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Five women’s events to watch at USATF Outdoor Championships

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As always, there are Olympic champions competing at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships this week. There are world-record holders, too. But the woman with the most buzz this season has neither of those accolades. Or even a single U.S. title.

She is Sydney McLaughlin, an 18-year-old who just turned professional after her freshman season at the University of Kentucky. McLaughlin’s breakout came in 2016, when she became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, making the 400m semifinals.

McLaughlin dropped to sixth at the 2017 U.S. Championships in perhaps the greatest 400m hurdles race ever. While three women in one race went sub-53 for the first time, McLaughlin lowered her personal best by .21. Her star did not fade as she moved from New Jersey to Lexington.

This year in NCAA competition, McLaughlin lowered her personal bests in the 200m, 400m and 400m hurdles (all by more than a second). The 400m hurdles time, fastest in the world this year by nine tenths, would have won the 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships.

She now ranks Nos. 54, 26 and 5 all time in the U.S. in those events. Perhaps the woman who reached anywhere near that versatility was Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who ranks No. 37 in the 200m and No. 43 in the 400m hurdles but never ran the 400m at her peak.

McLaughlin had her choice of events this week, and her decision might surprise. Five women’s events to watch in Des Moines:

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Entries | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

10,000m (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold)
American record holder Molly Huddle eyes her fourth straight national title in the 25-lap race, but the more intriguing entrant is Gwen Jorgensen. The Olympic triathlon champion announced in November that she was switching to the marathon with the ultimate goal of gold in Tokyo. Jorgensen, a 32-year-old mom, has yet to announce her first marathon since the switch (though she was 14th in the 2016 NYC Marathon on triathlon training). In her first outdoor track race in eight years, Jorgensen set a personal best in the 10,000m on March 30 in a time that would have ranked eighth among Americans last year. Reason to believe that another strong effort on Thursday could confirm that she is ready for a fall marathon.

1500m (Final — Saturday, 4:46 p.m. ET, NBC)
A strong field is headlined by a rematch between Jenny Simpson and Shelby Houlihan. Simpson, an Olympic medalist and world champion in the 1500m, saw the Olympic 5000m runner Houlihan pass her in the final strides of the Pre Classic 1500m on May 26. Simpson eyes her fifth straight national title in the 1500m. Houlihan is also entered in Sunday’s 5000m. Other contenders include Olympians Brenda Martinez and Kate GraceSara Vaughn, the mother of three who made the 2017 Worlds team, and Alexa Efraimson, a former high school phenom who turned pro at age 17 in 2014.

400m (Final — Saturday, 5:08 p.m. ET, NBC)
Sydney McLaughlin chose not to race her trademark 400m hurdles this week. Instead, she takes on a burgeoning crops of one-lap sprinters in her first race since turning pro. There’s Kendall Ellis, who ran that incredible 4x400m anchor leg at the NCAA Championships. Shakima Wimbley, a 23-year-old who took third at the Pre Classic behind the Olympic and world champions. And Courtney Okolo, who entered the 2016 Olympic Trials as the fastest American for the year and NCAA champion (and finished sixth) and won the world indoor title on March 3. The last two world champions, Allyson Felix and Phyllis Francis, are not entered.

100m Hurdles (Final — Saturday, 5:52 p.m. ET, NBC)
The U.S. is so deep in this event that it’s one of the headline acts despite lacking the women who swept the Rio Olympic medals (Brianna McNeal, Nia Ali, Kristi Castlin). This field still has a world-record holder (Kendra Harrison, the favorite), an Olympic champion (Dawn Harper-Nelson from 2008 in her last nationals before retirement) and a world champion (Kori Carter, gold medalist in the 400m hurdles last year).

Pole Vault (Sunday, 2:55 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold)
So long an event dominated by one vaulter. Not so much anymore. Olympic champion Stacy Dragila won nine of 10 national titles between 1996 and 2005. Olympic champion Jenn Suhr won 10 of 11 between 2006 and 2016. Sandi Morris since ascended with Olympic and world silver medals, plus her first national title in 2017. Suhr, 36, considered retirement last year but came back and cleared a personal-best outdoor height on April 14 and broke the Pre Classic meet record on May 26. Morris was third at Pre after missing training due to injury, then won the next two Diamond League meets. But Suhr still has the top clearance in the world this season.

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Cuban nearly long jumps out of sand pit with best mark in 23 years (video)

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Cuban 19-year-old Juan Miguel Echevarria unleashed the farthest long jump under any conditions in 23 years, leaping 8.83 meters (29 feet, 11 1/2 inches) at a Diamond League meet in Stockholm on Saturday.

It would have been the fifth-best jump of all time (Mike Powell‘s world record from 1991 is 8.95) if not for too much tailwind. Echevarria jumped with 2.1 meters/second wind in his favor. The maximum allowable tailwind for record purposes is 2.0 meter/second.

Echevarria must settle for having the farthest jump under any conditions since countryman Ivan Pedroso‘s controversial 8.96-meter jump at altitude in the Italian Alps in 1995 that would have been a world record. Italian media quickly questioned Pedroso’s jump, reporting a man standing in front of the wind gauge on the Cuban’s attempts.

There were 60 long jumps and triple jumps at that meet, and 56 exceeded the maximum allowable wind for record purposes. Three of the four legal jumps were Pedroso’s, including the “record” jump at 1.2 meters per second, according to 1995 reports.

Italy’s track and field federation didn’t even bother submitting the jump to the sport’s international governing body for world record ratification, given the circumstances.

STOCKHOLM: Full meet results

Back to Echevarria. He won the world indoor title on March 2 and on Sunday beat both Olympic champion Jeff Henderson from the U.S. and world outdoor champion Luvo Manyonga of South Africa.

The Diamond League takes a 20-day break before the next meet in Paris. The USATF Outdoor Championships are next for top Americans from June 21-24.

In other events Sunday, Olympic 100m hurdles champion Brianna McNeal clocked the fastest time since July 4, winning in 12.38 seconds. The field did not include world-record holder Kendra Harrison or world champion Sally Pearson of Australia.

Armand Duplantis, the recent Lafayette (La.) high school graduate who pole vaults for Sweden, beat world champion Sam Kendricks for the first time in seven head-to-heads. Duplantis cleared 5.86 meters, while Kendricks came in second at 5.81. World-record holder and 2012 Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie holds the best clearance in the world this year of 5.95, but the Frenchman wasn’t in Sunday’s field.

Jamaican Fedrick Dacres won a discus that included the top five men in the world this year. Dacres threw 69.67 meters, the world’s farthest mark since last June 29.

Bahamian Steven Gardiner, who ranks No. 2 in the 400m and No. 3 in the 200m this year, stumbled coming around the turn of the 200m and stopped, taking off his left shoe while being attended to. World champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey won in 19.92 seconds, shy of the 2018 world lead of 19.69 shared by South African Clarence Munyai and American Noah Lyles.

In the 1500m, American Jenny Simpson aimed for her first Diamond League win in three years, but nobody could hang with Ethiopian Gudaf Tsegay, who clocked a meet record 3:57.64 and won by .89 of a second over Brit Laura Muir. Simpson was fourth.

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Jenny Simpson’s opportunity in Stockholm; TV, stream schedule

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Jenny Simpson has 2016 Olympic bronze and 2017 World silver, but it’s been three years since she won a Diamond League race. Opportunity knocks in a familiar place on Sunday, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Simpson headlines a 1500m field in Stockholm that includes Olympic teammate Brenda Martinez and Brit Laura Muir.

NBC Sports Gold coverage starts at 9 a.m. ET and continues with NBCSN’s broadcast coverage at 10, capped by the women’s 1500m at 11:51 a.m.

Simpson knows Stockholm well. She won her first post-collegiate international race there in 2009, when she was a steeplechaser known as Jenny Barringer (though her Stockholm win was in the 5000m).

Then in 2014, Simpson won a Diamond League 1500m in Stockholm, beating a field including the world’s top runners — Genzebe DibabaAbeba Aregawi and Sifan Hassan, en route to the season title.

After ceding to U.S. Olympic 5000m runner Shelby Houlihan in the final 100 meters at the Prefontaine Classic two weeks ago, Simpson can reassert her 1500m prowess on Sunday.

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

7:25 a.m. ET — Women’s Pole Vault
9 — Women’s High Jump
9:20 — Men’s Long Jump
9:38 — Men’s Pole Vault
9:49 — Men’s 100m
10:03 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
10:11 — Women’s 800m
10:20 — Women’s 100m
10:30 — Men’s 800m
10:35 — Men’s Discus
10:40 — Men’s 5000m
10:45 — Women’s Long Jump
11 — Women’s 400m
11:15 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
11:30 — Men’s 1000m
11:40 — Men’s 200m
11:51 — Women’s 1500m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s Long Jump — 9:20 a.m. ET
Olympic champion versus world champion. South African Luvo Manyonga has won all five head-to-heads with American Jeff Henderson since Henderson edged him by one centimeter for gold in Rio, according to Tilastopaja.org. In fact, Manyonga has lost just once since Rio, indoors or outdoors, and has the two farthest jumps in the world this year. Henderson ranks No. 3 in the world this year, recording his best leap since 2015.

Men’s 400m Hurdles — 10:03 a.m. ET
The revelation in track and field so far this outdoor season has been Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba. The 22-year-old debuted in the 400m hurdles last year and is now ranked 14th all-time in the event, having clocked the fastest time in the world since 2010 (and backing it up with the next-two fastest times for the year). Here, Samba and world champion Karsten Warholm of Norway go head-to-head for the third time in 11 days. Samba relegated Warholm to second place in the previous races.

Men’s Discus — 10:35 a.m. ET
Deepest field of the meet? The top four finishers from 2017 Worlds and the top five men in the world this year. Lithuanian Andrius Gudzius, the world champion, has four of the top five throws of 2018. But Jamaican Fedrick Dacres beat him at the Rome Diamond League meet. Such is the state of Jamaican athletics that the nation has two of the top six discus throwers in the world this year versus one of the top 20 sprinters in the 100m and 200m combined.

Men’s 200m — 11:40 a.m. ET
The 200m was once dominated by the U.S. and Jamaica, which combined to win every Olympic medal in the event between 2004 and 2012 and 19 of the 24 world championships medals between 2001 and 2015. Times have changed. Eight men from eight different countries across four continents have broken 20 seconds so far this year. Three of them meet here, headlined by surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey and Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas, both chasing the world lead of 19.69 seconds shared by South African Clarence Munyai and American Noah Lyles.

Women’s 1500m — 11:51 a.m. ET
Simpson not only eyes her first Diamond League win in three years, but also her first track victory over a field including Muir since 2015. The 25-year–old Brit has emerged the last few seasons as a force in one of the sport’s deepest events. Muir was fourth at the 2017 Worlds, second at 2018 World Indoors (Simpson wasn’t in the field) and passed Simpson in the final strides for second behind Houlihan at the Pre Classic two weeks ago. Muir has been faster than Simpson in five of their last six meetings on the track.

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