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How to watch Rome Diamond League; preview

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In a year without an Olympics or a world outdoor championships, there is no uniform time to peak or single goal for U.S. track and field athletes. Some eye personal-best times and marks. Others a Diamond League season title and the 2019 Worlds bye that can come with it. Still others are tinkering, competing less frequently.

The Diamond League season, now three meets old, has shown this. Just look at Thursday’s meet in Rome, which airs live on NBCSN and streams commercial-free on NBC Sports Gold at 2 p.m. ET.

Of the U.S. Olympic and world medalists entered, some have been on fire in the early outdoor season. Like Brianna McNeal, who beat 100m hurdles world-record holder Kendra Harrison earlier this month after missing of all of 2017 for missing three drug tests.

Others started a little more slowly, like Christian Coleman, the world star of the winter indoor season. Coleman, who ran faster than the 60m world record three times between January and March, withdrew from his first scheduled outdoor meet three weeks ago for precautionary reasons, then was upset at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday, citing rustiness.

Emma Coburn hasn’t started at all. Coburn, who led the groundbreaking U.S. one-two in the steeplechase at worlds, races outdoors on Thursday for the first time since September.

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

11:40 a.m. — Women’s Discus
1:20 p.m. — Men’s Discus
1:30 — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:10 — Women’s High Jump
2:13 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:23 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
2:38 — Men’s 800m
2:40 — Men’s Long Jump
2:53 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
3:07 — Women’s 400m
3:16 — Men’s 400m
3:25 — Women’s 200m
3:35 — Men’s 100m
3:50 — Men’s 1500m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s Discus — 1:20 p.m. ET
The deepest field of the meet, featuring the top seven finishers from the 2017 World Championships, plus Rio gold medalist Christoph Harting, who was shockingly fourth at last year’s German nationals and missed worlds. The American in that group is Mason Finley, who in August became the first U.S. man to earn an Olympic or world championships discus medal since 1999. The Rio Olympian extended his personal best by four feet to take bronze at worlds with a 68.03-meter throw.

Women’s High Jump — 2:10 p.m. ET
American Vashti Cunningham gets her sixth head-to-head with Maria Lasitskene, still seeking her first win over the dominant Russian. Lasitskene has won 39 straight meets dating to 2016 and had the top seven clearances in the world in 2017, indoors or outdoors, according to Tilastopaja.org. However, Olympic heptathlon champion Nafi Thiam cleared 2.01 meters in a heptathlon on Saturday, giving her the top clearance this year. Thiam isn’t competing in Rome, though. Cunningham, the 19-year-old daughter of retired NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, took silver behind Lasitskene at the world indoor championships on March 1, her only defeat in five meets this year.

Men’s 400m Hurdles — 2:13 p.m. ET
All three 2017 World medalists are here, led by the surprise champion Karsten Warholm of Norway and the bronze medalist and Rio Olympic champion, American Kerron Clement. But the favorite has to be Abderrahman Samba of Qatar, who on May 4 clocked the world’s fastest time in nearly eight years and the fastest time ever this early in a year.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 2:23 p.m. ET
World champion Emma Coburn races outdoors for the first time in eight months against a field that includes the three fastest Kenyans of all time. That doesn’t include the absent Olympic champion Ruth Jebet, Kenyan-born but representing Bahrain, who hasn’t raced anywhere since Jan. 28 and is reportedly dealing with a doping issue.

Men’s 100m — 3:35 p.m. ET
A rematch between Americans Christian Coleman and Ronnie Baker. Coleman, who finished between Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt at worlds in August, lost his outdoor 100m season opener to Baker at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday. Baker has never finished better than seventh at a U.S. Championships, let alone excelled on the global championship stage like Coleman. Coleman said after Pre he was still working his way into shape after a minor leg injury kept him from competing at a Diamond League meet in Shanghai earlier this month. South African Akani Simbine, who was fifth at the Olympics and worlds, could play spoiler.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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