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Five women’s races to watch at world track and field championships

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Not that Allyson Felix needs any more superlatives, but she is likely to finish these world championships with the most medals of any athlete in history.

Felix has 13 career world medals, tied with Usain Bolt and one shy of retired Jamaican Merlene Ottey‘s record. Bolt will race in two events at his last worlds. Felix will race at least two and possibly three, if she is placed on the 4x100m relay as has traditionally been the case.

Felix’s focus is on her opener, the 400m, where she has the most anticipated head-to-head showdown out of the women’s events at the London meet that runs from Friday through Aug. 13.

In Rio, Felix was edged at the finish line by a diving Shaunae Miller-Uibo. The move caused many to cry foul at the Bahamian, though it was perfectly legal and Felix did not criticize it.

Felix and Miller-Uibo are once again the class of the 400m this year.

Familiar faces dot the other key women’s events. None more scrutinized than South African Caster Semenya, who is eight years removed from her 2009 Worlds breakout and subsequent gender-testing controversy.

Semenya hasn’t lost an 800m race in nearly two years, but she has been pushed this season and is tacking on the 1500m at worlds for the first time.

WORLDS: TV Schedule | 5 Men’s Races to Watch | 5 Women’s Races

Five women’s races to watch in London:

100 Meters
Sunday, 4:50 p.m. ET on NBC

Elaine Thompson has not lost a 100m race that she has finished since May 2015, according to Tilastopaja.org. It is the longest stretch of 100m dominance since Marion Jones‘ four-year winning streak from 1997 to 2001 (the last year invalidated and the entire streak dubious due to doping). Aside from Jones, you have to go back at least 30 years.

This season, Thompson is the only woman to break 10.80 seconds. She’s done it twice. Olympic silver medalist Tori Bowie beat Thompson in the Pre Classic 200m, but her best wind-legal 100m time this year is 10.90. Rio bronze medalist Dafne Schippers has four times broken 11 seconds in 2017, but none faster than 10.95.

1500 Meters
Monday, 4:50 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No clear favorite here. Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon is the Olympic champion. Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba is the world champion and world-record holder. Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan has the three fastest times in the world this year.

Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya is also entered in this event, but she hasn’t raced an international 1500m in six years. There’s also Jenny Simpson, the 2011 World champion and Rio bronze medalist. Plus British hope Laura Muir, who has the fastest time in the world since Dibaba’s record run two years ago.

400 Meters
Aug. 9, 4:50 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Allyson Felix and Shaunae Miller-Uibo haven’t gone head-to-head over 400m since Miller-Uibo’s famous dive across the finish line to win by .07 in Rio. This year, each is undefeated at 400m, though Felix has raced just twice and Miller-Uibo three times.

Still, Felix has the fastest time in the world in 2017. Miller-Uibo’s times rank Nos. 3, 4 and 5 behind Felix and U.S. champion Quanera Hayes. Felix is looking to join Cathy Freeman as the only women to win multiple world 400m titles.

100 Meter Hurdles
Aug. 12, 3:05 p.m. ET on NBC

Keni Harrison‘s only defeat since the start of 2016 was at the Olympic Trials (where she shockingly failed to make the Rio team). In that span, the middle child in a family of 11 kids has run the 11 fastest times in the world in this event out of those in the world championships field. That includes breaking a 28-year-old world record last year. She’s an even bigger favorite with Olympic champion Brianna Rollins suspended for missing three drug tests.

The pick for silver may be Australian Sally Pearson, who came back from a broken wrist in 2015 and torn hamstring in 2016 to post her fastest time since winning the 2012 Olympic title. Pearson and defending world champion Danielle Williams of Jamaica will try to keep the U.S. from sweeping the medals as it did in Rio.

800 Meters
Aug. 13, 3:10 p.m. ET on NBC

This event got a lot more interesting on July 21, when Ajee’ Wilson shattered the American record to become the first woman to disrupt Rio medalists Caster SemenyaFrancine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui in nearly two years. Wilson got third in that race, .34 behind Semenya and .14 behind Niyonsaba as Wambui faded to ninth.

Now, Wilson looks to continue her ascent since turning pro out of high school in 2012. In 2013, she placed sixth at worlds. In 2014, she won the U.S. title and two Diamond League races. In 2016, she finished second at the world indoor championships (behind Niyonsaba and ahead of Wambui). Rio did not go as hoped as she was eliminated in the semifinals.

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40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

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.

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