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.

Russia’s goal for 2018 Olympics to top medal standings

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 07:  Bobsleigh racer Alexander Zubkov of the Russia Olympic team carries his country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
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Russia’s goal for the 2018 Olympics is to repeat its success from Sochi by topping the medal standings for a second straight Winter Games, the Russian Olympic Committee president reportedly said Thursday.

“Our team finished in the first place of the unofficial medals standings during the Olympics in Sochi,” Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said, according to Russian news agency TASS. “This is why the priority task for the national team is to maintain its leading position at the 2018 Games.”

Zhukov cautioned that there has been a recent decrease in potential medalists, plus no longer having the home-field advantage as it had in Sochi.

Zhukov’s comments came one day before the second part of a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report investigating Russian doping allegations is to be published.

In May, The New York Times reported that dozens of Russian athletes, including 15 Sochi medalists, were on a state-run doping program leading into the 2014 Winter Games.

So far, no Russian medalists have been found guilty of cheating for the Sochi Olympics.

In Sochi, Russia earned 33 medals and 13 golds. The next highest totals were 28 medals by the U.S. and 11 golds by Norway.

The last time the Winter Games were in East Asia, Russia placed third in total medals and golds behind Germany and Norway at Nagano 1998.

MORE: Russian Olympic champion to oversee RUSADA

Bob McKenzie: ‘It doesn’t look like the NHL is going to South Korea’

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If the status quo doesn’t change, the NHL will likely decide in January not to send players to the 2018 Olympics, insider Bob McKenzie said on NBCSN on Wednesday night.

The NHL Board of Governors is meeting in Florida on Thursday and Friday, and the Olympics are expected to be discussed, but no decision on NHL participation in Pyeongchang is expected.

“Absent some new X-factor that comes into the equation, something that changes up the minds of the governors or other people involved in this Olympic decision, it doesn’t look like the NHL is going to South Korea,” McKenzie said. “But that decision won’t be made until probably January.”

The International Ice Hockey Federation recently met with hockey federations, which asked about a Plan B should the NHL not participate in the Olympics for the first time since 1994.

“There was no real answer, don’t worry, we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it,” McKenzie said. “There are some federations who believe that it’s going to be absolute chaos. For the very simple reason that if you think the National Hockey League doesn’t want to shut down its league, neither do a lot of the European leagues, whether it be Sweden or Finland, Czech Republic, Russia, you name it.”

Earlier this fall, the world’s second-best league — the KHL in Russia — said it planned to take its usual break and release players for the Olympics like it has done for recent Winter Games. KHL rosters for its 29 teams include double-digit Canadians and double-digit Americans, some with NHL experience.

An official from Sweden’s top league said in October that it had not decided if it will take an Olympic break and was following the discussions between the NHL and IIHF.

Finland’s top league said in October that it was planning to take a break in its season to send players to the Olympics, but a final decision had not been made.

NCAA rules allow players to leave their programs for Olympic tryouts and the Games themselves. One active NCAA player competed in the 2014 Olympics — Bowling Green’s Ralfs Freibergs, who missed two college games that season to participate in Sochi for Latvia.

“If the NHLers aren’t going, it could be the wild, wild, west,” McKenzie said. “Try and find a player anywhere to represent your country.”

MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups set