Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt vs. Justin Gatlin; Diamond League Zurich preview

Leave a comment

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?

Karen Chen breaks U.S. Champs scoring record; Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold trail

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY — A skater broke the U.S. Championships women’s short program scoring record Thursday night, but it wasn’t Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold.

Karen Chen, a 17-year-old former junior star who struggled the last two years, tallied 72.82 points at the Sprint Center to lead going into Saturday’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Mirai Nagasu, a 2010 Olympian, is second, .87 of a point behind.

That leaves Wagner and Gold, who combined to win the last five U.S. titles, in third and fifth, respectively.

This is concerning for Wagner (1.88 behind Chen) and Gold (7.97 behind) given U.S. Figure Skating can send three women to worlds in two months. That selection will be made this weekend, primarily — but not totally — based off U.S. Championships results.

Tessa Hong is in fourth place, but at 14 years old is too young for senior worlds.

Full results are here.

Though Wagner and Gold are usually higher placed, the biggest surprise was Chen.

“My body’s still trembling right now,” she said, two hours after her performance.

Chen skated a clean program Thursday, rare for her in the last couple of seasons. Chen burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little has been heard from Chen since.

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

“Everyone has doubts, and I certainly do as well,” said Chen, who choreographed her short program. “But I just kept pushing and telling myself that I’m gaining more experience, I’m learning about everything in the process and I’m just going to keep getting better.”

Wagner bounced back from her last outing — her worst Grand Prix finish in 25 career starts — with a decent program. She needed to save a double Axel near the end of her short. The 2016 World silver medalist was the pre-event favorite.

“People do not understand how difficult of a position I am in,” said Wagner, a 25-year-old bidding to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years. “It might seem like I’m on top of the world, or second from being top of the world, but this is a very tough position to be in. It’s mentally been weighing on my shoulders all season. To be able to come out and show people I am a fighter, I’m really proud of that.”

Gold needed to show a fighting spirit given her well-publicized disaster of a fall season. And she did. Her only miss in the short program was doubling a planned triple flip.

“I can feel a huge improvement as a skater. I think everyone can see it,” Gold said. “I have made comebacks before. This doesn’t feel like a major comeback in some ways, because I felt pretty solid. … A long program is worth a lot of points, and I can certainly deliver some good long programs. I kind of feel like I’m due for a good one.”

If Gold doesn’t improve in the free skate, she could be left off the worlds team for the first time in her senior career. However, Gold believes her strong credentials in recent seasons merit consideration.

“We’ve seen different controversies where people aren’t on the [nationals] podium, and they’re still selected for events,” Gold said. “Michelle Kwan has not gone to nationals and been selected for an Olympic team [in 2006]. I believe that I deserve to be on the world team, but I’m not on the selection committee. Of course, every athlete feels like they should be on the world team.”

Earlier Thursday, the pairs short program produced surprise leaders.

The U.S. Championships continue Friday with the short dance and men’s short program. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss wants Russia out of PyeongChang

Women’s Short Program
1. Karen Chen — 72.82
2. Mirai Nagasu — 71.95
3. Ashley Wagner — 70.94
4. Tessa Hong — 65.02
5. Gracie Gold — 64.85

 

Gwen Jorgensen pregnant, to sit out 2017 triathlon season

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: USA's Gwen Jorgensen followed by Switzerland's Nicola Spirig Hug (L) compete in the running portion of the women's triathlon at Fort Copacabana during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016.(Photo by Jeff Pachoud-Pool/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen is pregnant and will not compete this year.

“Just kind of take this year a little bit easier,” Jorgensen said in a video posted on Facebook on Thursday.

The baby is due Aug. 3, according to Jorgensen’s social media.

Jorgensen, 30, became the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion in Rio after going in as the heavy favorite. She has said for months that she planned to take time off to have a baby before returning to defend her Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

Swiss Nicola Spirig, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2016 silver medalist, is reportedly expecting a child in May.

In Jorgensen and Spirig’s absences, the top triathletes going into the season are defending world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda, U.S. Olympians Katie Zaferes and Sarah True and Britons Vicky Holland and Helen Jenkins.

Jorgensen’s last competition was the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, when she finished 14th in her first running race longer than 10 miles.

The World Triathlon Series kicks off in Abu Dhabi the first weekend of March.

MORE: Triathlon federation boss wants Olympic races shortened