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U.S. steeplechase stars reunite at Oslo Diamond League; stream info

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The last time Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs raced a steeplechase together, they produced one of the greatest moments in U.S. track and field history.

“Am I dreaming? Am I dreaming?” Frerichs repeated to Coburn on the track that day.

Nearly 10 months later, the reality is that Coburn and Frerichs are headliners. The steeple is one of the marquee events at Thursday’s Diamond League meet in Oslo, live on NBCSN at 2 p.m. ET and streaming commercial-free on NBC Sports Gold at 12 p.m.

It’s the second steeplechase of the season for the world champion Coburn, who was in contention for the win in Rome last Thursday when she fell on a water jump, for the first time in her life, on the last lap.

It’s Frerichs’ first steeple since August, when the 11th-place finisher from Rio chopped 15 seconds off her personal best to take silver behind the Olympic bronze medalist Coburn at worlds.

They’re joined in the Oslo field by the other medalist from worlds, Kenyan Hyvin Kiyeng, who won in Rome last week in a field including the three fastest Kenyans of all time and Coburn.

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

12 p.m. ET — Women’s javelin
12:30 — Women’s Pole Vault
1:10 — Men’s 10,000m
1:15 — Men’s Shot Put
2:03 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:05 — Men’s High Jump
2:10 — Men’s 1500m
2:17 — Women’s Triple Jump
2:20 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
2:35 — Women’s 100m
2:45 — Women’s 800m
2:50 — Men’s Discus
2:58 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
3:10 — Men’s 200m
3:25 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
3:40 — Women’s 400m
3:50 — Men’s Mile

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 12:30 p.m. ET
Katerina Stefanidi 
of Greece and American Sandi Morris go head-to-head for the 30th time, according to Tilastopaja.org. Stefanidi relegated Morris to silver at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Words, but Morris has been better in all three of their head-to-heads this season. The field does not include world leader Jenn Suhr, but it does have Cuban Yarisley Silva, the 2015 World champion in her first Diamond League meet of the year.

Men’s Shot Put — 1:15 p.m. ET
The four men who combined to earn every shot put medal at the most recent Olympics and worlds convene for the second time in three Diamond League meets: Ryan Crouser (Olympic gold), Joe Kovacs (Olympic silver, world silver), Tom Walsh (Olympic bronze, world gold) and Stipe Žunić (world bronze). Tack on two-time world champion David Storl and world fourth-place finisher Tomáš Staněk, and it becomes the most decorated field in Oslo. Walsh has the world’s farthest throw this season, but Crouser broke the meet record in winning the Prefontaine Classic two weeks ago.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 2:20 p.m. ET
Coburn and Frerichs are underdogs here, given their lack of races since worlds and Kiyeng’s win in Rome with the fastest time in the world this year. But Coburn may well have beaten Kiyeng had she not crashed coming out of the water jump on Thursday. Coburn is the only U.S. woman to win a Diamond League steeplechase, doing so four years ago when the top East Africans let her go because they thought she was a pacer.

Women’s 800m — 2:45 p.m. ET
Caster Semenya puts the sport’s longest win streak (by days) on the line, one that dates to 2015, against her closest definition of a rival, plus some unusual foes. Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi has finished second or third behind Semenya in 13 straight head-to-heads, including silvers at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds. Brit Laura Muir and American Brenda Martinez both raced the 1500m at the Olympics. Muir, who was fourth in the 1500m at 2017 Worlds, races a Diamond League 800m for the second time in three years. Though Martinez made her only Olympic team in the 1500m, she has primarily raced the 800m overall, including earning bronze at the 2013 Worlds. But she and Semenya have met in just one 800m final since June 2014.

Men’s 400m Hurdles — 3:25 p.m. ET
Featuring the Olympic champion (Kerron Clement) and world champion (Norway’s Karsten Warholm), plus another man who made both podiums (Yasmani Copello of Turkey). But the man to watch is Qatari Abderrahman Samba, who didn’t race in Rio and was seventh at worlds. But in his last two races, Samba ran the fastest time ever recorded that early in a year — national record 47.57 on May 4 and Asian record 47.48 last Thursday, the latter the fastest time in the world in eight years. If Samba can break 47.30, he will move into the top 10 400m hurdlers of all time. He ranked No. 87 all time at the end of 2017.

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”