Allyson Felix, Dafne Schippers
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Justin Gatlin, Allyson Felix to end season with major tests; Brussels preview

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One year ago in Brussels, Justin Gatlin and Allyson Felix put up their best performances since the London Olympics.

Gatlin pulled off perhaps the greatest single-day sprint double of all time. Felix put any torn hamstring concerns behind her with the fastest 200m in the world since her 2012 Olympic title.

The two marquee U.S. sprinters of the moment return to the Belgian capital for the final Diamond League meet of the season Friday. Their tests this year will be greater than in 2014.

Gatlin, 33 and five years removed from a four-year doping ban, races for the first time since he was beaten by Usain Bolt in the 100m and 200m at the World Championships in Beijing last month.

“You cannot dwell on races that are behind you,” Gatlin said Thursday, according to The Associated Press.

He will compete twice in Brussels, without Bolt in either field, as he did in 2014. Gatlin is slated to run a 100m and then, 62 minutes later, a 200m.

In 2014, Gatlin ran a then-personal-best 100m (9.77) and then his second-best 200m (19.71) an hour later in Brussels.

This year, he will have to show he can bounce back from the stinging Worlds defeats. His primary competition in the Brussels 100m and 200m is stronger than in 2014 as well.

Felix, who won the 400m at Worlds to cap a comeback from tearing a hamstring in the 2013 Worlds 200m final, will race the 200m in Brussels for a second straight year.

In 2014, Felix entered the Brussels 200m as quite arguably an underdog. Three other women coming into the race had run faster over 200m that season, and it was Felix’s last chance that year to prove she was over the injury.

She came through, shaving .32 off her fastest time of 2014 and setting her up for a dominant 2015. However, Felix’s superiority over 200m is again in question on the eve of Brussels.

That’s because she sat out the World Championships 200m, to focus on the 400m, and saw the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers race to victory in the fourth fastest time ever.

Felix and Schippers will go head to head at 200m in the most anticipated race in Brussels on Friday.

“I’ve always loved to race against the best athletes, because it pushes you, it makes you have better performances,” Felix told media in Brussels. “I’m always up for the challenge.”

Here are the full entry lists and schedule. Here are five events to watch (all times Eastern):

Men’s Shot Put — 12:25 p.m.

It’s American Joe Kovacs versus German David Storl in a meeting of the last three World Championships winners. Kovacs, in his first outdoor global championship, kept Storl from a Worlds three-peat in Beijing. The two have combined for the top 13 throws in the world this year.

Two-time reigning Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski of Poland and Olympic bronze medalist Reese Hoffa are also in the field.

Men’s 100m — 2:14 p.m.

Though Gatlin lost to Bolt at Worlds, he was still the fastest man in the world that day (running 9.77 in the semifinals to Bolt’s 9.79 in the final) and over the last two years.

In Brussels, Gatlin will not face Bolt, who withdrew from this meet Monday, citing fatigue, and is done for the season. Gatlin will see the former world-record holder Asafa Powell, who is the third fastest man this year behind Gatlin and Bolt.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:29 p.m.

What does Christian Taylor have left? The Olympic and World champion triple jumped 18.21 meters in Beijing, the No. 2 mark all time behind Brit Jonathan Edwards‘ world record of 18.29.

Taylor will benefit from the presence of Cuban rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo, who has jumped 18.08 and 18.06 meters this year, making him the No. 4 triple jumper all time.

Women’s 200m — 2:32 p.m.

Felix and Schippers have gone head to head four times since the start of 2014 and split the meetings, according to the track stats website Tilastopaja.org. This race is their most anticipated yet.

Felix has said she will definitely race the 200m at the Olympic trials in July to try to defend her Olympic title in Rio, even though she did not contest the 200m at Worlds last month. Schippers’ winning time at Worlds was .06 faster than Felix’s personal best from 2012.

If Schippers beats Felix in Brussels, it’s pretty easy to make the argument that the Dutchwoman is the clear Olympic 200m favorite heading into the Olympic year.

Jamaican Elaine Thompson could also win this race. At Worlds, she was .03 slower than Schippers and .03 faster than Felix’s personal best. She’s the youngest of the trio and the least experienced on the international stage.

Men’s 200m — 3:16 p.m.

If Bolt had stayed in this field, it would have marked the first time the reigning World champions in the 100m, 200m and 400m went head to head since 2009, when Bolt and LaShawn Merritt dueled.

Instead, the showdown will be the Worlds 100m and 200m silver medalist Gatlin against the Worlds 400m gold medalist Wayde van Niekerk. Gatlin has the fastest time this year among the field at 19.57, with the South African van Niekerk third at 19.94. Jamaicans Rasheed Dwyer and Nickel Ashmeade are also in the mix.

MORE TRACK AND FIELD: Video: Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin’s first race from 2005

At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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