Caster Semenya
AP

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.

MORE: U.S. sprinters past, present trade relay barbs

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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