Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt vs. Justin Gatlin; Diamond League Zurich preview

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The World Championships are behind us, but there are still plenty of reasons to keep an eye on track and field. Foremost, the first of two Diamond League finals, Thursday in Zurich, Switzerland.

Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin will face off over 100 meters at 3:28 p.m. Eastern time on Universal Sports (full start lists here). Bolt beat Gatlin in the 100 at worlds earlier this month in his closest margin of victory in an Olympic or worlds final ever (.08 of a second). Gatlin handed Bolt a defeat in Rome in June by .01.

Bolt hasn’t raced a 100 since worlds, while Gatlin won a race into a slight headwind in rainy Linz, Austria, in 10.08 seconds Monday.

At a pre-meet press conference, Bolt reiterated what he’s been saying since 2012, that his plan is to enter three events at the Rio 2016 Olympics — the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay.

“For me, the key thing is just to go to defend my titles, and that’s my focus,” Bolt said, according to The Associated Press. “It would be the first time anybody has ever won three times in a row.”

Bolt and Gatlin are clear favorites in Zurich, as they were at worlds in Moscow. The Olympic silver medalist, Yohan Blake of Jamaica, is done for the season with a hamstring injury. The man with the fastest time this year, Tyson Gay, is out after failing multiple drug tests.

Don’t be surprised if Bolt goes faster than his season’s best 9.77 from the World Championships. That’s because he and other sprint stars have a history of posting fast times after worlds. In 2011, Bolt posted his season’s best 9.76 on Sept. 16. On that same day, Yohan Blake ran the second fastest 200 meters ever — 19.26. Bolt ran a meet record 19.66 in a 200 in Zurich last year.

Bolt spent Wednesday in Zurich, meeting FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who gave Bolt a ticket to the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro, according to Reuters.

Great meeting the president of FIFA today..@seppblatter #worldcup #football

A photo posted by Usain St.Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) on

Bolt, a soccer lover who wishes to play for Manchester United, also touched the World Cup trophy for the first time. Somebody in Zurich suggested to Bolt he go into sports administration after he retired.

“I have thought about it, I have to admit I’m slightly lazy, but we’ll see where it goes,” Bolt said, according to Reuters.

The rest of the field in Zurich is led by Jamaicans Nesta CarterKemar Bailey-Cole and Nickel Ashmeade and Americans Walter Dix and Mike Rodgers.

Other events to watch Thursday:

Men’s High Jump (2 p.m. ET): Ukrainian world champion Bohdan Bondarenko could take another shot at Javier Sotomayor‘s 20-year-old world record of 2.45 meters. Bondarenko tried and failed to better it at the London Anniversary Games in July and the World Championships earlier this month, where he won with a 2.41-meter jump.

Women’s 5,000 (2:13): Finally, we get to see the queens of distance running meet. Ethiopian world and Olympic champions Meseret Defar (5,000) and Tirunesh Dibaba (10,000) will go in the same race for the first time in competition in seven years, according to Agence France-Presse.

Women’s 200 (2:44): Triple world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is in the field. Can anyone beat her? American Olympic champion Allyson Felix is out with her torn hamstring. World silver medalist Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast will give it a shot.

Men’s 110 Hurdles (3:02): All four Americans from the worlds final are in the field, including world champion David Oliver and Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt. Merritt will be looking to make up for a disappointing sixth-place finish at worlds. Also Cuban Dayron Robles, the 2008 Olympic champion, is in the field after missing worlds.

Women’s 800 (3:10): Like Robles, Caster Semenya returns after missing the World Championships, A knee injury limited the 2009 world champion early in the season, and she failed to post a qualifying time for worlds.

Men’s 400 (3:20): LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James face off yet again. They’ve traded wins agains each other this year. Merritt took the world title in a personal-best 43.74, while James, the Olympic champion, finished a disappointing seventh.

Where is Jeff Demps?

Brazil’s best tennis player: ‘tough to dream’ of Rio Olympic medal

Thomaz Bellucci
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Thomaz Bellucci admits playing at a home Olympics brings at least some pressure.

“To well represent Brazil,” the Sao Paulo native clarified at the U.S. Open in New York last month. “It’s tough to dream about having a medal.”

The 27-year-old Bellucci is the only Brazilian tennis player, man or woman, ranked in the world top 50. He sits at No. 31, having this season reached his first ATP final since 2012 and winning it at the Geneva Open in Switzerland in May.

Brazil’s Olympic Committee set a target of 27 to 30 medals in Rio, after earning 17 at London 2012. The added glory likely won’t come from tennis, a sport in which a Brazilian has never stood on an Olympic podium.

“For the Olympics, I don’t feel too many pressure,” Bellucci said, “because even if I play in Brazil, I know there are many players more favored than me because [Roger] Federer‘s going to play, [Novak] Djokovic, all these guys have so much more pressure than me because they have more chance to have a medal.”

Olympic tennis gained greater significance on the busy tour calendars among top players with recent Games.

On the men’s side, every medalist from 2008 and 2012 had already reached at least one Grand Slam final in his career. That group of six included Federer (2012 silver), Djokovic (2008 bronze), Rafael Nadal (2008 gold) and Andy Murray (2012 gold).

But if Bellucci and the Brazilians look back, they can find unexpected, inspiring runs. In 1996, Brazil’s Fernando Meligeni came to the Atlanta Games ranked No. 95 in the world, having never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

The charismatic Meligeni, a lefty who sometimes played wearing his cap backwards, reached the final four in Stone Mountain, twice playing for a medal, and hitting a tweener on the penultimate point of his semifinal against Spain’s Sergi Bruguera.

He lost both medal-round matches, including the bronze match to Indian Leander Paes, who won the U.S. Open mixed doubles last month with another 1996 Olympic singles tennis player, Swiss Martina Hingis. Hingis is attempting to return to the Olympics next year for the first time since 1996.

In 2004, Chile’s Nicolas Massu won singles and doubles gold in Athens having never reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam in singles.

Bellucci debuted at the Olympics in 2008 and hasn’t won a single Games match. He rose from a No. 85 overall ranking in Beijing to No. 42 going into the London 2012 Olympics, where he forced then-Wimbledon semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to three sets. Bellucci and partner Andre Sa were the only doubles pair to take a set off Americans Bob and Mike Bryan at London 2012.

“Beijing I was very surprised, because I was very young and had no idea,” Bellucci said. “In London, I had a very tough draw against Tsonga. Let’s see if I can have more luck in Brazil to have a better draw.”

Not even the great Gustavo Kuerten could sniff an Olympic medal. The three-time French Open champion — the only Brazilian man to win a Grand Slam — couldn’t do better than the quarterfinals in 2000 and 2004.

The analysis of Bellucci in the scope of Kuerten, who is of a similar tall, thin build, has silenced in recent years.

“They used to say that when I was young, when I was starting to play well,” said Bellucci, whose four ATP titles came on Kuerten’s favorite surface, clay, while the Rio Olympic tournament will be on hard courts. “They want to compare me and Guga [Kuerten], but anyway they are not comparing anymore because Guga is so much bigger than me.”

As much as Bellucci tries to keep expectations low, he urges that his sport is one of the most popular in Brazil.

“I think soccer, for sure, is No. 1 and then volleyball is second and then tennis, I think,” he said. “I think we have more people playing tennis than volleyball because I think all the ages can play tennis.”

MORE TENNIS: Martina Hingis waits on Federer, Wawrinka to decide on Rio 2016

Oscar Pistorius’ family upset with delays in possible release

Oscar Pistorius
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SOMERSET WEST, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius‘ family criticized South African authorities on Tuesday for delays in deciding whether he should be released from jail and moved to house arrest, saying his rights were being “undermined” because of the publicity surrounding his case.

The family also reacted to parole officials’ recommendation that the double-amputee runner undergo psychotherapy, saying he was already receiving “regular and ongoing” psychotherapy from both his personal and prison psychologists.

The Pistorius family spoke out in a written statement after his early release — which had been granted in June — was canceled Monday and ordered to be reconsidered.

“This experience leaves us with the uncomfortable conclusion that the public, political and media hype that was allowed to develop around Oscar’s trial has undermined his right to be treated like any other prisoner,” Pistorius’ family said.

The family expressed concerns over the “legality” of canceling Pistorius’ release.

Pistorius was approved to be released on Aug. 21 after serving 10 months of his five-year manslaughter sentence for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. In a fairly common procedure in South Africa for offenders sentenced to five years or less, he would have been moved from jail after one-sixth of the sentence to serve the remainder under correctional supervision at home.

But the justice minister intervened two days before Pistorius was to leave jail and ordered a review on a legal technicality, saying the parole board met two months too early. After a seven-week delay, officials reviewing Pistorius’ case on Monday sent it back to that original parole board to consider all over again.

“We cannot understand … why the matter is now to be referred back to the parole board that has no reason to make a different decision from the one that was made in the first place,” the Pistorius family said.

MORE PISTORIUS: Pistorius’ top rival wants him to race again