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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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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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