Shaunae Miller

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U.S. stars face doubts at Pre Classic; broadcast schedule

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In Rio, the U.S. failed to win a single gold medal in the 100m, 200m and 400m for the first time in 40 years.

If the early track season is any indication, the climb back to the top of the podium at the world championships in August will be a major challenge.

American sprinters size up against international competition at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday (NBC and NBC Sports Gold, 4-6 p.m. ET). Coverage from the Diamond League meet in Eugene, Ore., starts with distance races Friday night (NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold, 11-midnight ET).

The deepest race is the women’s 200m, which features the top two U.S. sprinters in Tori Bowie and Allyson Felix. The field includes every 2016 Olympic 200m medalist — Elaine ThompsonDafne Schippers and Bowie — plus Rio 400m gold and silver medalists Shaunae Miller and Felix.

The Jamaican Thompson and Bahamian Miller already look ready to win their first world titles in August.

Thompson crushed Bowie in a 100m two weeks ago, 10.78 seconds to 11.04. Miller ran 49.77 to win a 400m at the same meet, the fastest time of 2017 by a significant .27 of a second.

Bowie has the fastest 200m time in the world this year at 22.09, but Miller has run a wind-aided 21.90 and Thompson clocked 22.19 into a strong headwind.

Then there’s Felix, whose scant race experience in 2017 consists of a 4x400m leg in April and a 100m last Saturday. She has plenty to prove at Pre, at 31 years old and coming off an injury-plagued 2016.

Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt carried U.S. men’s sprinting the last Olympic cycle, but they are 35 and 30 years old, respectively.

The Rio 100m silver medalist Gatlin in particular is showing his age this season, reportedly while coming back from minor April injuries.

He has raced twice, clocking 10.14 and 10.28 seconds over 100m, the slowest he has been since the early stages of his comeback from a four-year doping ban in 2010.

In Eugene, Gatlin faces 22-year-old Canadian Andre De Grasse, billed by many as the top challenger to Usain Bolt in the 100m and Wayde van Niekerk in the 200m at worlds in August.

Merritt, who owns seven 400m medals from the Olympics and worlds, is the top seed in Saturday’s 400m, but he ranks No. 6 in the world this year with a best of 44.78 seconds. Merritt has a history of faster times at Pre (44.39, 44.51, 43.97 and 44.32 the last four years).

Eugene start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

FRIDAY
10:34 p.m. — Women’s javelin
10:37 — Women’s long jump
11:06 — Women’s 800m
11:14 — Women’s 1500m
11:25 — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
11:41 — Women’s 5000m

SATURDAY
3:40 p.m. — Men’s pole vault
3:44 — Men’s triple jump
4:03 — Women’s 400m hurdles
4:08 — Women’s high jump
4:13 — Men’s 5000m
4:33 — Women’s 100m hurdles
4:41 — Men’s 110m hurdles
4:50 — Women’s 100m
4:56 — Women’s shot put
5 — Men’s international mile
5:09 — Men’s 400m
5:16 — Women’s 800m
5:24 — Men’s 100m
5:32 — Women’s 1500m
5:45 — Women’s 200m
5:52 — Men’s Bowerman Mile

Here are five Saturday events to watch:

Men’s pole vault — 3:40 p.m. ET

The phenom of the early season is 17-year-old Swede Armand Duplantis, a Louisiana high school junior whose mother is from Sweden. Duplantis, owner of the highest outdoor clearance in the world this year, makes his Diamond League debut in Eugene.

He does it against every medalist from the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, led by Rio gold medalist Thiago Braz and world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie. Saturday’s winner likely becomes the world championships favorite.

Men’s 5000m — 4:13 p.m. ET

Mo Farah hasn’t lost a 5000m since the 2013 Pre Classic. His 10-meet winning streak is on the line against Rio silver and bronze medalists Paul Chelimo (USA) and Hagos Gebrhiwet (Ethiopia). A Who’s Who of challengers Farah has previously vanquished get one more shot at him before Farah’s final world championships on the track in London in August.

Men’s 110m hurdles — 4:41 p.m. ET

This field features the last two Olympic champions — Jamaican Omar McLeod and American Aries Merritt — and 2013 World champion David Oliver.

But the most intriguing name is Devon Allen, the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials winner and former University of Oregon wide receiver. Allen, who has given up football for now, came back from a September torn ACL earlier this month and ranks No. 5 in the world for 2017.

Men’s 100m — 5:24 p.m. ET

Justin Gatlin and Andre De Grasse will hope this showdown doesn’t yield the dud of their meeting in Doha on May 5. Back then, the Gatlin-De Grasse winner was poised to become the biggest threat to Usain Bolt at worlds in August. But Gatlin was fourth an De Grasse fifth in Qatar, throwing doubt on both sprinters.

Nobody else in the Pre field looks like a world championships medal contender. Bolt debuts in his last season June 10, while the absent South African Akani Simbine has broken 10 seconds six times in seven races this year, including beating Gatlin and De Grasse in Doha.

Women’s 200m — 5:45 p.m. ET

The reigning Olympic 100m, 200m and 400m champions are in the same field for the second time in recent history (2012 Olympic 200m final). Thompson has to be the favorite. She hasn’t lost a 100m or 200m since last June and dusted the Olympic silver medalist Schippers by .26 in Doha three weeks ago.

Watch for Felix, as her result may go into determining if she attempts a double at worlds in August. Felix has a bye into the worlds 400m as the defending champion, meaning she will race the 100m and/or 200m at the U.S. Championships. Should she finish top three at nationals in either sprint, she will then determine which race(s) she enters at worlds.

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Wayde van Niekerk gets his wish as world championships schedule changed

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The 200m first rounds at August’s world track and field championships have been moved one day earlier to accommodate requests from Olympic 400m champions Wayde van Niekerk and Shaunae Miller‘s federations.

Both Van Niekerk and Miller have said they hope to race both the 200m and 400m at worlds in London. Van Niekerk specifically requested the schedule be changed to allow more time between the races but said it wasn’t a requirement for him to attempt the double.

The original schedule had the men’s and women’s 200m first rounds and 400m finals during the same afternoon, separated by about 2 1/2 hours each.

Now, the 200m first rounds will take place on the day between the 400m semifinals and final.

It’s unknown if American Allyson Felix has eyes on contesting both the 200m and 400m at worlds. Felix had those aspirations one year ago — the Olympic schedule was similarly modified at her request — but she missed the U.S. team in the 200m by .01 at the Olympic Trials, slowed by an ankle injury.

Even with the absence of Usain Bolt, the 400m world-record holder Van Niekerk could be an underdog in the 200m at worlds. His personal best — 19.94 seconds — would have ranked No. 9 in the world last year.

Miller’s best in the 200m — 22.05 — ranked No. 5 in the world in 2016 behind Olympic medalists Elaine ThompsonDafne Schippers and Tori Bowie and Felix.

The full worlds schedule is here.

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Matthew Centrowitz beaten at Millrose Games; American records fall

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NEW YORK — Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz felt heavy and sluggish. Rio teammates Courtney Okolo and Ajee’ Wilson were anything but, breaking American records at the Millrose Games on Saturday evening.

Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first American to win an Olympic 1500m since 1908, finished seventh in a two-mile race at the historic indoor meet in Manhattan. He never challenged for the lead in an event won by veteran Ben True.

“I felt pretty heavy; I felt pretty sluggish,” Centrowitz said. “I think it was maybe 4:08, 4:09 at the mile, and it felt like we were going a lot faster than that.”

Afterward, Centrowitz’s coach, three-time New York City Marathon winner Alberto Salazar, told the runner that he might have worked him too hard in training the last week.

“I’m not out of shape,” said Centrowitz, who clocked 8:21.07 after winning the mile race at Millrose the previous two years. “Maybe coming back from Rio, or maybe I’m sort of tired from the workouts in my legs the past week and a half.”

Meanwhile, True clocked 8:11:33 to notch one of the biggest wins of his career and complete a unique New York trifecta. In 2015, True became the first American man to win a Diamond League 5000m, at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York. He also won the 2015 Healthy Kidney 5K road race in Central Park.

“It’s something special,” said True, a Maine native. “I’m a New England and a Boston fan for cities, but I’ve had some incredible luck down here in New York City for races.”

Full Millrose Games results are here. Americans are preparing for the U.S. Indoor Championships in three weeks (with coverage on NBC Sports).

In other Millrose events, U.S. Olympians Okolo and Wilson broke the American indoor records in the 500m and 800m, respectively.

American Eric Jenkins and the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan won the meet’s prestigious mile races.

In the pole vault, Greece’s Katerina Stefanidi held off American Sandi Morris to repeat their Rio one-two finish.

Shaunae Miller, the Bahamian who dived at the finish line and beat Allyson Felix in the Olympic 400m, won the women’s 300m against a field that included U.S. Olympians Ashley SpencerNatasha Hastings and Sydney McLaughlin. Miller then said she still hopes to race both the 200m and the 400m at the world championships in London this summer.

In the 60m hurdles, Olympic champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica prevailed in his first competition since Sept. 1. McLeod said one of his goals this year is to enter the same 100m race as countryman Usain Bolt for the first time. McLeod’s personal best in the 100m is 9.99 seconds.

Canadian Olympian Phylicia George won the women’s 60m hurdles, edging American Sharika Nelvis.

Rio long jump gold medalists Jeff Henderson and Tianna Bartoletta each finished sixth in 60m sprints won by Dezerea Bryant and Clayton Vaughn.

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