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.

Lindsey Vonn wins No. 76 in biggest rout of her comeback

Lindsey Vonn
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Lindsey Vonn gapped the field like never before during her comeback, and never before away from her favorite course in Canada, running away with a World Cup downhill by 1.51 seconds in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Saturday.

Vonn notched her 76th World Cup victory, moving 10 behind the record held by retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

“Every win for me is more special than the last,” Vonn said.

She’s won by larger margins three times in her World Cup career — by 1.95, 1.73 and 1.68 seconds, all at her favorite downhill course in Lake Louise, Alberta, and all before her February 2013 World Championships crash and two major right knee surgeries that kept her from defending her Olympic downhill title in Sochi.

Swiss Fabienne Suter was second Saturday, followed by German Viktoria Rebensburg. Full results are here.

Swiss Lara Gut placed 14th, which meant Vonn increased her lead from 45 points to 127 points in the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest prize in the sport this season with no World Championships or Olympics.

That race will likely not be decided until the World Cup Finals in a little more than one month.

Vonn won her ninth World Cup race this season, matching her total from 2008-09, the campaign that set her up to be the Alpine skiing star of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic season. Her best total was 12 from the 2011-12 season.

Vonn has won 11 of her last 12 World Cup starts in speed races (downhill and super-G) and can clinch her eighth World Cup downhill season title in the next downhill in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, next Saturday.

That would break her tie with Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll for most titles in one discipline by a female skier. It would match the record for all skiers with Stenmark, who took eight giant slalom and eight slalom titles.

But first Vonn will try to inch closer to Stenmark’s wins record in a Garmisch-Partenkirchen super-G on Sunday (4:45 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Live Extra).

MORE: U.S. Olympian podiums in first race on 2018 Olympic course

Amanda Kessel ‘dream come true’ in University of Minnesota return

Amanda Kessel
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Olympic silver medalist Amanda Kessel recorded two assists in her first game in nearly two years, coming back from a concussion for the University of Minnesota on Friday night.

“I think I’d regret it if I didn’t get back to this point,” Kessel said after a 3-0 win over North Dakota, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “It’s pretty much a dream come true.”

Kessel, 24, last played in the Sochi Olympic gold-medal game and then sat out nearly two years with symptoms from a concussion reportedly suffered before the Winter Games. Coach Brad Frost said in July that Kessel wouldn’t play this season, ending her college career.

But in August, new doctors gave Kessel hope she would play again.

On Friday, she skated on the Golden Gophers’ top line after the school’s medical staff got second and third opinions before clearing her to play, according to the newspaper.

“If I was going to get back to playing, I was going to be 100 percent healthy and be able to get in there,” Kessel said, according to the Pioneer Press. “I felt great being able to get in corners and get hit and stuff like that.”

Kessel, the 2012-13 NCAA Player of the Year for the undefeated national champion, said she wasn’t 100 percent in “game shape” and that she felt like a rookie, but that she’s ready to challenge herself in the final month and a half of her senior season.

“I don’t think I’ve heard it that loud since we won the national championship here [on March 22],” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “So many people were just so excited to see her work her way back to where she is now.”

MORE: How Amanda Kessel became a star for U.S. hockey team