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Usain Bolt returns; 5 track and field events to watch Saturday

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Usain Bolt embarks on his latest-ever start to an Olympic season with his first competition since Aug. 29 at a meet at the Cayman Islands on Saturday night.

Bolt, last seen in race form sweeping the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the 2015 World Championships, makes his 2016 debut in a low-key meet against largely low-key competition.

On the other side of the world, several more Olympic and World medalists, including Bolt rival Justin Gatlin, gather in Shanghai for the second Diamond League meet of the year.

Start lists are hyperlinked for the Cayman Invitational men’s 100m and the Shanghai Diamond League meet.

Here’s the Shanghai and Bolt schedule Saturday (all times Eastern):

4:55 a.m. — Women’s high jump
5:50 — Women’s discus
5:51 — Men’s shot put
6:22 — Women’s long jump
6:45 — Men’s pole vault
6:55 — Men’s high jump
7:04 — Men’s 400m hurdles
7:12 — Women’s 1500m
7:25 — Men’s 100m
7:35 — Women’s 400m
7:40 — Men’s long jump
7:43 — Men’s 800m
7:52 — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
7:55 — Men’s javelin
8:11 — Women’s 200m
8:20 — Men’s 5000m
8:44 — Men’s 110m hurdles
8:40 p.m. — Usain Bolt in Cayman 100m

Here are five events to watch:

Shanghai women’s discus — 5:50 a.m.

Every women’s track event in Shanghai lacks either the Olympic favorite or top American, but the discus checks both boxes.

The field includes Olympic champion Sandra Perković of Croatia, World champion Denia Caballero of Cuba and American record holder Gia Lewis-Smallwood.

It will be an early test for Lewis-Smallwood, who broke the American record in 2014 but struggled in 2015, finishing 11th at Worlds, reportedly while injured.

Shanghai men’s 100m — 7:25 a.m.

Gatlin races his third 100m of the year against Mike Rodgers and Isiah Young, who finished third and fourth at the 2015 U.S. Championships (with Gatlin not in that field).

Plus, Qatar’s Femi Ogunode, who broke 10 seconds in his last two races of 2015 in September and his first two races this year in April, including a 9.91 that’s the fastest in the world for 2016.

But only Gatlin is an Olympic medal favorite in this group. He severely rolled an ankle last fall, then ran 9.90 on April 16 (with too much tailwind to be a legal time) and 10.02 last Sunday into a slight headwind.

On May 15, 2015, Gatlin ran 9.74, a time that would have beaten Bolt at the World Championships in August. He does not appear to be near that form this spring, but there’s plenty of time to reach it before the Olympic Trials and the Rio Games.

Shanghai men’s 800m — 7:43 a.m.

David Rudisha is the reigning Olympic and World champion and world-record holder, but the Kenyan is not the unstoppable force he was four years ago.

Rudisha went more than one year between races in 2013 and 2014 due to a right knee injury he first noticed in Central Park. Yes, he won the 2015 World title, but Rudisha received incredible fortune by not having to face any prior Olympic or World medalists in the final.

In Shanghai, Rudisha gets U.S. champion and 2013 World silver medalist Nick Symmonds, who last raced Aug. 8, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Shanghai 110m hurdles — 8:44 a.m.

The climax event of the meet includes the five fastest men’s hurdlers this year and three Americans who own Olympic or World titles.

There’s 2011 World champion Jason Richardson, 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt and 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Plus, Jamaicans Omar McLeod and Hansle Parchment and Spain’s Orlando Ortega, the top three men this year.

McLeod prevailed in the Diamond League opener in Doha last week, with Merritt taking sixth in his first Diamond League race since a Sept. 1 kidney transplant.

Cayman men’s 100m — 8:40 p.m.

There is one man scheduled for this race who will keep Bolt somewhat honest. That’s countryman Kemar Bailey-Cole, whom you may remember Bolt controversially beat with identical times at this meet three years ago.

Bolt is 8-0 against Bailey-Cole all time, according to Tilastopaja. Bolt’s all-time best record against one sprinter is 22-0 against Churandy Martina of the Netherlands, according to the website.

Bolt’s first races in 2004, 2008 and 2012 all came in March or April, according to Tilastopaja, but he was set back by a reported ankle injury this winter.

In 2012, Bolt’s first 100m came May 5, when he ran 9.82, but given an injury-slowed last couple of years, don’t expect him to go that fast on Saturday.

“Most of my friends, we have a bet on how fast I’m going to run,” Bolt said in a press conference Friday, via audio obtained from Cayman 27. “I have 9.91, so we’ll see how that goes.”

VIDEO: Race against Bolt’s world record with ‘BeatBot’

Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.