Sprint, middle distance showdowns at Monaco Diamond League; preview

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Bill it as the fastest race among U.S. sprinters ever.

Justin GatlinTyson Gay and Trayvon Bromell headline a Diamond League 100m in Monaco on Friday. It’s the first time that three Americans who have covered the distance in less than 9.85 seconds will line up against each other.

And it’s not the only showdown at the meet (full start lists here).

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s 1500m — 2:15 p.m. ET

It’ll be a gathering of distance running elite when Olympic and World 5000m and 10,000m champion Mo Farah drops down to challenge the last two Olympic 1500m champions Taoufik Makhloufi and Asbel Kiprop.

Add in the two best Americans in the event — two-time World medalist Matthew Centrowitz and Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano — and this year’s 1500m in Monaco is arguably more mouth-watering than last year, when Kiprop had hoped to break the world record.

Last year, Kenyan Silas Kiplagat won in 3:27.64, making him the fourth fastest man of all time. Farah clocked his personal best in Monaco two years ago, a 3:28.81, when he was edged by Kiprop’s personal-best 3:27.72.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:40

This has been the most compelling field event this season with Cuban Pedro Pablo Pichardo and U.S. Olympic champion Christian Taylor dueling and inching closer to Jonathan Edwards‘ world record from 1995.

Pichardo and Taylor go head-to-head again in Monaco and are joined by American World Championships team members Omar Craddock and Marquis Dendy. Pichardo has triple jumped a personal-best 18.08m this year. Taylor has triple jumped a personal-best 18.06m. Edwards’ world record is 18.29m.

Women’s 1500m — 3:25

Is American Jenny Simpson still the favorite for Worlds 1500m gold? Perhaps not if Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba has something to say. Dibaba, known more as a 5000m runner, dipped down to 1500m on July 8 for the first time this season and posted the fastest time in the world in 18 years and more than three seconds faster than reigning Diamond League champion Simpson’s personal best.

In Monaco, Simpson will get her first look at Dibaba since beating the Ethiopian by .62 in a slower Stockholm race last August. Also in the field is Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan, the fastest in the world last year.

It’s unclear if Dibaba will run the 1500m and the 5000m at Worlds in August (there are two days between events) or solely the 5000m.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — 3:15

All of the World Championships medal threats will be in the same race for the first time — Americans Dawn Harper-NelsonBrianna RollinsSharika Nelvis and Keni Harrison and Michigan-born Tiffany Porter of Great Britain.

It’s been a fluctuating season, but the 2008 Olympic champion Harper-Nelson emerged to win the last two big races at the U.S. Championships on June 27 and a Diamond League meet in Lausanne last Thursday. She can cement Worlds favorite status with a win in Monaco.

Men’s 100m — 3:35

Gatlin is more and more of a favorite for the World title with every passing day, mostly because Usain Bolt hasn’t raced since a lackluster June 13 time over 200m.

This could be the 33-year-old Gatlin’s biggest test between now and the World Championships final Aug. 23. Gay is the American record holder (9.69), and Bromell, a rising Baylor junior, ran the fastest time ever by a teenager at the U.S. Championships (9.84).

Still, Gatlin is undefeated since the start of 2014 and is the only man to run 9.80 or faster in that span, which he’s done five times.

Bolt, meanwhile, is slated to return July 24 in London, where he’ll need to be much faster than any of his other races since the start of 2014 to plant any doubts about Gatlin.

Justin Gatlin can’t win IAAF Athlete of the Year

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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 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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