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

Ashley Wagner ‘sick’ of hearing about her age

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KANSAS CITY — Ashley Wagner can become the oldest U.S. women’s figure skating champion in 90 years, but it would not be wise to tell her that.

“I think that this sport focuses on age way too much,” the three-time U.S. champion Wagner, 25, said in a press conference after Thursday night’s short program at Sprint Center (recap, videos here). “I’m so sick of hearing about my age. I’m so sick of it guys. If anybody asks me one more question about my age, I’ll just stop talking. It’s ridiculous.”

Wagner placed third in the short program, 1.88 points behind leader Karen Chen, who is 17 years old. She’ll try to surpass Chen in the free skate Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Chen sat in Thursday’s press conference between Wagner and second-place Mirai Nagasu, a 23-year-old who won the U.S. title way back in 2008.

“They’re my role models,” Chen said. “I watched them skate for years and years.”

Wagner then interjected before the next question.

“You just made both of us feel so old,” Wagner said, drawing laughter.

Truth is, Wagner is often asked about her age, her experience, her highs and lows, and answers respectfully and with wisdom. She did again after competing Thursday night for the first time in nearly two months, under the pressure as U.S. Championships favorite.

“I choose to view the word ‘veteran’ as experienced, and experience is never a bad thing, because I’ve gone through the good experiences and the brutally terrible awful experiences,” said Wagner, who last season earned world championships silver, ending a 10-year U.S. women’s drought.

NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski was surprised to learn Wagner wasn’t particularly interested in questions about her age.

“Age is definitely a factor,” Lipinski said Friday. “You can pretend it’s not, but it is. I tried to pretend that it wasn’t, but it was. It was talked about a lot. I was too young [winning the Olympics at age 15]. Whether it’s the opposite [age] range, age is a factor.”

Wagner competes in a sport where, in other top countries, crops of teens are replaced by the next crop of teens. At last month’s Japanese and Russian Championships, the oldest women’s podium finisher was 18 years old.

Wagner may be past the usual prime years for skaters, but Lipinski pointed out that being (very) young has its disadvantages.

“I felt that I didn’t have a lot to draw on,” said Lipinski, who at 14 became the youngest U.S. women’s champion in 1997. “I didn’t have a lot of outside perspectives. Skating was my life. So any small mistake took me so down, and it was very hard for me to put this sport in perspective.”

Wagner was asked if she worried she may have peaked with that 2016 World Championships silver medal.

“If I peaked,” she said, “I would have retired.”

If Wagner makes the PyeongChang Winter Games, she would become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928. Which would actually be an incredible accomplishment in a teen-dominated sport.

That sort of statistic was probably furthest from her mind in Thursday’s press conference.

“We definitely need a new crop of girls to come in,” Wagner said, cracking a smile, “because I will die one day.”

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How to watch U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2016, file photo, Nathan Chen of the United States, competes in the men's short program at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating final in Marseille, southern France. The 17-year-old's revelatory performance at last month's Grand Prix final in France has made him American figure skating's bright new star. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
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U.S. Figure Skating Championships coverage continues Friday, live on NBCSN, Universal HD and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app, starting at 6 p.m. ET.

The short dance and men’s short programs are scheduled in Kansas City.

The NBC Sports All-Access page will provide live scoring and more all week.

Short dance
6-8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app
STREAM LINK | SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

Men’s short program
8:30 p.m.-midnight ET, Universal HD
SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

In dance, defending champions Maia and Alex Shibutani take on two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They’re heavy favorites for the three world championships berths.

Nathan Chen leads the men’s field, seeking to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 1966. He faces past champions Jason Brown and Max Aaron with two worlds berths at stake this weekend

The free dance will be Saturday and the men’s free skate Sunday, both on NBC and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss says Russia shouldn’t be in PyeongChang