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Justin Gatlin faces Olympic, world medalists in Shanghai; preview

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The American contingent is deep and scattered at Saturday’s Diamond League meet in Shanghai, capped by Justin Gatlin‘s first top-level race since August.

NBC Sports Gold will air live coverage on Saturday at 6:10 a.m. ET. NBCSN’s live broadcast starts at 7 a.m.

Gatlin headlines the last event of the meet, the 100m, the sprint he won over Usain Bolt at the world championships on Aug. 5.

With Bolt retired, Gatlin was set to face the world’s other most decorated sprinters on Saturday — world silver medalist Christian Coleman and triple Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse. Though Coleman withdrew, De Grasse remains in the field that also includes world 200m champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey.

Gatlin isn’t the only intriguing American in action.

Christian Taylor, the two-time Olympic triple jump champion, makes his Diamond League 400m debut. World champion pole vaulter Sam Kendricks renews his rivalry with Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie. Olympic and world medalist Paul Chelimo seeks his first international win against a 5000m field with Ethiopian stars. World-record holder Aries Merritt faces perhaps the strongest competition of the day in the 110m hurdles. And Olympic gold medalist Brianna McNeal and world-record holder Kendra Harrison meet for round 2 of a budding 100m hurdles head-to-head.

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

6:14 a.m. — Women’s Triple Jump
6:15 — Women’s High Jump
6:17 — Women’s Shot Put
6:47 — Men’s Pole Vault
7:03 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
7:13 — Men’s 5000m
7:35 — Men’s 400m
7:36 — Men’s Long Jump
7:40 — Women’s Javelin
7:46 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
7:53 — Men’s 1500m
8:04 — Men’s 800m
8:14 — Women’s 200m
8:25 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
8:34 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
8:53 — Men’s 100m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s Pole Vault — 6:47 a.m. ET
The standout field event in Shanghai renews the rivalry between French world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie and world champion Sam Kendricks. Lavillenie holds a 14-12 edge in their head-to-head, but Kendricks finished higher in all seven of their shared meets in 2017, according to Tilastopaja.org. Lavillenie relegated Kendricks to silver at the world indoor championships and goes into Shanghai with the highest clearance in the world this year — 5.95 meters.

Men’s 5000m — 7:13 a.m. ET
One of the best 5000m fields you will find outside of an Olympics or worlds. Every reigning Olympic and world medalist is here save Mo Farah, who is now focused on road racing. American Paul Chelimo took silver at the Olympics and bronze at worlds and is looking for his first international win. He must beat a trio of Ethiopian stars — world champion Muktar Edris, Olympic bronze medalist Hagos Gebrhiwet and Dejen Gebremeskel, who has the fastest PR of any active 5000m runner. Plus Kenyan Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champ.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — 7:46 a.m. ET
The five fastest Americans over the last 13 years are in the field for a second straight week — world-record holder Kendra Harrison, 2016 Olympic champion Brianna McNealSharika NelvisJasmin Stowers and 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson. In Doha, it came down to Harrison and McNeal, with Harrison coming back to win by .05 after McNeal hit hurdle eight. Harrison’s only defeats since the start of 2016 were at the Olympic trials and world championships.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 8:25 a.m. ET
The only event in Shanghai featuring the reigning Olympic and world gold and silver medalists. Jamaican Omar McLeod, the 2016 Olympic and 2017 World champ, competes internationally for the first time since he led off the Jamaican 4x100m team in Usain Bolt‘s last race at worlds. He was entered in the 200m in Doha but withdrew with abductor soreness. In Shanghai, McLeod gets Rio silver medalist Orlando Ortega of Spain, world silver medalist Sergey Shubenkov of Russia and American Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder.

Men’s 100m — 8:53 a.m. ET
This was to be the first head-to-head between Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman since they went one-two in the 2017 World Championships 100m final, beating Bolt in Bolt’s last individual race. But Coleman withdrew last weekend due to “precautionary reasons,” his coach said, according to Reuters. Gatlin, 36, will still have his hands full in his first top-level international meet since Aug. 24. Olympic 100m bronze medalist Andre De Grasse and surprise world 200m champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey are also in the field. De Grasse has looked rusty in his return from a hamstring strain that kept him out of worlds in August. Only one man has broken 10 seconds this year — American Ronnie Baker (9.97). Gatlin clocked 9.92 in Shanghai in 2014 and 9.94 in 2016.

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Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

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