Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt recovers to beat Justin Gatlin in Zurich; Diamond League recap (video)

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Usain Bolt wasn’t dominant, but he didn’t need to be. The six-time Olympic champion came from behind, as usual, to beat a field that included Justin Gatlin at a Diamond League meeting in Zurich on Thursday.

Bolt won in 9.90 seconds, overcoming countryman Nickel Ashmeade (9.94) and Gatlin (9.96) over the final 50 meters. Bolt and Gatlin went gold-silver at the World Championships in Moscow earlier this month, where Bolt won in 9.77 to Gatlin’s 9.85.

“I wasn’t as fit,” Bolt told Swiss broadcaster SRF Sport. “The more the season goes, the more tired I get. … I’m just trying to get through the season injury free.”

Bolt’s reaction time — .186 — was the slowest in the field of nine. Ashmeade burst out in .123.

Bolt’s pre-race antics included a Bruce Lee-type display of hand-waving martial arts. After he won, Bolt threw his congratulatory flowers into the crowd, over his back wedding style, and signed autographs. Some fans held up a sign offering free chocolate to Bolt. It is not known if Bolt took them up on the request.

Bolt is expected to race in the Diamond League finale in Brussels, Belgium, on Sept. 6.

“I have to go and prepare, see what I can to do improve my start,” Bolt said.

Other notable results from Zurich:

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, just as dominant as Bolt in the women’s sprints, won the 200 meters with ease in 22.40. The field was missing Olympic champion Allyson Felix, out for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury. Murielle Ahoure, second to Fraser-Pryce at worlds, was second again in Zurich, in 22.66.

In the men’s 400, world champion LaShawn Merritt got the better of Grenadian rival Kirani James again, 44.13 to 44.32, as they went one-two.

American David Oliver backed up his world title by beating a world-class field again in the 110-meter hurdles despite getting hit with a piece of a broken hurdle from another runner. Oliver, who failed to make the 2012 Olympic team, crossed first in 13.12 seconds, leading a one-two-three U.S. finish with Ryan Wilson (13.24) and Jason Richardson (13.26) just behind. The Olympic champion and world record holder, Aries Merritt had another disappointing showing, getting sixth in 13.34, his same placement at worlds.

South African Caster Semenya, she of the gender controversy in 2009 and 2010, ran a season’s best in the 800 meters, 2:01.83, but it was only good enough for seventh. Semenya, the 2009 world champion, has battled injury this season and didn’t run a time fast enough to qualify for worlds.

World silver medalist Nick Symmonds won the 800 in 1:43.56. The race was missing Olympic champion and world record holder Kenyan David Rudisha and the man who clipped Symmonds in Moscow, Ethiopian Mohammed Aman.

In the women’s 5,000, Ethiopian Olympic and world champion Meseret Defar (14:32.83) held off countrywoman Tirunesh Dibaba (14:34.82), the Olympic and world champion in the 10,000, in what was reported to be the first time in seven years.

Ukrainian high jump world champion Bohdan Bondarenko won with ease, but he failed in an attempt to break Javier Sotomayor‘s 20-year-old world record for the third time this summer.

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Ashley Wagner eyes history at Grand Prix Final after ‘disaster’ in Japan

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner can next week become the first U.S. singles skater to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, but not if she performs like she did last weekend at NHK Trophy in Japan.

“NHK was a disaster,” the three-time U.S. champion said Tuesday, “but that was kind of a one-time deal.”

Wagner backed into the Grand Prix Final as the sixth and final women’s qualifier by finishing fourth at NHK Trophy on Saturday, snapping her streak of 10 straight podium finishes in Grand Prix events. She had won Skate Canada four weeks earlier.

The Grand Prix Final is the most prestigious annual figure skating competition outside of the World Championships and an event that Wagner calls a preview for Worlds (in Boston in late March/early April).

In Japan, Wagner had trouble cleanly landing and fully rotating jumps in both programs, and though she didn’t fall, her mental state was clearly shaken even before the free skate Saturday.

Japanese legend Mao Asada (one of three women to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, along with Irina Slutskaya and Michelle Kwan) skated immediately before Wagner.

The home crowd was at its loudest after Asada rebounded from her own poor short to move into the lead (temporarily, Asada finished third).

“I didn’t know how Mao had skated,” said Wagner, who was in third after the short program. “I figured I needed to at least get on the podium [to definitely make the Grand Prix Final], and I knew that I could probably afford a fourth place [to still make the Final]. I think that is where I went wrong. I should have just put my head down, started fresh and gone into that long program not focusing on, OK, well, I can get as low as this and I’ll make it to the [Grand Prix] Final. I think that didn’t really get me into the fighting spirit that I’m so used to competing with. When I focus on the results and not how I’m going to get there, it usually doesn’t go so well for me. It was a rookie mistake.

“I think I was playing it safe and trying to avoid making a mistake, and of course that’s exactly what I ended up doing.”

Wagner placed fifth in the free skate and fourth overall. She actually could have finished sixth overall and still made the Barcelona Grand Prix Final.

So she goes into next weekend’s competition as an underdog to Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Yelena Radionova, the last two World Junior champions. Plus countrywoman Gracie Gold and Asada.

Wagner’s confidence that the NHK hiccup won’t repeat could be bolstered by last season, when she was also the last qualifier into the Grand Prix Final (before Gold withdrew), was in last place after the Final short program but starred in the free skate to grab bronze.

“I like it when I have something not go so well,” she said. “When things are too perfect for too long, in a way it kind of freaks me out a little bit.”

Wagner called the women’s field in Barcelona “wide open.” It may be, given six different women won the six qualifying events, the first time nobody doubled up since 2006.

However, Wagner tapped Asada when asked to name her biggest competition. Wagner, 24, and Asada, 25, are the only women’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers older than 20.

“When she’s on, [Asada] has the whole package,” Wagner said of the three-time World champion who took last season off from competition. “She knows how to put on a performance. The audience loves her. Technically, she’s very strong. I think that If I had to pinpoint someone, Mao Asada on one of her good days, is definitely going to be one of the top girls.”

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Travis Ganong on the rise, leads U.S. men into Beaver Creek

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Before checking into his Colorado hotel, Travis Ganong made a quick pit stop with his doctor to get the stitches removed from his surgically repaired right thumb.

The digit remains extremely swollen even two weeks after a training crash. So much so that he can barely push out of the starting gate.

Not that anyone could tell in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend, when Ganong finished third in a downhill race and came within a wisp of another podium spot in the super-G.

Stitches removed and confidence soaring, Ganong’s eager to take on the demanding course in Beaver Creek over the weekend. This is a place where last February he earned a breakthrough silver medal in the downhill at World Championships (video here).

”It’s really nice to have these solid results so early in the season. It takes the edge off,” Ganong said. ”Before you have the first result, you’re always questioning yourself. Now I can relax and that’s when the really good skiing comes.”

The 27-year-old from Squaw Valley, California, has been a rising force on the U.S. speed team since a fifth-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Games.

In such a fast sport, though, he’s taken a gradual approach to his development – never racing outside his comfort zone until he was good and ready. That was all part of his calculated plan, which came to fruition last season as he won his first World Cup downhill race in Italy and earned his first medal at Worlds.

”I was always building, building, building, getting better and better incrementally,” Ganong said. ”Last year I was like, ‘OK, my time is now. I need to try something new.’

”Bam, I won a race. But then I would have a horrible race. … Now this year it’s all about bringing that consistency back to the top, top level.”

Growing up in Squaw Valley, Ganong could always be found somewhere on the mountain, whether it was skiing powder in the back-country with his father, cross-country skiing (he was good, too), snowboarding (yep, he tried that), going over moguls or training with his team.

”We had this two- or three-inch rule where if it snowed that much, we didn’t worry about setting up gates. We’d go freeskiing and chase each other around the mountain,” Ganong said. ”That’s the No. 1 reason why so many good skiers come out of there.”

Like longtime U.S. skiing great Daron Rahlves, one of Ganong’s idols as a kid. The two talk all the time about ways Ganong can uncover more speed.

”I really excel on the steeper, more gnarly courses,” Ganong said. ”I need to try to figure out a way to bring that same intensity to the easier hills that are a little flatter and not my strong suit. Daron and I, that’s all we talk about when we talk about ski racing.”

Ganong broke through last weekend in Lake Louise, which is more of a glider’s course.

Not bad considering his recent wipeout. He tumbled during an early morning training session in Vail when he didn’t pick up a roll in the terrain. He needed surgery to fix a torn tendon and ligaments. He also bruised his left knee.

So he didn’t have all that high of expectations going into Lake Louise.

”For me to have that kind of speed on that kind of hill, yeah, that was a little surprising,” Ganong said. ”I skied really relaxed and just kind of within myself.”

No one could catch Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, though, who came away with wins on both days as he returns to the World Cup circuit after tearing his Achilles tendon last season while juggling a soccer ball.

”Aksel just knows how to let the skis go,” Ganong said. ”But Beaver Creek? It’s a different hill.”

Ganong’s kind of hill.

”Beaver Creek is way more my style of skiing and my style of hill,” said Ganong, who was fifth last December in a World Cup downhill at Birds of Prey. ”I’m trying to not think too much about it, just keep working hard, and keep thinking I’m an underdog and have something to prove.

”Hopefully, that’s a good mentality to keep me fired up.”

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