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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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Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

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