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

Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

MORE: Australian swim star issues plea after hometown hit by fires

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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