Justin Gatlin, Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt vs. Justin Gatlin for last time in 2013; Diamond League preview

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Usain Bolt’s had a dominant year, unless you look at the times.

Bolt lost once all season, by .01 of a second, and won triple gold at the World Championships last month. He stayed healthy and made consistent improvement through the summer while his past rivals fell to failed drug tests (Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell) and injury (Yohan Blake).

Going into his final race, a 100 meters in a Brussels Diamond League meet on Friday, Bolt rated his 2013 an eight out of 10.

“I won,” Bolt, 27, said, “but I wouldn’t say it was in Usain Bolt fashion.”

He’s right. Bolt’s season’s bests are 9.77 and 19.66. (Gay has actually run faster than Bolt this year, but you’ve got to believe his 9.75 will be wiped out once his doping consequences come down).

If Bolt doesn’t go faster Friday (2:45 p.m. Eastern time), he will finish the year with his slowest season’s best in the 100 since 2010 (9.82) and in the 200 since 2007 (19.75). He will go into 2014, the lightest year in track with no Olympics or worlds, with doubts over his dominance. Blake will return healthy. The younger Jamaicans Warren WeirKemar Bailey-Cole and Nickel Ashmeade will probably be faster.

And then there’s Justin Gatlin, who is four years older than Bolt and probably under greater pressure to perform in 2014 as he phases out of the typical prime age for sprinters.

Gatlin was the one man who beat Bolt this year, in a 100 in Rome in June, and took silver to Bolt’s gold in the 100 at worlds by .08. That margin in Moscow was the smallest victory by Bolt in an Olympics or worlds ever.

If Gatlin can summon a surge to defeat Bolt in Brussels (Universal Sports, 2 p.m. ET), the track and field landscape will only get more interesting going into 2014.

Here are other storylines in Brussels (full start lists/timetable):

Men’s Shot Put (12:30): All the medalists from Moscow are in the field — David StorlRyan Whiting and Dylan Armstrong — as well as two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski. If you remember worlds, Storl’s winning throw was at first called a foul but then allowed by officials after reviewing a photographer’s camera.

Men’s 400 Hurdles (2:04): Trinidad and Tobago world champion Jehue Gordon takes on American Michael Tinsley in a rematch of a thrilling worlds final, won by Gordon by .01 of a second.

Women’s 100 (2;13): One more chance for Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce to demolish a field. Fraser-Pryce’s season’s best is 10.71. Only one other woman in the field has gone sub-10.9 this season — American Barbara Pierre.

Men’s 200 (2:20): Weir, the world silver medalist and Olympic bronze medalist, is the clear favorite here. But check out American Walter Dix, the four-time world and Olympic medalist, coming back from yet another injury. Dix set a rather interesting record in a 100 in Zurich, Switzerland, last week. He finished in ninth place in 10.07 seconds, the fastest ever time for a ninth-place finish in a 100 meters race. Most elite races, of course, field eight competitors.

Women’s 400 (2:55): Christine Ohuruogu and Amantle Montsho face off again. Ohuruogu dipped to beat Montsho at worlds, even though they both crossed in 49.41 seconds. Also in the field are the top Americans from worlds — Natasha Hastings and Francena McCorory.

Men’s 800 (3:03): American Nick Symmonds gets one more shot at Ethiopian Mohammed Aman, who overtook Symmonds at worlds for gold. Symmonds took the two-lap race at last week’s meet in Zurich, but Aman was not in the field. Perhaps Symmonds will be aided by the presence of American Duane Solomon, who took out the pace hard at worlds and finished sixth.

Women’s 100 Hurdles (3:15): It’s one more opportunity for 2012 Olympic champion Sally Pearson to show she’s past a hamstring injury. The Australian peaked at worlds with back-to-back 12.50s, grabbing silver behind American phenom Brianna Rollins, who has run four times faster than Pearson’s best this year. Rollins isn’t in the field in Brussels, but the third- and fourth-place finishers from Moscow are — Tiffany Porter and Dawn Harper-Nelson.

Women’s 1,500 (3:21): American Jenny Simpson takes aim at Ethiopian-turned-Swede Abeba Aregawi, who has won five Diamond League 1,500s this season in addition to the World Championship. Simpson, who won in Monaco in July in an Aregawi-less field, took silver to the Swede in Moscow after winning the world title in 2011.

Usain Bolt plans to retire after 2016 Olympics

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Laurie Hernandez eyes return to competition in 2018

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NEW YORK – Laurie Hernandez hardly considers her 14 months away from competitive gymnastics a break.

Since earning Olympic team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, the 17-year-old won “Dancing with the Stars,” authored a book and even enrolled in ballet lessons.

But her most rewarding experience has been speaking at schools. Students have asked her seemingly every question, from when she started taking gymnastics classes (age 5) to whether she climbed trees when she was younger (yes, all the time).

Seeing how many children were inspired by her Rio performance motivated Hernandez as she prepares to return to the sport.

“I didn’t realize at the Olympics how many people were truly watching,” Hernandez said Wednesday night at the annual Women’s Sports Foundation Salute to Women in Sports. “Now I’m excited to get back into the gym.”

Hernandez recently added handstand holds, back tucks and front flips to her conditioning program, in addition to continuing to run and lift weights.

“It’s a little difficult, but it’s fine,” she said. “I’ll push it a little more after the holidays.”

She has her eye on returning to competition in 2018.

“That’s definitely the hope,” Hernandez said. “I’m not going to rush anything, but I would love to compete in 2018.”

Hernandez, who said her next goal in gymnastics is to compete at the world championships for the first time and hopefully the 2020 Olympics, has not yet identified her comeback meet.

She noted that Aly Raisman took more than two years off after the London Olympics.

“I know every athlete is different,” Hernandez said. “But I wouldn’t mind following in her footsteps.”

Simone Biles, who has not competed since winning four gold medals in Rio, recently announced that she plans on returning to full-time training Nov. 1 and competition next summer.

“I look up to her, even though we are teammates,” Hernandez said. “I can’t wait to see her out there, but hopefully I’ll be out there with her soon.”

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Olympic cycling champion running for Congress

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Olympic cycling gold medalist Marty Nothstein is the latest to announce he’s running for the eastern Pennsylvania congressional seat being vacated by fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Dent.

Dent, a former state senator, is a centrist Republican who has held the seat since 2005. He’s retiring after his term expires next year.

Nothstein, who won sprint silver in 1996 and gold in 2000, is the only American track cyclist to win an Olympic title at a fully attended Games.

Two Republican state representatives, Ryan Mackenzie and Justin Simmons, previously announced they’re running for Dent’s 15th District seat.

Democrat Bill Leiner, a former Lehigh County commissioner, is also running.

Dent’s district includes Allentown and all of Lehigh County, and parts of four surrounding counties.

Republicans in 2011 stretched the district almost 90 miles to the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania to make it more Republican.

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