Sanya Richards-Ross

Athletes to watch at USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships

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The USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships began in Sacramento, Calif., with the shot put at the state Capitol on Wednesday. Events continue through Sunday at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium featuring several Olympic and World champions.

NBC, NBCSN and Universal Sports coverage begins Thursday (full broadcast schedule here).

Here are some stars to watch:

Allyson Felix, 100m

The Olympic 200m champion said she would focus more on the 400m than the 100m as her complementary event this season, but she scratched the 400m in Sacramento and is entered in only the 100m.

Felix slowly ramped up her season after last year’s torn hamstring at the World Championships. She notched her first race wins since the injury in the last two weeks, 200m races in Oslo and Ostrava, Czech Republic.

Tori Bowie, 100m

The Southern Miss product was primarily a long jumper until March and has been a sprint revelation in the last two months. She’s the world leader in the 200m at 22.18 seconds, beating Felix and World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at the Pre Classic on May 31.

But she plans to only contest the 100m in Sacramento. She’s the second fastest American in that sprint this season, clocking 11.05. She’ll face Felix as well as the 2013 U.S. gold and silver medalists, English Gardner and Octavious Freeman.

Sanya Richards-Ross, 400m

Richards-Ross, like Felix, is back from injury. Toe problems derailed her 2013 season after her breakthrough individual Olympic title in 2012.

She has catching up to do, being the joint eighth-fastest U.S. woman over one lap this season. World Indoor champion Francena McCorory is the favorite this week.

Brianna Rollins, 100m hurdles

Rollins won NCAA and World Championships last season, continuing a tradition of strong U.S. sprint hurdles runners. She’s the world leader again this year, but Beijing Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson and Queen Harrison have been within .04 of her best time for 2014.

Sochi Olympic bobsledder Lolo Jones is also in the field, hoping to improve on her season’s best of 12.74, which ranks eighth among Americans.

Jenn Suhr, pole vault

The Olympic champion can match the first Olympic women’s pole vault gold medalist, Stacy Dragila in 2000, at eight career U.S. titles in the event this week. Suhr switched from fiberglass to carbon poles this season and finished second at the Adidas Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Her biggest rivals are not Americans, but she was defeated by Mary Saxer at the U.S. Indoor Championships in February.

LaShawn Merritt, 400m

Like Suhr, the 2008 Olympic champion Merritt’s top competition is not domestic. He won’t have to sweat Grenada’s Kirani James this week, when he goes for his fourth U.S. outdoor title.

Tony McQuay, who took silver behind Merritt at the World Championships, has scratched, giving Merritt even more breathing room.

Galen Rupp, 5000m/10,000m

Rupp provided fireworks at the Pre Classic, breaking his own U.S. 10,000m record. He’s entered in both the 5000m and 10,000m in Sacramento. The finals are held on back-to-back nights.

If he runs both, Rupp will go against Bernard Lagat, the 39-year-old five-time U.S. champion in the 5000m. Rupp’s 10,000m qualifying time is nearly one minute faster than anybody else.

David Oliver, 110m hurdles

Oliver won the 2013 World Championship after surprisingly missing the 2012 Olympic Team. He has run 13.21 this year, making him fourth best among Americans.

The hurdles field is very bunched, not only with Oliver, reigning U.S. champion Ryan Wilson and 2011 World champion Jason Richardson, but also less seasoned men. Take NCAA champion Devon Allen, the fastest American this year (13.16) who doubles as an Oregon wide receiver.

Christian Taylor, triple jump

The Olympic champion tried his hand at the 400m this year and posted a solid season’s best of 45.17. But the triple jump is his forte, and it’s shaping up to be a head-to-head showdown with Olympic silver medalist Will Claye.

Trey Hardee, decathlon

Hardee won the 2009 and 2011 World Championships before ceding the world’s greatest athlete title to Ashton Eaton. Eaton isn’t entered in Sacramento, leaving Hardee a path to his second U.S. title (the other in 2009).

Earlier this month, the Texan completed his first decathlon since he won silver at the London Olympics. He struggled with injuries last year, but is the world leader this year with 8,518 points, which would have taken bronze at the 2013 World Championships.

Ryan Bailey hopes to return to 2012 Olympic sprinting form

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose so far Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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What you need to know about the Tokyo Olympics, six months out

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A look at the top storylines, athletes to watch and important dates on the road to Tokyo, six months from the Opening Ceremony on July 24 …

Who will be the Face of the Tokyo Olympics?
Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt retired since Rio, creating an opening for new alpha athletes at the Games. Successors emerged at recent world championships.

Simone Biles is a familiar name, having earned four gold medals in Rio. After a one-year break, she returned even more dominant than before. She could earn five golds in Tokyo, and perhaps medals in all six events.

In swimming, Caeleb Dressel could try for seven gold medals and Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky for six each. They won’t approach the Phelpsian feat of eight golds, but the addition of a mixed-gender relay and the women’s 1500m freestyle will make the U.S.’ best even busier than in Rio.

Bolt’s world records don’t look under threat, but the U.S. is set to retake the throne of men’s sprinting. Christian Coleman is the reigning world 100m champion, Noah Lyles the reigning world 200m champion and Michael Norman the world’s fastest 400m sprinter last year. Coleman and Lyles are each expected to attempt the Bolt triple of the 100m, 200m and 4x100m.

Final Olympics for legends
Biles has said she’s 99 percent sure the Tokyo Olympics will be her final competition at age 23. She’s not the only megastar bidding for a farewell this summer.

No more evident than in tennis. Come 2024, Venus Williams will be 44; Roger Federer and Serena Williams 42 and Rafael Nadal 38. It’s possible if not likely that they all retire at some point in the next Olympic cycle. Federer, Serena and Nadal are all but assured to qualify for Tokyo. Venus might need a doubles invitation.

Tiger Woods, if he was from any other nation, would be a near-lock to qualify. But he’s currently outside the cutoff for the U.S., by far the deepest golf nation. Woods must be ranked among the top four Americans after the U.S. Open to make it to Tokyo at age 44.

LeBron James, 35, has not publicly committed to playing, but he has massive respect for new U.S. coach Gregg Popovich. And everyone within USA Basketball has to be motivated after a seventh-place finish at last year’s FIBA World Cup without the NBA’s best stars. Two of the greatest female players in history, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, are back for their fifth Olympics.

Allyson Felix eyes her fifth and likely last Olympics, too, and her first as a mom. She owns six gold medals so far. Two more would tie swimmer Jenny Thompson‘s record for an American woman. But can she qualify for the U.S. individually by placing top three at the trials in June? She was sixth in the 400m in her comeback meet at nationals last year, eight months after childbirth.

Another mom, Kerri Walsh Jennings, is making her sixth and final Olympic push. This time with another new partner, Brooke Sweat. They’re in position to make it as the second and final U.S. team, though they’re not assured with five months left in qualifying. Walsh Jennings, 41, is older than any previous Olympic beach volleyball player.

Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe will lead the U.S. women’s soccer team in qualifying later this month. Even FIFA World Cup star Kylian Mbappe expressed interest in playing in the men’s tournament, which is mostly comprised of players 23 and under. But he may be back in four years when Paris hosts as an over-age exception.

What’s new for 2020?
Five sports were added to the Olympic program for Tokyo — karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing for the first time — and the return of baseball and softball for the first time since 2008.

The U.S. has reigning world champions in skateboarding and surfing, the latter with a team so deep that the world’s third-best woman didn’t qualify. Neither did 47-year-old Kelly Slater, ranked eighth in the world. The U.S. softball team had no problem qualifying as world champion, but baseball will come down to qualifiers in two months.

What about Russia?
Russia’s doping issues haven’t gone away since PyeongChang, when sanctions included having their team name changed to “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” Though December headlines labeled Russia as being banned from the Olympics for four years, in reality it might not be much different than in South Korea in 2018. Its athletes are still in line compete, even if they must be cleared by anti-doping authorities. But perhaps without the Russian flag or anthem (as it was in PyeongChang). Perhaps the word “Russia” will be removed entirely from the Games, but nothing goes into effect until after an appeals process plays out.

Who qualifies for Team USA?
That’s the primary question from now until Olympic competition starts July 22. So far, these 31 athletes are on Team USA. By July, it will be more than 500. Key events this spring:

April 4-5: Wrestling trials
June 14-21: Diving trials
June 19-28: Track and field trials
June 21-28: Swimming trials
June 25-28: Gymnastics trials

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MORE: 20 Olympic sports events to watch in 2020 (before the Tokyo Games)