Usain Bolt set for test in last race before world championships
Usain Bolt‘s four-year winning streak, and his unbeatable aura, are definitely on the line Friday in his last race before the world championships.
Bolt headlines what should be the final Diamond League meet of his career in Monaco, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold at 2 p.m. ET.
Bolt goes in the 100m at 3:35 p.m. It’s his third race of the season, but the first against decent competition.
Bolt clocked 10.03 and 10.06 to win two June races, marking his slowest ever start to a summer, then said he would visit a doctor about his usual back tightness.
In Monaco, Bolt will very likely need to break 10 seconds to extend a win streak of more than 20 100m and 200m races since June 6, 2013. If he loses, Bolt will likely go into his farewell world championships in three weeks as an underdog.
The Monaco field he faces includes two of the five fastest men in the world this year -- South African Akani Simbine and American Chris Belcher -- and four men overall who have broken 10 seconds in 2017.
It does not include the medal favorites for worlds next month -- Jamaican Yohan Blake, Canadian Andre De Grasse and Americans Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin.
Bolt’s slow times this season are reminiscent of 2015, when he struggled to win a June 200m race and then pulled out of two early July meets with a leg injury. But Bolt returned four weeks before worlds to show medal-worthy form for the first time in nearly two years. He then edged Gatlin by .01 at worlds.
Few are pressing panic on Bolt this season like they were two years ago. For one, Bolt has shown he can overcome injury and slow times to win each of the last two years. Second (maybe more important), every other 100m star has doubts right now (different than 2015, when Gatlin was lighting the world on fire).
Here are the Monaco entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):
1:30 p.m. -- Men’s Pole Vault
1:55 p.m. -- Men’s Javelin
2:03 p.m. -- Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:15 p.m. -- Men’s 1500m
2:20 p.m. -- Women’s High Jump
2:25 p.m. -- Men’s 400m
2:35 p.m. -- Women’s 800m
2:45 p.m. -- Women’s 200m
2:45 p.m. -- Women’s Triple Jump
2:55 p.m. -- Men’s 800m
3:05 p.m. -- Women’s 100m Hurdles
3:15 p.m. -- Women’s 3000m
3:35 p.m. -- Men’s 100m
3:45 p.m. -- Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
Here are five events to watch:
Men’s 1500m -- 2:15 p.m.
Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz and world champion Asbel Kiprop go head to head for the first time since August in what should be a world championships preview. All four Kenyans on the world team are in this race, including the two fastest men in the world this year -- Timothy Cheruiyot and Ronald Kwemoi.
Centrowitz, the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, finished seventh in two international races since taking runner-up at the USATF Outdoor Championships. He may still be rounding into form after a series of ailments had him considering pulling the rip cord on his season a month ago.
Women’s High Jump -- 2:20 p.m.
U.S. champion Vashti Cunningham takes her third crack at world champion Maria Lasitskene of Russia this season. Lasitskene is the only woman to clear two meters this year, which she has done 11 times, with six failed attempts at a world record to boot, according to Tilastopaja.org.
Cunningham, the 19-year-old daughter of NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, has blossomed into the world No. 2 jumper this year. A personal-best clearance in Monaco would make her the eighth American woman to clear two meters.
Women’s 800m -- 2:35 p.m.
The deepest field of the meet features the eight fastest women in the world this year. Olympic champion Caster Semenya hasn’t lost an 800m since September 2015. Olympic silver and bronze medalists Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui haven’t lost to anybody outdoors other than each other and Semenya in the same span.
U.S. champion Ajee’ Wilson may be in form to disrupt all that. She ran her fastest time since 2014 to win the national title. Now, she faces the world’s best for the first time since bowing out in the Rio semifinals.
Women’s 100m Hurdles -- 3:05 p.m.
The six fastest in the world this year go here, including world-record holder Keni Harrison and 2012 Olympic champion Sally Pearson. With Rio Olympic champion Brianna Rollins suspended for missing drug tests, this is close to a world championships preview field.
Harrison hasn’t lost since shockingly missing the Olympic team. She is the only woman to break 12.40 seconds this year with a top time of 12.28. That’s not surprising. Pearson, meanwhile, was a revelation in their last meet, clocking 12.48 seconds in London on July 9, her fastest time in five years.
Men’s 100m -- 3:35 p.m.
In two 100m races this year, Bolt spotted unaccomplished sprinters marginal leads out of the blocks, caught them, but could not break 10 seconds despite giving pretty close to full effort.
Bolt will likely lose if he repeats either of those races Friday.
Akani Simbine of South Africa has broken 10 seconds a total of eight times in 11 tries this year, though his best time without the benefit of altitude is 9.99.
American Chris Belcher has a best of 9.93 this year, but that came on the notoriously fast track in Eugene, Ore. Belcher hasn’t broken 10 seconds elsewhere. This is his first career Diamond League race and only his second meet outside the U.S.
Brit C.J. Ujah has won three Diamond League races this year, including running 9.98 into a slight headwind in Rabat, Morocco, on Sunday.
There is also Omar McLeod, who makes this race the first time reigning Olympic 100m and 110m hurdles champions face off since 1998, according to Tilastopaja. McLeod has rarely raced the 100m, but does have a personal best of 9.99 with the maximum allowable tailwind from April 2016.
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