Allyson Felix

Diamond League resumes with women’s sprint clash in Stockholm

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U.S. track and field athletes spent the last month in the shadows as the top meets have been European- and Commonwealth-only affairs.

The resumption of the Diamond League, beginning in Stockholm on Thursday (Universal Sports, 2 p.m. ET), brings Americans back into the spotlight.

The marquee race features the biggest U.S. women’s sprint star at the last three Olympics — Allyson Felix — and the biggest U.S. women’s sprint star of 2014 — Tori Bowie.

Felix’s season, a comeback campaign from last year’s torn hamstring at the World Championships, has not reached her usual standard. She’s notched one Diamond League race victory — a 200m in Oslo on June 11.

Felix, a four-time Olympic champion, was on the track for one of the more memorable races of the season. She finished third in the Prefontaine Classic 200m on May 31.

That race victory was snagged by the then-unheralded Bowie, previously best known for long jumping at the World Indoor Championships in March.

Bowie proved no fluke, going down to 100m and winning Diamond League races in Rome, New York and Monaco, overcoming a hamstring injury at the U.S. Championships between New York and Monaco.

Bowie is the fastest woman this year in the 100m (10.8 seconds, after entering 2014 with a personal best of 11.14) and held the world’s fastest 200m time this year until Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers took the mantle at the European Championships on Friday.

Here are five events to watch in Stockholm:

Men’s shot put — 12:45 p.m. ET

The field is loaded — the top five men this year, the two-time reigning World champion and the two-time reigning Olympic champion.

Joe Kovacs, with zero global medals to his name, is the only man to throw farther than 22 meters this year, doing so to win the U.S. Championship on the California State Capitol grounds on June 25.

Kovacs will be looking for his second Diamond League win of the year, going against all of the other men to have won in 2014 — Reese HoffaChristian Cantwell and David Storl.

Men’s 400m hurdles — 2:03

This race features Olympic champion Felix Sanchez, World champion Jehue Gordon, Olympic and World silver medalist Michael Tinsley and 2014 world leader Javier Culson.

The American Tinsley is looking to match the Puerto Rican Culson in Diamond League race wins this season at three.

Men’s 5000m — 2:15

Galen Rupp became a father of twins during the Diamond League break. Now, the Olympic 10,000m silver medalist will try to better his two previous 5000m results from this season, a third and a fourth.

Rupp’s task will be difficult. The field in Stockholm is led by Kenyan Edwin Soi, who won a race in Paris that included Rupp, Ethiopian Hagos Gebrhiwetthe World silver medalist, and Kenyan Caleb Ndiku, the Commonwealth Games champion.

Women’s 200m — 2:32

Five different women have won the six Diamond League 200m races this season, but Felix and Bowie are the only ones returning to this field. They’ll both try to match Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare at two victories in 2014.

Will Bowie have her sights set on Schippers’ world lead of 22.03? She would need to knock .15 off her personal best from this year to match it. Felix is ranked No. 6 in the world this year at 22.34. Her best time in a season hasn’t been that slow since 2002, when she was 16.

Women’s 1500m — 3:50

The usual Abeba AregawiJenny Simpson duel adds World Indoor 3000m champion Genzebe Dibaba for a little extra spice to cap off the night’s action in Stockholm.

The favorite may be none of them but Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan, who won the last two Diamond League 1500m races and the European Championship over Aregawi.

Lolo Jones ends track and field season early

Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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MORE: Olympic aerials champion retires to coach