Noah Lyles, Justin Gatlin
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Noah Lyles, Justin Gatlin meet in Diamond League Final; live TV, stream schedule

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Many major international track and field titles will be awarded in the next year. The first go out Thursday at the first of two Diamond League Finals in Zurich, Switzerland.

A 100m duel between Americans Noah Lyles and Justin Gatlin headlines the meet, airing live on NBCSN from 2-4 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage starting at 12:15.

The Diamond League Finals — the other is in Brussels on Sept. 6 — invite the top performers from the first 12 Diamond League meets this spring and summer for winner-take-all trophies and $50,000.

Any American who earns a Diamond League title also clinches a spot in next month’s world championships, unless the U.S. has the reigning world champion in that event. If that American already qualified for worlds through last month’s USATF Outdoor Championships, the next-in-line American from USATF Outdoors gains entry into worlds.

That doesn’t apply in the 100m, since Gatlin is the reigning world champion.

At the start of the season, the 37-year-old Gatlin looked at best an outside medal contender, given he dropped to No. 31 in the world in 2018 and his advanced age. But Gatlin clocked 9.87, 9.92 and 9.91 in June and July, winning two Diamond League meets and placing second in another.

Christian Coleman is the only other man to break 9.95 three times this year, but Coleman is out of Zurich and in doubt for worlds as he contests a charge of missing three drug tests that could lead to a suspension.

Lyles will definitely not race the 100m at worlds, choosing to focus on the 200m given he’s never competed at a global championship. Lyles, who beat Coleman in May and is second-fastest in the world this year, plans to go for a 100m-200m double next summer.

A first career win over Gatlin in Zurich would mark a nice start to that year-long journey.

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

12:15 p.m. — Women’s Triple Jump
12:45 — Men’s High Jump
12:50 — Men’s Pole Vault
1:05 — Women’s Javelin
1:40 — Women’s Shot Put
2:04 — Women’s 400m
2:13 — Men’s 800m
2:23 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
2:41 — Women’s 200m
2:45 — Men’s Long Jump
2:48 — Women’s 1500m
2:55 — Women’s Javelin
3:02 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
3:13 — Men’s 100m
3:21 — Men’s 5000m
3:44 — Men’s 400m Hurdles

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s Pole Vault — 12:50 p.m. ET
The top eight men in the world this season, including the Olympic champion (Thiago Braz of Brazil), world champion (American Sam Kendricks), European champion (Louisiana-raised Swede Mondo Duplantis) and the world-record holder (Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie). Kendricks has been the strongest over the season, winning four of seven Diamond League meets and breaking the American record at the USATF Outdoor Championships. Kendricks finished second, first and second in the Diamond League the last three seasons.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 2:23 p.m. ET
World champion Emma Coburn takes another crack at the Big Four of Kenyan steeplechasing — world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech and three other women ranked in the top six in history (Celliphine Chespol, Norah Jeruto and Hyvin Kiyeng). The only time Coburn has won a steeple that included any of that quartet was at those 2017 Worlds. But Coburn ranks third in the world this year and could eye Courtney Frerichs‘ American record of 9:00.85.

Women’s 200m — 2:41 p.m. ET
This field includes the Olympic champion (Elaine Thompson of Jamaica), the world champion (Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands), the fastest woman of 2019 (Thompson), the fastest of 2018 (Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain) and a woman who hasn’t lost anywhere in any distance in more than two years (Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas). The winner here likely becomes the world championships favorite, save Miller-Uibo, who is not expected to race the 200m at worlds since it overlaps with the 400m, where she is Olympic champion.

Women’s 400m Hurdles — 3:02 p.m. ET
The world’s five fastest this year headlined by Olympic champion and new world-record holder Dalilah Muhammad. Muhammad, who broke a 15-year-old world record at USATF Outdoors last month, eyes her third straight Diamond League Final victory. The competition includes Sydney McLaughlin, the only other woman to break 53 seconds in the last two seasons. Muhammad is the clear world championships favorite until proven otherwise.

Men’s 100m — 3:13 p.m. ET
The absence of Coleman, the world’s fastest man for three straight years, opens up this final. It figures to be close between Lyles and Gatlin. Either could supplant Coleman’s fastest time in the world this year of 9.81 seconds. It could well be Lyles’ last 100m until next spring.

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Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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