Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt takes 100 meters in Brussels; Diamond League finale analysis, video

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Usain Bolt completed his season with a 100-meter victory in a solid but not spectacular 9.80 seconds in the Diamond League finale in Brussels on Friday.

Bolt, whose pre-race antics were tame by his standards, held his finger to his mouth to hush the crowd. He got off to an average start, took a clear lead around the halfway point and beat American Mike Rodgers by one tenth of a second.

“If I had got the better start it would’ve been 9.70,” Bolt said, according to the BBC.

World bronze medalist Nesta Carter and world silver medalist Justin Gatlin took third and fourth, respectively, both in 9.94 seconds.

Gatlin handed Bolt his only loss of 2013 in June, but Bolt ramped up as the summer went on, while Gatlin stayed fairly level. Bolt’s season’s best was his 9.77 in the World Championship final.

“It’s my last race of the season, the time’s close to my season’s best, I’m happy,” Bolt said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Bolt said this was his last race of the season, but 2014 could be interesting. He could run in the Commonwealth Games for the first time, and his biggest rival, Yohan Blake, will return from a hamstring injury.

Who knows, he could also race British distance great Mo Farah for charity, act in a film and play for Manchester United.

“It was not the perfect season or the best of my career,” Bolt said, according to the BBC. “But the best thing is I finished on top and dominated.”

Other notes from the Diamond League finale:

Jamaican triple world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce posted another dominant performance, taking the 100 in 10.72 with a .3 tailwind. Fraser-Pryce came up .01 shy of her world-leading time for 2013 and .02 short of her career best. Next closest was American Alexandria Anderson in 10.97.

Jamaica Warren Weir won the 200 in 19.88, edging countryman Nickel Ashmeade (19.93) and American Walter Dix (20.12). Weir, 23, perhaps the heir apparent to Bolt in the 200, took silver to Bolt at worlds in a season’s best 19.79. Dix, the double 2011 world silver medalist, posted a season’s best while wearing a camouflage body suit as he continues to return from injury.

2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson came from behind to beat 2012 Olympic champion Sally Pearson in the 100 hurdles. Harper-Nelson celebrated a mildly surprising win in 12.48 over Pearson (12.63) with a cartwheel. It marked Harper-Nelson’s fastest time of the year.

Ethiopian Mohammed Aman posted perhaps the most impressive time on the track in winning the 800 in a season’s best time of 1:42.37. The world champion bettered surging world silver medalist Nick Symmonds with a time nearly one second faster than any other this year. Granted, world record holder and Olympic champion David Rudisha has missed most of the season due to injury. The American Symmonds took second in 1:43.03, the second fastest time in the world this year.

American Ryan Whiting won the shot put with a throw of 21.45 meters. In a breakthrough season, Whiting won the overall Diamond League title, a silver medal at worlds and the four farthest throws in the world.

American Natasha Hastings upset a strong field in the 400 in 50.36. World gold and silver medalists Christine Ohurougu and Amantle Montsho, who were also in the field Friday, were one second faster than Hastings’ winning time Friday in Moscow.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Jehue Gordon won the 400-meter hurdles in 48.32, his first race since winning the world title by .01 over American Michael Tinsley in Moscow. Gordon had won the world title in 47.69.

Ethiopian-turned-Swede Abeba Aregawi, the world champion, won her sixth Diamond League 1,500 of the season in 4:05.41. American Jenny Simpson, the world silver medalist, was among a handful of runners who fell in a pileup at the start of the final lap.

Americans Galen Rupp and Bernard Lagat led at different parts of the final lap of the 5,000, but it was Ethiopian Yenew Alamirew who prevailed in 12:58.75. Lagat held on for second in 12:58.99, while Rupp was fifth in 13:01.37. Another American, steeplechaser Evan Jager, took eighth, setting a personal best by 12 seconds.

Usain Bolt plans to retire after 2016 Olympics

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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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