U.S. stars face doubts at Pre Classic; broadcast schedule

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In Rio, the U.S. failed to win a single gold medal in the 100m, 200m and 400m for the first time in 40 years.

If the early track season is any indication, the climb back to the top of the podium at the world championships in August will be a major challenge.

American sprinters size up against international competition at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday (NBC and NBC Sports Gold, 4-6 p.m. ET). Coverage from the Diamond League meet in Eugene, Ore., starts with distance races Friday night (NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold, 11-midnight ET).

The deepest race is the women’s 200m, which features the top two U.S. sprinters in Tori Bowie and Allyson Felix. The field includes every 2016 Olympic 200m medalist — Elaine ThompsonDafne Schippers and Bowie — plus Rio 400m gold and silver medalists Shaunae Miller and Felix.

The Jamaican Thompson and Bahamian Miller already look ready to win their first world titles in August.

Thompson crushed Bowie in a 100m two weeks ago, 10.78 seconds to 11.04. Miller ran 49.77 to win a 400m at the same meet, the fastest time of 2017 by a significant .27 of a second.

Bowie has the fastest 200m time in the world this year at 22.09, but Miller has run a wind-aided 21.90 and Thompson clocked 22.19 into a strong headwind.

Then there’s Felix, whose scant race experience in 2017 consists of a 4x400m leg in April and a 100m last Saturday. She has plenty to prove at Pre, at 31 years old and coming off an injury-plagued 2016.

Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt carried U.S. men’s sprinting the last Olympic cycle, but they are 35 and 30 years old, respectively.

The Rio 100m silver medalist Gatlin in particular is showing his age this season, reportedly while coming back from minor April injuries.

He has raced twice, clocking 10.14 and 10.28 seconds over 100m, the slowest he has been since the early stages of his comeback from a four-year doping ban in 2010.

In Eugene, Gatlin faces 22-year-old Canadian Andre De Grasse, billed by many as the top challenger to Usain Bolt in the 100m and Wayde van Niekerk in the 200m at worlds in August.

Merritt, who owns seven 400m medals from the Olympics and worlds, is the top seed in Saturday’s 400m, but he ranks No. 6 in the world this year with a best of 44.78 seconds. Merritt has a history of faster times at Pre (44.39, 44.51, 43.97 and 44.32 the last four years).

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

FRIDAY
10:34 p.m. — Women’s javelin
10:37 — Women’s long jump
11:06 — Women’s 800m
11:14 — Women’s 1500m
11:25 — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
11:41 — Women’s 5000m

SATURDAY
3:40 p.m. — Men’s pole vault
3:44 — Men’s triple jump
4:03 — Women’s 400m hurdles
4:08 — Women’s high jump
4:13 — Men’s 5000m
4:33 — Women’s 100m hurdles
4:41 — Men’s 110m hurdles
4:50 — Women’s 100m
4:56 — Women’s shot put
5 — Men’s international mile
5:09 — Men’s 400m
5:16 — Women’s 800m
5:24 — Men’s 100m
5:32 — Women’s 1500m
5:45 — Women’s 200m
5:52 — Men’s Bowerman Mile

Here are five Saturday events to watch:

Men’s pole vault — 3:40 p.m. ET

The phenom of the early season is 17-year-old Swede Armand Duplantis, a Louisiana high school junior whose mother is from Sweden. Duplantis, owner of the highest outdoor clearance in the world this year, makes his Diamond League debut in Eugene.

He does it against every medalist from the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, led by Rio gold medalist Thiago Braz and world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie. Saturday’s winner likely becomes the world championships favorite.

Men’s 5000m — 4:13 p.m. ET

Mo Farah hasn’t lost a 5000m since the 2013 Pre Classic. His 10-meet winning streak is on the line against Rio silver and bronze medalists Paul Chelimo (USA) and Hagos Gebrhiwet (Ethiopia). A Who’s Who of challengers Farah has previously vanquished get one more shot at him before Farah’s final world championships on the track in London in August.

Men’s 110m hurdles — 4:41 p.m. ET

This field features the last two Olympic champions — Jamaican Omar McLeod and American Aries Merritt — and 2013 World champion David Oliver.

But the most intriguing name is Devon Allen, the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials winner and former University of Oregon wide receiver. Allen, who has given up football for now, came back from a September torn ACL earlier this month and ranks No. 5 in the world for 2017.

Men’s 100m — 5:24 p.m. ET

Justin Gatlin and Andre De Grasse will hope this showdown doesn’t yield the dud of their meeting in Doha on May 5. Back then, the Gatlin-De Grasse winner was poised to become the biggest threat to Usain Bolt at worlds in August. But Gatlin was fourth an De Grasse fifth in Qatar, throwing doubt on both sprinters.

Nobody else in the Pre field looks like a world championships medal contender. Bolt debuts in his last season June 10, while the absent South African Akani Simbine has broken 10 seconds six times in seven races this year, including beating Gatlin and De Grasse in Doha.

Women’s 200m — 5:45 p.m. ET

The reigning Olympic 100m, 200m and 400m champions are in the same field for the second time in recent history (2012 Olympic 200m final). Thompson has to be the favorite. She hasn’t lost a 100m or 200m since last June and dusted the Olympic silver medalist Schippers by .26 in Doha three weeks ago.

Watch for Felix, as her result may go into determining if she attempts a double at worlds in August. Felix has a bye into the worlds 400m as the defending champion, meaning she will race the 100m and/or 200m at the U.S. Championships. Should she finish top three at nationals in either sprint, she will then determine which race(s) she enters at worlds.

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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