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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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Kelly Slater has an Olympic decision to make

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Surfing icon Kelly Slater is in great position to qualify for his sport’s Olympic debut in 2020, but he’s undecided about making a required event appearance this summer to stay eligible.

The top two U.S. male surfers in this season’s World Surf League final standings are in line to qualify for the Olympics.

Slater, a 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, is ranked third among Americans through six of 11 events, but the No. 2, two-time world champion John John Florence, is likely out for the rest of the season after an ACL tear.

If Slater keeps up his current pace of results, he will pass Florence’s point total by the end of the season in December.

“It appears as though I have to make a decision [on the Olympics] sooner than that,” Slater said after being eliminated from South Africa’s J-Bay Open in ninth place on Wednesday. “I’ve really got to figure out all the factors around that and make a decision in the next few weeks.”

Slater’s concern is the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan, in September, an event that top Olympic hopefuls on the WSL tour are required to attend, barring illness or injury.

“I think I have to surf that event, and if I don’t, it may disqualify me,” he said (the International Surfing Association, the sport’s governing body, later confirmed it would disqualify him). “But I’m not sure if I want to go to Japan and compete right now.”

The ISA Games take place in the week between the next two WSL events, the latter hosted by Slater’s Surf Ranch wave pool in California.

“I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the Olympics right now, anyways,” said Slater, who last year said he was “50-50” on the Olympics when noting his differing thoughts on the qualification process and venue. “The point is, I’m not really focusing on it at this point. I’m trying to get myself back in the flow of the tour.”

Slater missed 13 tour stops between the 2017 and 2018 seasons after breaking a foot and having multiple surgeries.

He finished fifth, third, ninth, ninth and ninth in his five most recent events to get into Olympic qualifying position. He expected more after placing third in the two contests he entered healthy last season. Slater said he competed at J-Bay after straining his back “really bad” on Sunday, keeping him from surfing the three days before the contest.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, at 48, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, via the OlyMADMen.

“Right now in my head the focus is more on this tour than it is on the Olympics, but we’ll see,” he said. “I was starting this year with a lot of pressure on myself to try and make the Olympic team and think, maybe I’ll retire there next year and that will be the end for me. It put so much pressure on the start of the year for me that I didn’t feel like I could freely compete. It was putting too many things in my head. I needed to let that take a backseat and not worry about it. I’m just not really thinking about it a lot.”

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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China on brink of sweeping every gold medal at diving worlds

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Shi Tingmao joined Guo Jingjing as the only women to win three straight world titles in an individual diving event, giving China 11 gold medals in 11 events with two finals left in Gwangju, South Korea.

Shi, who swept the individual and synchronized springboard titles in Rio, claimed the 3m world title on Friday by 18.25 points with 391 total. Countrywoman Wang Han took silver, 5.8 points ahead of Australian Maddison Keeney.

Americans Sarah Bacon and Brooke Schultz missed the 12-woman final, placing 14th and 29th.

China, which has dominated the sport for two decades, is looking to sweep the golds at an Olympics or worlds for the second time after winning all 10 events in 2011. This year’s feat could be more impressive, should China win the last two events Saturday — a mixed-gender springboard and the men’s platform.

That’s because three mixed-gender events were added to the world program (but not the Olympic program) since 2011. And this year, China has not only won every gold but also taken every silver in the three individual Olympic program events thus far.

China is in strong position to go one-two in the men’s platform. Yang Jian and Yang Hao were nearly 70 points clear of the field in Friday’s semifinals.

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