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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