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Justin Gatlin: I’m still the man to beat at U.S. Championships

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Justin Gatlin believes he remains the nation’s preeminent 100m sprinter, despite an injury-plagued early season followed by slow times in spring meets.

“I would consider myself the man to beat,” at the U.S. Championships in three weeks, Gatlin said Tuesday, according to Reuters. “When it comes to trials and nationals, I usually step up and am the dominant sprinter.”

Gatlin, 35, is tied for 13th in the U.S. 100m rankings this year with a top wind-legal time of 10.14 seconds. Each of the previous five years, he had run 9.91 or faster by June 1. Gatlin took silver behind Usain Bolt at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds and the 2016 Olympics.

But Gatlin has said injuries slowed him this spring — ankle, calf, quadriceps, groin — forcing him to miss chunks of training in March and April, according to Reuters. Gatlin’s agent and his coach have said the 200m is no longer part of his program.

“This season is going to test my fortitude mentally and physically probably more than any other season,” said Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion who came back from a four-year doping ban in 2010.

Gatlin finished fifth in the Pre Classic 100m in a wind-aided 9.97 seconds on Saturday, but only one of the top four was an American (winner Ronnie Baker). Gatlin was the top American in his previous Diamond League 100m, bettering Baker in a fourth-place finish in Doha on May 5.

Gatlin would become the second-oldest American to race the 100m at an Olympics or world championships should he finish in the top three at the U.S. Championships and then compete at worlds in London in August.

The oldest is Gail Devers, the 1992 and 1996 Olympic women’s 100m champion who raced at the 2004 Athens Games at age 37.

At nationals, Gatlin’s biggest threats appear to be Baker and University of Tennessee sprinter Christian Coleman, the only U.S. men to break 10 seconds (wind legal) this year.

His top domestic rivals in recent years — Tyson Gay and Trayvon Bromell — have been absent from international competition since the Rio Olympics.

Gay, the 2007 World 100m champion, hasn’t raced outside of Florida this year. Bromell, a 2015 World 100m co-bronze medalist, hasn’t raced at all since Rio and is coming back from Achilles surgery.

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Alysia Montano races pregnant again at USATF Outdoor Championships

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U.S. Olympic 800m runner Alysia Montaño raced four months pregnant in 110-degree heat at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday.

Montaño, who raced eight months pregnant at the 2014 USATF Outdoors also in Sacramento, finished last in her 800m first-round heat in 2:21.40. She was 10 seconds faster than her time three years ago.

In a Wonder Woman top, she gritted her teeth on the final straightaway and raised her arms crossing the finish line.

“[In 2014] women let me know that my journey and my story had inspired them in so many different ways,” Montaño told media in Sacramento, standing next to 2-year-old daughter Linnea. “I think there’s something about coming out to any venue, not really expecting to win, but just going along with the journey and seeing what comes out of it. And that’s the most beautiful part for me, being a track and field athlete, the platform that I have, I feel so responsible to be a representative for people who don’t have the same platform, don’t have the same voice that I do.

“I represent so many different people. I represent women. I represent black women. I represent pregnant women. … I think it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m a voice and advocate for them.”

Athletes are looking for top-three finishes to qualify for the world championships in London in August. Finals are later this weekend.

In the men’s 800m, two-time Olympian and 2013 World silver medalist Nick Symmonds was eliminated, 32nd-fastest of 33 runners in the first round.

Symmonds, in his final season, said he has one more race left — the Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 10.

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Lilly King to be less vocal on Yuliya Efimova topic this summer

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Expect to see Lilly King and Yuliya Efimova resume their breaststroke rivalry at the world championships next month.

It will look very different than in Rio, when King became a vocal opponent of doping and directed some of her words at the formerly suspended Russian Efimova.

“This summer, I’m not going to talk about everything that happened last summer,” King said, according to the Indianapolis Star. “I spoke my piece. I’ve said everything I need to say.”

Her focus needs to stay in the pool, where she must finish first or second at the USA Swimming National Championships next week to make it to worlds (broadcast schedule here).

King said in May her goal is to break world records at worlds in Budapest in July.

She may need to in order to defeat Efimova like in Rio.

Efimova has the fastest 100m breast time in the world this year, a 1:04.82 set on Sunday. The national record put her No. 3 on the all-time list (and .09 faster than King’s winning time in Rio).

King is in third place this year at 1:06.20, though she spent all winter focusing on NCAA competition in 25-yard pools.

In Rio, King said Efimova shouldn’t have been allowed to compete given her doping history.

Efimova served a 16-month ban for testing positive for the banned steroid DHEA in 2013. She again tested positive in February 2016 for meldonium, though she said she stopped taking it before it became a banned substance Jan. 1, 2016, and was absolved along with other athletes.

King memorably finger-wagged at an image of Efimova on a TV in the ready room before her 100m breast semifinal and relegated the Russian to silver the following the night.

“You’ve been caught for drug cheating, I’m just not a fan,” King memorably said in Rio, adding last November, “[Doping] was on all of our minds. We had team meetings talking about what it was going to be like. We were going to be racing dopers, and we all knew it.”

King struggled with her newfound fame after she returned home last summer, sobbing in a winter meeting with her University of Indiana coach, Ray Looze, according to the Indianapolis Star:

It was so hard to do normal activities in her hometown – go to the grocery store or eat at a restaurant – that she considered wearing a wig to disguise herself. Her likeness was on a bingo card at a fall festival, so people purposely looked for her. When in Evansville now, she said, she looks at the ground so no one will recognize her. After an initial wave of attention on IU’s campus, she can walk around without interruption.

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