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Mo Farah leads Olympic champs, world-record chasers; London preview

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Mo Farah, Allyson Felix and Elaine Thompson headline a Diamond League meet in London on Sunday, while world-record watch is on for two athletes who aren’t Olympians.

NBC Sports Gold coverage starts at 7:20 a.m. ET. Universal HD’s broadcast is at 9 ET.

Farah, Felix and Thompson, who own a combined 12 Olympic gold medals, are ramping up for the world championships from Aug. 4-13, also at London’s Olympic Stadium.

Also keep an eye on American Keni Harrison, who broke the 100m hurdles world record at this meet one year ago, two weeks after shockingly failing to make the U.S. Olympic team. Harrison’s recent form suggests another world record is possible Sunday.

Then there’s Russian high jumper Mariya Lasitskene, who was locked out of Rio due to the Russian track and field ban that is still in effect. But Lasitskene, the 2015 World champion, is now competing as a neutral athlete after appeal to the IAAF with a sufficient clean doping record.

On Thursday, Lasitskene had the highest clearance in the world since 2011 and then took three failed attempts at a world record at a Diamond League meet in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Here are the London entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

7:20 a.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
7:25 a.m. — Women’s 400m Hurdles
7:30 a.m. — Men’s Discus
8:03 a.m. — Men’s Long Jump
8:14 a.m. — Men’s 400m
8:40 a.m. — Women’s 800m
8:50 a.m. — Men’s 1500m
9:03 a.m. — Men’s 400m Hurdles
9:10 a.m. — Women’s High Jump
9:13 a.m. — Men’s 200m
9:27 a.m. — Women’s Javelin
9:37 a.m. — Women’s Long Jump
9:40 a.m. — Women’s 100m
9:49 a.m. — Women’s 400m
9:58 a.m. — Men’s 800m
10:07 a.m. — Men’s 100m
10:17 a.m. — Women’s 100m Hurdles
10:28 a.m. — Men’s 110m Hurdles
10:38 a.m. — Women’s Mile
10:48 a.m. — Men’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s High Jump — 9:10 a.m. ET
Russian Mariya Lasitskene went on a tear after being shut out of the Olympics due to Russia’s anti-doping problems. Lasitskene, who hasn’t had any public doping issues of her own, is the only woman to clear two meters outdoors this year, which she has done nine times, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Lasitskene had the highest clearance for any woman since 2011 in Lausanne on Thursday and has taken six attempts at a world record in the last month. In London, Lasitskene faces U.S. champion Vashti Cunningham (ranked No. 2 in the world outdoors this year) and Olympic champion Ruth Beitia of Spain.

Women’s 100m — 9:40 a.m. ET
The three fastest women in the world this year face off in a potential world championships preview — Olympic champion Elaine Thompson (10.71), Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye (10.82) and Ivorian Murielle Ahoure (10.83).

Thompson puts a two-year, 15-meet 100m winning streak on the line (save one race she did not finish). She could take a crack at her shared national record of 10.70 seconds. An interested spectator could be Olympic silver medalist Tori Bowie, who has not decided which race(s) she will enter at worlds.

Women’s 400m — 9:49 a.m. ET
This is Allyson Felix‘s last scheduled meet before worlds in August. It also marks her second 400m since she took silver in Rio behind a diving Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas.

Miller-Uibo isn’t in the London field. Neither are any of the three U.S. women who will join Felix on the world team. With the world’s four fastest women this year absent, Felix has a fine opportunity to win, but it will definitely take faster than the 50.52 she clocked in Kingston on June 10.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — 10:17 a.m. ET
The top three from the USATF Outdoor Championships headline, led by world-record holder Keni Harrison. Harrison shockingly missed the Rio Olympic team and clocked the world record 12.20 two weeks later at the London Olympic Stadium.

This season, Harrison’s first six races were between 12.54 and 12.60, all victories but far off her unbeatable form. Then came Tuesday, when she ran 12.28 in Hungary with miniscule tailwind. Another world record in London could be in the cards.

Men’s 3000m — 10:48 a.m. ET
Mo Farah is the only individual British Olympic medalist competing in London with the retirement of Jessica Ennis-Hill and injury to long jumper Greg Rutherford. This will mark one of Farah’s final track races, as he prepares to move to road racing and marathons after worlds in London in August.

The field here sets up well for a Farah victory. It doesn’t include Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha, whom Farah held off by a half-second to win the Pre Classic 5000m on May 27. No Ethiopians at all, actually. Nor anybody who has shared an Olympic or world championships podium with Farah.

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MORE: Olympic 400m champion to miss worlds

2019 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships TV schedule

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NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold combine to air live daily coverage of the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, starting Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

The top three per individual event are in line to qualify for the world championships in Doha in late September and early October, should they have the world standard time or mark.

Sprint trio Christian Coleman (100m and 200m), Noah Lyles (200m) and Michael Norman (400m) headline the event. Each is 23 or younger and fastest in the world this year in his primary event.

Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin represent the veterans. Felix, a 33-year-old with 17 combined Olympic and world titles, is entered in her first meet since having daughter Camryn via emergency C-section at 32 weeks on Nov. 28.

Gatlin, 37, has a bye into worlds as the defending 100m champion. He could be Coleman’s biggest threat in the 100m after breaking 9.9 seconds for the first time since the Rio Olympics.

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Day Time (ET) Network Key Events
Thursday 3:45-11 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m first round, 10,000m finals
Friday 1:30-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m finals, 400m semifinals
7-9 p.m. NBCSN
Saturday 2-6 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 400m, women’s 1500m, 100m hurdles
4-6 p.m. NBC
Sunday 4-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 200m, men’s 1500m, 110m hurdles
7-8 p.m. NBCSN
8-9 p.m. NBC

Beachvolley Vikings, sport’s top team, inspired by Kerri Walsh Jennings

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HAMBURG, Germany — Kerri Walsh Jennings smiled at the decade-old picture of her posing with a young Anders Mol.

Since Walsh Jennings met Mol, the now-22-year-old and his 23-year-old Norwegian partner Christian Sorum have become the top-ranked team in the world.

“Those boys inspire me a lot,” she said. “That’s how I want Brooke [Sweat] and I to play, really.”

Walsh Jennings met Mol in his native country at the 2009 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Stavanger. Mol attended with his father, Kare, who was coaching the Norwegian teams, as well as his brother Hendrik and cousin Mathias Berntsen.

Walsh Jennings noticed the young Norwegians, who are now nicknamed the “Beachvolley Vikings,” eagerly doing the pepper drill on the sand between matches from 6 a.m. until well after dark.   

“She walked by and told us, ‘Hey, you guys are so good that if you guys keep practicing, you’re going to be playing on this stage one day,’” Mol recalled.

Mol’s passion for the sport only increased as he hit puberty.

As a teenager, he derailed his family’s vacation plans in San Diego by making them battle traffic up to Los Angeles to hear Walsh Jennings give a speech.

Childhood photo of Mol and Walsh Jennings. Courtesy of Anders Mol.

At 13 or 14, Mol and his brother beat their parents for the first time. Impressive, considering Mol’s father was a former national indoor team player and his mother, Merita Mol (née Berntsen), competed in beach volleyball at the 1996 Olympics.

At 16, he enrolled in ToppVolley Norway, a beach and indoor volleyball school that is a two-hour boat ride north from Stavanger. For three years, the boys would attend classes, lift weights and train for a minimum of 20 hours per week. Free time often meant pick-up soccer matches, which occasionally proves useful on the sand.

“It doesn’t look like Hogwarts,” Mol said, “but it sounds like Hogwarts because everybody is like a big family in this school.”

When Mol graduated, he played a year of professional indoor volleyball in Belgium. But he quickly realized that he preferred the freedom of beach volleyball, where players book their own travel, hire their own coaches and schedule their own practices.

In 2017, Mol was named the international tour’s top rookie. By the end of the 2018 season, Mol and Sorum had firmly established themselves as the world’s top team, winning their final three international tournaments including the FIVB World Tour Finals.

They have not slowed down in 2019, winning three tournaments on three different continents over three weeks in May. They have won 36 of their last 38 matches.

“The best blocker right now is Anders, and the best defender is Christian,” said three-time U.S. Olympian Jake Gibb. “It’s not really fair.”

The only two teams who have defeated the Norwegians since April 28 — Germany’s Julius Thole/Clemens Wickler and Brazil’s Bruno Schmidt/Evandro Goncalves — did not offer any clues on how to do it.

Wickler admitted that “in no other stadium would we have won this game” after the Hamburg world championships semifinal played July 6 in front of more than 12,000 hometown fans, the largest crowd either team had ever experienced. Mol and Sorum rebounded to claim the bronze medal the next day over Americans Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb.

Bruno rebuffed multiple teams who approached him looking for the secret to beating Norway.

“I’ve never seen a player like Anders who is so powerful and so skilled at the same time,” said Bruno, the 2016 Olympic champion with former partner Alison. “Players like that raise the level of this sport.”

Much of their success can be attributed to their defensive scheme. Most teams play a “zone defense,” with each player defending half of the court. The Norwegians play a “read defense” that gives each player the freedom to react and move to where they think the attacking player will hit the ball.

NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong compared the Norwegians to “free safeties” in football.

“They are the most innovative defensive team we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

The pair is relatively unknown outside Norway — neither has a Wikipedia page in English — and even in Norway they claim they are nowhere near as famous as the Alpine skiers nicknamed the “Attacking Vikings.”

But that will change.

At worlds, the pair hired a videographer to capture content for their YouTube and Instagram channels. They launched a Beachvolley Vikings clothing line that includes a “Sleeping Christian” shirt. They patiently fulfilled each and every request for pictures and autographs after matches.

“They are like rock stars,” said American Taylor Crabb, talking extra loud to be heard over a crowd of teenage girls hoping to take a selfie with the tall, blonde Norwegians. “Fans can relate to them because they see guys around their age becoming the No. 1 team the world.”

It is not just fans who are lining up to see the Norwegians.

“I love to watch them play,” said 2016 Brazilian Olympian Pedro Solberg, who made his international debut when Mol was just 8. “Every chance I get to watch them I do, because I learn a lot from them.”

Whether Mol and Sorum struggle with anything is up for debate. When asked, Kare boasted about beating them at the card game “President and the bum.”

“They are really smart in beach volleyball,” he said, “but they are really stupid in card playing.”

But both players disputed their coach’s claim.

“It’s not true at all,” Sorum said. “He loses even when he has the best cards.”

The Beachvolley Vikings are just getting started. 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser pointed out that beach volleyball players typically do not peak until their late 20s or early 30s.

“In my book, they are already among the top teams to ever play,” he said. “There are no holes in their game. I don’t see why they can’t keep this going.”

OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

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