Usain Bolt

Video: Usain Bolt wins 100 meters in season’s best in return to London Olympic Stadium

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Usain Bolt was two tenths slower than at the same track last year, but 9.85 was plenty good enough to win the 100 meters at the London Anniversary Games on Friday.

Bolt came from behind, passing 2003 world champion Kim Collins and American Mike Rodgers midway through the race to deliver victory at London Olympic Stadium in his first appearance there since winning triple gold at the 2012 Games.

It marked a season’s best for Bolt, who appears to be coming into form leading into Moscow, where he will attempt to take back his world title in the 100. Bolt false-started out of the 100 at the 2011 worlds.

Rodgers, slated to replace Tyson Gay on the U.S. roster at the world championships in two weeks, placed second in 9.98. Jamaican Nesta Carter was third in 9.99.

Bolt’s biggest competition come worlds, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Justin Gatlin, was not in the field in London on Friday. Gatlin, who beat Bolt in Rome earlier this season, is the only other man going to worlds who has run sub-9.9 this year. 

But Bolt’s 9.85 on Friday bettered Gatlin’s season’s best of 9.89, And he did it without a very good start. There’s little doubt Bolt, now a bigger favorite going into worlds, will get faster in the next two weeks.

“I had a bad start … it’s not the best part of my game but I did OK,” Bolt told the BBC, according to Reuters. “If I’m in good shape I always think I’m going to do well. My start was poor and I need to work on that. To make a perfect race I need to make a good start and just get in to the race. Hopefully I can make a good time at Moscow and continue to do well.”

Bolt is expected to run again tomorrow in the 4×100 relay. Others in action Saturday are London Olympic champions Allyson Felix (200), Mo Farah (3,000), Jessica Ennis (100 hurdles) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (100).

Usain Bolt enters Olympic Stadium on rocket/missile

Here’s a rundown of the other events at the Diamond League meet:

Women’s 1,500: Mary Cain, 17, spent the first 1,450 meters in the back of the pack of a slow-paced, tight race before moving up on the final straight to finish fifth in her senior European debut in 4:09.77.

Kenyan Mary Kuria won in 4:08.77. Cain has run 4:04.62 this year, but her second-place time at a steamy nationals, 4:28.76, came in an incredibly slow overall final.

Cain was in last place in a field of 15 after the second and third laps against less-than-stellar competition. But Cain, who trains under Alberto Salazar, surely came into this meet focused on worlds preparation first and foremost.

“I got a little too overwhelmed in the start,” Cain told Flotrack. “I came in fifth in the end, which actually isn’t that bad. … You’re not always going to have a good race. I can learn from this now, recup. Now I know, hey, Moscow, I don’t just walk into the final and get some medal.”

Men’s 200: Jamaican Warren Weir, the Olympic bronze medalist, confirmed his status as a medal favorite at worlds by pulling away off the turn to win in 19.89 (+.2).

Is it a time that will worry his training partner Bolt? No. Bolt has run 19.73 and 19.79 this year.

Fellow Jamaican Jason Young, who did not make the worlds team, was second in 19.99, and American Wallace Spearmon was third in 20.18. Spearmon should replace Tyson Gay on the worlds team in the 200 when the official roster comes out.

It appears the three Americans — Isiah YoungCurtis Mitchell and, likely, Spearmon — will be among those fighting for bronze behind Bolt and Weir in Moscow.

Men’s 400: World and Olympic champion Kirani James had no problems with rival LaShawn Merritt not in the field.

James, of Grenada and the University of Alabama, didn’t panic at American Tony McQuay‘s blistering start and won in 44.65, a pedestrian time for him this season.

McQuay was within a step of James coming off the last turn and clocked a 45.09, well off his 44.72 and 44.74 from nationals. Still, he earned second place while clearly focusing on a fast opening 200 on Friday. The University of Florida product has a shot at bronze in Moscow.

Notable: The men’s high jump provided epic theater, with Ukrainian Bohdan Bondarenko outlasting U.S. Olympic silver medalist Erik Kynard, 2.38 meters to 2.36. Bondarenko went after Javier Sotomayor‘s world record of 2.45, failing on two attempts at 2.47 meters. … Americans Nick Symmonds (season’s best 1:43.67) and Duane Solomon (1:44.12) went a clear 1-2 in the 800. Solomon remains the world leader (1:43.27) with world-record holder David Rudisha out of worlds with a knee injury. Solomon and Symmonds could medal at worlds. … Olympic champion Jenn Suhr (4.73) took second in the pole vault to Olympic silver medalist and world leader Yarisley Silva (4.83) of Cuba. They’re moving toward a showdown with Olympic bronze medalist Yelena Isinbayeva at worlds. The Russian Isinbayeva, a two-time Olympic champion, has announced she will step away from the sport after Moscow. … American Brenda Martinez won the 800 in 1:58.19. Martinez, second to Alysia Montano at nationals, became the first woman to go sub-1:59 three times this year, according to IAAF. Between her and Montano, we could see the first U.S. medal at worlds in the event ever. … American Shannon Rowbury posted the fastest time in the world this year to win the 3,000 meters in 8:41.46, leading a 1-2-3 U.S. finish ahead of Gabriele Anderson and Molly Huddle. Of course, the 3,000 is not part of the world championships program. Rowbury is prepping to run the 5,000 at worlds.

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World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

Ashley Caldwell will win or lose Olympic aerials gold with triples

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — As a teenager, Ashley Caldwell never had problems hanging with the boys when it came to doing the biggest flips off the aerials ramp. Now in her 20s, she sees no reason for that to change.

Caldwell will make or miss her third U.S. Olympic team, then potentially win or lose the gold medal in South Korea, by doing triple flips off the kicker while most of the women are doing doubles. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition that sets the bar high, and sends a certain message, regardless of whether she finishes first or last.

“It’s not just about trying to be there by myself,” Caldwell says. “It’s about maybe inspiring some younger girls to say, `I should be able to push to whatever I’m capable of doing, not necessarily what people say my gender is capable of doing.”‘

Caldwell never shirked from joining the teenage boys when they started moving to the bigger kickers and adding an extra flip to the doubles they did as kids.

Triples are the price of admission for the men, and while not unheard of among the women, the list of athletes who will try them is short: Jacqui Cooper, Alla Tsuper and Xu Mengtao are among the few who have tried them over the years. They’re also among the best to ever fly off a ramp.

At the Sochi Olympics, Lydia Lassila of Australia became the first woman to land a quadruple-twisting triple flip on snow in training. The next night, she brought it to the medals round, and though she touched her hand to the ground on the landing, she won a bronze medal anyway and stole the headlines.

“That’s who I’m inspired by,” Caldwell said that night. “She’s trying to push the sport so that girls are jumping like the boys, and she’s doing it, and it’s really impressive.”

At freestyle world championships earlier this month, Caldwell sent her message when she became the first woman to cleanly land that same triple-flipping, quadruple-twisting jump in competition (video here).

“It was the first time I had every coach come up to me and shake my hand before the score even came up,” said Todd Ossian, who works with Caldwell as head coach of the U.S. aerials team.

And yet, Caldwell was oh-so-close to not being able to even try that winning jump.

Aerials competitions go through a series of qualifying and elimination rounds that include only one jump each. Consistency is rewarded, and most women train a variety of double flips to make it through the rounds, then bring out their most intricate jump – more often than not, also a double – for when the medals are awarded.

Caldwell doesn’t go that route. She tries triples every time she steps onto the hill.

It adds extra – some might say unnecessary – risk to the early rounds. When the field was being cut from 12 to nine at world championships, for instance, Caldwell didn’t land her triple flip. She was able to squeak into the top nine and advance only because her degree of difficulty for the triple was so high.

“I’m OK sacrificing some good competition results to increase my consistency on the triple,” says Caldwell, giving a nod to the reality that training days on snow are precious and she needs to use them to focus on the jumps she’ll be performing when the contests start.

The recently ended season tested the limits of how much Caldwell was willing to sacrifice. In meet after meet, from Moscow to Minsk to an Olympic test event in South Korea, difficulties with the triple kept her far away from the podium. In the World Cup standings, Caldwell finished 10th.

To her, that’s more a badge of honor than a sign of failure. In a sport that oddly transforms daredevils into conformists, and rewards consistency over risk-taking, Caldwell plans to keep pushing anyway.

In doing triples, her mission is as much about winning as bringing others along for the ride.

“I want the crowd to feel like they know who won,” Caldwell said. “I want it to be impressive. I just want people to say, `That’s sweet. That’s what’s deserved.’ If a lot of girls are doing triples up there and I fall, there would still be a lot of girls who would do well. I’m cool with that. If I mess up, that’s OK. But I want the sport to look good.”

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