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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However, in the past week, several high-profile U.S. athletes have withdrawn from the Pre, including Allyson Felix, a three-time World champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, who pulled out because of an ankle injury.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Likewise, Matthew Centrowitz has withdrawn from the Pre’s Bowerman Mile while he recovers from a stress reaction in his leg.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

Brigid Kosgei beaten as another world record smashed in Nike shoes

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Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh broke the half marathon world record by 20 seconds, beating new marathon world-record holder Brigid Kosgei in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

Nike-sponsored runners lowered the men’s and women’s marathon and half marathon records since September 2018, each appearing to race in versions of the apparel giant’s scrutinized Vaporfly shoes.

Yeshaneh, a 28-year-old who finished 14th in the 2016 Olympic 5000m, clocked 1:04:31 for 13.1 miles to better Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei‘s world record from 2017.

Kosgei, a 26-year-old Kenyan, also came in under the old world record but 18 seconds behind Yeshaneh.

Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

Nike Vaporfly shoes, including the prototypes worn by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, were deemed legal by World Athletics’ new shoe regulations last month, according to Nike.

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MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic trials

Olympic, world champion lugers pull out of World Cup event over safety

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U.S. Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer and other top lugers are skipping this weekend’s World Cup stop in Winterberg, Germany, citing unsafe track conditions and a growing frustration with the international federation over athlete concerns.

“This was brought to the attention of the FIL [International Luge Federation] and yet again we were told that everything is ok,” was posted on Mazdzer’s Instagram. “I realize that a boycott is a lose-lose situation and there are no winners. But I have no other option at this point. I feel personally that this track is not safe for doubles sleds or for athletes who do not have adequate numbers of runs.”

Mazdzer said by phone Friday that he noticed significant bumps on the track in his first training run earlier this week.

“I couldn’t drive because I’m being thrown everywhere,” he said. “When you’re going 130 kilometers an hour [80 miles per hour], you don’t really want the track to be bad.”

An FIL spokesperson said Friday that Mazdzer’s choice was “his individual decision” and declined further comment ahead of races scheduled Saturday and Sunday. Mazdzer said that he was told the race starts will be moved down.

USA Luge said in a Friday statement that it will not participate in the World Cup and would communicate its concern for athlete safety to the FIL.

Two-time U.S. Olympian Summer Britcher said she was boycotting via Instagram, calling it “a farce of a World Cup.” Top lugers said athletes suffered serious injuries in training runs.

“I love this sport, but after too many decisions too many times that disregard 1-the safety of the athletes, and 2- the integrity and fairness of our sport, I have grown a great disdain for the International Luge Federation, and those who make these decisions,” was posted on Britcher’s account. “I will not race this weekend. I do not believe the track is safe, I do not believe it has been prepared to a World Cup standard, and I do not believe that the International Federation and Winterberg World Cup organisers should get away from this with no consequences.”

Britcher’s post noted that her team notified coaches and the technical director that the track was unsafe after her first training run Wednesday.

“Our concerns, and the concerns of the rest of the athletes from other nations throughout the day were not taken seriously,” Britcher posted.

Britcher said that several coaches attempted to fix the track for several hours on Thursday after athletes refused to train.

Olympic champion David Gleirscher of Austria and World Cup standings leader Roman Repilov of Russia and the top doubles teams of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken and Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany also posted on Instagram that they’re skipping the Winterberg World Cup, the penultimate stop of the season, for safety reasons.

Mazdzer estimated a 20 percent crash rate in training, but that the track condition has improved since Wednesday. He still plans to race next week at the last World Cup in Königssee.

“There’s a lot of problems with Winterberg,” he said after detailing the situation between athletes and the FIL, “and it’s not just the track.”

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