Ashton Eaton

Ashton Eaton headlines Oslo Diamond League; preview

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Ashton Eaton, perhaps the most recognizable U.S. male track and field athlete, was until this year largely absent from the sport’s premier meet series — the Diamond League — across America, Europe and Asia.

That’s because the Diamond League does not include decathlons, the event in which Eaton is the reigning Olympic and World champion and world-record holder.

Eaton has a passion for track and field beyond times, heights and lengths — he’s asked for historic data on Twitter — and has wished his primary trade could be included.

“I believe decathlon should have a hand in the Diamond League circuit,” he told Spikes in April 2013. “I would say we should compete across five competitions, with two events per competition like, 100m and long jump for one meeting and then shot and high jump the next.

“I think this would be a good timeframe and keep people interested in the multis. A similar competition could also be run for the women multi-eventers.”

Well, the decathlon is not yet on the Diamond League program. But Eaton is in Oslo for his second Diamond League meet of this season Wednesday.

That’s because Eaton is taking a break from decathlons this season in favor of the 400m hurdles, which is not one of the 10 decathlon events. It’s a luxury he can afford given it’s the one year in the four-year cycle with no Olympics and no World Outdoor Championships.

“I was good at [400m hurdles] and was always curious so tried it, and I needed a break from the past few years especially ahead of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons,” he said in Oslo on Tuesday. “The 400m is my base training so we just took a step further with the hurdles, and that’s why I chose that event.”

Eaton has said focusing on the 400m hurdles has reinvigorated him, especially mentally, for when he reverts to the decathlon going toward the 2016 Olympics. Eaton, 26, feels he could compete until 2020 or 2024.

In 2016, he could become the first man since Daley Thompson in 1984 to successfully defend an Olympic decathlon title (and first since Bob Mathias in 1952 to do it in non-boycotted Games).

Eaton has run in Diamond League meets before — contesting the 110m hurdles at the Prefontaine Classic — but Oslo marks his circuit debut in the 400m hurdles.

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

Here are four events to watch Wednesday:

Men’s 400m hurdles

Eaton’s personal best 49.07 set Sunday ranks ninth in the world this year. That would have placed sixth at the 2013 U.S. Championships.

It’s also made him the second fastest man this year in the Oslo field, behind 2011 World bronze medalist LJ Van Zyl. It’s a bit of an open race, without any of the reigning Olympic or World medalists. Close competition could give Eaton extra juice to sub sub-49.

Men’s 5000m

Galen Rupp competes for the first time since smashing his American 10,000m record at the Pre Classic on May 30. His primary competition in the Norwegian capital will be Kenyan Caleb Ndiku, who is the fastest 5000m man this year, and Ethiopian Olympic silver medalist Dejen Gebremeskel.

Women’s 200m

Four-time Olympic champion Allyson Felix is still looking for her first victory of 2014. She finished fifth in a 400m in Shanghai and third in a 200m in Eugene, Ore., in her first races since tearing a hamstring at the 2013 World Championships.

That win could very well come in Oslo, where she won’t have to worry about longtime 200m rival Veronica Campbell-Brown or World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Felix is the fastest woman this year among the field, just better than 2013 World silver medalist Murielle Ahoure.

Men’s 100m

Justin Gatlin, the fastest man in the world this year, is sitting this one out. The sprinter to watch instead is Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson, the second man to cross the finish line in the 2008 Beijing Olympic 100m final, well behind Usain Bolt.

Thompson reportedly ran a 9.74 in Clermont, Fla., two weeks ago, a time lacking a wind reading and not registered on the IAAF’s top lists page. Gatlin ran a wind-aided 9.76 at the Pre Classic on the same day.

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Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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