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Five women’s events to watch at USATF Outdoor Championships

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The women’s fields at the USATF Outdoor Championships (Summer Champions Series) feature the most decorated female track and field athlete of all time (Allyson Felix).

They feature the deepest races of the meet (100m hurdles, 400m hurdles).

And two inspiring stories — Gabriele Grunewald contesting the 1500m in between chemotherapy treatments and Alysia Montano in the 800m while five months pregnant.

Then there’s the world-record holder who shockingly missed the Rio Olympics (Keni Harrison) and two strong head-to-head rivalries (noted in events to watch).

The top three finishers per event make the roster, should they reach the qualifying times or marks.

In addition to the top three, reigning world champions from 2015 and Diamond League champions from 2016 receive automatic byes into worlds, should they toe the start line in Sacramento.

The women could well produce the headlines every day at nationals, beginning Thursday on NBC Sports Gold. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Here are five women’s events to watch:

100m
Thursday (first round)
Friday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: Tori Bowie (silver), English Gardner (7th), Tianna Bartoletta (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Aleia Hobbs (4th, 10.85), Mikiah Brisco (7th, 10.96), Deajah Stevens (8th, 11.00), Ashley Henderson (9th, 11.01)

Outlook: Hobbs, Brisco, Stevens and Henderson are all collegians and may be hard-pressed to repeat those best times two weeks after the NCAA Championships. Hobbs’ 10.85 was an outlier during a 12-race season where her second-best time was 11.02, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Bowie is just behind them in this year’s rankings but also ran a wind-aided 10.80 in April. She’s the favorite. Less certain are fellow pros Gardner and Bartoletta. Gardner dealt with a reported calf tear this spring and came back to run 11.32 on June 10. Bartoletta may be focusing more on the long jump, her Olympic gold-medal event. Her last three wind-legal 100m times were 11.26, 11.47 and 11.49.

The door could be open for Allyson Felix, who ran 11.07 on May 20, her only 100m in the last two years. She is planning to race the 100m in Sacramento, but with a bye into the worlds 400m, the short sprint may not be in her long-term gameplan.

MORE: Five men’s events to watch

1500m
Thursday (first round)
Saturday (final)
2016 Olympics: Jenny Simpson (bronze), Shannon Rowbury (4th), Brenda Martinez (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Kate Grace (17th, 4:03.59), Simpson (19th, 4:04.16), Rowbury (23rd, 4:04.61), Lauren Johnson (34th, 4:05.88)

Outlook: Storylines on both days here. First, Gabriele Grunewald will be magnetic on the opening day in Sacramento, racing in between chemotherapy treatments. The final will likely be a battle between rivals Simpson and Rowbury. Simpson is the three-time reigning U.S. champion. Rowbury is the American record holder. Martinez is only racing the 800m in Sacramento, despite holding the two fastest 1500m times this year among Americans.

400m Hurdles
Friday (first round)
Saturday (semifinals)
Sunday (final)
2016 Olympics: Dalilah Muhammad (gold), Ashley Spencer (bronze), Sydney McLaughlin (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Spencer (1st, 53.38), Shamier Little (2nd, 54.44), McLaughlin (3rd, 54.03), Georganne Moline (4th, 54.09)

Outlook: Unquestionably the U.S.’ best event this year — male or female. In only one other event does the U.S. have the top two in the world rankings (men’s triple jump). Americans make up the top four here, and that’s not even including the Rio Olympic champion Muhammad or the Diamond League champion Cassandra Tate, who has a bye into worlds. Two world medal threats are guaranteed to be left off the London team.

200m
Saturday (first round)
Sunday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: Tori Bowie (bronze), Deajah Stevens (7th), Jenna Prandini (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Bowie (1st, 21.77), Kyra Jefferson (4th, 22.02), Stevens (5th, 22.09), Allyson Felix (7th, 22.33)

Outlook: Bowie, a sprint medalist of every color in Rio, shaved .22 off her personal best to win the Prefontaine Classic on May 27. She beat the Rio Olympic 200m and 400m gold and silver medalists handily. She is in a class of her own. Felix, who used to own this event, will have to oust either Jefferson or Stevens for one of the other two berths. Felix is 31 years old. Jefferson and Stevens are each 22 but could be at a disadvantage if they peaked for the NCAA Championships two weeks ago.

Pole Vault
Sunday
2016 Olympics: Sandi Morris (silver), Jenn Suhr (7th), Lexi Weeks (19th)
2017 World Rankings: Morris (2nd, 4.84m), Suhr (3rd, 4.83m), Morgan Leleux (9th, 4.65m), Annie Rhodes (15th, 4.61m)

Outlook: Morris and the 2012 Olympic champion Suhr are both near locks to make the world team, but the excitement is in their head-to-head battle. Morris was second to Suhr at nationals in 2014, 2015 and 2016 before breaking out in Rio. Suhr coughed up blood the morning of the Rio final, affected by illness. This year, Suhr and Rio gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi of Greece are the only women to clear 4.80 meters both indoors and outdoors.

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Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

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Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

NATIONALS PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Alysa Liu | Vincent Zhou | Pairs | TV Schedule

Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.