Aries Merritt, David Oliver
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Americans prep for U.S. Olympic Trials at Prefontaine Classic

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — With an eye toward this summer’s Olympic Trials, the 100m field at the Prefontaine Classic this year includes Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay.

They’ll face Jamaican Asafa Powell, the former world-record holder, in this weekend’s meet at Hayward Field, the only U.S. stop for the international Diamond League series.

For many American athletes, the Pre is part of the preparation for this summer’s trials, which will also be held at Hayward. The top three finishers at the trials will be part of the team that goes to the Rio Olympics in August.

That it’s on home soil is a bonus for Gatlin.

“We don’t get to run a lot in the U.S.,” he said. “You have to take advantage of times you run in the U.S., especially when it’s televised, for your friends and family and fans to watch.”

However, in the past week, several high-profile U.S. athletes have withdrawn from the Pre, including Allyson Felix, a three-time World champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, who pulled out because of an ankle injury. She also skipped a Diamond League meet in Doha earlier this month.

Likewise, Matthew Centrowitz has withdrawn from the Pre’s Bowerman Mile while he recovers from a stress reaction in his leg. Centrowitz won the World Indoor Championships 1500m in Portland in March.

Galen Rupp, Centrowitz’s Nike Oregon Project teammate, will not run in Friday night’s 10,000m as some had anticipated, according to OregonLive.com. Rupp has already made the Olympic marathon team, and he may take aim at the 10,000m at the trials.

Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba withdrew from the women’s 5000m because of a toe injury.

MORE: Five events to watch at Pre; broadcast schedule

Other things to watch for during the Pre:

BERIAN V. NIKE: Boris Berian went from working at a fast-food restaurant and sleeping on a friend’s couch two years ago to World Indoor 800m title in March. He’s set to run in the 800m at Pre.

But at a meet last week in Southern California, he was served with a lawsuit brought by Nike that accuses him of breach of contract. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon on April 29. Nike sponsors the Pre Classic.

VASHTI’S RETURN: The Pre brings teenager Vashti Cunningham back to Oregon, where she made a splash in the high jump earlier this year.

Cunningham, who was still a senior in high school, was the surprise winner at the U.S. Indoor Championships. She won the World Indoor title a week later.

Her busy year so far has also included prom and graduation. And she also turned pro and signed with Nike. Next up on the list is an Olympic bid.

Cunningham is the daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, her coach.

MORE: Cunningham follows in father’s high jump footsteps

MERRITT’S COMEBACK: Aries Merritt, the world-record holder and 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the 110m hurdles, will continue his comeback from a kidney transplant at Pre, where he’ll face 22-year-old Omar McLeod of Jamaica. Merritt took the bronze at the World Championships last year in Beijing before having surgery a few days later. Merritt has now set his sights on the Rio Games.

He finished sixth in Doha earlier this month.

“Every meet I run in, I’m having a new season’s best. That shows that I’m slowly reaching there,” he said. “Just being able to compete again is a huge blessing. I’m going to take it slow and steady.”

FINAL TOUR: Sanya Richards-Ross announced last month that she is retiring after this season, hoping to cap her career with a fourth Olympics.

Richards-Ross had her third foot surgery in November and is working her way back into form for the final push to Rio. She highlights a strong 400m field.

“I put my blood, sweat and tears into the career of my dreams and experienced profound growth and immeasurable rewards along the way. I am so excited to celebrate with one last lap around the world and I hope you will follow along #SRRFinalLap! Let’s do this!” she announced on social media.

HISTORIC HAYWARD: Hayward Field has become something of the epicenter of track and field in the United States. After the Pre, Hayward hosts the NCAA Championships. The stage gets bigger with the trials this July. In 2021, the venue is set to host the World Outdoor Championships.

The Prefontaine Classic is named after Oregon native Steve Prefontaine, an Olympian killed in a 1977 car accident at 24.

MORE: Full U.S. Olympic Trials broadcast schedule

April Ross, Alix Klineman back atop Olympic beach volleyball qualifying

April Ross, Alix Klineman
FIVB World Tour
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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman moved back on top of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball qualifying standings by winning an event in Itapema, Brazil this week.

Ross, who split from Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2017, and Klineman beat Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 25-23, 18-21, 15-10 in Sunday’s final for their third title in 11 FIVB World Tour tournaments together.

“Every victory is important, but this counts for more,” Klineman said, according to the FIVB. “We want to send a message and we want to be consistently the best.

Ross and Klineman supplanted Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, for the lead in the early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings with still more than a year of events ahead.

1. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events played)
2. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,100 (7 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,000 (4 events)
5. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)
6. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)

Each team’s 12 best results from Sept. 1, 2018, to June 14, 2020, go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. That means Ross and Klineman are comfortably in front, having played two fewer events than Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost in the quarterfinals in Itapema.

The top two U.S. pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Ross, 36, picked up Klineman, 29, after Walsh Jennings didn’t join her in signing a domestic AVP contract in 2017. The 6-foot-5 Klineman primarily played indoor the previous decade, including at Stanford from 2007-10 after being the Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school.

MORE: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Katie Ledecky extends 5-year win streak

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Katie Ledecky extended a five-year domestic win streak by taking the 200m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Swim Series at Bloomington on Saturday.

In her last full meet before July’s world championships, Ledecky clocked 1:55.80 to beat training partner Simone Manuel by 1.44 seconds for her second win in as many days. Ledecky is also entered in Sunday’s 800m free on the last day of the meet.

Ledecky, who also cruised to a 400m free victory on Friday, ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year, behind Australian Ariarne Titmus and Swede Sarah Sjöström (the Olympic silver medalist who is not expected to race the 200m free at worlds).

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, hasn’t lost a 200m, 400m, 800m or 1500m free final at a domestic meet since Allison Schmitt beat her in a 200m free on Jan. 18, 2014 when Ledecky was 16 years old.

BLOOMINGTON: Full Results

But Ledecky lost the two biggest 200m frees of this Olympic cycle so far, at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini handed Ledecky her first individual final defeat at a major international meet at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky dropped to third in the 200m free at Pan Pacs in Tokyo last year, beaten by younger swimmers Taylor Ruck of Canada and Rikako Ikee of Japan.

Ruck, who like Ledecky trains at Stanford, is in Bloomington, but she chose not to swim the 200m free on Saturday. She instead swam the 200m backstroke about 45 minutes after the 200m free and was upset by 17-year-old Regan Smith. Smith won in 2:06.47, moving to No. 3 in the world this year.

In other events Saturday, Ella Eastin captured the 400m individual medley in 4:37.18, taking 1.25 seconds off her personal best and moving to fifth in the world this year. Eastin is not on the world championships team after an untimely bout with mono before qualifying meets last summer.

Blake Pieroni won the men’s 200m free in 1:47.25. No American ranks in the top 20 in the world this year. World silver medalist Townley Haas did not enter Bloomington.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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