be the first parastronaut, that means someone who has been selected by the regular astronaut selection process but happens to have a disability that would normally have ruled him out,” he said.

It will be at least five years before McFall goes into space as an astronaut — if he is successful.

Across the Atlantic, Houston is taking note. Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the American agency’s astronaut corps, told the AP that “we at NASA are watching ESA’s para-astronaut selection process with great interest.”

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remains the same” but said the agency is looking forward to working with the “new astronauts in the future” from partners such as the ESA.

NASA stressed that it has a safety-conscious process for vetting future astronauts who might be put in life-threatening situations.

“For maximum crew safety, NASA’s current requirements call for each crew member to be free of medical conditions that could either impair the person’s ability to participate in, or be aggravated by, spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” Huot added.

NASA said future “assistive technology” might change the game for “some candidates” to meet their stringent safety requirements.

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Ilia Malinin in familiar position after Grand Prix Finland short program

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin landed a quadruple Axel in his free skate to win his first two competitions this season. Less known was that the 17-year-old American had to come from behind to win each time.

An at least slightly injured Malinin looks up in the standings again after the short program of his third event, Grand Prix Finland. Malinin had erred landings on two of his three jumping passes in Friday’s short, where quad Axels are not allowed, then said he had a left foot problem, according to the International Skating Union.

“I’m a little bit injured, I’m playing it safe, protect it to make sure the injury doesn’t get worse,” he said, according to the ISU.

He tallied 85.57 points for second place, which is 3.39 fewer than leader Kevin Aymoz of France going into Saturday’s free skate.

Malinin, the world junior champion ranked No. 1 in the world in his first full senior season, merely needs to finish fourth or better (perhaps even fifth) to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, which pits the top six per discipline in the world in a preview of March’s world championships.

Grand Prix Finland concludes with all of the free skates on Saturday.

GRAND PRIX FINLAND: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier Friday, world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium led the women’s short with 74.88 points, edging Mai Mihara of Japan by 1.3. Hendrickx and Mihara are in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. World champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, South Korea’s Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito already have spots in the Final.

The world’s top ice dance couple this season, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, improved on their world-leading rhythm dance score by tallying 87.80 points. They lead Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker by 6.87, with both couples in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini topped the pairs’ short program by 4.3 points over Americans Anastasiia Smirnova and Danil Siianytsia. The Italians rank fourth in the world this season behind three teams that aren’t in the Finland field but will be at the Grand Prix Final, including world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the U.S.

Smirnova and Silanytsia are competing in their lone Grand Prix this season after withdrawing before Skate America, making them ineligible for Grand Prix Final qualification. Their short program score ranks fourth among American pairs this season, putting them in contention for one of three spots on the team for worlds, to be decided after January’s national championships.

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