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Wayde van Niekerk rides record into Lausanne Diamond League; preview

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Wayde van Niekerk set personal bests in the 100m, 200m and 300m in the last month. On Thursday, the South African races his first international 400m since breaking Michael Johnson‘s world record at the Rio Olympics.

Van Niekerk headlines a Diamond League stop in Lausanne, Switzerland, live on Thursday at 1:15 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold and 2 p.m. on NBCSN.

Van Niekerk is preparing for the world championships in London in August, when he is expected to race both the 200m and 400m. The only man to sweep both races at a worlds? Johnson in 1995.

Last Wednesday, Van Niekerk ran the fastest 300m of all time — breaking Johnson’s record — with a 30.81 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

On June 20, Van Niekerk lowered his 100m personal best to 9.94 seconds. He’s the only man to run sub-10 for the 100m, sub-20 for the 200m and sub-44 for the 400m. On June 10, Van Niekerk dropped his 200m personal best to 19.84 seconds, a national record.

The last month has certainly boosted hopes that Van Niekerk may be able to lower his 400m world record this year. That makes Lausanne a must-watch meet.

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

1:20 p.m. — Men’s shot put
1:25 p.m. — Women’s javelin
1:30 p.m. — Women’s long jump
2:03 p.m. — Women’s 400m hurdles
2:13 p.m. — Men’s 1500m
2:23 p.m. — Women’s 100m hurdles
2:25 p.m. — Men’s pole vault
2:33 p.m. — Women’s mile
2:44 p.m. — Women’s 200m
2:45 p.m. — Women’s high jump
2:54 p.m. — Men’s 400m hurdles
2:55 p.m. — Men’s triple jump
3:04 p.m. — Men’s 5000m
3:20 p.m. — Men’s 100m
3:30 p.m. — Women’s 800m
3:40 p.m. — Men’s 400m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 400m hurdles — 2:03 p.m.
Every Rio Olympic medalist is in this field — Americans Dalilah Muhammad and Ashley Spencer and Dane Sara Petersen. Plus 2015 World gold and silver medalists Zuzana Hejnova and Shamier Little.

Watch Muhammad. She is coming off winning the U.S. title in the fastest 400m hurdles race of all time — three women under 53 seconds and six under 54, both unprecedented. Her time — a personal-best 52.64 — is .17 off Lashinda Demus‘ American record.

Women’s 200m — 2:44 p.m.
It looks like Elaine Thompson and Tori Bowie are skipping the 200m at worlds after taking gold and bronze in Rio. Bowie, in fact, was signed up for the 200m in Lausanne but recently withdrew.

In their absence, the Olympic second- and fourth-place finishers headline Thursday’s field — Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers and Ivorian Marie Josee Ta Lou. They’re joined by Kimberlyn Duncan, who was runner-up at the USATF Outdoor Championships. They’re among those in world medal contention behind favorite Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the Olympic 400m champion who is not in Lausanne.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:55 p.m.
Double Olympic champion Christian Taylor headlines the strongest triple jump field since Rio. It includes all three Olympic medalists, the top three jumpers in the world this year and the top three all time among active athletes.

It will be a test for Taylor, who hasn’t lost internationally since May 2015 and is seeking his first undefeated season overall (USATF Outdoors no-mark aside). In their last three meetings, Taylor edged countryman Will Claye by six, 11 and 10 centimeters, respectively.

Men’s 100m — 3:20 p.m.
Justin Gatlin needs a win here to be considered a world championships medal favorite. The other London contenders — Usain BoltAndre De GrasseYohan Blake and Christian Coleman — are not in this field. But Gatlin does face South African Akani Simbine and Ivorian Ben Youssef Meite, who finished fifth and sixth in Rio, and surprise U.S. bronze medalist Chris Belcher.

Gatlin ran 9.75 at this meet two years ago at the peak of his post-doping ban career. But he has been slow this season, impacted to some degree by a leg injury. Gatlin has one sub-10 to his name in five wind-legal races this season, but at least it came in his most recent outing, when he won the national title. The 35-year-old could be ramping up for worlds.

Men’s 400m — 3:40 p.m.
Van Niekerk should have no problem here. His top rivals — LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James — and the fastest men this year — Fred KerleyGil RobertsSteven Gardiner — are not in Lausanne. What’s left are the USATF Outdoors fifth- and sixth-place finishers (Tony McQuay and Michael Cherry) and Olympic fourth-place finisher Machel Cedenio of Trinidad and Tobago.

Van Niekerk memorably ran 43.03 in Rio. His best time in four 400m races this year (all in South Africa in March and April) was 46.28 seconds, which ranks him near No. 200 in the world in 2017, according to Tilastopaja.org. Given Van Niekerk’s more recent form in shorter sprints, he should challenge the world’s top time this year, Kerley’s 43.70.

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VIDEO: Olympic hurdles champ lying on track after Paris race

Justin Gatlin, with Usain Bolt gone, shows the kids he’s still spry

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Sometimes after a particularly grueling workout, sprinter Justin Gatlin will turn to his younger training partners and inquire: “Are you sore, too?”

It’s just an age check. He doesn’t feel 37 except on rare occasions. Like at big races when he sees so much youth on the starting line and not the familiar faces from years gone by.

Missing, of course, is his biggest rival, Usain Bolt, the Jamaican standout who rewrote the record book before saying goodbye to track nearly two years ago.

Arriving on the scene, a slew of 20-somethings such as Americans Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles who present another challenge for Gatlin, the defending 100m world champion.

“I don’t think about age. I don’t think about being old,” said Gatlin, who will compete in the 100m at the U.S. championships this week in Des Moines, Iowa. “I just feel like a time traveler in a way. I’m still here, still running, still putting down good times, still training really well. Just staying focused on what the goal is.”

And that goal is to show the kids he’s still young at heart. At a Diamond League race in Monaco on July 12 , Gatlin won the 100 in 9.91 seconds, holding off Lyles by 0.01 seconds.

“These young athletes, they make me feel young,” said Gatlin , who doesn’t consider the Tokyo Olympics next summer his finish line as he contemplates racing through the 2021 World Championships in Eugene, Ore. “They’re running super-fast times that I ran before so it gives me a target. It gives me a sounding board to know where I have to be and how I’m going to have to compete.”

MORE: USATF Outdoor Champs TV Schedule

Throughout his career, Gatlin has been a polarizing figure. With his doping past — his four-year suspension ended in 2010 — Gatlin’s been booed (like the night he beat Bolt for gold at the ’17 World Championships in London) and hounded (he gestured toward a heckler bothering his mom in the stands during the medal ceremony at the ’15 Worlds in Beijing). He’s never let it bother him.

Instead, he lets his performances do most of his talking.

“I’m an enigma,” Gatlin said. “I’ve had my dark times and I’ve gone through an area where normally someone who’s been away from the sport or had a ban would never come back from. … I defied those odds to a point where I think that it made people uncomfortable because not only did I come back, but I came back better.”

He said the younger generation doesn’t judge him. An up-and-coming sprinter once joked with Gatlin that he happened to be in first grade when Gatlin won the 100m title at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“Those kinds of things always shock me, how time really works. But it still doesn’t make me feel old,” said Gatlin, whose best 100m time is 9.74 seconds in Doha on May 15, 2015. “I’ve gained so many more followers just off of the respect of me working hard, me climbing, keep fighting for it no matter my age, no matter how many times I lost to Usain. It was all about staying the course, which was my course, and not veering from and trying to be something that everyone wanted me to be. I just wanted to be Justin.”

Gatlin surprised the track world at worlds in ’17 by beating Bolt in Bolt’s final major 100 race. Gatlin also edged Coleman, who came in second that night with Bolt taking third.

Not having Bolt at the world championships this fall in Doha remains hard to fathom for Gatlin. They’ve had so many epic races over the years, like at worlds in ’15 when Bolt eclipsed Gatlin at the line.

But this thought keeps Gatlin working: The next Bolt is out there. It could be Lyles. Or Coleman. It could be Andre De Grasse of Canada or Matthew Boling, the teen from Texas who is headed to Georgia for college and who became a viral sensation this spring when he ran a wind-aided 9.98 in the 100m (Bolt’s world record is 9.58).

It could be anyone.

“Track and field is a beautiful, beautiful novel with many, many unique chapters,” Gatlin said. “I’m excited about what’s going to come after and how it’s going to be unique and maybe bigger and better than a Usain Bolt.”

At nationals this week, Gatlin’s plan is modest. He will run a round of the 100m — he already has an automatic spot to worlds — and see how he feels. If he feels good, he may chase after the title. If not, he won’t. Gatlin is planning to skip the 200m as he tries to get his hips and hamstrings feeling 100 percent.

To keep his legs fresh at 37, Gatlin has learned to take rest days. To keep his mind fresh at 37, he works out with younger training partners who bring new energy and ideas.

“That,” Gatlin said, “is really what keeps me young.”

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MORE: Tokyo Olympics: 20 storylines with one year out to the 2020 Games

Geraint Thomas crashes, recovers; other pre-Tour de France favorite out in Stage 16

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NIMES, France (AP) — Crashing is becoming a bad habit for defending Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas.

After hitting the ground twice over the past two weeks, the Welshman fell off his bike one more time on Tuesday as a heat wave engulfed the race ahead of grueling days in the Alps when the Tour will reach its climax.

Once again, Thomas was lucky enough to escape with bruises and scratches, but the timing of his crash in the rural hinterland of the antique Roman city of Nimes was unfortunate. Although Thomas quickly got back on his bike and did not lose time, crashes always have a lingering effect on riders’ bodies. It’s generally after 48 hours that the soreness reaches its peak, and that’s when he will be fighting in high altitude with rivals trying to take him off his perch.

Lagging 1 minute, 35 seconds behind race leader Julian Alaphilippe with the race now going into its five last stages, Thomas was caught off guard under a scorching sun about 40 kilometers into the stage won by Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan.

The peloton was not riding at full speed, but Thomas was surprised.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

“I just had one hand on the bars, and the gears jumped and jammed and I got thrown off my bike on a corner,” he said. “I knew the race wasn’t on so I just got back into the group. It’s just frustrating. It was such a freak thing.”

Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang, who stood ninth overall, was not as lucky and was forced to abandon the Tour with a left hand injury after falling late in the stage as the peloton pedaled past the picturesque town of Uzes.

Thomas, a former track specialist who transformed into a Tour de France contender after years spent working in support of four-time champion Chris Froome, has always been prone to crashing. Just last month, his preparation for the Tour was cut short by a spill during a race in Switzerland.

But he has also shown in the past that he can soldier on in pain. Six years ago when riding the Tour as Froome’s loyal teammate, Thomas fell off his bike on a Corsican road in the opening stage and broke his pelvis. But he kept racing for 3,000 kilometers to reach the finish.

He will need to be at the top of his form on Thursday for the start of an Alpine trilogy of stages including six climbs over 2,000 meters. This is when the race — the most exciting in the last decade — will be decided before Sunday’s ceremonial ride to Paris.

Sixteen stages out of 21 have been completed, but the suspense remains intact, with six riders separated by little more than 2 minutes. Behind Alaphilippe and Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk remained third, 1:47 off the pace and 3 seconds ahead of Thibaut Pinot. Thomas’ Ineos teammate Egan Bernal lags 2:02 behind and Emmanuel Buchmann has a 2:14 deficit.

Bernal, a Colombian and one of the best pure climbers in the Tour, played down Thomas’ crash and said the race in the Alps will suit him more than the Pyrenees, where both Ineos leaders conceded time to Pinot.

“He crashed but with no consequence and I don’t think he’ll suffer from it in the coming days,” Bernal said. “We’re approaching the Alps. The climbs there are longer and steeper. They’re more of the Colombian style of climbing. I’m ready and I feel good.”

Ewan said he suffered from the heat throughout the stage — temperatures soared as high as 40 degrees Celsius (40 F) — but it did not slow him down in the finale. The Australian Tour debutant edged Elia Viviani and Dylan Groenewegen to post his second stage win following his maiden success in Toulouse last week.

Earlier, riders tried to cool down with bottles of cold water against the backs of their necks as they pedaled on the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge set against a dramatic landscape of rocks, trees and water. Alexis Gougeard, Lukasz Wisniowski, Stephane Rossetto, Paul Ourselin and Lars Bak organized the day’s breakaway and had a maximum lead of 2 minutes.

After the group was caught two kilometers from the finish, Viviani was set up by his teammates and launched the sprint about 200 meters from the line but could not resist Ewan’s comeback.

“To be honest, I felt so bad today during the day. I think the heat really got to me,” Ewan said. “I was really suffering but I had extra motivation today because my daughter and wife are here. I’m so happy I could win for them.”

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