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Michael Norman owns spotlight at Stockholm Diamond League; TV schedule

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Back on April 20, Michael Norman clocked the sixth-fastest 400m in history (43.45 seconds) and the fastest-ever both for somebody so young (21 years old) and this early in a calendar year. With that, he earned the right to utter the number 42.

“Running sub-43 is one of my goals,” Norman said last week. “Given how the season’s progressing, how deep the competition is around the world, I feel like running sub-43 is going to happen if not this year, then the following year.”

Norman actually doesn’t appear to have much competition at the moment. He races roommate Rai Benjamin at Thursday’s Diamond League meet in Stockholm (2 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold), but Benjamin’s primary event is the 400m hurdles.

World-record holder Wayde van Niekerk voiced the same 42-second goal for most of the time since he won the Rio Olympics in 43.03. But the South African has competed just once since the August 2017 World Championships. He missed all of 2018 after tearing a meniscus and ACL in an October 2017 celebrity tag rugby match. This week, Van Niekerk could not give a specific answer when asked to name his next race.

Likewise, 2012 Olympic champion and Rio silver medalist Kirani James raced just three times in the last two years. James, diagnosed with Graves’ disease, said last month that he hoped to return to competition later this season.

So Norman, for now, owns the spotlight.

“The 400m improvement was a shocking thing to me,” he said last week, after lowering his personal best from 44.6 to 43.45 in the last year. Nobody else has bettered 43.62 since van Niekerk broke Michael Johnson‘s record in Rio.

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

10:30 a.m. — Men’s Shot Put
10:30 — Women’s Shot Put
11 — Women’s Pole Vault
12:25 p.m. — Women’s Discus
1:35 — Men’s Long Jump
1:40 — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 400m
2:08 — Women’s High Jump
2:11 — Women’s 1500m
2:22 — Men’s 200m
2:30 — Women’s 5000m
2:52 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
2:56 — Men’s Discus
3:02 — Men’s 800m
3:15 — Women’s 800m
3:30 — Women’s 200m
3:40 — Men’s 1500m
3:52 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
4:05 — Men’s 10,000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Discus — 12:25 p.m.
Olympic and world champion Sandra Perkovic makes her season debut against the Rio silver and bronze medalists. The Croat has lost just five times at Diamond League meets since the start of 2012, but Perkovic was beaten by Cuban Yaime Perez in two of her last three meets of 2018, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Men’s Long Jump — 1:35 p.m.
Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarria returns to the scene of one of the viral moments of the 2018 season, when he nearly jumped out of the pit in Stockholm. The 20-year-old hasn’t competed outdoors on the top international level since, only adding to the intrigue of Thursday’s showdown with Olympic champion Jeff Henderson and world champion Luvo Manyonga of South Africa. No man has jumped within eight inches of the world record since Mike Powell set it in 1991.

Men’s 400m — 2:03 p.m.
Norman has beaten Benjamin in all five of their head-to-heads, according to Tilastopaja. That includes that April 20 race in California, where Norman ran 43.45 and Benjamin was a distant second in 44.31. If Norman can go faster in Stockholm, he’ll break a tie with 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner and become the fourth-fastest man in history behind van Niekerk, Johnson and Butch Reynolds. But the four fastest times in history were all clocked in August. Norman has four more months until he plans to peak at the world championships.

Women’s 200m — 3:30 p.m.
Olympic champion (Elaine Thompson) vs. world champion (Dafne Schippers) vs. fastest woman of 2018 (Dina Asher-Smith) vs. U.S. champion (Jenna Prandini). The Brit Asher-Smith has to be the favorite given she was the only woman to break 22 seconds last year (21.89) and owns the world’s fastest time this season.

Men’s 1500m — 3:40 p.m.
All three Ingebrigtsen brothers are in this event. As are the current kings of the mile — Kenyans Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah ManangoiJakob Ingebrigtsen, youngest of the Norwegian siblings at age 18, is already the youngest sub-four-minute miler in history. Last year, he ran a 3:52 mile at the Pre Classic and then swept the European 1500m and 3000m titles. But only once has an Ingebrigtsen bettered Cheruiyot or Manangoi in a race of any distance (Filip Ingebrigtsen placing fifth to Manangoi’s 10th at the 2016 Diamond League Finals 1500m), according to Tilastopaja.

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Caster Semenya, hurdles showdown headline Diamond League opener

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Caster Semenya races internationally for the first time since last week’s IAAF testosterone announcement at the season-opening Diamond League meet in Doha, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold on Friday.

Live coverage begins at 11:15 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold’s “Track and Field Pass” (commercial-free) and noon on Olympic Channel. NBCSN will air coverage Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

Semenya, the Olympic 800m champion, is entered in the 1500m in Doha against a field lacking any of the other top seven finishers from the 2016 Olympics or 2017 Worlds. Semenya took 1500m bronze at last year’s worlds.

Semenya has not commented publicly on last week’s IAAF announcement that women with high testosterone must reduce those levels by Nov. 1 or will not be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile. South Africa’s Olympic Committee said Semenya, whom track officials mandated undergo gender testing in 2009, is expected to be affected by the ruling.

While Semenya is the standout name in Doha, several other events feature stronger head-to-head matchups, including reigning Olympic and world champions.

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

11:10 a.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
11:15 — Women’s Discus
11:50 — Men’s Triple Jump
Noon — Men’s High Jump
12:03 — Men’s 400m
12:13 — Women’s 1500m
12:26 — Women’s 100m
12:35 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
12:50 — Men’s Javelin
12:53 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
1:02 — Men’s 1500m
1:15 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
1:25 — Men’s 800m
1:36 — Men’s 200m
1:45 — Women’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 1500m — 12:13 p.m. ET
Semenya has two defeats in about 20 international meets since the start of 2016, according to Tilastopaja.org. It would be a shock if she gets a third here. Semenya owns the two fastest times of the year in her complementary event. None of the other star 1500m runners — like Olympic and world champion Faith Kipyegon (pregnancy), Olympic and world medalist Jenny Simpson (racing the 3000m in Doha) and world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba — are in this field.

Women’s 100m — 12:26 p.m. ET
Four of the top five sprinters from the 2017 World Championships, missing only gold medalist Tori Bowie. Watch Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, whose only 100m defeat since the start of 2016 came at the 2017 Worlds. But the Jamaican was fourth this year in the world indoor championships 60m and the Commonwealth Games 200m.

Men’s Javelin — 12:50 p.m. ET
Probably the strongest Doha field at the top with the top four from the 2017 World Championships. Germany has the reigning Olympic champion (Thomas Roehler) and world champion (Johannes Vetter), who combined for the top six throws in the world last year. Last year in Doha, Roehler recorded the world’s farthest throw in 20 years, only to see Vetter go farther two months later.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — 1:15 p.m. ET
The five fastest Americans over the last 13 years are in this field — world-record holder Kendra Harrison, 2016 Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, Sharika NelvisJasmin Stowers and 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson. It’s the third time these five women will race together. McNeal races internationally for the first time since leading a U.S. sweep in Rio and then sitting out all of 2017 for missing three drug tests (though never failing one). Harper-Nelson races for the first time since announcing she will retire at the end of the season. Harrison’s only defeats since the start of 2016 were at the Olympic trials and world championships.

Men’s 200m — 1:36 p.m. ET
An intriguing group including surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada, Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod, promising American Noah Lyles and Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago. With Usain Bolt retired and Wayde van Niekerk absent and coming off a knee tear, there is no clear-cut king of the 200m at the moment.

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Emma Coburn leads shocking U.S. steeplechase one-two (video)

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The U.S. distance running boom in one image:

Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs clearing the final barrier and dashing to the 3000m steeplechase finish line at the world championships. Behind them, four gassed Kenyan-born runners unable to keep pace.

Coburn and Frerichs went one-two in one of the biggest shocks at a surprise-filled worlds in London. It’s the first time Americans earned gold and silver in an individual Olympics or worlds race longer than 400 meters since the 1912 Stockholm Games.

“Am I dreaming? Am I dreaming?” Frerichs repeated to Coburn.

Coburn, a bronze medalist in Rio as part of a dazzling U.S. team distance effort, emerged Friday from the greatest field in the event’s history to become the first American woman to take steeple gold at the Olympics or worlds.

“I thought, on a perfect day, I can sneak on the podium and get third,” said Coburn, who switched coaches to her fiancé after grabbing one of seven U.S. distance medals in Rio (most since 1912). “As we all know, I came in ranked sixth on time  [in the world this year], ranked fifth of people in the final.”

Coburn clocked 9:02.58, taking five seconds off her American record. Frerichs, 11th in Rio, also went under the existing American record in 9:03.77. Frerichs chopped 15 seconds off her previous best time.

“I didn’t even expect a medal to be a possibility,” she said.

Coburn and Frerichs embraced and dropped to the track together as the Kenyan-born women trickled in. A truly shocking image.

“I don’t think it’s family friendly what I said to Courtney,” Coburn said. “Holy guacamole is the PG version.”

As recently as four years ago, the U.S. put nobody into the 15-woman worlds final, while Kenyans and Ethiopians grabbed the first six places. In 2014, the East Africans let Coburn run away with a Diamond League victory in Shanghai, reportedly thinking she was a pacemaker.

By Rio, the U.S. had medal contenders in both steeplechases and at every distance. Americans came home with medals in the 800m (first since 1992), 1500m (first gold since 1908), 3000m steeplechase (first since 1984), 5000m (first since 1964) and marathon.

Steeplechase is the most recent surge.

Evan Jager took silver in Rio, in addition to Coburn’s bronze. Before Jager, the U.S. went 15 years without a top-10 in the men’s steeple at worlds and the Olympics.

The women’s steeple only recently joined the Olympic and worlds program (2008 and 2005). Before Coburn, the U.S. had a best finish of fifth in an Olympic or world women’s steeple.

“We’ve been through the ringer, and it just takes a few years before you really get out there feeling like it’s your race,” Coburn said. “I can’t totally explain why Team USA is crushing, but I think consistency has a lot to do with it.”

Kenyan Hyvin Jepkemoi took bronze Friday after getting silver in Rio, continuing that nation’s steeple medal streak, but her countrywomen struggled. The last time a Kenyan man or woman failed to make an Olympic or world steeple podium was 1987.

“I did all I could to win that race,” Jepkemoi said, according to the IAAF, “but they were stronger.”

Olympic champion and world-record holder Ruth Jebet of Bahrain (formerly Kenya) faded badly on the final lap. She gave up the lead at the bell and ended up 11 seconds behind Coburn in fifth.

Kenyan 18-year-old Celliphine Chespol, who in May ran the second-fastest time ever despite stopping to fix her shoe, faded behind the top five on the penultimate lap. She ended up sixth.

Another Kenyan, Rio fourth-place finisher Beatrice Chepkoech, momentarily forgot the first water jump and had to retrace her steps. She recovered for fourth place but could not match the final sprints of Coburn and Frerichs.

In other events, Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers repeated as world 200m champion in 22.05 seconds. She edged Marie-Josee Ta Lou by .03. The Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller-Uibo took bronze. The field lacked Olympic and world 100m champions Elaine Thompson and Tori Bowie, who skipped the event.

Brittney Reese won her fourth long jump world title with a 7.02-meter leap. Reese, who bagged every global title from 2009 through 2013, tore a hip labrum in late 2013. She failed to make the 2015 Worlds final. She considered retiring, “plenty of times.” But Reese came back to win the 2016 World Indoor title and a silver medal in Rio.

On Friday, Reese prevailed by two centimeters over Darya Klishina, the only Russian track and field athlete allowed into Rio, who competed in London as an authorized neutral athlete as her nation is still banned due to its poor anti-doping record.

On the back of her bib, Reese had written “RIP Paw Paw” in remembrance of her grandfather who died last month.

“My grandfather is the reason why I’m in track,” she told Lewis Johnson on Olympic Channel. “I put his name on my bib to have him close to my heart.”

Rio gold medalist Tianna Bartoletta snuck in for bronze by one centimeter with her last jump. Serbian Ivana Španović appeared to leap greater than seven meters on her final attempt, which could have gotten her gold, but was given a 6.91-meter mark. It appeared the bib on her back came unhitched and grazed the sand ahead of the rest of her body.

World-record holder Keni Harrison nearly missed the 100m hurdles final, hitting the first hurdle with her lead leg in her semi. She was the last qualifier into Saturday’s eight-woman final by one hundredth of a second.

Harrison, from a family of 11 children, is undefeated since shockingly missing the Rio team by placing sixth at the Olympic Trials.

Rio gold medalist Brianna Rollins is not at worlds, suspended after missing three drug tests in the last year.

All of the favorites advanced to Sunday’s women’s 800m final. That field is led by Caster Semenya, who earned 1500m bronze on Monday and hasn’t lost an 800m in nearly two years.

Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, eyeing his fourth straight world title, led the men to advance into Sunday’s 1500m final. Rio gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz was last in his first-round heat Thursday.

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