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Wayde van Niekerk rides record into Lausanne Diamond League; preview

APTOPIX Czech Republic Athletics Golden Spike

Wayde Van Niekerk from South Africa, competes to win the 300 meters men’s event at the Golden Spike athletic meeting in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Wednesday, June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)


Wayde van Niekerk set personal bests in the 100m, 200m and 300m in the last month. On Thursday, the South African races his first international 400m since breaking Michael Johnson‘s world record at the Rio Olympics.

Van Niekerk headlines a Diamond League stop in Lausanne, Switzerland, live on Thursday at 1:15 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold and 2 p.m. on NBCSN.

Van Niekerk is preparing for the world championships in London in August, when he is expected to race both the 200m and 400m. The only man to sweep both races at a worlds? Johnson in 1995.

Last Wednesday, Van Niekerk ran the fastest 300m of all time -- breaking Johnson’s record -- with a 30.81 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

On June 20, Van Niekerk lowered his 100m personal best to 9.94 seconds. He’s the only man to run sub-10 for the 100m, sub-20 for the 200m and sub-44 for the 400m. On June 10, Van Niekerk dropped his 200m personal best to 19.84 seconds, a national record.

The last month has certainly boosted hopes that Van Niekerk may be able to lower his 400m world record this year. That makes Lausanne a must-watch meet.

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

1:20 p.m. -- Men’s shot put
1:25 p.m. -- Women’s javelin
1:30 p.m. -- Women’s long jump
2:03 p.m. -- Women’s 400m hurdles
2:13 p.m. -- Men’s 1500m
2:23 p.m. -- Women’s 100m hurdles
2:25 p.m. -- Men’s pole vault
2:33 p.m. -- Women’s mile
2:44 p.m. -- Women’s 200m
2:45 p.m. -- Women’s high jump
2:54 p.m. -- Men’s 400m hurdles
2:55 p.m. -- Men’s triple jump
3:04 p.m. -- Men’s 5000m
3:20 p.m. -- Men’s 100m
3:30 p.m. -- Women’s 800m
3:40 p.m. -- Men’s 400m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 400m hurdles -- 2:03 p.m.
Every Rio Olympic medalist is in this field -- Americans Dalilah Muhammad and Ashley Spencer and Dane Sara Petersen. Plus 2015 World gold and silver medalists Zuzana Hejnova and Shamier Little.

Watch Muhammad. She is coming off winning the U.S. title in the fastest 400m hurdles race of all time -- three women under 53 seconds and six under 54, both unprecedented. Her time -- a personal-best 52.64 -- is .17 off Lashinda Demus’ American record.

Women’s 200m -- 2:44 p.m.
It looks like Elaine Thompson and Tori Bowie are skipping the 200m at worlds after taking gold and bronze in Rio. Bowie, in fact, was signed up for the 200m in Lausanne but recently withdrew.

In their absence, the Olympic second- and fourth-place finishers headline Thursday’s field -- Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers and Ivorian Marie Josee Ta Lou. They’re joined by Kimberlyn Duncan, who was runner-up at the USATF Outdoor Championships. They’re among those in world medal contention behind favorite Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the Olympic 400m champion who is not in Lausanne.

Men’s Triple Jump -- 2:55 p.m.
Double Olympic champion Christian Taylor headlines the strongest triple jump field since Rio. It includes all three Olympic medalists, the top three jumpers in the world this year and the top three all time among active athletes.

It will be a test for Taylor, who hasn’t lost internationally since May 2015 and is seeking his first undefeated season overall (USATF Outdoors no-mark aside). In their last three meetings, Taylor edged countryman Will Claye by six, 11 and 10 centimeters, respectively.

Men’s 100m -- 3:20 p.m.
Justin Gatlin needs a win here to be considered a world championships medal favorite. The other London contenders -- Usain Bolt, Andre De Grasse, Yohan Blake and Christian Coleman -- are not in this field. But Gatlin does face South African Akani Simbine and Ivorian Ben Youssef Meite, who finished fifth and sixth in Rio, and surprise U.S. bronze medalist Chris Belcher.

Gatlin ran 9.75 at this meet two years ago at the peak of his post-doping ban career. But he has been slow this season, impacted to some degree by a leg injury. Gatlin has one sub-10 to his name in five wind-legal races this season, but at least it came in his most recent outing, when he won the national title. The 35-year-old could be ramping up for worlds.

Men’s 400m -- 3:40 p.m.
Van Niekerk should have no problem here. His top rivals -- LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James -- and the fastest men this year -- Fred Kerley, Gil Roberts, Steven Gardiner -- are not in Lausanne. What’s left are the USATF Outdoors fifth- and sixth-place finishers (Tony McQuay and Michael Cherry) and Olympic fourth-place finisher Machel Cedenio of Trinidad and Tobago.

Van Niekerk memorably ran 43.03 in Rio. His best time in four 400m races this year (all in South Africa in March and April) was 46.28 seconds, which ranks him near No. 200 in the world in 2017, according to Given Van Niekerk’s more recent form in shorter sprints, he should challenge the world’s top time this year, Kerley’s 43.70.

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