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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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Aries Merritt wins first Diamond League race since kidney transplant

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Aries Merritt won his first Diamond League 110m hurdles race since his 2015 kidney transplant in Rome on Thursday.

Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion, prevailed in 13.13 seconds while jetlagged.

It’s well off his world record of 12.80, but Merritt beat a decent field that included Rio silver medalist Orlando Ortega and the last two world champions, Sergey Shubenkov and David Oliver.

“I made many mistakes, hit a lot of hurdles today, but my speed is getting better,” Merritt said, according to the IAAF. “The time 13.13 is not that terrible in the end. After 2015, it was tough, but I am here, I am healthy, so I just need to stay focused and the results will come.”

Merritt is 21 months removed from a kidney transplant. He won bronze at the 2015 World Championships with kidney function at less than 20 percent. He missed the 2016 Olympic team by .01 at trials, 10 months after his transplant surgery.

Merritt ranks second in the U.S. this year behind Devon Allen. The top three at the U.S. Championships in two weeks qualify for the world championships in London in August.

Sprint favorites Andre De Grasse and Dafne Schippers also won in Rome, the first of three Diamond League meets in an 11-day span.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold will also air live coverage of Oslo (next Thursday and Stockholm (June 18), the last two meets before the U.S. Championships.

Full Rome results are here.

In other events Thursday, the Canadian De Grasse won the 200m, his first Diamond League victory of 2017. De Grasse, billed as the top challenger to Usain Bolt, impressively pulled away in 20.01 seconds.

De Grasse now ranks No. 6 in the world in the 200m this year. American Christian Coleman is the world leader at 19.85 seconds. Bolt said he’s not racing the 200m in his farewell season.

Dutchwoman Schippers won the 100m on Thursday in 10.99. Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, fastest in the world this year at 10.78, was not in the Rome field.

In the women’s 5000m, Hellen Obiri broke the Kenyan record with her winning time of 14:18.37. Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world-record holder, was sixth.

Rio triple jump champion Caterine Ibarguen of Colombia lost for just the second time in her last 42 competitions since her 2012 Olympic silver, according to Tilastopaja.org. Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas, who took silver to Ibarguen in Rio, edged her by six centimeters Thursday (14.84 meters to 14.78).

There were more upsets.

Rio gold medalist Michelle Carter was third in the shot put. Rio silver medalist Sandi Morris was sixth in the pole vault.

The men’s 100m lacked any individual Olympic or world medalists, but it still produced a surprise winner in Brit CJ Ujah. Ujah clocked 10.02 seconds, while Pre Classic winner Ronnie Baker was third in 10.05.

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Justin Gatlin, Andre De Grasse beaten in Diamond League opener

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South African Akani Simbine is looking like the biggest threat to Usain Bolt this season.

Simbine dusted the Olympic silver and bronze medalists, Justin Gatlin and Andre De Grasse, to open the Diamond League season in Doha on Friday. Bolt, in his final season, is expected to race for the first time since Rio on June 10.

Simbine clocked 9.99 seconds into a 1.2 meter/second headwind on Friday. Former world-record holder Asafa Powell was second in 10.08, with Gatlin fourth (10.14) and De Grasse fifth (10.21).

Full Doha results are here. NBCSN will air Diamond League highlights on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Simbine owns five of the eight fastest times in the world this year and has broken 10 seconds a total of six times. Nobody else has done it more than once. The 23-year-old has risen steadily the past few years, breaking 10 for the first time in 2015 and then finishing fifth in Rio.

Gatlin and De Grasse raced individually outdoors for the first time this year on Friday. They did not impress.

Gatlin, 35, finished outside the top three of a 100m for the first time since 2013. It also marked Gatlin’s slowest 100m time against a full field in a final since 2011, according to Tilastopaja.org.

De Grasse, 22, notched the second-slowest 100m final time of his two-year professional career. He looked much more impressive two weeks ago, overtaking Gatlin in an IAAF World Relays 4x100m heat anchor leg.

In other events, South African Caster Semenya eased to win a loaded 800m in 1:56.61, the fastest time in the world this year.

The Olympic champion Semenya and Rio bronze medalist Margaret Wambui pulled away in the final 100 meters. Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world-record holder making her 800m debut, faded behind them to fifth in 1:59.37.

Jamaican Elaine Thompson outdueled Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers in a matchup of the Rio Olympic 200m gold and silver medalists, 22.19 to 22.45 into a 2.3 meter/second headwind. Rio bronze medalist Tori Bowie, who was not in the Doha field, has the fastest time this year at 22.09.

In the javelin, Rio Olympic champion Thomas Roehler of Germany launched 93.9 meters, making him the No. 2 performer all time. Czech Jan Zelezny, the Olympic champion in 1992, 1996 and 2000, owns the world record (98.48) and the five best throws of all time.

The Diamond League continues in Shanghai on May 13, with live streaming coverage on NBC Sports Gold.

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