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Stars align for historic Diamond League weekend; TV, stream info

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The Diamond League has never had a weekend like this.

Four straight days of competition between two meets for the first time in the series’ nine-year history. Track and field’s established champions — Caster SemenyaElaine ThompsonChristian Taylor — and rising stars — Noah LylesChristian ColemanJuan Miguel Echevarria — dot the fields in Monaco on Thursday and Friday and London on Saturday and Sunday.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live broadcast coverage, streamed on NBC Sports Gold along with additional events and commercial-free feeds.

Friday — Monaco
Olympic Channel — 2-4 p.m. ET
NBC Sports Gold — 1:35-4

Saturday — London
Olympic Channel — 9-11 a.m. ET
NBC Sports Gold — 8:30-11

Sunday — London
Olympic Channel — 9-11 a.m. ET
NBC Sports Gold — 8:45-11

Following Monaco and London, there will be just one more Diamond League meet (Birmingham, Great Britain, on Aug. 18) before the two-leg Diamond League finals in Zurich and Brussels on Aug. 30-31.

The fallow season (no Olympics, no world outdoor championships) is almost over, but there is plenty to be decided at two of the Diamond League’s strongest annual meets.

Here are the entry lists for Monaco and for London. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

Thursday — Monaco
12 p.m. — Women’s Shot Put
1:15 p.m. — Men’s Shot Put

Friday — Monaco
1:35 p.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
1:45 — Men’s 1000m
2:03 — Women’s 400m
2:05 — Men’s Triple Jump
2:10 — Men’s High Jump
2:15 — Men’s 800m
2:25 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
2:35 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
2:50 — Women’s 100m
3 — Men’s 1500m
3:15 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
3:25 — Women’s 800m
3:35 — Men’s 200m
3:45 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Saturday — London
8:30 a.m. — Men’s Pole Vault
8:33 — Women’s 3000m
9:04 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
9:09 — Women’s Javelin
9:30 — Women’s Long Jump
9:55 — Men’s 400m
10:05 — Men’s 5000m
10:26 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
10:38 — Women’s 100m
10:50 — Men’s 100m

Sunday — London
8:45 — Women’s Discus
9:04 — Women’s 400m
9:09 — Women’s High Jump
9:31 — Men’s Long Jump
9:37 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
9:48 — Women’s 800m
9:58 — Men’s 800m
10:08 — Men’s 1500m
10:19 — Men’s 200m
10:29 — Women’s 200m
10:39 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
10:49 — Women’s Mile

Here are 10 events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — Friday, 1:35 p.m. ET
A gathering of the top seven women in the world this year (indoors and outdoors). Though U.S. Olympic silver medalist Sandi Morris won the world indoor title on March 3, London Olympic champion Jenn Suhr and New Zealand’s Eliza McCartney have been the best outdoors this spring and summer.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — Friday, 2:35 p.m. ET
The 11 fastest women in the world this year in one of the deepest fields in Diamond League history for any event. The headliners are the top four from the 2017 World Championships — U.S. gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs and Kenyans Hyvin Kiyeng and Beatrice Chepkoech. Plus, Kenyan Celliphine Chespol, second-fastest all-time in the event. This could be an opportunity for Coburn and Frerichs to chase the 9-minute barrier, which no North American has broken (Coburn’s American record is 9:02.58). Olympic champion and world-record holder Ruth Jebet has not competed since January due to a reported doping issue.

Women’s 100m — Friday, 2:50 p.m. ET
Missing the top Americans (world champion Tori Bowie and U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs), but it has most of the international stars. That includes Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, who hasn’t been the same since she was shockingly fifth at 2017 Worlds and hasn’t won a meet outside of Jamaica this year. Marie-Josée Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast, fastest in the world in 2018 at 10.85, has to be the favorite.

Men’s 1500m — Friday, 3 p.m. ET
First time Olympic champ Matthew Centrowitz faces all three 2017 World medalists — Kenyans Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot and Norwegian Filip Ingebrigtsen — since this meet last year. Cheruiyot crushed Manangoi and Centrowitz in the Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic on May 26. The 22-year-old has one loss all year, runner-up to Manangoi at the Commonwealth Games, and has the three fastest 1500m times for 2018.

Women’s 800m — Friday, 3:25 p.m. ET
Caster Semenya puts her near-three-year win streak on the line against the next seven fastest women this year, including Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba and world bronze medalist Ajeé Wilson. Semenya broke the South African record at this meet the last two years. She’s already chopped .91 off her national record this year to become the fourth-fastest all-time. She is .97 shy of the 35-year-old world record.

Men’s 200m — Friday, 3:35 p.m. ET
U.S. 100m champion Noah Lyles puts his two-year 200m win streak on the line. Challengers include surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, who is 0-3 against Lyles all-time, and Ameer Webb, who won the national title in Lyles’ absence on June 24. Lyles clocked 19.69 seconds in his last two 200m races, tying South African Clarence Munyai (not in the Monaco field) for the fastest time in the world since August 2015. Only six men have broken 19.60 — Usain Bolt, Yohan BlakeMichael JohnsonWalter DixJustin Gatlin and Tyson Gay — but none were as young as the 21-year-old Lyles.

Men’s 3000m Steeplechase — Friday, 3:45 p.m. ET
All three world championships medalists and the seven fastest in the world this year. None bigger than Olympic and world champion Conseslus Kipruto, undefeated internationally in 2016 and 2017. Not the case this season. Fellow Kenyan Benjamin Kigen beat him at Pre, and then Kipruto was a shocking 12th in Rabat last Friday. Another chance for Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager to become the first sub-8-minute American. He won in Monaco in 8:01.29 last year.

Men’s 100m — Saturday, 10:50 a.m. ET
Christian Coleman, after reasserting his argument as the world’s fastest man, faces another formidable field. U.S. runner-up Ronnie Baker and NCAA champion Cameron Burrell are also here, as is Brit Zharnel Hughes, at 23 arguably the most promising non-American in the world.

Men’s Long Jump — Sunday, 9:31 a.m. ET
Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarria is the most exciting long jumper in recent memory after nearly jumping out of the pit last month with the world’s best jump in 23 years. The 19-year-old followed that with two best wind-legal jumps in the world this year at his next two meets. He could be pushed even farther here by the last two Olympic champions — Jeff Henderson and the soon-retiring Greg Rutherford — and every 2017 World medalist — Luvo ManyongaJarrion Lawson and Rushwahl Samaai.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — Sunday, 10:39 a.m. ET
Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, world-record holder Kendra Harrison and fellow American Sharika Nelvis split the last three Diamond League races and split their three head-to-head-to-head meetings this year. A strong win here makes a pretty good argument for best in the world at the moment. McNeal has the top 2018 time of 12.38, but that’s not close to Harrison’s world record of 12.20 from two years ago.

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Ragan Smith finds joy in college gymnastics after life-changing decision

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Ragan Smith, after her first two weeks of college gymnastics, quickly pointed out the coolest part of competing for the Oklahoma Sooners. It’s the noise that erupts on the last pass of her floor exercise, or upon her dismount off the uneven bars or balance beam.

They are similar sounds to what drew her to commit to Oklahoma back in 2015, when she was 15 years old.

“The girls in practice were all cheering for each other,” she recalled in a phone interview earlier this month.

Last spring, Smith called Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler with a request. The Texan wanted to enroll at OU that summer, a year earlier than planned. Originally, Smith committed to the university with the intention of deferring until after the 2020 Olympic season.

Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate in her first year at the senior elite level, began this Olympic cycle in 2017 by winning the U.S. all-around title. Granted, the triumph came during Simone Biles‘ one-year break. But consider that Smith’s margin of victory — 3.4 points — was greater than Biles’ average margin for her four national titles from 2013-16.

Everything changed for Smith on Oct. 6, 2017. Minutes before she was to compete as the favorite in the world championships all-around, she suffered an ankle injury warming up on vault (reportedly three torn ligaments). She was withdrawn from the meet and fought injuries for the rest of her elite career.

In calling Kindler last spring, Smith signaled she was ready to move on from Olympic-level or “elite” gymnastics. It is possible for collegians to compete at U.S. Championships or Olympic trials, but no woman with NCAA experience has made any of the last three Olympic teams.

“I felt like my time was done in elite,” said Smith, whose mother and aunt competed for Auburn and Maryland, respectively. “I really just wanted to move on with my life and everything.”

Kindler was walking in an academic center on campus when Smith called her last spring.

“[Smith] said, ‘I was in the shower, and I was thinking, and I think I really, really want to come,'” Kindler said. “‘My body is ready to be done with elite gymnastics, and my mind is ready to move forward, and I would love to come to school this year. Is there a spot for me?’

“We saved a spot in case she changed her mind [about waiting until after the Olympics], but the plan was always for her to defer. We never talked about anything else, so I was very surprised by the phone call.”

Kindler urged Smith to think it over. Discuss it with her elite coach, 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal.

“[Zmeskal] and I had a really good understanding of what Ragan’s goals were, which is why I think it had to be Ragan’s decision,” Kindler said. “I didn’t want to place any influence on anything. Kim thinks the world of Ragan. She was in full support. Her and I texted back and forth and spoke about it. She said she wanted Ragan to think about it a little bit, and she did do that, and still had decided that this was for her. I think Kim supported that decision, just as I said I would support whatever she wanted to do.”

Smith shared the news on July 7.

“I have moved on from the 1st chapter of my life and on to the 2nd,” was posted on her Instagram, accompanied by a photo of her in a crimson leotard. “I am so excited to be joining the class of 2019.”

Smith joined the defending national champion program, one that captured three of the last four NCAA titles. By enrolling a year early, Smith gets to be teammates with senior Maggie Nichols.

Nichols was second to Biles at the 2015 U.S. Championships, making her a bona fide contender for the Rio Olympic team. Early in 2016, Nichols tore a meniscus on a vault landing and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. She announced retirement from elite gymnastics two days after finishing sixth at the Olympic trials, one spot behind Smith, and not being named to the Olympic team.

Smith said she has already benefited from Nichols’ experience, coming to her with questions to aid her transition.

“What an incredible opportunity to have Ragan and Maggie on the same team,” Kindler said.

The Sooners are 9-0 this year and 26-0 since the start of 2019. Smith was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week each of the season’s first three weeks. Not incredibly surprising, given Smith’s pedigree.

Perhaps more notable: Kindler said Smith hasn’t had a single ankle problem since arriving in Norman in July.

Back in August 2018, Smith said the ankle still hurt sometimes, that she had not completed a practice without pain that whole year and a coach joked to her, “You already have a 100-year-old body.”

Smith is competing easier routines collegiately than as an elite, as is the norm. But Kindler found that her passion for the sport has not waned.

“As an elite athlete, you don’t necessarily have to learn anything when you come to college,” Kindler said. “In fact, you can scale back what you’re doing, but I feel like she has a real eagerness to continue to refine what she’s doing and to learn new skills. She wants to continue to get better, and I love that about her.”

At her first college meet, Smith remembered the feeling of adrenaline brought on by competing not just for herself, but for women with whom she will call teammates week in and week out for the coming years.

“I didn’t want to let go of elite because it’s been, like, my whole life and my dream and everything,” said Smith, who was inspired by McKayla Maroney‘s 2012 Olympic vault and then had a dog named Rio. “But at the same time, my mind was telling me to come to college and have fun. I’m glad I made that decision, because I love it here.”

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Dustin Johnson wonders if Olympic golf will properly fit into his schedule

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Dustin Johnson, the world’s fifth-ranked golfer, said he isn’t sure the Tokyo Olympics will fit well into his schedule, assuming he qualifies for what will be a very competitive U.S. team of four.

“Obviously representing the United States in the Olympics is something that, you know, definitely be proud to do,” he said when asked if the Ryder Cup and the Olympics are goals this year. “But is it going to fit in the schedule properly? I’m not really sure about that, because there’s so many events that are right there and leading up to it. So you know, I’m still working with my team to figure out what’s the best thing for me to do.”

Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner and world No. 1 in 2017 and 2018, is the third-highest ranked American at the moment behind Brooks Koepka (who also spoke about the Olympics on Tuesday, saying they’re not as important as majors) and Justin Thomas.

Johnson is ranked one spot ahead of Tiger Woods, who has voiced intent to play in Tokyo should he qualify.

But the current world rankings, based on a two-year, rolling window of results, do not exactly mirror Olympic qualifying, which takes into account only results after the 2018 U.S. Open. Rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter has Thomas, Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay as the current U.S. top four in Olympic qualifying. Woods is fifth and Johnson seventh.

The cutoff to determine the Olympic field of 60 golfers overall is after the U.S. Open in June.

The Olympic golf tournament is July 30-Aug. 2. There is no PGA Tour event that weekend. The FedEx Cup Playoffs start two weeks after the Olympics. Last season, Johnson did not play the tournaments that will immediately precede and follow the Olympics — the 3M Open and the Wyndham Championship.

Johnson did qualify for the Rio Olympics but withdrew a month before the Games, citing Zika virus concerns as other golfers did.

“This was not an easy decision for me, but my concerns about the Zika virus cannot be ignored,” Johnson said in a statement at the time. “[Wife] Paulina and I plan to have more children in the near future, and I feel it would be irresponsible to put myself, her or our family at risk.”

Paulina gave birth to their second son in June 2017.

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