Rome Diamond League broadcast info, preview

Justin Gatlin
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Justin Gatlin has been unbeatable this season, a statement that must be accompanied by the fact Usain Bolt has yet to step on a competitive track this year.

Gatlin and Bolt won’t be facing off any time soon — you wonder if at all this year — but the Diamond League meet in Rome on Thursday is a reminder of their rivalry, even if the mighty Jamaican is missing.

Gatlin handed Bolt defeat at this meet last year — 9.94 to 9.95 seconds — which produced one of the memorable images of Bolt’s career outside of the Olympics or World Championships. The shrug.

It’s the only time Gatlin has beaten Bolt since the American returned from his four-year drug suspension. Bolt, after a slow start to last season, relegated Gatlin to silver at the World Championships.

But Gatlin has been the marquee men’s sprinter through three of 13 Diamond League meets this season. That’s somewhat by default, with Bolt’s partially injury-related absenceTyson Gay‘s suspension and Yohan Blake‘s light schedule coming off a hamstring injury.

That’s not to say Gatlin hasn’t been fast. He’s been clocked legally at 9.87 and 9.92 seconds and a wind-aided 9.76 at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday. He could be even faster if pushed by competition. That’s not likely to come in Rome.

Universal Sports will have TV and online coverage beginning at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday. Full start lists are here.

Here are five events to watch Thursday:

Women’s 100m

The 200m at the Pre Classic on Saturday rattled the women’s sprinting picture. Unheralded American Tori Bowie beat Olympic champion Allyson Felix and World gold, silver and bronze medalists Shelly-Ann Fraser-PryceMurielle Ahoure and Blessing Okagbare.

Bowie must consolidate that surprising victory five days after with a strong showing at half the distance. Fraser-Pryce, set back a bit by injury this season, a reason for that mystifying last-place finish in Oregon, is entered. As is Octavious Freeman, the reigning U.S. silver medalist, in her 2014 Diamond League debut.

“In Eugene, my body did not respond. I felt a left leg problem,” Fraser-Pryce said, according to The Associated Press. “I have not had a perfect start to the season, but it’s not a championship year.”

Men’s high jump

This marked the most exciting event of the early outdoor season, before the World Relays and the Pre Classic shifted focus to track events. All the major players are here, which could inch somebody near Javier Sotomayor‘s world record 2.45m from 1993.

There’s Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov (2.41m this year), World champion Bohdan Bondarenko (2.40m), Olympic and world bronze medalist Derek Drouin (2.40m) and Olympic silver medalist Erik Kynard (2.37m).

Men’s 1500m

Among the many eye-catching results at the Pre Classic was the Bowerman Mile, where Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman clocked the fastest time since 2007. Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the fastest 1500m man each of the last four years and two-time reigning World champion, faded to seventh.

Kiprop appears to be set to run at Stadio Olimpico despite a recall by Athletics Kenya’s president.

Souleiman and another top Kenyan, Silas Kiplagat, are also on the start list.

Women’s 100m hurdles

Olympic champion Sally Pearson, World champion Brianna Rollins, World Indoor 60m hurdles champion Nia Ali and 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson are the headliners here. It’s the first 100m hurdles race of the Diamond League season and first of Rollins’ career.

Rollins and a less heralded American, Kristi Castlin, are the world leaders so far this year at 12.58 seconds, though Pearson is just behind at 12.59.

Men’s 100m

Gatlin shouldn’t sweat his unblemished 2014 record in Rome. Nobody in the field has run within a tenth of a second of Gatlin’s world-leading time for 2014 (9.87).

The men fighting for second include Jamaican World bronze medalist Nesta Carter, South African Simon Magakwe (the only man in Rome outside Gatlin to break 10 seconds this season) and the surprise World Indoor 60m champion Richard Kilty of Great Britain.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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