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

Molly Huddle wins 10,000m at USATF Outdoors for 27th national title

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Molly Huddle may now be a marathoner, but she’s still the class of the U.S. 10,000m field.

Huddle, the American record holder and two-time Olympian, won the national title in the 25-lap race for the fourth straight time, clocking 31 minutes, 52.32 seconds in Des Moines on Thursday night. Huddle owns 27 national titles between track and road races.

Lopez Lomong, the 2008 U.S. Olympic flag bearer who was among the Lost Boys of Sudan, surged past Shadrack Kipchirchir to win the 10,000m by 1.29 seconds in 28:58.38. Lomong, who ran the 1500m and 5000m at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, was racing the 10,000m for the second time in his career. The field lacked eight-time U.S. champion Galen Rupp for the first time since 2006. Rupp is now focused on the marathon.

For Huddle, it was a much more pleasant experience than on April 16, when she finished 16th with hypothermia in the most dreadful Boston Marathon weather in at least 30 years. Huddle was to undergo a root canal the following day, then finished third at a 10K in Central Park on June 9.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d be fit enough yet, but I’m glad that when I needed to pick it up, I could,” Huddle told media in Des Moines.

So Huddle entered the U.S. Championships having been beaten by countrywomen in her last two races. Before Boston, Huddle had been the top American in all of her road races the previous five years.

The 33-year-old led after every lap on Thursday and pulled away from Olympic teammate Marielle Hall at the bell, winning by 4.36 seconds. Gwen Jorgensen, the Rio Olympic triathlon champion transitioning to the marathon, finished seventh, 31.77 seconds behind.

“The goal is always to come in and try to win, and I don’t think I was in it for the win,” said Jorgensen, who gave birth to a son, Stanley, on Aug. 17. “I didn’t think I’d be running any track races.”

Huddle would normally be a contender for her first major international medal, but this is the only year in the Olympic cycle without a world championships or Olympics. Huddle plans to race marathons in the fall, next spring and at the 2020 Olympics, but wants to run the 10,000m at the 2019 World Championships.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Also Thursday, the female headliner of the meet, Sydney McLaughlin, withdrew before the first round of the 400m after feeling tightness in her quad in warm-up.

McLaughlin, who at 16 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, just turned professional after her freshman season at the University of Kentucky. She ranks No. 1 in the world this year in the 400m hurdles and No. 5 in the 400m.

All of the favorites advanced out of the 100m first round, including 200m world leader Noah Lyles, two-time Olympian Mike Rodgers (in 9.89 seconds, fastest time in the world this year) and Pre Classic winner Ronnie Baker. World gold and silver medalists Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman are sitting out nationals.

The men’s and women’s 100m semifinals and finals are Friday. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA has live coverage from 6-9 p.m. ET.

Defending 1500m champion Robby Andrews failed to qualify for Saturday’s final.

Keturah Orji and Tori Franklin traded meet records in the triple jump final, with Orji prevailing with a 14.59-meter leap to Franklin’s 14.52. Franklin holds the American record of 14.84 meters with Orji ranking No. 2 all-time.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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Kayla Harrison wins MMA debut with Ronda Rousey’s signature move

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Double Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison won her MMA debut with an arm-bar submission, using former roommate Ronda Rousey‘s signature move for a first-round submission at a Professional Fighters League event in Chicago on Thursday night.

“I was wicked nervous,” the Massachusetts native said. “This is all so new. No one has ever locked me in a cage and said, go kill someone. … I can’t wait until the next one.”

Harrison, in her first competition since the Rio Games, beat Brittney Elkin (3-5) after 3 minutes, 18 seconds, of the five-minute first round. Harrison dominated from the start, took Elkin down to the mat after 30 seconds, landed a series of punches and eventually rolled Elkin into the arm bar.

Harrison announced in October 2016 that she joined the MMA promotion as a commentator and brand ambassador, but not necessarily a fighter. A year ago, Harrison said she would compete.

The comparisons to former judo training partner and Olympic bronze medalist Rousey have shadowed her for years.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to fight,” Harrison, 27, said in April. “First, it was more me. I just wanted to get my feet wet, get in there, see if I liked getting punched in the face. Now that I’ve established that I do, we’ve sort of been waiting for the PFL to get their stuff together. So, their stuff is together.”

Harrison that her first two planned opponents pulled out for reasons unknown to her.

“I don’t care who I fight,” Harrison said in April. “It’s tough because I’m 0-0 in MMA. So it’s not like I’m going to fight someone who’s 10-0. But I think it’s difficult when you have two Olympic gold medals behind your name. Like people are kind of like, are you really an amateur?”

Harrison, who has said she hopes to fight three times this year, said her goal is for everyone to know that she is the world’s best MMA fighter.

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MORE: Rousey: UFC return just as likely as Olympic return