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However, in the past week, several high-profile U.S. athletes have withdrawn from the Pre, including Allyson Felix, a three-time World champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, who pulled out because of an ankle injury.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Likewise, Matthew Centrowitz has withdrawn from the Pre’s Bowerman Mile while he recovers from a stress reaction in his leg.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

Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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