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Five events to watch at Prefontaine Classic

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The 2017 World Track and Field Championships left questions that could carry over into 2019 and 2020. What does Allyson Felix have left? When will Justin Gatlin cede the world’s fastest man title? How much longer will Caster Semenya be unbeatable?

Those questions might not be answered at this weekend’s Prefontaine Classic (NBC and NBC Sports Gold broadcast schedule here), but it could be the most important meet of a year without a world championships to sort them out.

Felix races the 400m, now her trademark event after a decade as mainly a 200m sprinter, for the first time since taking bronze at worlds in London in August. She does so against the women who beat her both at worlds in London and in Rio.

Update (Friday, 4:30 p.m.): Allyson Felix has withdrawn from the Pre Classic.

Gatlin withdrew from Pre on Wednesday, but the man now seen as the heir to Usain Bolt‘s sprint throne, Christian Coleman, races the 100m for the first time since worlds, too. Coleman may have been edged by Gatlin in their one-two at worlds, but he is 14 years younger and coming off an indoor season where he ran the 60m faster than the world record three times (twice under legal conditions).

If Coleman stays fast at Pre, through the summer and 2019, we may look back on 2017 as the transition year between the retiring Bolt and rising Coleman more so than Gatlin’s return to the top.

Semenya faces all of her closest 800m rivals on Saturday, though “close” must be used loosely. Her dominance may be impacted going into next season if the IAAF’s new testosterone limits on middle-distance runners are implemented. This Diamond League season presents what could be the final opportunities for American Ajee’ Wilson and others to take on Semenya before the women’s 800m landscape changes significantly.

Eugene start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

FRIDAY
9:37 p.m. — Men’s Pole Vault
9:42 — Men’s Javelin
10:52 — Men’s 800m
11:06 — Men’s 2 Mile

SATURDAY
3:40 p.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
3:43 — Men’s Triple Jump
3:48 — Men’s International Mile
4 — Men’s High Jump
4:03 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
4:10 — Women’s 800m
4:18 — Men’s 100m
4:26 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
4:41 — Women’s 100m
4:50 — Women’s 1500m
4:58 — Men’s Shot Put
5:03 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
5:10 — Women’s 5000m
5:31 — Women’s 400m
5:44 — Men’s 200m
5:51 — Men’s Bowerman Mile

Here are five events to watch on Saturday:

Women’s 800m — 4:10 p.m. ET
Olympic champion Caster Semenya faces the fastest American of all time, Ajee’ Wilson, for the first time since the 2017 Worlds, where Semenya breezed past Wilson and Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba in the final straight. Semenya is undefeated at 800m for 22 straight meets dating to September 2015, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Men’s 3000m Steeplechase — 4:26 p.m. ET
First matchup between Olympic and world champion Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya and top American Evan Jager this season, and Jager’s first steeplechase anywhere since Sept. 1. Kipruto relegated Jager to silver at the Olympics and bronze at the world championships. Jager has never won a race with Kipruto in the field but does have the world’s fastest time since the Rio Games.

Women’s 100m — 4:41 p.m. ET
The top five women from the 2017 World Championships, led by gold medalist Tori Bowie and Jamaican Elaine Thompson, who swept the 100m and 200m in Rio but was shockingly fifth at worlds. Thompson suffered her second 100m defeat since the start of 2016 at the Diamond League opener in Doha on May 4. Bowie has been absent from the Diamond League since worlds in August. Marie-Josée Ta Lou and Murielle Ahouré of the Ivory Coast and Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers have a chance here.

Men’s Shot Put — 4:58 p.m. ET
Every reigning Olympic and world medalist is in this field, plus the six men who combined for the world’s 33 best outdoor throws since the start of 2013. It’s headlined by Rio gold and silver medalists Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs of the U.S. and New Zealand’s Tomas Walsh, who on March 25 matched the farthest throw in the world since 1990. Crouser defeated Walsh at the Drake Relays on April 28.

Women’s 400m — 5:31 p.m. ET
Shaune Miller-Uibo led the 2017 Worlds final coming off the last curve but stumbled and ended up fourth with American Phyllis Francis the surprise winner. Pre is the outdoor 400m season debut for Miller-Uibo and Francis. Miller-Uibo has already in 2018 run the fastest times ever for 300m indoors and 150m on a straightaway.

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Too early to say whether virus threatens Olympics, WHO says

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GENEVA (AP) — Despite a virus outbreak spreading from China, a top World Health Organization official said Tuesday it’s much too soon to say whether the Tokyo Olympics are at risk of being cancelled or moved.

Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly said they have no contingency plans for the July 24-Aug. 9 Summer Games since the WHO declared a global health emergency last month.

The U.N. agency’s emergencies program director, Michael Ryan, said Tuesday the sporting event was “way too far” away to consider giving advice that would affect Tokyo’s hosting of the Olympics.

“We are not there to make a decision for that,” Ryan told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a news conference at WHO headquarters.

Geneva-based WHO has been in regular contact with the IOC in nearby Lausanne since the virus known as COVID-19 emerged in December.

“We don’t give them judgments,” Ryan said. “We assist them with their risk assessment. We will be working closely with them in the coming weeks and months.”

The death toll in mainland China due to the virus rose to almost 1,900 on Tuesday, with more than 72,000 confirmed cases.

The outbreak has caused numerous sports events in China to be canceled, postponed, or moved, including qualifying events for the Tokyo Olympics.

Chinese athletes and teams have also been unable to travel for some competitions. China sent a team of more than 400 athletes to the Rio Olympics. It won 70 medals, including 26 gold, to place second in total medal standings.

Around 11,000 athletes and many more team coaches and officials from more than 200 national teams are expected in Japan for the Olympics.

Japan has experienced the most significant outbreak of the virus outside of China, on the cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in quarantine at Yokohama in Tokyo Bay.

During a 14-day isolation that ends Wednesday, 542 cases have been identified among more than 3,700 passengers and crew.

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For Mike Eruzione, Al Michaels, it’s no miracle that 1980 Olympics endure

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Mike Eruzione has been reminded on a daily basis about the Miracle on Ice for nearly four decades. While playing celebrity golf tournaments. At speaking engagements. Or that time he auctioned his jersey and stick from the Soviet game to a 9-year-old boy named Seven.

Eruzione, now 65, likes to open conversations with one anecdote about meeting strangers, which he repeated in a call with reporters last week.

“The stories I hear, 40 years later, it’s depending on their age — I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated, I remember where I was on 9/11. I remember where I was when the Challenger blew up. And I remember where I was when we won,” Eruzione said. “And I always say, ‘We? I didn’t know you were on the team.’

“But people felt a part of it. … It’s nice to know that people remember and share some great stories about what we did so long ago.”

The captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team owns a last name that means “eruption” in Italian. Eruzione scored the decisive goal in the U.S.’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union en route to a shock gold medal during the Cold War in Lake Placid, N.Y.

NBCSN airs a 30-minute special marking the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice on Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. ET. It will feature a conversation between Olympic primetime host Mike Tirico and Al Michaels, the play-by-play voice of the game dubbed by Sports Illustrated the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

Eruzione has grandchildren now. Three of them skate at the Mike Eruzione Center in his hometown of Winthrop, Mass.

“They don’t even know who Mike Eruzione is,” Eruzione said of the 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, “but they know about the Miracle.”

All credit to the U.S. Olympic team of 20 players between ages 19 and 25, back when the NHL did not participate in the Olympics. The Soviets were essentially a team of professionals. The nation won the previous four Olympics and throttled the U.S. 10-3 in a pre-Olympic exhibition at Madison Square Garden.

Enter Michaels, calling hockey at the Lake Placid Winter Games alongside Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden. Michaels, then 35, said he was assigned the sport because he had the most hockey experience on the ABC Olympic talent roster — one game. He called the 1972 Olympic hockey final by himself.

Feb. 22, 1980: As the U.S. led the Soviet Union 4-3 and the final seconds ticked down, one word came to mind: miraculous.

“It got morphed into a question and quick answer, and away we went,” Michaels said.

Eruzione said he didn’t learn of Michaels’ call — “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” — until two weeks after the Olympics. He didn’t watch the game broadcast until years later.

“I never thought it was a miracle, but it was a catchy phrase and it sounded right,” Eruzione said, noting he preferred Michaels’ call in the final comeback win over Finland to clinch the gold: “This impossible dream comes true.”

Team members since gathered often — to light the 2002 Olympic cauldron in Salt Lake City, for fantasy camps in Lake Placid and for coach Herb Brooks‘ 2003 funeral. Eighteen of the 20 players are scheduled to reunite this weekend in Las Vegas.

Absent will be Mark Pavelich, who was jailed last year on assault charges and ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. And Bob Suter, who died in 2014 of a heart attack at age 57.

It was Suter’s death that motivated Eruzione and others to commemorate the 35th anniversary together in Lake Placid. It was believed to be the first time all living players were together in Lake Placid since the 1980 Winter Games.

Eruzione said that the 2004 film “Miracle” introduced the team to a new generation. Now at many of his speeches, the majority of Eruzione’s audience was born after 1980.

“I’ll say, how many people watched the movie ‘Miracle,’ and almost everybody raises their hand,” he said. “So I think what the movie did for us as a team was kind of rejuvenated our team as far as people knowing who we were and what we are and what we were about.”

NFL coaches set up “Miracle” viewings for their teams before games. Michael Phelps watched it for motivation at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Phelps told relay teammates, “This is our time,” before they beat rival Australia. An ode to Brooks’ pregame speech before the Soviet game.

Michaels, whose 13-year-old grandson won an October hockey tournament in Lake Placid, said he watched “Miracle” last week for the first time in about a decade. He helped do voiceovers in production more than 15 years ago, though the original Lake Placid audio was used for his signature call.

“The great thing is, in a way, when you watch it back or you watch highlights back, you almost become like in the third person, like somebody else is doing this and announcing this game,” Michaels said. “I exult the way I think most of the country did and do when they see highlights of it. So it’s kind of an out-of-body experience in a way, but it’s a beautiful thing.”

After Eruzione shared his tale of strangers’ memories, Michaels added one of his own.

“One of my favorite stories is Mike Eruzione calling me maybe eight to 10 years ago and saying, ‘The greatest thing about this is every time I come home and maybe I’m a little down, I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll put the tape in,'” Michaels said. “‘Every time I shoot, the puck goes in. It will forever.'”

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