Walter Dix

Walter Dix motivated for first healthy season since 2011

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Walter Dix felt ready to take down Usain Bolt after sweeping the 100m and 200m at the U.S. Championships in 2011.

“I want [Bolt] to be at his best, so when I beat him there will be no excuses,” he said in Eugene, Ore., three years ago.

Dix didn’t conquer the great Jamaican. He won two silver medals at the 2011 World Championships, behind Bolt in the 200m and Yohan Blake in the 100m, after Bolt infamously false started out of the final in the lane next to Dix.

The last two years, it’s been Dix who hasn’t been at his best. He was beaten by a balky left hamstring in the 100m at both the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Championships, missing the London Olympics and Moscow World Championships.

U.S. sprinting attention since reverted to Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay. Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion back from a four-year doping ban, and Gay, the American record holder who hasn’t raced since revealing he failed at least one drug test last spring.

Dix has noticed he’s not a marquee attraction anymore, but he’s not taking it personally and making no excuses.

“I have been hurt the last couple years; it’s part of the game,” said Dix, now 28 and “a free agent” after being a Nike-sponsored athlete from 2008 through 2012. “The people that are running good times are the ones whose names are being said the most. Gatlin was right behind Bolt at the last World Championships. Gay was right behind Bolt in 2012. Those are the experienced guys. They show up when it comes to major meets. You can’t take anything away from them. I have to wait my turn.”

That’s patience from a man whose young confidence complemented Bolt’s no-worries attitude a few years ago. After the 2008 Olympic 100m semifinals, Dix reportedly looked at Bolt, who is eight inches taller, and said, “There ain’t going to be no jogging in the final.”

But there was. Bolt ran a world record 9.69, slowing and slapping his chest crossing the finish line, .22 ahead of Dix’s bronze-medal effort. Dix offered one of the quotes of the Olympics in an NBC interview afterward, summing up Bolt’s performance.

“The guy can run,” Dix said.

Dix did not witness Bolt’s triple gold feat at the World Championships last summer. He was focused on training in Europe, where he ran 9.99 seconds in Rieti, Italy, on Sept. 8, wearing a camouflage racing suit and sunglasses. It was his first sub-10-second 100m since that comment about beating Bolt in 2011.

Dix said last season marked the best finish to a year of his career, motivation he carried over to fall work in the weight room. He’s also moved from Southern California to train under University of South Carolina assistant Kevin Brown and has received encouragement from 2004 Olympic 200m champion Shawn Crawford, a South Carolina native.

On Saturday, Dix anchored a U.S. 4x100m team at the Penn Relays and held off a hard-charging Jamaican to win by .01. It wasn’t Bolt. It wasn’t Blake. It was Oshane Bailey, who owns a personal best of 10.11 seconds, a half-second slower than Bolt’s record and nearly a quarter-second slower than Dix’s top time from 2010.

Dix’s next races are in Jamaica on Saturday, the Cayman Islands on May 7 and Puerto Rico the following week. He hopes to be part of the U.S. team at the first IAAF World Relays Championships from May 24-25. He’s not yet entered in any bigger Diamond League meets, the ones frequented by Bolt, who made his own injury news this year.

“Part of the sport is being hurt and having to come back,” Dix said. “I think I should be better [than before the injuries]. I’m stronger.”

Fully healthy, Dix believes he’s in shape to challenge his best 100m time of 9.88. He’ll need to be to achieve his goal for this year.

“Win every race that I run,” Dix said.

Second fastest women’s marathoner ever banned for doping

World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

Ashley Caldwell will win or lose Olympic aerials gold with triples

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — As a teenager, Ashley Caldwell never had problems hanging with the boys when it came to doing the biggest flips off the aerials ramp. Now in her 20s, she sees no reason for that to change.

Caldwell will make or miss her third U.S. Olympic team, then potentially win or lose the gold medal in South Korea, by doing triple flips off the kicker while most of the women are doing doubles. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition that sets the bar high, and sends a certain message, regardless of whether she finishes first or last.

“It’s not just about trying to be there by myself,” Caldwell says. “It’s about maybe inspiring some younger girls to say, `I should be able to push to whatever I’m capable of doing, not necessarily what people say my gender is capable of doing.”‘

Caldwell never shirked from joining the teenage boys when they started moving to the bigger kickers and adding an extra flip to the doubles they did as kids.

Triples are the price of admission for the men, and while not unheard of among the women, the list of athletes who will try them is short: Jacqui Cooper, Alla Tsuper and Xu Mengtao are among the few who have tried them over the years. They’re also among the best to ever fly off a ramp.

At the Sochi Olympics, Lydia Lassila of Australia became the first woman to land a quadruple-twisting triple flip on snow in training. The next night, she brought it to the medals round, and though she touched her hand to the ground on the landing, she won a bronze medal anyway and stole the headlines.

“That’s who I’m inspired by,” Caldwell said that night. “She’s trying to push the sport so that girls are jumping like the boys, and she’s doing it, and it’s really impressive.”

At freestyle world championships earlier this month, Caldwell sent her message when she became the first woman to cleanly land that same triple-flipping, quadruple-twisting jump in competition (video here).

“It was the first time I had every coach come up to me and shake my hand before the score even came up,” said Todd Ossian, who works with Caldwell as head coach of the U.S. aerials team.

And yet, Caldwell was oh-so-close to not being able to even try that winning jump.

Aerials competitions go through a series of qualifying and elimination rounds that include only one jump each. Consistency is rewarded, and most women train a variety of double flips to make it through the rounds, then bring out their most intricate jump – more often than not, also a double – for when the medals are awarded.

Caldwell doesn’t go that route. She tries triples every time she steps onto the hill.

It adds extra – some might say unnecessary – risk to the early rounds. When the field was being cut from 12 to nine at world championships, for instance, Caldwell didn’t land her triple flip. She was able to squeak into the top nine and advance only because her degree of difficulty for the triple was so high.

“I’m OK sacrificing some good competition results to increase my consistency on the triple,” says Caldwell, giving a nod to the reality that training days on snow are precious and she needs to use them to focus on the jumps she’ll be performing when the contests start.

The recently ended season tested the limits of how much Caldwell was willing to sacrifice. In meet after meet, from Moscow to Minsk to an Olympic test event in South Korea, difficulties with the triple kept her far away from the podium. In the World Cup standings, Caldwell finished 10th.

To her, that’s more a badge of honor than a sign of failure. In a sport that oddly transforms daredevils into conformists, and rewards consistency over risk-taking, Caldwell plans to keep pushing anyway.

In doing triples, her mission is as much about winning as bringing others along for the ride.

“I want the crowd to feel like they know who won,” Caldwell said. “I want it to be impressive. I just want people to say, `That’s sweet. That’s what’s deserved.’ If a lot of girls are doing triples up there and I fall, there would still be a lot of girls who would do well. I’m cool with that. If I mess up, that’s OK. But I want the sport to look good.”

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VIDEO: Top U.S. aerials skier crashes hard at World Cup