Wayde van Niekerk, Usain Bolt
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Five men’s races to watch at world track and field championships

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The intrigue in men’s events at the world championships is focused on the track, where Usain Bolt and Mo Farah say farewells and Wayde van Niekerk eyes a sprint double.

The 10-day meet begins Friday and runs through Aug. 13 at London’s Olympic Stadium.

Bolt plans to retire after worlds, where he will race the 100m on Friday and Saturday and the 4x100m the following Saturday. The 30-year-old has slowed every year since his 2009 world records, but his competition may be at its weakest ever this year.

Plus, Bolt has narrowed his focus. He will not be in the 200m field at an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2003.

Farah, too, looks to extend a lengthy winning streak in his major track farewell at home before turning to road racing. Unlike Bolt, he is not paring his workload. The Somalian-born Brit goes for a third straight 5000m-10,000m double at worlds. Nobody else has done it more than once.

Finally, van Niekerk looks to become the second man to win the 200m and 400m at one worlds. The first was Michael Johnson, whose 400m world record Van Niekerk snatched at the Rio Olympics.

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

Five men’s races to watch at worlds:

100 Meters
Saturday, 4:45 p.m. ET on NBC

No matter what Bolt says, he is largely seen as the favorite in a very slow year for men’s sprinters. Only one man has broken 9.90 seconds this year — American Christian Coleman‘s 9.82 in June — but Coleman hasn’t broken 9.93 outside of that, including in his last four races. And he has never raced individually outside of the U.S. and Canada.

Olympic silver medalist Justin Gatlin has also been unimpressive this year. Gatlin’s best time this season is 9.95 after a spring slowed by injuries. At this same time last year, he had run 9.80. In 2015, he had run 9.74. In 2014, he had run 9.80. Age may have finally caught up to the 35-year-old, the 2004 Olympic champion who is seven years removed from a four-year doping ban.

Olympic bronze medalist Andre De Grasse is out of worlds with a strained hamstring.

Then there’s Bolt, who didn’t break 10 seconds in two June races, then made his usual visit to his German doctor to work on his back. Bolt then ran 9.95 to win a race in Monaco on July 21, the fastest time this year run outside one’s home country.

400 Meters
Wednesday, 4:52 p.m. ET on NBCSN

In contrast, the 400m has never been faster. Three men broke 43.75 seconds before August. Never before has more than one man broken 43.75 before August.

Van Niekerk heads the field. The South African memorably lowered Michael Johnson‘s world record at the Rio Olympics, winning in 43.03 seconds from lane 8. Van Niekerk, 25, followed that up with the third- and fourth-fastest times of his life in July. He eased up in 43.62 seconds in Lausanne, then had to fight for a win in 43.75 in Monaco.

In most years, those times would make Van Niekerk an overwhelming favorite at worlds. However, two men are nipping at his heels this season.

Fred Kerley, who didn’t make it out of the U.S. Olympic Trials first round, ran 43.70 on May 26, the fastest time ever that early in a year. Kerley, 22, backed it up. He has five of the 11 fastest times in the world this year.

The latest challenger is Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, the man who nearly handed Van Niekerk defeat in Monaco. The 30-year-old didn’t make it out of the Rio Olympic semifinals but ran 43.72 in 2015 and, like Van Niekerk, has broken 44 seconds twice this year.

200 Meters
Aug. 10, 4:52 p.m. ET on NBCSN

The last time Bolt didn’t contest the 200m at a global championship was 2003, when American John Capel took the crown two years after being drafted by the Chicago Bears following a college career at the University of Florida under Steve Spurrier.

But Van Niekerk and Makwala are both entered, which will keep plenty of excitement around sans Bolt. Chances are one of the two will be racing to equal Johnson’s feat from 1995 of sweeping the 400m and 200m titles. Makwala has the fastest time in the world this year, a 19.77. Van Niekerk has run 19.84 and 19.90. Nobody else in the world 200m field has broken 19.95 in 2017.

De Grasse would have been a medal contender here, too.

The Americans owned this event pre-Bolt. From 2003 through 2007, a different U.S. man won this race at every worlds and the 2004 Olympics (where the U.S. swept the medals). But this year, it would be a surprise to see a U.S. medal.

The three fastest Americans this year are not entered in this event — Coleman, Noah Lyles and Christopher Belcher. Instead, the top hope to keep the U.S. from its first shutout since 1997 is Ameer Webb, who ranks ninth this year among men entered in London.

5000 Meters
Aug. 12, 3:20 p.m. ET on NBC

Every Olympic and world 5000m final since 2011 has gone almost like this: Farah stays with the pack, then accelerates near the front with a lap or two to go and puts the hammer down in the final 100 meters like nobody else to win.

This is the last chance for somebody to disrupt Farah’s strategy that has been unbeatable for nearly six years at the 5000m and 10,000m. It’s not that Farah is the fastest distance runner of all time — he ranks Nos. 31 and 16, respectively, on the all-time lists of 5000m and 10,000m personal bests — but he is the fastest finisher if the pace is reasonable.

At presumably his last worlds, the 34-year-old Farah will race the 10,000m on the opening night Friday, and then have five days off before the 5000m heats and his farewell 5000m final three days after that.

The men who will be chasing Farah include Ethiopian rival Hagos Gebrhiwet, a 23-year-old whose personal best is five seconds faster than Farah’s. But Gebrhiwet is 0-4 against Farah in global finals. Ethiopia also boasts the two fastest men this year — Muktar Edris and Selemon Barega — and the fastest man of 2015 — Yomif Kejelcha. Edris and Kejelcha have been routinely beaten by Farah, but the 17-year-old Barega has never faced the British legend.

Then there’s Paul Chelimo, the surprise Rio silver medalist who barely made the U.S. team at Olympic Trials by .06. Though Chelimo won this year’s U.S. title by a landslide seven seconds, he was nine seconds slower than Farah at the Pre Classic on May 27.

4x100m Relay
Aug. 12, 4:50 p.m. ET on NBC

Should be the last race of Bolt’s career. It is by no means a guaranteed victory lap, even though Jamaica crossed the 4x100m finish line first at every Olympics and worlds since 2008.

Bolt and the rest of the Jamaicans are slowing down. Their likely relay quartet’s top 100m times this year add up to 39.86 seconds. The U.S.’ projected relay team adds up to 39.70. But the Americans have botched the relay consistently, missing the podium due to bad exchanges or disqualifications at five of the last six global championships.

Consider this: Gatlin usually runs second or third leg for the U.S. 4x100m. If he’s again not anchoring, the U.S. will likely close with a sprinter who is green on the world stage. How would you like to be that man with a hard-charging Bolt next to you in the final sprint of Bolt’s career?

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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