Usain Bolt

Will Usain Bolt be challenged in 100 meters at World Championships?

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On June 6, it appeared the men’s 100 meters at the World Championships would not be an open-and-shut case.

Justin Gatlin dealt Usain Bolt defeat that night in Rome, 9.94 seconds to 9.95, a punctuation to Bolt’s crawling pace to start the season.

At the time, Tyson Gay was the world’s fastest man for the year.

Yohan Blake was set to return from a hamstring injury two days later.

Hope floated that the 100-meter final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Aug. 11 could be a four-man race. At the least, somebody could step up to challenge the Jamaican legend. That hope is all but gone now.

Gay, the 2007 world champion and tied as the second fastest man of all time, told The Associated Press on July 14 that he failed a drug test in May. It’s since been reported he failed multiple drug tests this year. He’s out of the World Championships.

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Blake, the 2011 world champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist, continued to be plagued by hamstring problems as spring turned to summer. He pulled out of the World Championships two days after Gay’s drug test came to light.

“After the 2012 Olympics, I was telling people who weren’t into track and field, ‘Hold onto your popcorn because next year is going to be even more exciting. We’re going to have the same people,”‘ Gatlin told the AP. “Never in a million years would I think it would end up like this. I still think it’s going to be exciting.”

Gatlin followed up his 9.94 in Rome with a pair of 9.89s (one legal, one wind-aided) at the National Championships on June 21 and a 9.94 into a slight headwind in Monaco on July 19.

Bolt lowered his season’s best to 9.94 at the Jamaican National Championships on June 21 and then to 9.85 at the London Anniversary Games on July 26. Only Gay has run faster than 9.85 this year, and those times look like they could be erased.

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Now, 9.85 is a mortal time for Bolt, the six-time Olympic gold medalist whose world record from the 2009 World Championships is 9.58. It’s also an attainable time for Gatlin. The American bettered it three times last year, including a 9.79 in the Olympic final that earned a bronze medal, eight years removed from his Olympic gold and two years into his comeback from a doping suspension.

“Do I see him as a threat?” Bolt told Sport magazine. “I see everybody beside me as a threat.”

But the prevailing theory is that Bolt is capable of much faster than 9.85 come Sunday’s final. That Gatlin is not. Bolt has proven to post average times (for him) in the spring and early summer and then turn it on for major championships.

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“I want to be like Michael Jordan and the other greats,” Bolt said in Moscow, according to multiple outlets. “I want to set myself higher than the rest because I want to be among the greatest of all time and be discussed as someone great like Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali and Pele.

“I want to be among these guys, and if I want to be that I have to keep pushing myself regardless of who I am facing so that when I retire I’ll be remembered among the greatest sportsmen.”

In 2009, Bolt entered the World Championships with a season’s best of 9.79. He ran 9.58 to win the world title.

In 2011, Bolt entered the World Championships with a season’s best of 9.88. He was disqualified in the final of the World Championships for a false start, but he came back to run a 9.76 in September.

In 2012, Bolt came into the Olympics with a season’s best of 9.76. He won his second straight Olympic 100-meter gold in 9.63.

To give Gatlin credit, the gap between silver and bronze in Moscow might be even greater. After Bolt and Gatlin, two other men from the 2012 Olympic final are entered in Moscow. Neither Churandy Martina nor Richard Thompson have bettered 10 seconds this year.

The favorites for bronze start with Jamaican Nesta Carter, a longtime member of the nation’s 4×100 relay team who has struggled to overcome Bolt, Powell or Blake to qualify for individual events. Carter has run sub-10 five times this year, including a 9.87, and he’s the fifth fastest man of all time.

But his two major meet appearances in the 100 were failures. He didn’t make it out of the semifinals at the 2007 World Championships and jogged the final 10 meters for a 10.95 in 2011.

He didn’t even make the Jamaican team at trials, taking fourth, but got in when Blake withdrew.

Brit James Dasaolu came out of nowhere to clock a 9.91 in July. It made him the second fastest Brit ever, only trailing 1992 Olympic champion Linford Christie. There’s a lot of mystery about Dasaolu, given his personal best before this year was 10.09, and he hasn’t run since that 9.91.

Frenchmen Jimmy Vicaut and Christophe Lemaitre and American Mike Rodgers are also in the hunt.

World Track and Field Championships broadcast schedule

Schedule
Preliminary Round (Bolt has a bye): Saturday, 2:10 a.m. ET
Heats (Bolt’s debut): Saturday, 12:15 p.m. ET
Semifinals: Sunday, 11:05 a.m. ET
Final: Sunday, 1:50 p.m. ET

Medal Picks
Gold: Bolt
Silver: Gatlin
Bronze: Carter

Kerri Walsh Jennings’ next partner is a familiar one

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Kerri Walsh Jennings is slated to play with with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh this summer, after she and Olympic bronze medal teammate April Ross split last month.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion with Misty May-Treanor before that bronze in Rio, and Branagh, who made the Beijing Games quarterfinals with Elaine Youngs, are entered in an FIVB World Tour event in Croatia the last week of June.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are both 38 years old and briefly paired in 2010 when May-Treanor was uncertain about making a run for the London Olympics. When May-Treanor told Walsh Jennings she was all-in for London, Walsh Jennings split from Branagh.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are hoping to play together through the World Tour Finals in late August, according to Volleyball Magazine.

That includes the world championships in Vienna, Austria, in late July and early August.

It’s not known if they will have the combined ranking points to earn an outright worlds spot. They could also receive a wild card for worlds. Entries will be announced next month.

Walsh Jennings, a mother of three, has said she hopes to play in the 2020 Olympics at age 41, when she will be older than any previous Olympic beach or indoor volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

Branagh returned to competition this year after a one-year break to have her second child. She has played few international events since 2012 and last won internationally in 2010 (with Walsh Jennings).

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and 2009 World champion, is now partnered with Lauren Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat in Rio. Ross, 34, said she will figure out her long-term partner plans for Tokyo 2020 after this season.

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Catching up with Ross Powers

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Ross Powers, now 38 years old and 15 years removed from his Olympic snowboarding title, is still out with halfpipe riders on the snow five days per week.

The difference now is that Powers is coaching. He runs the snowboarding program at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he graduated from in 1997.

Powers spoke with OlympicTalk before last season, reflecting on 20 years of snowboarding in the Olympics, Shaun White and how he likes coaching.

OlympicTalk: The PyeongChang Winter Games will mark 20 years since snowboarding’s debut in Nagano. What was it like competing in the first Olympic halfpipe?

Powers (who won bronze in Nagano at age 19): It seemed kind of like a regular World Cup. We were up in the mountains. At the time, it was a really good halfpipe, but we ended up competing in some bad weather, some rain. I didn’t realize until I left Japan and got home how big the Olympics were. But looking back, it was a special time. And I really learned from the ’98 Olympics, like if I get this chance again, I’m going to go there, I’m going to do it all. I’m going to go to Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies, watch as many events as I can and just make the most out of the Games.

OlympicTalk: The Nagano halfpipe was about half the size of today’s superpipes (394 feet long with 11 1/2-foot walls vs. 590 feet with 22-foot walls in Sochi). Could today’s snowboarders compete with you guys back in 1998?

Powers: It was so different. At the time, I want to say it was the biggest pipe we rode, but compared to today’s standards, it’s small. The weather was tricky. I think a lot of those guys [today] could ride it, but it’s so much different than today’s halfpipe for sure.

OlympicTalk: In 2002, when you led a U.S. men’s halfpipe medal sweep, the rider who just missed the Olympic team was a 15-year-old Shaun White. What do you remember about him?

Powers: You kind of knew he was going to be the next guy. Where he took our sport and certain tricks. One thing that really impressed me about him is he’ll train really hard for an event, show up, even if the conditions are bad, he’s planned this trick he wants to do, and he’ll try it no matter what. Most of the time he’ll give it a go and land it. That actually hurt him in Russia [White attempted but couldn’t perfect the YOLO Flip 1440 in Sochi] because he probably could have stepped down a notch, gotten a medal and maybe even won the event.

OlympicTalk: Did Shaun ever beat you before you retired?

Powers: I had my run from 1998, ’99, ’00, ’01, all those times that I was doing really well. I tried to make the 2006 Olympics in Italy. I was the alternate, so I just missed that. He was definitely beating me up through those times.

OlympicTalk: Did you travel to the Torino Olympics as an alternate?

Powers: I did, yeah. I traveled over there and actually watched my buddy [Seth] Wescott win the gold in boarder cross. That night, he was like, you should try boarder cross. That kind of got me into doing that my next few years after that.

[Editor’s Note: Powers almost made the 2010 Olympic team in snowboard cross, even finishing third in a December 2009 World Cup.]

OlympicTalk: Which is tougher, coaching or competing?

Powers: I would say it is tougher coaching than competing. You just have so many responsibilities and so much work. The nice thing about coaching, though, compared to competing, is you can kind of push yourself and have fun [riding] on certain days but then also sit back and really work with the athletes on all other days. So when you’re feeling it, you can push yourself. So it’s not like an athlete, where you have to push yourself.

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