World track and field championships: 5 men’s events to watch

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Five men’s events to watch at the world track and field championships that begin Friday in Doha, airing live daily on NBC Sports (TV/stream schedule here) In addition, NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of every event over the 10-day meet….

100m (Final: Saturday)
2016 Olympics: Usain Bolt
(9.81), Justin Gatlin (9.89), Andre De Grasse (9.91) 
2017 Worlds: Justin Gatlin
(9.92), Christian Coleman (9.94), Usain Bolt (9.95)
2019 Rankings: Christian Coleman (9.81), Noah Lyles (9.86), Divine Oduduru (9.86)

An event that appeared clear-cut five weeks ago was shaken a bit early this month. Coleman, the world’s fastest man in 2017, 2018 and 2019, was cleared in a case of missed drug tests but still had to sit out what would have been his last two prep meets. He last raced at the USATF Outdoor Championships on July 28. Still, Coleman is a clear favorite in part due to a lack of competition.

Lyles, the only man to beat him this year, is racing solely the 200m at worlds. The silver-medal favorite a month ago, 37-year-old defending champion Gatlin, pulled up while grabbing his leg for the second time this season on Sept. 3, though his manager reportedly deemed him OK. With Bolt retired, Jamaica is likely to miss the podium for the first time since 2003.

400m Hurdles (Final: Monday)
2016 Olympics: Kerron Clement
(47.73), Boniface Mucheru Tumuti (47.78), Yasmani Copello (47.92)
2017 Worlds: Karsten Warholm (48.35), Yasmani Copello (48.49), Kerron Clement (48.52)
2019 Rankings: Karsten Warholm (46.92), Rai Benjamin (46.98), Abderrahman Samba (47.27)

The oldest world record in men’s track is under threat. Kevin Young‘s mark from the 1992 Olympics — 46.78 seconds — could be broken by any of the three fastest men in the world this year — the Norwegian Warholm, the American (formerly Antiguan) Benjamin and the Qatari Samba. This event sped up incredibly in this Olympic cycle. The winning time in Rio was the slowest for an Olympic final since 1984. Warholm’s winning time two years ago (in the rain) was the slowest in world championships history.

In the last two seasons, Warholm, Benjamin and Samba combined to clock five of the nine fastest times in history, pushing Edwin Moses from the second-fastest man ever to No. 5. The home-favorite Samba is the wild card, having not cleared hurdles in competition since May 18 due to injury.

Pole Vault (Final: Tuesday)
2016 Olympics: Thiago Braz
(6.03), Renaud Lavillenie (5.98), Sam Kendricks (5.85)
2017 Worlds: Sam Kendricks
(5.95), Piotr Lisek (5.89), Renaud Lavillenie (5.89)
2019 Rankings: Sam Kendricks
(6.06), Piotr Lisek (6.02), Mondo Duplantis (6.00)

The marquee field event with stars from around the globe. Kendricks, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, has been the most consistent this Olympic cycle, capped by breaking the American record at USATF Outdoors two months ago.

Duplantis, the 19-year-old, Louisiana-raised Swede, is 3-3 head-to-head against Kendricks this year, according to Tilastopaja.org. The world-record holder Lavillenie from France has been slowed by injury, failing to win a top-level competition since July 2018.

200m (Final: Tuesday)
2016 Olympics: Usain Bolt
(19.78), Andre De Grasse (20.02), Christophe Lemaitre (20.12)
2017 Worlds: Ramil Guliyev
(20.09), Wayde van Niekerk (20.11), Jereem Richards (20.11)
2019 Rankings: Noah Lyles
(19.50), Michael Norman (19.70), Divine Oduduru (19.73)

Lyles might be the biggest favorite among all events in Doha. The only man to beat him since he finished fourth at the 2016 Olympic trials is Norman, who is only contesting the 400m at worlds.

Coleman is entered here, too, but is stronger in the 100m and will likely have already raced three rounds of that event before the 200m starts. How close can Lyles get to Bolt’s world record 19.19? That 19.50 from July 5 was into a slight headwind.

1500m (Final: Sunday, Oct. 6)
2016 Olympics: Matthew Centrowitz
(3:50.00), Taoufik Makhloufi (3:50.11), Nick Willis (3:50.24)
2017 Worlds: Elijah Manangoi
(3:33.61), Timothy Cheruiyot (3:33.99), Filip Ingebrigtsen (3:34.53)
2019 Rankings: Timothy Cheruiyot
(3:28.77), Jakob Ingebrigtsen (3:30.16), Ronald Musagala (3:30.58)

The only men’s flat race featuring the reigning Olympic champion. Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion since 1908, faces a major obstacle to his first world title: Cheruiyot. The Kenyan’s 1500/mile record over the last two years, via Tilastopaja: 16 wins, three runners-up in 19 meets. The only defeats were to Manangoi, who is out of worlds with a reported ankle injury.

The Norwegian 19-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who ran a 3:52 mile at age 17, is a medal favorite after finishing second to Cheruiyot in the Kenyan’s last three Diamond League meets.

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TRACK AND FIELD WORLDS: TV Schedule | U.S. Roster

Carreira, Ponomarenko understand the depth of U.S. ice dance at nationals

Carreira and Ponomarenko
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GREENSBORO, N.C. Heading into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro this week, up-and-coming ice dancers Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko focused on their “quads” not four-revolution jumps, but still pretty tough to execute.

“(Our coaches) have us doing double run-through weeks, triple run-throughs, even quadruple run-throughs, to make sure we’re fully ready,” Carreira said. “We’re drilling a lot more, so at nationals we go in 100 percent confident.”

Pasquale Camerlengo, who trains the team along with primary coach Igor Shpilband, agreed that the run-up to Greensboro has been grueling for the skaters from Novi, Mich.

“We always plan a week we call the quads, performing (programs) four times,” Camerlengo said. “We’re trying to make them ready physically and work their stamina, to handle their programs in competition, which is a little bit different than in practice. Physically, they’re ready for it.”

Tough practices are just one component of what’s been a challenging but productive sophomore senior season for the two-time world junior medalists, fifth in the U.S. in 2019.

Thus far, they’ve competed at six international competitions, stretching from Lake Placid, N.Y., in August to NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, in late November. Six is a lot, considering other top teams they’ll compete against in Greensboro have competed three to five times so far this season.

“Igor wants to get more experience at the senior level, and also more world points,” Carreira, 19, said. “For that we have to compete. We get out there and compete as much as we can, so our programs feel more trained.”

Those programs – a rhythm dance to Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot” and flamenco free dance to “Farrucas” – stretch their abilities far more than last season’s routines. Competing every two weeks or so left little time to make adjustments, so the past six weeks were the key to their preparation for Greensboro.

“We pushed a lot of changes we needed to make until after NHK, to smooth out the programs and really train them,” Ponomarenko, 18, said.

He added that the grueling first half of 2019-20 was a necessary ice dance rite of passage.

“It’s very different from our first season. We really didn’t know what to expect. Now we kind of know where we’re at and how we can improve. We definitely feel the sophomore slump this year, but we just want to compete and keep putting our good performances.”

On paper, Carreira and Ponomarenko’s 2018 Grand Prix results – which included a bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup – look more impressive than the sixth-place finishes they earned at Skate America and NHK this season. But the skaters don’t think the placements tell the full story.

“Last season, results-wise, it might have looked better, because a lot of (top) teams took the Grand Prix season off last season,” Carreira said. “This season, I feel our programs are more difficult and we’re skating better. We want to improve our consistency so that we can compete with the top teams.”

It doesn’t take much to lose points in an ice dance routine, especially on step sequences and “twizzles,” a series of fast rotations moving across the ice. A few slips here – including a small mistake on their twizzles in the rhythm dance at Skate America – can easily drop teams out of the top group.

“They always have the feeling they could do more,” Camerlengo said. “But the season is a progression. They’re getting better and better. That’s the goal, to have them (be) more reliable.”

“They need to do what they’re capable of,” he added. “They just have to do what they’ve learned, with no fear, and just go for it.”

In Greensboro, Carreira and Ponomarenko will have to throw caution to the wind to grab one of the three U.S. ice dance spots at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal this March.

With Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, very likely battling for gold, the Michigan skaters have their sights set on bronze. It’s a herculean task, considering the reigning U.S. bronze medalists, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and notched career-best scores at Skate Canada this fall.

All three of those teams train together in Montreal. 

But Carreira and Ponomarenko think their programs, strengthened by adjustments and all of those quadruple run-throughs, give them a fighting chance.

“(A bronze medal) is more realistic now than last season,” Carreira said.

“I believe we’ve really grown as skaters,” Ponomarenko said. “Our programs are much more difficult, which has really helped us improve. I believe the podium at nationals is very reasonable. It could be achieved with some good skating.”

Other teams could be in the mix. Last season, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter placed a strong fourth, but injuries forced them to withdraw from one of their Grand Prix events this fall. A new pairing, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, has gelled quickly, winning two medals at Challenger Series international events.

“The level of U.S. ice dance level is high, the depth in the U.S. is really the top worldwide,” Camerlengo said. “But the podium, it is reasonable for Christina and Anthony. They have been working hard and they have a very good level to fight for the medal. We’ll see how they will perform here. They’re ready for it.”

Not all of the team’s challenges are on the ice. The Montreal-born Carreira – who has lived and trained in Novi since she was 13 – faces hurdles gaining her U.S. citizenship, without which the couple cannot compete at the Olympics. Last May, she petitioned U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be deemed an “alien with extraordinary ability” under the immigration code, which would help smooth the way for legal permanent residency status. She was denied and filed suit against the USCIS, later dropping the action.

Carreira is still working to achieve a pathway to U.S. citizenship and prefers not to discuss the issue.

“I can’t really say anything,” she said. “We’re working on it, we’re hoping for the best.”

Citizenship issues never entered the skaters’ minds when they teamed up in the spring of 2014. Ponomarenko and his parents, 1988 Olympic ice dance champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, had long admired Carreira’s skating. When he and his former partner Sarah Feng split after the 2014 U.S. Championships, he tried out with Carreira in Novi.

“We really worked well together from the beginning,” Ponomarenko said. “I had wanted to skate with Christina for a really long time even before getting together, so it was no-brainer. The bump in the road (citizenship) can be worked through.”

“There were so many good factors it would be, I think, stupid to let something that can be fixed get in the way of (our partnership),” Carreira said. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The ice dance competition in Greensboro kicks off with the rhythm dance on Friday afternoon, with medalists decided with the free dance on Saturday night.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Coronavirus forces Olympic soccer and boxing qualifiers to move

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Olympic qualifying events in two sports were moved from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday because of an outbreak of a deadly viral illness.

A four-nation Asian qualifying group for the women’s soccer tournament was switched from the city at the center of the health scare to Nanjing.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifying tournament scheduled for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan was cancelled. No new plans were announced.

The decisions followed Chinese health authorities telling people in Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

The Asian Football Confederation said the round-robin group — featuring host China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand — will be played on Feb. 3-9, retaining the same dates, in Nanjing.

More than 500 people have been infected and at least 17 killed since the outbreak emerged last month. The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. All involve people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

In the soccer qualifiers in China, two teams advance to a four-nation playoff round in March. That will decide which two teams from Asia join host Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

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