Getty Images for Puma

Usain Bolt ready for tears as retirement nears

Leave a comment

NEW YORK — Three months.

Usain Bolt, the gangly Trelawny boy born with scoliosis who grew into the greatest sprinter of all time, has three months left in his track career.

He says he has three, maybe four meets to go before retirement — Kingston on June 10 (his final Jamaican meet), Ostrava, Czech Republic, on June 28 and possibly another tune-up before the world championships. He also isn’t ruling out a meet after worlds.

Still, Bolt envisions his career ending at worlds in London, a place he has called a second home. He has the 100m final on Aug. 5 and the 4x100m relay Aug. 12.

“I’ve thought about it many times,” Bolt says in a basement nook of a lower Manhattan studio space, after smiling and gabbing for a few dozen international media at an event promoting his apparel sponsor, Puma.

Bolt mentions his 2016 film, “I am Bolt,” and a scene where he began thinking about retirement.

“I started getting a little bit emotional,” Bolt remembers. “Knowing that it could be your last big race in front of so much crowd, that’s something I know I’m going to miss when I retire.”

Bolt is quick to say he has never cried at a race.

Not after any of his nine Olympic titles (since reduced to eight due to a relay teammate’s doping). Not after defeats, such as failing to advance out of his first Olympic race in 2004 or his infamous false start out of the 2011 World Championships 100m final.

That in mind, Bolt thinks about the scene three months from now in the London Olympic Stadium. Tears?

“To be actually in the stadium and know that this is it, you never know,” he said. “What will I do? What should I say? How should I go about it? But I haven’t come up with anything solid yet. I’m open. Hopefully it’s not too emotional.”

Bolt decided not to race the 200m, his trademark event, this season because he doesn’t want to risk losing and doesn’t want to train as hard.

“Can’t mess it up at the end,” Bolt said. “It’s not really that stressful this season. My coaches really adjusted my program a lot, so it’s not as intense as it used to be. But it still gets me where I need to go.”

Bolt says his longtime coach, Glen Mills, believes he could continue for one more Olympics in 2020, but only if the sprinter wants to. Bolt, who turns 31 in August, has made it clear that he doesn’t want to.

He dislikes the rigors of training and enjoys staying out late and straying from proper nutrition. Bolt has been known to show up at group step classes in Jamaica on mornings after fried-chicken dinners.

“I’m back on my diet now,” he says. “My coach tells me stay focused because it’s the home stretch.”

Bolt is confident in his 100m. Asked of his biggest rival, and he says he doesn’t know. This is a departure from past years, when it was clear that either training partner Yohan Blake or Americans Tyson Gay or Justin Gatlin were pushing Bolt.

“The only person that I’ve seen really compete at his best [this season] is Andre De Grasse,” Bolt said of the 22-year-old Olympic 100m bronze medalist from Canada. “He’s really shown promise early in the season. I always wait until the trials [late June for the U.S. and Jamaica] to see who’s really stepping up because that’s when it really matters.”

The day after Bolt’s interview, De Grasse finished an unimpressive fifth in a 100m race in Qatar in 10.21 seconds. Bolt has never been that slow in a 100m final, according to Tilastopaja.org, but he rarely competes this early in the year and never races when he’s not confident of victory.

Bolt is less sure of what is shaping up to be his final race — the 4x100m relay at worlds.

“That’s what I’m worried about,” he said. “I’m not worried about individual. I have all the abilities to do the individual, because I’m going to show up ready.”

Bolt noted his countrymen dropped the baton in the 4x100m heats at the IAAF World Relays last month. Bolt was also part of the Jamaican team that was beaten by the U.S. in the 4x100m at the 2015 World Relays. It’s his only defeat in top-level competition in nearly four years.

But the U.S. has a penchant for failing on the biggest stages — one medal combined from the last four worlds and three Olympics, where Jamaica prevailed all seven times.

“The 4x100m is always tricky,” Bolt said. “I always worry a little bit, but my teammates always come through.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Usain Bolt makes retirement ‘belly’ bet

U.S. men look to fill Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte void at swim worlds

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With Michael Phelps retired and Ryan Lochte suspended, the superstars at the world swimming championships clearly lie on the women’s side.

But the men’s events will include world-record chasers, a stinging rivalry and, perhaps, the emergence of Phelps and Lochte’s successor as leading U.S. man.

Caeleb Dressel came through in Rio under arguably the most pressure of any swimmer, starting off the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team in his very first Olympic splash with a personal-best time.

Dressel, a 20-year-old who nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation, has nine events to choose from at worlds in Budapest starting Sunday.

He qualified in four individual events — 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles — and is eligible for all five relays (two mixed-gender).

In the last 15 years, only two U.S. men have raced in four individual events at a single Olympics or world championships — Phelps and Lochte.

Dressel is in the medal mix in all of his individual events, ranking No. 1 in the world this year in the 100m fly, No. 3 in the 50m free, No. 4 in the 100m free and No. 5 in the 50m fly. He is also almost guaranteed medals in any relays that he enters given the unmatched U.S. depth.

Dressel has never been to a worlds and raced just one individual event in Rio. He’s the potential breakout star on a U.S. team, surrounded by more proven names.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

Ryan Murphy, who swam for the same Jacksonville, Fla., club team as Dressel, swept the backstrokes in Rio and broke the 100m back world record leading off the medley relay. That dominance has not quite carried over so far in 2017. Murphy ranks third in the world in the 100m and 200m backs this year.

Chase Kalisz, a longtime Phelps training partner in Baltimore, has followed up his Rio Olympic 400m individual medley silver medal well this year. He chopped two seconds off his personal best in the 200m IM and goes into Budapest ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400m IM by nearly a half-second.

The U.S. boasts more medal threats including Nathan Adrian (sprint freestyles), Townley Haas (200m free), Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes (breaststrokes), but nobody is a clear favorite.

The surest bets are world-record holders Adam Peaty and Ippei Watanabe in the breaststrokes and Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri in the 1500m free. Paltrinieri could challenge a five-year-old world record held by Sun Yang.

Speaking of Sun, the mercurial Chinese superstar is set to renew his rivalry with Australian Mack Horton. In Rio, Horton memorably called Sun “a drug cheat,” in reference to Sun’s three-month suspension in 2014 for using a banned stimulant.

Horton then went out and beat Sun in the 400m freestyle, dethroning the Olympic and world champion. Horton and Sun could face off in four individual events in Budapest.

Key men’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Sun has been two seconds faster than Horton this year
4x100m freestyle relay — Olympic silver medalist France won’t defend world title; U.S. favored

Monday, July 24
100m breaststroke — Peaty has the eight fastest times ever and fastest by .95 this year

Tuesday, July 25
200m freestyle — Haas the only man within .64 of Sun in 2017
100m backstroke — Rio silver medalist Xu Jiayu was .01 shy of Murphy’s WR in April

Wednesday, July 26
200m butterfly — Japan and Hungary lead the post-Phelps-era world; Chad le Clos ranks 8th in 2017
800m freestyle — Italian Gabriele Detti fastest in 2017 by six seconds, but slower than Sun’s winning times in 2011, 2013, 2015

Thursday, July 27
200m individual medley — Phelps, Lochte won the last 12 Olympic/world titles
100m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel

Friday, July 28
200m backstroke — U.S. won 14 of the last 15 Olympic/world titles, including Murphy in Rio
200m breaststroke — Watanabe broke WR in January; surprise Olympic champ Dmitriy Balandin ranks No. 127 this year
4x200m freestyle relay — U.S., without Lochte, Phelps, looks to take world title back from Great Britain

Saturday, July 29
50m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel
100m butterfly — Joseph Schooling eyes Phelps’ WR, but Dressel ranks No. 1 in 2017

Sunday, July 30
400m individual medley — Kalisz ranks No. 1 in 2017, but time is .94 slower than Kosuke Hagino in Rio
1500m freestyle — Sun holds WR of 14:31 but hasn’t broken 14:55 since 2014
4x100m medley relay — Great Britain will lean on Peaty to challenge U.S.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

Katie Ledecky eyes more history as women to star at swimming worlds

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The year after the Olympics isn’t always known for it, but there should be fireworks in the women’s events at the world swimming championships in Budapest next week.

Katie Ledecky could match Missy Franklin‘s record of six gold medals at a single worlds by swimming one more event than she did at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics. Judging by Ledecky’s times at the U.S. Championships last month, the rising Stanford sophomore is in her usual dominant form.

Hungarian Katinka Hosszu, swimming in front of her home fans, could try to equal Ledecky with four individual golds in backstrokes and individual medleys.

Swede Sarah Sjostrom could do the same in the 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles, where world records are under threat.

Ledecky, Hosszu and Sjostrom are all bidding to become the first women to three-peat in an individual event at worlds.

Then there’s the return of the greatest rivalry in swimming. After their memorable Rio duel, King and Yulia Efimova rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year in all three breaststrokes.

Spain’s Mireia Belmonte and American Leah Smith have never won an individual world title, but they could be the busiest swimmers of all next week.

Belmonte could race 7,4000 total meters if she makes every event final. Smith could get up to 7,000 meters. Both would outdistance Ledecky and Hosszu in mileage.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

The women’s program could have been even more loaded if not for two notable absences. Australian Cate Campbell, the 100m freestyle world-record holder, is sitting out world champs.

Australia beat the U.S. in the 4x100m free relay at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, but without Campbell, the Americans are about even with the Aussies. Ledecky’s bid for six golds could hang on this race on the opening night.

Ledecky also greatly benefits from Sjostrom’s decision to skip the 200m freestyle. In Rio, Sjostrom was the closest swimmer to Ledecky in her individual events, coming .35 shy in the 200m free while outsplitting Ledecky in the final 50 meters.

Key women’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Ledecky hasn’t lost a 400m free since the 2012 Olympic Trials
4x100m freestyle relay — Showdown with Campbell-less Australia crucial for Ledecky’s six-gold bid

Monday, July 24
100m butterfly — Sjostrom’s only competition is her world record of 55.48
200m individual medley — Nobody has been within a second of Hosszu this year

Tuesday, July 25
100m backstroke — Kylie Masse was .09 off the longest-standing women’s swimming world record at Canadian Champs
1500m freestyle — Ledecky is 25 seconds faster than anyone else this year
100m breaststroke — Efimova is .13 faster than King this year

Wednesday, July 26
200m freestyle — Ledecky’s toughest individual event made easier by Sjostrom’s absence

Thursday, July 27
200m butterfly — Olympic champ Belmonte eyes first world title; Nos. 2, 3, 4 from Rio absent
4x200m freestyle relay — China is strong, but Ledecky is the U.S.’ ace in the hole

Friday, July 28
100m freestyle — Heavy favorite Sjostrom .02 off the world record in June
200m breaststroke — Efimova is two seconds faster than second-ranked King this year

Saturday, July 29
200m backstroke — Kathleen Baker can inherit throne from retired Maya DiRado 
800m freestyle — Likely Ledecky’s sixth and final event, could match Franklin’s gold record

Sunday, July 30
50m freestyle — No. of sub-24-second times this year — Sjostrom: 6; Rest of World: 0
400m individual medley — Hosszu, after breaking WR by two seconds in Rio, slower this year
4x100m medley relay — U.S. should gap Australia, China on breaststroke leg

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

*Correction: The integrity of a Lilly King quote attributed to Agence France-Presse in earlier version of this story has been called into question and was removed.