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.

Track worlds clouded by doping issues, missing stars

“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

Tony Azevedo retires after 5 Olympics in water polo

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Tony Azevedo of the USA in action during the USA vs Italy Waterpolo group match at Julio de Lamare Aquatics Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
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Tony Azevedo is ending one of the greatest water polo careers in U.S. history, retiring after a record five Olympics at age 35.

Azevedo, the first American to play in five Olympic water polo tournaments, said it was a tough decision but a necessary one to spend time with his family — wife Sara and two kids, according to the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram.

“The traveling and everything for them would be too much,” said Azevedo, who has a 3-year-old boy and a girl born after the Rio Olympics. “It’s time.”

Azevedo was a teenage prodigy dubbed the “Kobe Bryant of water polo.” A ball boy at the 1996 Olympics, Azevedo made a list of about 13 goals as a “slow, fat, chubby kid” who wanted to start on his high school team.

He reached all of those goals except for one — a gold medal. Azevedo made his Olympic debut out of high school in 2000 and then helped lead the U.S. to silver at Beijing 2008, his lone Olympic or world championships medal in 13 combined appearances. He led the U.S. in goals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

“If anyone asks, am I going to miss the swimming? No. Am I going to miss the games? No. Are you going to miss the Olympics? No,” Azevedo said. “I’m going to miss those days of grinding with your teammates.”

Azevedo was one of the top U.S. stories of the Rio Olympics, since he was born in the Brazilian city and lived there for 23 days before moving to Southern California. Azevedo, whose father was a Brazilian national team member, played for a Sao Paulo club team for much of the past Olympic cycle.

The U.S. went 2-3 in Rio, failing to advance out of group play.

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MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

Five takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships

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Five thoughts after an unpredictable world alpine skiing championships, looking ahead to the Olympics … 

1. Expect Mikaela Shiffrin to be busier in PyeongChang

Shiffrin chose not to enter the super-G or super combined in the first week at worlds, in order to maximize her medal potential in the giant slalom and slalom in the final weekend. It paid off with silver and gold medals.

It seems unlikely that Shiffrin adopts the same, two-race slate in PyeongChang. The 2018 Olympic schedule has the giant slalom and slalom in the first week, followed by the speed events of super-G, downhill and super combined.

Consider also Shiffrin’s mindset going into St. Moritz.

“Right now, I’m going with [only giant slalom and slalom] because I just don’t think that I have quite enough experience in speed [events] to be able to count on winning a medal in those events yet,” she said. “But by the time we go to South Korea next year, maybe I could. I might be in a position where I can at least be in contention for medals in giant slalom, slalom, combined, super-G and maybe even downhill, only because nobody’s ever skied on that track before.”

The women get their first look at the 2018 Olympic venue with World Cup races in two weeks, a downhill and super-G. Shiffrin said before worlds that she planned to travel to South Korea for training but to leave before the races start. She wanted to prioritize the following week’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif.

What’s for sure is we can learn plenty about Shiffrin’s Olympic potential in speed events this weekend. She’s set to race at the World Cup stop in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, which is made up of two combineds and a super-G.

If Shiffrin enters all three events, it will bring her career World Cup start total in downhill, super-G and combined up to 10 races. Her best finish in her first seven starts was fourth in a super-G last month.

“I have a lot of goals there,” Shiffrin said of speed events after bagging her third straight slalom world title Saturday. “Hopefully, some day, I’d like to win in super-G and downhill, but I think it’ll take some time before I can do that consistently. It’s definitely a long road from here. I still feel like I just started.”

2. Lindsey Vonn must heal

Vonn made it clear at worlds that she wasn’t 100 percent recovered from breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash. Her right hand movement was so limited that she couldn’t put her hair in a ponytail, let alone comfortably grip a ski pole at 75 miles per hour.

After skiing out of the opening super-G, troubled by that hand, she duct-taped her glove to her ski pole, placed fifth in the super combined and third in the downhill. She said the bronze medal felt like gold given her latest injury comeback.

Vonn became the oldest woman to earn a world championships medal. In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest woman to earn an Olympic Alpine medal.

Vonn’s biggest hurdle is her own health. A smooth finish to the season, regardless of wins, and a normal offseason is key.

“I want to be in a position at the Olympics where I’m at my top form not just struggling to kind of make it back into the mix,” Vonn said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a different ballgame when I’m prepared.”

3. U.S. lacks young stars

Worlds went about to form for the entire U.S. team. Shiffrin and Vonn were the only medalists. No man placed in the top 10 for the first time since 1997.

Injuries and, especially, aging are the concerns.

Four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, out since November 2015 hip surgery, was on the team but didn’t enter any events. The top U.S. men on the World Cup in recent seasons, Ted Ligety and Steven Nyman, went out with season-ending injuries in January. Bode Miller, who has trained but not raced this season, was in the NBC Sports commentary booth.

All of them are 32 years and older. Maybe some summon one last Olympic medal surge next year, but what about after that?

Shiffrin is the only American younger than age 28 who owns a World Cup victory. U.S. men earned Youth Olympic and junior worlds gold medals last year, but they look destined for 2022.

4. Marcel Hirscher approaches Austrian legends

Hirscher was the best skier in St. Moritz, despite reportedly spending days in bed before his first race. He earned two golds and missed a third by .01 in the super combined.

Only Tony Sailer owns more individual world titles among Austrian men. Hirscher is en route to his sixth straight World Cup overall title this season, which no man from any country has accomplished.

He’s at 43 World Cup wins, 11 shy of the Austrian men’s mark held by Hermann Maier. At 27 years old, Hirscher ought to eclipse it.

But Hirscher’s résumé has a gaping hole — no Olympic gold medal. He was upset in the Sochi Olympic slalom by countryman Mario Matt. And there’s no certainty Hirscher will be a favorite in PyeongChang.

For years, he was the world’s second-best giant slalom skier behind the now-injured Ligety, who could reclaim the throne next season, though that is a tall order.

In slalom, young Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen has been neck and neck with Hirscher but had a poor worlds.

The super combined is the most unpredictable event, but even there Frenchman Alexis Pinturault has won six of the 11 World Cup races since 2013.

5. Surprises in St. Moritz

Most races provided surprise medalists.

In all five men’s events, either the gold or silver medalist had not won a World Cup race in at least two years (or, in three cases, never made a World Cup podium). Women’s medalists in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and the super combined had never won a World Cup race.

New names were going to emerge regardless, considering the list of recent stars not racing (retired Tina Maze, Ligety, Miller, Aksel Lund Svindal) and those who did compete but were slowed or forced out by injury (Vonn, Anna Veith, Gut).

More surprises could be in store in PyeongChang given, as Shiffrin said, it’s a new track for everybody.

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