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?

Yevgenia Medvedeva breaks record in Grand Prix Final short program

MISSISSAUGA, ON - OCTOBER 28: Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia competes in the Women's Singles Short Program during day one of the 2016 Skate Canada International at Hershey Centre on October 28, 2016 in Mississauga, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva broke the record for highest women’s short program score at the Grand Prix Final on Friday.

Medvedeva, who hasn’t lost in more than one year, totaled 79.21 points in Marseille, France. That beat Mao Asada‘s 78.66 from the 2014 World Championships, the previous record under a decade-old judging system.

“I knew approximately about the record,” Medvedeva said through a translator. “For me, it’s one step further.”

Medvedeva leads Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond by 3.67 points going into Saturday’s free skate. No U.S. woman qualified for the six-skater Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2008.

Medvedeva, 17, hopes to repeat as champion at the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual figure skating event.

She already holds the free skate world record and can break Yuna Kim‘s record for total score with a solid effort Saturday in Marseille. Medvedeva said she can perform better than she did Friday, specifically with her program interpretation and spins.

“I always strive for perfection,” she said through a translator. “When you stop doing that, you will stop progress.”

The Grand Prix Final concludes with the women’s and men’s free skates and free dance Saturday (schedule here). NBCSN will air coverage Sunday from 8:30-11 p.m. ET.

Earlier Friday, Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov held onto their short-program lead to win the pairs event by 7.14 points over China’s Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, the two-time world champions and pre-event favorites, struggled in the short program and free skate and lost for just the second time in the last three seasons.

In the short dance, Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir recorded the highest score of all time, an 80.50, to take a 2.53-point lead into Saturday’s free dance.

That Virtue and Moir lead is no surprise — they were the top couple in the fall Grand Prix season — but their closest challenger is a surprise.

It is not two-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, but instead Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani, who totaled a personal-best short dance.

MORE: Javier Fernandez builds toward last Olympic chance

Women’s Short Program
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 79.21
2. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 75.54
3. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 74.64
4. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 73.29
5. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 68.98
6. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 65.74

Short Dance
1. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 80.50
2. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 77.97
3. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 77.86
4. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 74.04
5. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 72.47
6. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 70.87

Pairs Results
GOLD: Yevgenia Tarasovana/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 213.85
SILVER: Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 206.71
BRONZE: Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 205.99
4. Natalya Zabiyako/Aleksander Enbert (RUS) — 188.32
5. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 186.85
6. Cheng Peng/Yang Jin (CHN) — 183.19

Gracie Gold’s outlook for U.S. Championships clouded after more struggles

Gracie Gold
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Gracie Gold struggled in all four of her competitions this fall, capped by her lowest total score in four years at a Croatian event this week, putting her under scrutiny for the U.S. Championships in six weeks.

She singled three jumps and fell twice across two programs at Golden Spin in Zagreb, Croatia, on Thursday and Friday.

Gold totaled 159.02 points for sixth place, her first time below 160 points since 2012 Skate Canada in her first season as a senior skater.

Italian Carolina Kostner, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, won with 196.23 points in her first full competition since the 2014 World Championships.

GOLD’S SKATES: Short Program | Free Skate

Earlier this fall, Gold finished last of six skaters in the free skate-only Japan Open on Oct. 1, fifth at Skate America in October and eighth at Trophée de France in November.

Gold has spoken openly about trying to mentally and physically recover from last season’s world championships, where she dropped from first after the short program to finish fourth, and taking weeks off from training in the summer offseason.

Even with the rough skates, Gold still ranks fourth among U.S. women in top scores this season, behind Ashley WagnerMariah Bell and Mirai Nagasu.

She could struggle — to a degree — at the U.S. Championships in January and still make the three-woman world championships team. Gold has finished first or second at all four of her senior nationals appearances.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Top U.S. women’s skaters in 2016-17
1. Ashley Wagner — 196.44 (Skate America)
2. Mariah Bell — 191.59 (Skate America)
3. Mirai Nagasu — 189.11 (Autumn Classic)
4. Gracie Gold — 184.22 (Skate America)
5. Amber Glenn — 183.60 (Golden Spin)
6. Courtney Hicks — 182.98 (Rostelecom Cup)