Olympic champions chasing world records face tests in Paris

Omar McLeod, Devon Allen
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Omar McLeod and Christian Taylor, both on world-record quests this season, face their top challengers at a Diamond League meet in Paris on Saturday.

McLeod, the 110m hurdles gold medalist, the triple jump champion Taylor and sprint queen Elaine Thompson headline the Paris meet, live on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold and 2 p.m. on NBCSN.

McLeod, who last Saturday ran the fastest 110m hurdles in five years, could take aim at the world record as part of a field including the five fastest men in the world this year.

Taylor faces Will Claye in the most anticipated head-to-head in Paris. Taylor relegated countryman Claye to silver at the last two Olympics, but Claye won the U.S. title last weekend with a personal-best leap.

Olympic 100m and 200m champion Thompson is coming off winning the Jamaican 100m title in 10.71 seconds last week, .01 off her shared national record.

Athletes are preparing for the world championships in London in August.

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

1:08 p.m. — Men’s high jump
1:25 p.m. — Women’s shot put
1:32 p.m. — Men’s pole vault
2:03 p.m. — Women’s 400m
2:14 p.m. — Men’s 3000m
2:29 p.m. — Women’s 100m
2:35 p.m. — Men’s javelin
2:38 p.m. — Men’s triple jump
2:40 p.m. — Men’s 800m
2:50 p.m. — Men’s 100m
3 p.m. — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
3:25 p.m. — Men’s 110m hurdles
3:40 p.m. — Women’s 1500m
3:52 p.m. — Men’s 200m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s Pole Vault — 1:32 p.m. ET

World-record holder Renaud Lavillenie is the only French track and field athlete to take Olympic gold in the last 20 years (at the 2012 London Games), so he is certainly the crowd favorite across all events Saturday.

That said, Lavillenie is not the favorite. He was third in a domestic competition on Wednesday, failing to clear 5.71 meters, which wasn’t an Olympic medal height. Lavillenie, the Rio silver medalist, was beaten by Sam Kendricks, the Rio bronze medalist, at two previous Diamond League meets this season. Kendricks, who just cleared six meters for the first time at the U.S. Championships last week, is in the Paris field.

Women’s 100m — 2:29 p.m. ET

Thompson has won 14 straight 100m events that she’s finished, according to Tilastopaja.org, and the two-year streak should extend here. The question is whether she can break 10.7 for the first time to claim the Jamaican record outright and move into solo third on the all-time list.

The field does not include her biggest threat at the world championships — Rio silver medalist Tori Bowie — but present are Ivorians Murielle Ahoure (ranked No. 3 in the world this year) and Marie-Josee Ta Lou (fourth at the Olympics).

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:38 p.m. ET

Taylor’s three losses since July 2014 have come to either Claye or Cuban Pedro Pablo Pichardo. Here, he faces both of them in a final for the first time since 2013, but Claye is the clear challenger.

Taylor ranks No. 1 in the world this year with his 18.11-meter jump from the Prefontaine Classic on May 27, just 18 centimeters off the world record he covets.

Claye is on a roll, having gone at least 17 meters in all 12 of his competition jumps this year, including a personal-best 17.91 to win the U.S. title last week (Taylor didn’t have to compete at nationals as he had a world championships bye). Claye also jumped 18.05 with slightly too much tailwind at Pre. Claye has the second-through-sixth best triple jumps in the world this year.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 3 p.m. ET

Fresh off another U.S. title, Olympic bronze medalist Emma Coburn takes aim at Olympic champion and world-record holder Ruth Jebet of Bahrain and 18-year-old phenom Celliphine Chespol of Kenya.

Jebet, a Kenyan-born 20-year-old, has looked shaky this year, finishing third in two of three Diamond League starts. But the only women to beat her were Kenyans. Including Chespol, who won the Pre Classic in the second-fastest time ever despite stopping to fix her shoe.

Coburn was routinely finishing 10 seconds behind Jebet in 2016, but at Pre managed to close the gap to four seconds, running three tenths shy of her American record from Rio.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 3:25 p.m. ET

There will be two early heats to qualify into this final, but expect McLeod to lead the field. The Olympic champion broke his national record in lowering his personal best by seven hundredths at the Jamaican Championships last week.

McLeod ran 12.90 seconds, but spoke confidently afterward, reportedly saying his target was actually 12.85. Nonetheless, it was the fastest time in the world since Aries Merritt set the current world record of 12.80 in 2012.

Merritt isn’t in this field, but McLeod is joined by the other four fastest men in the world this year — France’s Garfield Darien, Jamaican Ronald Levy, South African Antonio Alkana and the American Allen.

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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