Tyson Gay, Justin Gatlin

Tyson Gay vs. Justin Gatlin; Lausanne Diamond League preview

Leave a comment

It is the most anticipated 100m race so far this season, and Usain Bolt is nowhere to be found.

Tyson Gay will compete for the first time since the end of his one-year doping suspension at a Diamond League meet in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday. He will do so against Justin Gatlin, the World Championships silver medalist who is undefeated this season.

Gay is the fastest American of all time, and Gatlin is tied as the second fastest with a stated of goal of taking Gay’s American record.

Never were Gay and Gatlin closer on the track than at the London Olympics. In the 4x100m relay final, Gatlin passed the baton and the lead to Gay for the third leg. That edge evaporated on Gay’s turn, wiped by Yohan Blake, who handed off to anchor Usain Bolt for a victory in world-record fashion.

The U.S. earned an appreciated silver, equaling the previous world record. Gay, who would have been a 2008 Olympic podium favorite if not for injury, felt particularly fulfilled to hold his first medal.

“That’s the part of my heart that was missing,” Gay said two years ago. “I think I finally filled it.”

But Gay gave up that silver medal to the U.S. Olympic Committee because it was won after he began taking performance-enhancing drugs. The rest of the U.S. relay team may be stripped of theirs as well. That includes Gatlin, who has four other Olympic medals to soften the blow.

Gatlin himself likely ceded more Olympic glory due to doping. He was banned four years from 2006 to 2010.

“There’s still a lot of pressure on [Gay] coming back,” Gatlin told the BBC in June. “People have more questions than answers — why his time [suspended] has been so short.”

Gay and Gatlin may not be the biggest story to come out of the meet, whose coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on Universal Sports and UniversalSports.com. Here are the start lists. Here are five events to watch:

Men’s 400m — 2:03 p.m. ET

LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James renew their rivalry. They clocked identical 43.97s at the Prefontaine Classic on May 31 with James outleaning Merritt for the win to take a 6-5 edge in their career duels.

They’re the only men to go sub-44 this year, or any of the last five years for that matter.

Men’s high jump — 2:25

The world record is in jeopardy again. Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov, World champion Bohdan Bondarenko and Olympic and World medalist Mutaz Barshim have all cleared 2.41m or higher this year. The world record from 1993 is 2.45m.

Bondarenko and Barshim took a combined five attempts at breaking the world record at the last Diamond League meet in New York but failed on every one at 2.46m.

Women’s 100m — 2:28

American Tori Bowie, the new sensation of the sprint season, was still on the start list 27 hours before the scheduled race despite appearing to suffer a leg injury at the U.S. Championships. Bowie, almost exclusively a long jumper until March, hurt herself on a 10.91-second semifinal and pulled out of the final Friday. That was the fastest time of the meet and Bowie’s first time clocking sub-11.

Bowie, the world leader in the 200m, is set to face the only two women faster than her in the 100m this year — Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye (10.85) and Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown (10.86).

UPDATE: Campbell-Brown pulled out of the meet Wednesday due to a sore hamstring, according to her Twitter.

Men’s 100m — 2:58

Gatlin must be considered the favorite over Gay since there’s no telling what kind of form Gay is in. Though Gatlin is undefeated in 2014, he is not the fastest man this year. That’s Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson, who has run 9.82 to Gatlin’s 9.86 but is not in the Lausanne field.

The best from the rest is Mike Rodgers, who won the U.S. Championship last week (Gatlin and Gay were not in that field).

Men’s 200m — 3:43

Jamaican Yohan Blake would have added sizzle to the 100m, but as is the norm the world’s best sprinters are split up. Blake is coming off an awful 10.21 in the 100m in New York on June 14, when he stumbled out of the blocks in his Diamond League season debut.

This will mark his first Diamond League 200m in nearly two years, given Blake missed almost all of last season with a hamstring injury. His top competition will be Jamaican 100m champion Nickel Ashmeade and 2009 World silver medalist Alonso Edward.

Usain Bolt will race at Commonwealth Games, report says

World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ashley Wagner knows pressure’s on her at worlds

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

Ashley Caldwell will win or lose Olympic aerials gold with triples

AP
Leave a comment

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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