Usain Bolt

Two years to Rio Olympics: Track and field storylines

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Usain Bolt is expected to bid farewell to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro by attempting to match the record for most career Olympic track and field gold medals.

Carl Lewis, who is not friendly with Bolt, won nine gold medals from 1984 through 1996. Finnish distance legend Paavo Nurmi won nine from 1920 through 1928.

Bolt would tie Lewis and Nurmi’s gold count if he matches his triple gold performance from 2008 and 2012.

But Bolt, who will be 29 in Rio, is by no means a lock for any gold medals. He has not raced against anybody in an individual event since Sept. 6, delaying his 2014 debut due to a foot injury.

Working in his favor is a lack of up-and-coming competition. His top rivals remain men who are older than him — Americans Justin Gatlin (32) and Tyson Gay (31). Countryman Yohan Blake won silver behind Bolt in both the 100m and 200m in London, but he has suffered serious hamstring injuries the last two years.

Two years out: Rio’s readiness | Storylines: Swimming | Track and Field | Gymnastics | More Sports

Allyson Felix could also sprint for history in Rio. With one title in her fourth Games, the reigning Olympic 200m champion would break the record for most career Olympic golds by a female track and field athlete. If she wins three medals, as she did in London, she will match the record for most career Olympic medals by a female track and field athlete (Merlene Ottey, nine).

Felix’s path to Rio appears tougher than Bolt’s. She suffered a torn hamstring at the 2013 World Championships and has been good but not great in her return this season. She ranks third, fourth and eighth among Americans in the 100m, 200m and 400m.

The globe’s upstart sprinter is American Tori Bowie, who was primarily a long jumper until March. The Mississippi native owns the fastest 100m and 200m times this year. The U.S. used to dominate the 100m, but no American has won the Olympic 100m title since Marion Jones in 2000 Gail Devers in 1996, the nation’s longest drought ever.

The U.S. is also home to the reigning World champions in the sprint hurdles — David Oliver and Brianna Rollins — though the events have been much more competitive than the open sprints.

Olympic 400m champion Sanya Richards-Ross is working her way back from a toe problem that kept her out for most of 2013. LaShawn Merritt, beset by injury at London 2012, is the reigning World 400m champion and, with Olympic champion Kirani James, has treated crowds to several head-to-head duels the last two years.

The most electrifying athletes outside of the sprints remain reigning Olympic champions Kenyan David Rudisha (800m), Brit Mo Farah (5000m, 10,000m), New Zealand shot putter Valerie Adams and men’s high jumpers from Ukraine, Russia and Qatar taking aim at a 21-year-old world record.

The multi events could be just as intriguing as London 2012. Ashton Eaton could try to become the third man to win multiple Olympic decathlon titles (Bob Mathias, Daley Thompson). He’s still the unquestioned world’s greatest athlete.

The heptathlon is more competitive, with London Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, a new mom, expected to return from more than a year away in 2015. Eaton’s wife, Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, is the reigning World silver medalist. The favorite could turn out to be another Brit, 21-year-old Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

Major track and field events before Rio 2016:

2015 U.S. Championships — Eugene, Ore.
2015 World Championships — Aug. 22-30, 2015, Beijing
2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials — Feb. 13, 2016, Los Angeles
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials — July 1-10, 2016, Eugene, Ore.

Ashley Wagner handed Puffs box in emotional press conference (video)

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KANSAS CITY — Ashley Wagner was on the verge of tears (of joy) after taking silver at the U.S. Championships. A U.S. Figure Skating official came to her aid during a press conference, passing a box of Puffs onto the table.

A reporter told Wagner, 25, that it’s believed she’s the oldest U.S. women’s podium finisher since at least World War II. Wagner, not much of a fan of age remarks, smiled.

“Oh my god, you had to mention a World War,” she said. “I’m getting emotional, just because this is so hard, what I do, and I am so proud that I am still here today because I was 15 or 16 at my first world championships [16, in 2008], and I’m here, and I’m 25, it’s almost 10 years later. That’s something that you just don’t see in this sport. I’m here because I love it, and I am so stubborn.”

At that point, the green box of Puffs, one of U.S. Figure Skating’s sponsors, appeared to Wagner’s right.

“My passion is what fuels me,” she continued, “and I’m really proud of myself. I hope one day people will look back. I’m always here because I work to be here, and that’s something that I’m really proud of.”

MORE: Gracie Gold comments after sixth-place finish

Karen Chen holds off Ashley Wagner for shocking U.S. title

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KANSAS CITY — Karen Chen was as surprised as anyone that she won the U.S. title.

“I’m just in complete shock,” said Chen, who was eighth last year. “It was hard for me to believe that this day would come.”

Chen, 17, overcame nearly two seasons’ worth of struggles to win her first national championship Saturday night. She posted the highest short-program and free-skate scores and topped a field that included three Olympians.

Most notably Ashley Wagner, who finished second, 2.44 points behind. Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion and 2016 World silver medalist, just missed becoming the oldest women’s gold medalist in 90 years.

Wagner didn’t seem to mind her first U.S. silver medal, though, because she’s surely going to be on the three-woman world championships team named Sunday.

“This is perfect for me,” said Wagner, who came into the week as the clear favorite. “It gives me the opportunity to go in [to the world championships] with my head down and keep on working. I know where I lost my points. … I’m not planning on peaking here.”

Mariah Bell, who shares a coach with Wagner, jumped from sixth after the short program to finish third and likely lock down the last worlds spot. Full results are here.

Gracie Gold, who finished fourth at the Olympics and the last two worlds, tumbled to sixth place and is likely to miss worlds for the first time in her five-year senior career. Gold reflected on her disastrous season afterward.

It was also a heartbreaking day for 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu, who fell from second after the short program to finish fourth, 3.02 behind Bell.

Nagasu had four of her jumps called under-rotated in her free skate. Nagasu was heartbreakingly left off the 2014 Olympic team. It looks like she finished one spot shy of making the worlds team, which is chosen by a committee.

“I am speechless,” Nagasu said. “I knew I was ready, and I just didn’t deliver tonight. … This isn’t the way I wanted it to go, but I think that people are defined by how they react to things.”

Like Chen. The Fremont, Calif., native burst onto the scene two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold at age 15.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little had been heard about Chen since (though plenty has been from U.S. men’s leader Nathan Chen, also 17 years old but unrelated).

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

But Chen felt plenty comfortable Thursday, performing a rare clean program for the lead.

“I skated the short of my dreams,” Chen said. “I wanted to follow it up with a close to perfect long.”

It was pretty darn close. Chen landed all of her jumps clean, including seven triples.

“This moment was something that I really dreamed about,” Chen said. “It was far from reality.”

Wagner will likely be leading a world championships team with two rookies in Chen and Bell.

It’s the most pressure-packed worlds of the four-year cycle, because the skaters’ placements determine how many Olympic spots each nation receives.

To ensure the maximum three spots at the Olympics, the top two U.S. finishers at worlds must add up to no more than 13 (sixth and seventh, for example).

Japan and Russia will send three skaters each with the talent to finish in the top five. Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond is also a medal threat. Wagner, sitting next to Chen and Bell, stressed that they should “tune out the noise” going into the biggest competition of their careers.

“It is so easy to be devoured by you guys because you all have eaten me alive before,” Wagner, who made her worlds debut in 2008, told the media. “Karen just has to deliver what she did here, Mariah has to do the same thing, and we’ll be set.”

Earlier Saturday, Maia and Alex Shibutani were beaten in the free dance but held on to repeat as U.S. championsHaven Denney and Brandon Frazier were the best of a flawed pairs field to earn their first U.S. title.

The U.S. Championships conclude Sunday with the men’s free skate (4 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). Nathan Chen, 17, is in position to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion in 51 years.

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14