Five women’s events to watch at World Track and Field Championships

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Women’s track and field may not have a singular, electric figure like Usain Bolt, but some of the most compelling events at the World Championships in Beijing feature a global array of female athletes.

Great Britain sends arguably its biggest star from the London Olympics head to head with perhaps its biggest star of the Rio Olympics. Brazil’s most accomplished active track and field athlete? Also a woman.

Then there’s the U.S. sprinter bidding to break a record shared with Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis. And the Ethiopian who has been the must-watch athlete in the sport this season.

World Track and Field Championships broadcast scheduleFive men’s events to watch

Here are five women’s events to watch at the World Championships:

Saturday, Aug. 22, and Sunday, Aug. 23 — Heptathlon

The heptathlon. Seven events. Two days. Three hyphens.

British Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill is in her first global championship since the London Games and giving birth to son Reggie on July 17, 2014.

Countrywoman Katarina Johnson-Thompson, 22, has been the phenom of the event during Ennis-Hill’s absence from major competition. Her 6,682-point total in 2014 ranks second in the world since the London Olympics.

Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, wife of U.S. Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton, totaled 6,808 points in May, the best in the world since the London Olympics.

World’s most athletic couple takes the next leap

Monday, Aug. 24 — 100m — 9:35 a.m. ET

Only three women have ever run faster than Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and none of them will be lining up in Beijing.

The two-time Jamaican Olympic 100m champion is the prohibitive favorite to win her third World 100m title in four tries. She is Usain Bolt without the world records. She’s consistently in the 10.7s at global championships, right up there with the fastest women of all time — Americans Florence Griffith-JoynerMarion Jones* and Carmelita Jeter.

Fraser-Pryce has clocked 10.74 and 10.79 this season. Americans English Gardner (also 10.79) and Tori Bowie (10.80, 10.81 and 10.82 the last two years) may be her closest challengers, but a U.S. gold would be an upset.

The 200m (Friday, Aug. 28) will lack star power. Fraser-Pryce, Gardner and Bowie won’t contest it. Neither will Olympic champion Allyson Felix.

Tori Bowie, new U.S. sprint sensation

Tuesday, Aug. 25 — 1500m — 8:35 a.m. ET

Two months ago, Jenny Simpson looked like a possible favorite among a deep field to take gold in Beijing. Now, she may not even be the best American medal threat.

And the favorite is the new world-record holder, Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba, who was primarily a 5000m runner before this summer (and maybe still is).

Everything changed July 17, when Dibaba chopped four seconds off her personal best and broke a 22-year-old world record. In that same race, Shannon Rowbury finished third, notable because she beat the 2011 World champion Simpson (fourth) and broke the 32-year-old American record that Simpson coveted.

Dibaba is expected to race both the 1500m and, on Sunday, Aug. 30, the 5000m. She is fourth fastest all time in that distance, just behind her biggest threat, countrywoman Almaz Ayana. No woman has swept the 1500m and 5000m at a World Championships or Olympics.

Keflezighi, Simpson win USATF Athlete of the Year awards

Wednesday, Aug. 26 — Pole Vault — 7 a.m. ET

This figures to be a four-woman competition.

Olympic champion Jenn Suhr (U.S.), 2013 World silver medalist Yarisley Silva (Cuba), 2009 World champion Fabiana Murer (Brazil) and Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou (Greece) have each cleared 4.80m or higher this year multiple times. Nobody else in the field has done so once since June 2012.

Suhr, who dethroned world-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva at the London Olympics, will not have to worry about her Russian rival at this meet. Isinbayeva hasn’t competed since 2013 but may return for the Rio Olympics. So this marks the best and perhaps last chance for Suhr, 33, to capture the World title that’s eluded her.

Silva, 28, had been fairly silent since taking bronze behind Isinbayeva and Suhr at the 2013 World Championships. Until the last month, during which she cleared 4.81m, 4.85m and 4.91m, the latest tying the best clearance in the world since Isinibayeva’s 2009 world record.

Murer, 34, is Brazil’s biggest track and field star. Any pressure she feels in Beijing will be exponentially heavier next summer.

Murer: ‘I’m never coming back to China’

Thursday, Aug. 27 — 400m — 8:40 a.m. ET

This is Allyson Felix‘s chosen race at the World Championships after scrutinized deliberations. She is the favorite, and history is at hand.

Felix is tied with Usain BoltMichael Johnson and Carl Lewis for the most career World Championships gold medals (eight). She is tied with Lewis for the most career World medals of any color for an American.

Felix hasn’t raced the 400m at a global championship since 2011, when she took silver, but she is expected to take gold in Beijing in large part due to a lack of competition. Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross and Francena McCorory, who holds the three fastest times in the world this year, failed to qualify at the U.S. Championships.

Felix will face off against the Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller, eight years younger than Felix at 21 and the only woman in the field to run faster than Felix this year.

Felix’s performance in Beijing could go a long way in determining which event(s) she eyes at the Rio Olympics, be it the 200m, 400m or both. Felix is also part of the U.S. relay pools for the 4x100m and 4x400m on the final two days of Worlds, Aug. 28-29.

Video: Allyson Felix discusses 2016, 400m, more with Ato Boldon

Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

Mathias Berntsen
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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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