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Justin Gatlin, Andre De Grasse face off at Diamond League opener

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If a sprinter is to beat Usain Bolt at his world championships farewell in August, it will likely be one of the men in the 100m field at the Diamond League opener in Doha on Friday.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Justin Gatlin and Andre De Grasse headline the first of 14 meets in the Diamond League season that runs to Sept. 1.

Universal HD will air live coverage Friday from noon-2 p.m. ET, with NBC Sports Gold streaming the action from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Gatlin and De Grasse will each line up for an individual outdoors race for the first time since the Rio Olympics. They’ll be joined by former world-record holder Asafa Powell and South Africa’s Akani Simbine, who owns five of the eight fastest times in the world this year.

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

11 a.m. — Women’s shot put
11:15 — Women’s pole vault
11:45 — Men’s high jump
12:03 p.m. — Men’s 400m
12:05 p.m. — Men’s javelin
12:14 — Men’s 1500m
12:25 — Women’s 800m
12:35 — Women’s 200m
12:45 — Men’s triple jump
12:50 — Women’s 100m hurdles
1:05 — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
1:25 — Men’s 100m
1:35 — Men’s 400m hurdles
1:45 — Men’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s pole vault — 11:15 a.m. ET

Olympic gold and silver medalists Ekaterini Stefanidi (Greece) and Sandi Morris (U.S.) renew their rivalry. In 19 career meetings, Stefanidi holds a 10-9 edge, but Morris has won three of the four since Rio, according to Tilastopaja.org. The top outdoor clearance in the world this year is from 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr at 4.83 meters, but Suhr is not in the Doha field.

Women’s 800m — 12:25 p.m. ET

Ethiopian 1500m world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba picked an extremely difficult race for the first outdoor 800m of her career. Dibaba, who was upset by Kenyan Faith Kipyegon for Rio 1500m gold, will take on all three Olympic 800m medalists in Doha — South African Caster Semenya, Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba and Kenyan Margaret Wambui.

Given there are three days between the 1500m and the 800m at the world championships in August, it’s conceivable that Dibaba could try to race both events in London.

Women’s 200m — 12:35 p.m. ET

The Rio gold and silver medalists duel here, too, with Jamaican Elaine Thompson and Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers. Both will be chasing 22.09 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year set by Rio bronze medalist Tori Bowie last Friday. Bowie is not in the Doha field. Neither Thompson nor Schippers has ever run that fast this early in a year.

Women’s 3000m steeplechase — 1:05 p.m. ET

Olympic champion and world-record holder Ruth Jebet of Bahrain and Olympic bronze medalist and American record holder Emma Coburn make their season debuts.

Though Coburn shared the Rio podium with Jebet, the gap is large. Jebet’s world record set after the Olympics is 8:52.78, six seconds faster than the next-fastest clocking of all time. In fact, Jebet ran under Coburn’s American record (9:07.63) four times in 2016, including three times under 9 minutes.

Men’s 100m — 1:25 p.m. ET
In perhaps the highlight of the IAAF World Relays two weeks ago, De Grasse easily passed Gatlin on a 4x100m preliminary heat anchor leg. The Canadian De Grasse, 22, looked spry. Gatlin, 35, looked unable to find the extra gear he showed in spring 2014 and 2015.

One preliminary relay leg in April is far from a suitable sample size, but De Grasse is certainly promising at the moment. Keep in mind though that De Grasse does not have a history of blazing (wind-legal) times in the spring. In 10 races before the Rio Olympics in 2016, he had a best of 9.99 seconds.

It’s likely going to take faster to win in Doha. Not necessarily because of Gatlin, but the South African Simbine, who has raced at three meets this season and posted the following wind-legal times — 9.93, 9.98, 9.92, 9.94 and 9.95. Simbine was fifth in Rio behind Bolt, Gatlin, De Grasse and Yohan Blake.

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Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines call backyard pool swim race

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Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines covered swimming together at the last six Olympics, including every one of Michael Phelps‘ finals, but they’ve never called a “race” quite like this.

“We heard you were looking for something to commentate during the down time….might this short short short course 100 IM help?” tweeted Cathleen Pruden, posting a video of younger sister Mary Pruden, a sophomore swimmer at Columbia University, taking individual medley strokes in what appeared to be an inflatable backyard pool.

“Hang on,” Gaines replied. “This race of the century deserves the right call. @DanHicksNBC and I are working some magic!”

Later, Hicks posted a revised video dubbed with commentary from he and Gaines.

They became the latest commentators to go beyond the booth to post calls on social media while sports are halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC Sports hockey voice Doc Emrick (who has also called Olympic hockey and water polo) did play-by-play of a windshield wiper installation.

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Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

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