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Rome Diamond League preview, broadcast schedule

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Canadian Andre De Grasse, who won a medal of every color in Rio, headlines a Diamond League meet in Rome, live on Thursday starting at 12:15 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold and 2 p.m. on NBCSN.

Rome, the site of Usain Bolt‘s last individual defeat in 2013, is the first of three Diamond League meets in an 11-day span.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold will also air live coverage of Oslo (June 15) and Stockholm (June 18), the last two meets before the U.S. Championships. Nationals serve as the qualifying meet for the world championships in London in August.

Rio Olympic medalists prepping for nationals in Rome include shot putter Michelle Carter and pole vaulter Sandi Morris.

The meet is deeper with international stars like 1500m world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, world 200m champion Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands and of course De Grasse.

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

12:15 p.m. — Women’s shot put
1 — Women’s triple jump
1:20 — Women’s pole vault
2:03 — Women’s 400m hurdles
2:10 — Women’s high jump
2:15 — Men’s 3000m steeplechase
2:30 — Men’s 100m
2:35 — Men’s javelin
2:40 — Men’s 800m
2:50 — Women’s 400m
3:05 — Men’s 110m hurdles
3:13 — Women’s 1500m
3:23 — Women’s 100m
3:30 — Men’s 200m
3:40 — Women’s 5000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s pole vault — 1:20 p.m. ET

Every Rio Olympic medalist is here — gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, Morris and bronze medalist Eliza McCartney of New Zealand.

Little separates the trio this year. Stefanidi cleared 4.85 meters indoors, best in the world this year. Morris has cleared 4.84 meters outdoors, best in the world this year. McCartney has cleared 4.82 meters outdoors. The only woman to rival the trio in top clearances this year is 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr, who is not in Rome.

Men’s javelin — 2:35 p.m. ET

Perhaps the deepest field of the meet. It includes the top four from the Rio Olympics, plus two more men who have earned world championships medals.

The headliner is German Olympic champion Thomas Rohler, who on May 5 moved up to No. 2 on the all-time list behind Czech legend Jan Zelezny. Rohler threw 93.90 meters, but he’s still 15 feet shy of Zelezny’s world record from 1996.

Men’s 110m hurdles — 3:05 p.m. ET

Aries Merritt and David Oliver, the top two U.S. hurdlers over the last decade, go head-to-head here in a teaser for the U.S. Championships in two weeks. With Rio Olympic champion Omar McLeod not in the field, it’s wide open.

Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder, has the fastest time this season of those in Rome. The recipient of a 2015 kidney transplant eyes his first Diamond League victory in four years.

Rio silver medalist Orlando Ortega of Spain and 2015 World champion Sergey Shubenkov of Russia are also entered.

Men’s 200m — 3:30 p.m. ET

The 200m is in a transition year now that both Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin have said they don’t plan to race the half-lap event anymore.

While new names have popped up in the 200m this season — Wayde van NiekerkNoah Lyles and Christian Coleman — the Rome entries represent the old guard in the event.

There are Rio Olympic silver and bronze medalists Andre De Grasse and Christophe Lemaitre. There is Panamanian Alonso Edward, the Diamond League season champion the last three years. And U.S. Olympian Ameer Webb.

De Grasse has struggled in the 100m this season, but this is a prime opportunity to notch his first Diamond League win of 2017.

Women’s 5000m — 3:40 p.m. ET

Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba and Kenyan Hellen Obiri, two of the six fastest women all-time in this event, go head-to-head for the first time.

Dibaba, best known for her 1500m prowess (world record, 2015 World title), is also the indoor 5000m world-record holder. She won the Pre Classic 5000m in 14:25.22 on May 26.

Obiri is the only woman to run faster this year, winning in 14:22.47 in Shanghai on May 13. Obiri, raised a 1500m runner, took 5000m silver in Rio in a personal-best time after a year off to have a baby. Obiri was added to the Rome field as Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana withdrew last month due to a physical problem.

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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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