Ryan Bailey

Ryan Bailey hopes health yields return to Olympic form


It is the final night of track and field at the London Olympics. Ryan Bailey stands on the Olympic Stadium track, his body turned away from the clicking cameras and his head tilted all the way down, facing his lime shoes, his hands resting on his hips and his heels nearly touching.

It appears the 23-year-old Olympic rookie is trying to escape the cauldron created by the wide-stanced man taking up the entire lane to his inside. Usain Bolt stretches his arms, flexes his biceps and stirs the crowd. Many of some 80,000 spectators focus on that tiny patch of the track, 40 seconds before the 4x100m relay final begins.

Bolt and Bailey are the anchor legs, waiting for their respective black and yellow batons after three exchanges in less than 30 seconds.

Bolt is seeking his sixth Olympic gold medal. Bailey is the U.S. sprinter who used to live out of a car, was once involved in gangs and stabbed three times with a pocket knife in high school, as detailed in pre-Olympic feature stories.

The gun goes off. Americans Trell Kimmons and Justin Gatlin hand a lead to third sprinter Tyson Gay, who loses the edge to Olympic 100m silver medalist Yohan Blake around the curve.

Bolt jumps out of his three-point stance. Bailey, one inch shorter, goes with him. They receive their batons almost simultaneously.

“I just ran for my life,” Bailey, on a fractured heel bone, repeated in interviews that chilly night. “We were neck and neck, for a little while.”

For about two seconds. Bailey (or any other man on the planet) didn’t stand a chance — “When [Bolt] got the stick,” Gay said, “there was nothing we could do about it.”

Bailey can be proud of the finish, two tenths behind Bolt, who ran through the line, and a total U.S. time of 37.04, matching the previous world record. Bailey can be seen in the background of many photos of Bolt doing Mo Farah‘s “Mobot” celebration on his deceleration.

Bailey talked after that race about still learning to run relaxed. That was a reminder that he is seven years younger than Gatlin and Gay. Bailey had equaled his personal best, 9.88, in the 100m final six days earlier and was the second youngest in that eight-man field behind Blake.

Neither Gatlin nor Gay is entered at this week’s U.S. Championships, where names are listed in order of fastest qualifying times. Bailey would seem a favorite then, but he is not even a certainty to make the 100m final in Sacramento, Calif., on Friday.

His track record since London becomes clear while scanning down the list, searching for the fifth-place 100m finisher from the Olympics. One. Two. Three. … no Bailey yet … Four. Five. Six. … still not there … Seven. …

Eight. Ryan Bailey. 10.10. 

He hasn’t beaten 10 seconds since 2012, a two-year stretch weighed down by post-Olympic surgery on that heel bone, the flu and a balky hamstring. The hamstring in particular has been a constant for Bailey since he began running track as an Oregon high school sophomore.

Except for that Olympic season.

“I felt pretty lucky. I’ve never gone that long without an injury,” Bailey said before the Adidas Grand Prix in New York two weeks ago, leaving out the broken heel bone.

Two months after the Olympics, Bolt told Sports Illustrated of Bailey, “”People keep saying he’s the one, but he’s got a lot of work to do.”

The problem has been getting that work in. He withdrew from last year’s U.S. Championships due to the hamstring, leaving him to watch the World Championships on TV. He hasn’t raced in a European Diamond League meet since 2012.

“If I can just put together a good six months of training, I think I’ll be golden,” said Bailey, who works under coach John Smith in Southern California. “Until then, I’ve got to take care of the leg.”

Bailey said in New York that he was healthy, “but how well I’ll run, we’ll see.” He covered 100m in 10.29 seconds, into a 1.9m/s headwind. He was fifth, but the fastest American.

Bailey doesn’t remember much about that Olympic relay. He’s watched it a handful of times.

Plus, who knows how much longer he will own that silver medal, given Gay’s doping suspension. Nobody has asked him for it yet. He declined comment on Gay and the uncertain situation.

Those seconds in London, when Bailey stood near the Bolt spotlight, are vanishing in those multiple ways. But Bailey hasn’t disappeared and is quick to remind of two years ago

“Nobody expected me to make the team [in 2012], and I did,” Bailey said. “You can’t really guarantee anything.””

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Mikaela Shiffrin wins final slalom for best career season (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin won her 12th World Cup race this season and seventh slalom, both personal bests, at the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, on Saturday.

Shiffrin, who clinched her second World Cup overall title and fifth slalom season title before the last races of the campaign this weekend, prevailed by 1.58 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener. PyeongChang gold medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden was third.

“The slalom has always been really close to my heart,” said Shiffrin, who won the last two slaloms this season after a shocking fourth-place finish in PyeongChang. “To finish with a run like that was super special.”

Full results are here.

Shiffrin matched Lindsey Vonn‘s American record for World Cup wins in one season — 12 — with one more race Sunday. Only Swiss Vreni Schneider has more women’s World Cup wins in a single campaign with 14.

Shiffrin, who turned 23 on Tuesday, also moved into solo fifth place on the women’s World Cup wins list with 43, including 23 victories in the last two seasons.

If Shiffrin keeps it up, she can move into the top three next season, though Lindsey Vonn‘s record 82 is a ways off.

“I’m not thinking about that so much,” Shiffrin said. “It’s way too soon to set that as my goal.”

Shiffrin is also three World Cup slalom wins shy of the record 35 held by retired Austrian Marlies Schild, whom Shiffrin supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier in 2013.

The World Cup Finals conclude Sunday with the women’s giant slalom. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live coverage of the second run at 7:30 a.m. ET.

“After today I’m really looking forward to going to the start one more time this season and hammering down,” Shiffrin said.

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Katie Ledecky beaten in NCAA Championships individual medley

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Katie Ledecky lost an NCAA Championships race for the first time in eight career finals, taking second in the 400-yard individual medley on Friday.

Stanford teammate Ella Eastin easily beat Ledecky by 3.69 seconds and grabbed the American and NCAA records from Ledecky, too. Eastin’s 3:54.60 is 1.93 seconds faster than Ledecky’s time from the Pac-12 Championships last month.

How did she do it?

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Eastin said on ESPNU. “I’ve built a lot of endurance this year, and it really showed.”

Eastin is decorated in her own right. She three-peated as NCAA 400-yard IM champion and held the American record in the event before Ledecky lowered it last month.

Eastin would have made the 2017 World Championships team had she not been disqualified for an illegal turn after finishing in second place at nationals.

Ledecky, a sophomore, has never contested the 400m IM at a U.S. Championships, Olympics or world championships, nor did she race the 400-yard IM at 2017 NCAAs. She raced the 400 IM instead of the 200 freestyle on Friday.

All of Ledecky’s races at major meets before Friday were in freestyle events. Her only defeat in a major international meet individual final was the 200m freestyle at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky won five NCAA titles last year and the last two nights anchored the 800-yard freestyle relay and captured the 500-yard freestyle by eight seconds.

Meet results are here.

Later Friday, Lilly King of Indiana three-peated in the 100-yard breaststroke, breaking her American and NCAA records and winning in 56.25 seconds. King is also the Olympic and world champion in the 100m breast, plus the world-record holder.

“Always excited to get the record, but was really hoping to break 56 today,” King said.

Louisville’s Mallory Comerford became the second woman after Missy Franklin to break 1:40 in the 200-yard freestyle, winning in 1:39.80. Co-Olympic 100m free champ Simone Manuel of Stanford was third. Comerford and Ledecky tied for the 2017 NCAA 200 free title.

Stanford’s Ally Howe won the 100-yard backstroke in 49.70, one hundredth shy of her NCAA and American records. Olympic 100m backstroke silver medalist Kathleen Baker of Cal-Berkeley was third.

NCAAs conclude Saturday. Ledecky swims the 1,650-yard freestyle. She is the overwhelming favorite, having gone 35 seconds faster than anyone this season.

Ledecky hasn’t discussed with Stanford whether she will return for her junior season or turn pro, according to the school.

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