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

40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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