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Usain Bolt is down to his last, blazing curtain call

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Muhammad Ali stood alone on many fronts, but Joe Frazier, George Foreman and a few others still stood toe-to-toe with him in the ring. Jack Nicklaus contended with Arnold Palmer on the front end of his career and Tom Watson on the back end.

Usain Bolt? Nobody has been a match for him, on or off the track.

The man who reshaped the record book and saved his sport is saying goodbye. His sprints through the 100m and Jamaica’s 4x100m relay at the world championships, which begin Friday, are expected to produce golds yet again, and leave track with this difficult question: Who can possibly take his place?

“You would have to have someone who’s dominating, and no one’s doing that,” said Michael Johnson, the former world-record holder at 200m and 400m and perhaps the sport’s brightest star in the 1990s. “You’d have to have someone who has that something special like he has, in terms of personality and presence. You’re not going to have that.”

Though he will not retire undefeated, Bolt stands in the rarest of company: an athlete who was never beaten when the stakes were greatest. And with a showman’s flair as transcendent as his raw speed — Chicken McNuggets for dinner, his fabled “To di World” pose for dessert and dancing away at nightclubs till dawn — he hoisted his entire, troubled sport upon his shoulders and made it watchable and relevant.

Since his era of dominance began in 2008, Bolt went undefeated at the Olympics — 9 for 9 — in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m. (One of those medals was stripped because of doping by a teammate on the 2008 relay team.)

He has set, and re-set, the world records in all three events. His marks of 19.30, then 19.19, at 200m, were once thought virtually impossible. He set a goal of breaking 19 seconds in Rio last summer, and when he came up short, it became clear the barrier will be safe for years.

At the world championships, Bolt’s only “loss” came in 2011, when he was disqualified for a false start in the 100m. Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake won the title that year, as well as the Jamaican national championships at 100m 200m leading to the London Olympics. Heading back to London five years later, Blake is an afterthought.

And Bolt’s mastery of this sport remains unchallenged.

“I’ll be sad to see someone like him go,” said America’s Justin Gatlin, Bolt’s longest and sturdiest challenger, who has been disingenuously portrayed as the brooding bad boy set against Bolt’s carefree party guy. “He’s such a big figure in our sport. Not only is he a big figure, but the kind of guy who always will be a competitor when he steps onto the line.”

Though it’s tricky to compare dominance in track to that in any other sport, there’s an element of Nicklaus in Bolt’s dominance. Impressive as his 18 major championships are, Nicklaus’ 19 second-place finishes and 73 top-10s spoke to his ability to get into the mix in most of the majors over the quarter-century while he was collecting titles. Nicklaus had to fend off Palmer, Watson, Johnny Miller and a dozen other legitimate contenders at every event. Bolt hasn’t faced anything like that.

Yet they shared this important similarity: Often, the contests were over before they even began. Or, as Tom Weiskopf once said: “Jack knew he was going to beat you. You knew Jack was going to beat you. And Jack knew that you knew that he was going to beat you.”

At the worlds two years ago, Gatlin had Bolt beaten in the 100m but leaned in at the finish line a microsecond too early. Bolt passed him and won by .01. The American all but admitted he psyched himself out.

Speaking to the pressure of racing someone such as Bolt, the Scottish sports historian and former Olympic coach Tom McNab compared sprinting to running in a tunnel.

“And once you become aware of what’s happening outside your tunnel, you’re in trouble,” he said.

In boxing, Ali wasn’t necessarily unbeatable, but he was incomparable as both a sharp-witted showman and an athlete with a social conscience, using his platform to preach tolerance and oppose war.

Bolt hasn’t sought that sort of impact, at least not yet, but it’s hard to overstate the mark he made on his troubled sport and, thus, the Olympics, which have long featured athletics as the must-see event of the final two weeks.

Over years and decades, the showcase sport of the Olympics has devolved into a sordid litany of doping scandals. The latest concerns widespread corruption and cheating in Russia, and heading into Rio, it undermined not only the sport and its managers, but the Olympics and their leaders’ willingness to deal with it.

But when Bolt sauntered onto the track, flashed a peace sign and blew a kiss to the crowd, all was forgotten. Not just for the 9, or 19, seconds while he was running, but for the entire evening and beyond. He made track, and thus, the Olympics, eminently watchable.

He’ll do it one more time on a smaller stage – track’s world championships – but a stage with plenty of symbolic meaning.

When he headed to London for the Olympics in 2012, Bolt held all the records, but was portrayed as vulnerable, following the false start, a long list of nagging injuries and his losses to Blake.

By the time he left, he had pretty much anointed himself as the greatest. Four years later, he said that was precisely his goal: “To be among Ali and Pele,” he said.

He’s on that list, but when the lights go out after the relays Aug. 11 – 10 days before his 31st birthday – it will be time to say goodbye.

“Once he’s gone,” McNab says, “there’s no major personality that would make any significant impact at the world level.”

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MORE: Bolt barely wins last race before worlds

Yul Moldauer falls, still wins P&G Champs; world team named

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Yul Moldauer is a grease monkey at heart. There’s something about having a tool in his hands and a problem to solve that speaks to him, a hobby he picked up from his father while growing up in Colorado.

So when the pressure rises at a gymnastics meet, Moldauer goes to what he calls his “peace zone.” To get there he takes 10 to 15 deep breaths and lets his mind drift away to a garage or a highway somewhere.

The thing is, Moldauer’s current car is pretty reliable and doesn’t require a ton of work. Kind of like Moldauer’s gymnastics.

Staked to a 1.95-point lead heading into second and final day of the P&G Championships on Saturday night, Moldauer overcame a shaky start to hold off Oklahoma teammate Allan Bower and capture the all-around title.

The 20-year-old posted a two-day total of 171.6, a full point better than Bower and nearly two points clear of Olympic alternate Donnell Whittenburg. He leads the six-man team for October’s world championships in Montreal.

“I’m definitely still a little shocked,” Moldauer said.

Joining Moldauer on the world team is Whittenburg, plus Olympians Sam Mikulak and Alex Naddour and other world rookies Marvin Kimble and Eddie Penev.

There is no team event at worlds. Just individual all-around and apparatus finals.

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Maybe he shouldn’t be. Moldauer, who in 2016 became the second freshman to win the NCAA all-around, began the year with an impressive win over Olympic all-around silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev at the AT&T American Cup on March 4. Now he finds himself at the forefront of the next wave for the Americans after most of the core of the national team at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics retired.

Not bad for a kid who was so lean when he arrived at Oklahoma that head coach Mark Williams worried Moldauer wouldn’t be strong enough to handle the increased difficulty at the NCAA and senior elite levels.

“It hasn’t been an issue,” Williams said. “This has been earned.”

Akash Modi, the reigning NCAA champion who has developed a friendly rivalry with Moldauer during their collegiate careers, began the night with the best chance at chasing down Moldauer but ended up fourth thanks to significant form breaks on pommel horse and high bar.

“I wouldn’t say it was a terrible day,” said Modi, who professed his love for Taco Bell on NBCSN cameras after routines. “I just wasn’t really ‘on.’ I didn’t attack.”

Naddour, the Olympic pommel horse bronze medalist, locked up a world spot with a 15.25 on pommels. Naddour made an “I see you” gesture after nailing his dismount on pommels, a nod to the rest of the field that awaits in Montreal.

“Wanted to let them know I’m coming for them,” Naddour said. “It’s not going to be easy this year.”

Whittenburg went through another uneven night but finished with a flourish, posting 14.85 on still rings and a 15 on vault to surge past Modi into third. The importance of reaching the all-around podium wasn’t lost on Whittenburg, who was the top U.S. all-arounder at 2015 Worlds but then missed the five-man Rio squad. He’s finally ready to put the disappointment behind him.

“I definitely feel the confidence and the energy going up for me,” Whittenburg said.

Mikulak, recovering from an Achilles tear in February, finished second on pommel horse and third on high bar to make a compelling case to high-performance director Brett McClure that he’s healthy enough to contribute to the world team.

Mikulak’s injury, however, prevented him from competing in the all-around after winning the last four national titles. Mikulak ceded the stage to Moldauer and Modi.

Moldauer talked about the need to just focus on the little picture and not the big one after taking a substantial lead on the first night of competition Thursday. Maybe, but he appeared jittery during the start of finals. He sailed off the high bar on his first event, scoring a 12.8 that briefly opened the door for the rest of the field.

“I told myself it’s one event,” said Moldauer, whose lead dropped to .65. “I have five other events I can make points on.”

And he did, putting up a 14.95 on floor exercise that equaled the best of the night and put him firmly back in control. Needing only to avoid a total collapse on parallel bars to win, he could hear his teammates clapping as he neared his dismount. Moldauer nearly shorted it, his left leg hitting one of the bars on the way down. When his feet hit the mat and stuck, he raced to embrace Williams and celebrate a title that should make him a force in the program as he enters his prime.

While Williams, the Olympic team coach last summer, knows there’s another level for Moldauer to reach. A national championship is an important step in the process.

“He’s got a certain amount of cockiness,” Williams said. “He wants to show people he’s a performer and he can do really good gymnastics.”

The P&G Championships conclude Sunday with the final day of women’s competition (7 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

MORE: Danell Leyva on why he’s retiring

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Aly Raisman speaks out about USA Gymnastics scandal

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Aly Raisman is ready to talk about “the elephant in the room.” And the six-time Olympic medalist thinks it’s time USA Gymnastics joins in a conversation she feels is long overdue.

The 23-year-old is calling for sweeping change in the organization in the wake of dozens of allegations of sexual abuse against former national team doctor Larry Nassar, a scandal that has left one of the U.S. Olympic movement’s marquee programs scrambling and Raisman shaken.

Nassar spent nearly 30 years as an osteopath with the USA Gymnastics program and is now in prison in Michigan after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. Nassar is still awaiting trial on separate criminal sexual conduct charges in addition to being sued by over 125 women in civil court who claim he sexually assaulted them under the guise of treatment.

Nassar has pleaded not guilty to the assault charges and the dozens of civil suits filed in Michigan are currently in mediation.

Raisman, who was around Nassar regularly at the team’s training facility in Texas and at meets around the globe, declined to talk about whether she was treated improperly by Nassar. She did agree to speak more generally and called Nassar “a monster” and blames USA Gymnastics for failing to stop him and spending too much of the fallout attempting to “sweep it under the rug.”

“I feel like there’s a lot of articles about it, but nobody has said, ‘This is horrible, this is what we’re doing to change,’” Raisman said Saturday after she and other Final Five members were inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Raisman served as a captain for both the Final Five and the Fierce Five that won gold in London in 2012. While several alleged Nassar victims have come forward, including 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher, Raisman is the highest profile athlete yet to publicly reprimand the organization. Raisman said she kept quiet waiting after the initial allegations surfaced last summer, waiting for USA Gymnastics to own up to its mistakes.

While it is taking steps toward creating a safer environment for its athletes, she doesn’t believe it is doing nearly enough openly enough, adding she feels USA Gymnastics is trying to get on with business as usual.

“What people don’t realize is that this doctor was a doctor for 29 years,” Raisman. “Whether or not he did it to a gymnast, they still knew him. Even if he didn’t do it to you, it’s still the trauma and the anxiety of wondering what could have happened. I think that needs to be addressed. These girls, they should be comfortable going to USA Gymnastics and saying ‘I need help, I want therapy. I need this.’

USA Gymnastics launched an independent review of its policies in the wake of the allegations against Nassar and reporting by the Indianapolis Star that highlighted chronic mishandling of abuse allegations against coaches and staff at some of its over 3,500 clubs across the country.

In June, the federation immediately adopted 70 recommendations proffered by Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw the review. The new guidelines require member gyms to go to authorities immediately, with Daniels suggesting USA Gymnastics consider withholding membership from clubs who decline to do so.

The organization also named Toby Stark, a child welfare advocate, as its director of SafeSport. Part of Stark’s mandate is educating members on rules, educational programs, reporting and adjudication services.

Daniels said repeatedly that her review wasn’t designed to adjudicate the past, something that doesn’t fly with Raisman. She pointed to the reported $1 million severance package given to former president Steve Penny after he resigned under pressure in March as proof that the organization just doesn’t get it.

“I thought, ‘Wow, why couldn’t they create a program?’” Raisman said. “A million dollars is a lot of money. They could do a lot of things to create change. They could create a program. They could even contact all the families that have come forward and say ‘Can we help your kid with therapy?’”

Lynn Raisman, Aly’s mother, said USA gymnastics needs to “get rid of the people who knew and looked the other way.”

Raisman has used her celebrity and extensive social media reach as a platform to promote positive body image and anti-bullying. She’s currently living in Needham, Mass., working on her autobiography out in November while weighing whether to take a shot at the 2020 Games. (Raisman said last September that she planned to go for Tokyo 2020 after taking a year off from training)

Either way, she wants USA Gymnastics to evolve and stressed there’s a difference between her criticism of USA Gymnastics and the sport as a whole.

The sport is fine. It’s part of the fabric of her life. It’s the organization that needs to change. And she’s clear on the message she wants it to send.

“Everyone is important,” Raisman said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the Olympic champion or you’re an 8-year-old that goes to gymnastics in Ohio, or wherever you are in the U.S. Every single kid is important and I want USA Gymnastics to do a better job with that.”

P&G CHAMPS: TV Schedule | Final Five Updates | Results

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