Sally Pearson, Dawn Harper-Nelson
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Olympic hurdles champs meet in Oslo; 5 Diamond League events to watch

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London Olympic champ Sally Pearson missed a full year due to injuries, but it’s Beijing gold medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson who faces a tougher road to Rio.

Pearson and Harper-Nelson, who swapped one-two 100m hurdles finishes at the last two Olympics, headline Thursday’s Diamond League meet in Oslo. The competition lacks the sport’s biggest sprint stars — Usain Bolt (who is racing his top Jamaican rivals Saturday), Justin GatlinAllyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are all sitting out.

It could be Harper-Nelson’s final Diamond League meet before the U.S. Olympic Trials, as she is not yet listed in next week’s competition in Stockholm.

Harper-Nelson’s bid for a third Olympics is complicated by the incredible depth in U.S. women’s hurdles. Four different Americans share the nine fastest times in the world this year.

Harper-Nelson ranks No. 14 in the world this year, and 10th among Americans, which is very concerning given only the top three finishers at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., on July 8 make the Rio team.

There is no doubt that Pearson will be in Rio to defend her Olympic title as Australia is not deep in any track and field events. Even so, Pearson must improve mightily on her first two races Sunday and Tuesday since returning from wrist surgery and an Achilles injury to be a medal threat at the Games.

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

12:20 p.m. — Women’s discus
12:55 — Men’s triple jump
1:15 — Men’s pole vault
1:30 — Men’s shot put
2:00 — Women’s high jump
2:03 — Men’s 400m hurdles
2:15 — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
2:35 — Women’s 400m
2:40 — Men’s javelin
2:45 — Men’s 5000m
2:45 — Women’s long jump
3:12 — Women’s 100m hurdles
3:20 — Men’s 100m
3:30 — Men’s mile
3:40 — Women’s 200m
3:50 — Women’s mile

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s Pole Vault — 1:15 p.m. ET

Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie and World champion Shawn Barber face off for the eighth time already this year. Lavillenie, the world-record holder, has won five of the seven meetings and finished higher than Barber in all of them, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Missing from the Oslo field is rising American Sam Kendricks, who beat both of them in Shanghai on May 14 and owns the highest clearance in the world this year.

Men’s 400m hurdles — 2:03 p.m. ET

Surprise World champion Nicholas Bett of Kenya hasn’t run within 1.5 seconds off his personal-best gold-medal winning time since that Beijing final. But his nondescript start to 2016 mirrors his first months of the 2015 outdoor season. In Oslo, Bett will look to better sixth- and eighth-place finishes from his first two Diamond League races.

His competition includes the last two Olympic silver medalists, Michael Tinsley and Kerron Clement, who are at the very least contenders to make the U.S. team for Rio, if not favorites, as the second- and third-fastest Americans this year.

Women’s 100m hurdles — 3:12 p.m. ET

Neither Pearson nor Harper-Nelson has finished in the top three of a Diamond League race in three combined starts this year. Oslo is a prime opportunity, since the field includes only two other Americans — Brianna Rollins and Jasmin Stowers.

Keni Harrison, the Olympic favorite who ran the second-fastest time ever at the Prefontaine Classic on May 28, is not in Oslo.

Men’s Mile — 3:30 p.m. ET

Kenyan Asbel Kiprop is undefeated in 1500m or mile races since May 30, 2015. In Oslo, he faces 2012 Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria. Makhloufi was fourth in the 2015 World Championships, won by Kiprop, and fifth in the Pre Classic, 1.41 seconds behind Kiprop.

Women’s 200m — 3:40 p.m. ET

World gold and silver medalists Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson meet for the second time this year. They went two-three at the Pre Classic, won by American Tori Bowie in the fastest time in the world this year (21.99).

Schippers and Thompson are both capable of bettering Bowie’s mark, given they ran 21.63 and 21.66 at Worlds on Aug. 28. The gold-medal odds for Schippers, Thompson and Bowie will be impacted by Felix and Fraser-Pryce, who are absent from Oslo and coming back from injuries.

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Simone Biles, her name sparkling, extends 6-year win streak

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Simone Biles has long stood out for her gymnastics, but on Saturday she competed with her last name sparkling in silver beads on her World Champions Centre leotard for the first time. The gym’s other athletes had “WCC” on the back.

Biles lived up to the billing, extending her six-year win streak to 19 straight all-arounds, capturing the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for next month’s U.S. Championships.

Biles, the four-time Rio Olympic champion, scored 60 points in Louisville at the meet where she made her comeback last year after nearly two years off from competition. She prevailed by a comfortable 2.1 points over Riley McCusker, her largest margin of victory of her four U.S. Classic titles.

“I’m very satisfied,” she said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’m a little sad that I went out of bounds on floor [exercise], but overall I feel like there are improvements to be made.”

Full results are here.

Biles is prepping for nationals in Kansas City in three weeks, when she eyes a sixth U.S. all-around title to tie Clara Schroth Lomady‘s record from the AAU era in the 1940s and ’50s.

Then come the world championships in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles could win a fifth all-around to move one shy of Kohei Uchimura‘s record.

The world’s other top gymnasts may be her countrywomen.

Biles was outscored on balance beam on Saturday by 2018 World teammates Kara Eaker and McCusker and beaten on uneven bars by 2017 World all-around champion Morgan HurdSunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and McCusker. Biles swept all the gold medals at last year’s nationals.

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Geraint Thomas struggles; Julian Alaphilippe ups Tour de France lead

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LA MONGIE, France (AP) — When the team of Geraint Thomas was in its pomp at the Tour de France, a time trial followed by a big mountain stage would have been playgrounds for Sky — now in new colors as Ineos — to take cycling’s greatest race by the scruff of the neck and leave everyone else fighting for second place.

Not this year.

Thomas, the defending champion, cracked on Saturday on the Tour’s first encounter with a climb to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), exposing unprecedented weaknesses in his team that has won six Tours in the past seven years.

The time trial on Friday and the climb up to the legendary Tourmalet pass on Saturday seemed primed for Thomas to reel in Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey-holder from France who is setting the Tour alight with his punchy riding and determination to keep the race lead, filling French fans’ heads with dreams of a first homegrown winner since 1985.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

But instead, Thomas has seen Alaphilippe only get further and further away. In two days, the Frenchman has put 50 seconds of extra daylight between him and the Welshman. His lead — up to 2 minutes, 2 seconds — is becoming large enough to start realistically envisioning Alaphilippe in yellow in Paris next weekend as the first French winner since Bernard Hinault.

Fueling the ecstasy of delirious crowds that lined Saturday’s steep uphill finish, French rider Thibaut Pinot won Stage 14, putting him back in the picture to fight for the podium after he lost mountains of time on Stage 10.

Thomas rightly pointed out that the Tour is far from done, with six more ascents to above 2,000 meters still to come.

But his inability to stay with Pinot, Alaphilippe and other title contenders at the top of the Tourmalet — he was eighth, 36 seconds behind Pinot — was a mini-earthquake for the Tour dominated by his British team since 2012 — with champions Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and, in 2018, Thomas.

“Not the best day. I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start. I was quite weak,” Thomas said.

“At the end I knew I just had to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked. I just thought I should ride my own pace rather than follow them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end. It’s disappointing. I just tried to limit the damage.”

Having taken cycling to a new level since 2012 with its vast budget and attention to the minutest of details, the team run by David Brailsford has been hit both by misfortune and by the inevitability that, eventually, other teams would start to close the gap.

A horror crash in training for four-time winner Froome, now recovering from career-threatening broken bones, robbed the team of its ace. Thomas’ own preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.

And Egan Bernal, being groomed by Brailsford to succeed Froome and Thomas, looks increasingly unable to compete for the title this year. Bernal was fifth on the Tourmalet and is fourth overall, 3 minutes behind Alaphilippe.

Pinot, now sixth overall and 3:12 behind Alaphilippe, is showing remarkable grit in bouncing back from his Stage 10 misfortune, when he was part of a group that got separated from other title contenders in crosswinds.

“I have this rage inside me, because in my opinion it was an injustice,” said Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014.

“Since the start of the Tour I had this stage in the back of my mind. The Tourmalet, it’s mythical,” said Pinot, who has three career stage wins at the Tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on hand at the top of the Tourmalet to see Pinot win and Alaphilippe extend his lead, gushed about the “two fantastic riders.”

“They attack and they have heart,” Macron said.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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