Caster Semenya
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Five events to watch at Doha Diamond League season opener

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Comebacks are on tap in the first Diamond League meet of the Olympic season in Doha on Friday.

South African Caster Semenya, the 2012 Olympic 800m silver medalist, is set for her first Diamond League race since 2014.

American Walter Dix, the 2008 Olympic 100m and 200m bronze medalist, has been absent from the Diamond League since 2013.

And France’s Teddy Tamgho, the 2013 World triple jump champion, is slated to return to Doha after rupturing an Achilles tendon at the Qatar capital last year.

Those are some of the bigger storylines in a meet that lacks Usain BoltJustin GatlinAllyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

10:45 a.m. — Women’s pole vault
10:45 — Women’s shot put
11:10 — Women’s triple jump
11:30 — Men’s discus
12 p.m. — Men’s high jump
12:04 p.m. — Men’s 400m
12:15 — Women’s 100m
12:25 — Men’s 1500m
12:39 — Women’s 400m hurdles
12:50 — Men’s 3000m steeplechase
12:50 — Men’s triple jump
12:55 — Women’s javelin
1:09 — Men’s 200m
1:21 — Women’s 800m
1:34 — Men’s 110m hurdles
1:45 — Women’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 100m — 12:15 p.m. ET

The field is without the Olympic and World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica but does include the second-through-fourth-place finishers from Worlds.

That’s, in order, the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers, American Tori Bowie and Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown.

Schippers and Bowie earned their first World sprint medals last year, while Campbell-Brown is a seven-time Olympic medalist.

Men’s Triple Jump — 12:50 p.m. ET

The last two World champions face off.

American Christian Taylor won the 2015 World crown with the second-best triple jump in history.

Teddy Tamgho of France, the 2013 World champ, was unable to challenge Taylor at Worlds in Beijing after rupturing an Achilles tendon in Doha last year.

Men’s 200m — 1:09 p.m. ET

A men’s sprint including neither Usain Bolt nor Justin Gatlin is usually not noteworthy. This race is intriguing if only for the presence of Walter Dix, the 2008 Olympic 100m and 200m bronze medalist set for his first Diamond League race since 2013.

Dix, also the 2011 World 100m and 200m silver medalist, has barely been heard from since failing to make the 2012 Olympic team. He was slowed by a left hamstring injury in 2012 and 2013.

In the 100m, he has broken 10 seconds once in 32 tries since April 21, 2012, according to Tilastopaja.org. But last month he clocked his fastest 100m and 200m times since 2013.

In Doha, he will face a field that includes Isiah Young and Ameer Webb, two of the four fastest U.S. men in the 200m since the London Olympics.

Women’s 800m — 1:21 p.m. ET

South African Caster Semenya is back in the spotlight after clocking the then-fastest 400m and 800m times this year within an hour of each other on April 16.

The 400m time was surpassed later that day, but it was still a personal best for Semenya, best known for a gender-testing controversy in 2009 and 2010.

Semenya, who failed to qualify for the 2013 Worlds and failed to make the 2015 World 800m final, is set for her first Diamond League race since 2014. She’ll notch her first Diamond League win since 2011 if she can beat a field that includes Kenyan Eunice Sum, the fastest in the world in 2015.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 1:34 p.m. ET

Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt continues his comeback from a Sept. 1 kidney transplant (and a reported second emergency surgery in late October).

Merritt, who earned 2015 World bronze with kidney function at less than 20 percent, is slated to face a Doha field that includes 2013 World champion David Oliver and Jamaican Omar McLeod, who ran the world’s second-fastest time in 2015.

McLeod beat Oliver and Merritt at the Drake Relays on Saturday.

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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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