U.S. sprinters headline Rome Diamond League; five events to watch

Justin Gatlin, Trayvon Bromell
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One month before the Olympic Trials, two top U.S. men’s sprinters can separate themselves at a Diamond League meet in Rome on Thursday.

World 100m silver and bronze medalists Justin Gatlin and Trayvon Bromell are among the headliners but will contest different events.

Bromell opens with the 200m in his first bona fide international outdoor meet since the World Championships in August. The 20-year-old has a little to prove given his performances so far this spring.

Bromell, billed as the future of U.S. sprinting to replace the aging Gatlin and Tyson Gay, has yet to break 10 seconds in three 100m races this year. His best in two 200m races is 20.30, which is likely also slower than the time needed to finish in the top three at next month’s trials and make his first Olympic team.

Bromell did win the World Indoor 60m title on March 18, but that mini race lacked the other three men on the 2015 Worlds 100m podium — Usain Bolt, Gatlin and Andre De Grasse.

It was in June last year that Bromell really broke out, running personal bests of 9.90 and 9.84 at the NCAA and U.S. Championships. If that trajectory plays out again, Bromell could put down an Olympic Trials statement in Rome on Thursday, albeit in the longer 200m distance.

Then there’s Gatlin, who is again the fastest American for the year yet not on his torrid pace of 2015. But that’s by design, the 34-year-old has repeated, saying Wednesday that a severely rolled ankle in the fall is still affecting him.

“My times haven’t been, obviously, as fast as last year,” Gatlin said before running a wind-aided 9.88 to win the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday. “But I feel there’s so much more left in the tank. … Keep stuff in reserve. It’s a steady build-up. I think, at this point in time, I think the world’s seen that I ran a lot of consistent, fast times last year, so really don’t need to make that point so early in the season. But once we get closer to Olympic Trials, once we get closer to the Olympics, going to be cranking out real fast times.”

Gatlin races the 100m in Rome, the site of one of his biggest victories. On June 6, 2013, Gatlin beat Bolt in a 100m at this meet. Bolt hasn’t lost since. Gatlin is 32-2 in individual events since the start of 2014, his only losses coming to Bolt, according to Tilastopaja.org.

At the Olympic Trials, the top three finishers per event make the Rio team. Two more U.S. Olympic hopeful sprinters are entered in Rome — Isiah Young and Ameer Webb.

Young finished second in the 200m and fourth in the 100m at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Webb has clocked personal bests of 19.91 and 19.85 in the 200m this spring, second among Americans behind LaShawn Merritt, who could decide to focus solely on the 400m at trials.

Add in 2012 Olympians Mike Rodgers and Gay, who are not competing in Rome, and it’s starting to look a little crowded in the sprints.

Rome start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

11:45 a.m. — Men’s discus
12:25 p.m. — Women’s shot put
12:50 — Women’s triple jump
1:15 — Women’s pole vault
1:55 — Women’s javelin
2:04 — Women’s 400m hurdles
2:10 — Men’s high jump
2:15 — Men’s 200m
2:25 — Women’s 800m
2:35 — Men’s 400m
2:40 — Men’s long jump
2:45 — Women’s 5000m
3:05 — Men’s 110m hurdles
3:15 — Men’s 1500m
3:25 — Women’s 100m
3:35 — Men’s 100m
3:45 — Men’s 3000m steeplechase

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s 200m — 2:15 p.m. ET

Bromell is known more for his 100m prowess (and indoor 60m with that World title in March), but here he faces a beatable field. No Gatlin. No Bolt. None of the reigning Olympic or World medalists in the event.

Still, it will be a test and the best measure to date of Bromell’s chances of making the Olympic team in the longer distance.

The favorite in Rome is Webb, given he ranks second in the world this year. If Bromell can’t beat Webb, then Bromell is definitely on the Olympic bubble in the 200m, assuming he and Gatlin both contest it at Eugene in July.

Women’s 800m — 2:25 p.m. ET

Here controversial (to no fault of her own) South African Caster Semenya faces her toughest competition to date in an eye-opening year.

Semenya, best known for a gender-testing controversy of 2009 and 2010, has returned to peak form this year after a July decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that suspended for two years a 2011 IAAF ruling that regulated women’s testosterone levels for competition eligibility.

The Olympic silver medalist struggled in 2013, 2014 and 2015. This year, she owns three of the four fastest times in the world.

In Rome, Semenya can win a third straight Diamond League race, but it will come against the world’s best. All three 2015 World Championships medalists are in the field, plus the second-fastest woman this year and American Ajee’ Wilson, the fastest woman of 2014.

Men’s Long Jump — 2:40 p.m. ET

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin goes into Rome ranked No. 1 in the world in 2016, but he finished third last week in his first Diamond League meet in four years.

That makes Goodwin somewhat of a wild card in this field, which includes reigning Olympic and World champion Greg Rutherford of Great Britain. Overall, the six best long jumpers in the world this year gather in Rome.

Women’s 100m — 3:25 p.m. ET

Olympic and World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce‘s toe injury has left an opening that younger sprinters are filling in the early season.

Jamaican Elaine Thompson and American English Gardner clash in Rome in a meeting of winners at the last two Diamond League meets. Thompson, 23, and Gardner, 24, are chasing the fastest time in the world this year, 10.80, clocked by Tori Bowie, who is 25.

Men’s 100m — 3:35 p.m. ET

Gatlin can win in Rome for a fourth straight year, but Thursday’s field is not as decorated as previous editions.

A realistic goal would be to run the fastest 100m in the world this year. The top spot is currently held by Qatar’s Femi Ogunode at 9.91. Gatlin ran 9.94, 9.91 and 9.75 in Rome the last three years.

He puts his strong record since the start of 2014, losses to nobody but Bolt, on the line against Ogunode, Webb (on 80 minutes’ rest after a 200m) and his training partner Young.

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