Ato Boldon on Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin and the 2017 season

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Four-time Olympic medalist Ato Boldon, NBC’s lead track and field analyst, witnessed a memorable year for the sport.

35-year-old Justin Gatlin shocking Usain Bolt to win the 100m world championship.

Bolt falling to the track in the final race of his decorated career.

The best-ever performance for the U.S. at Worlds, led by sprinter Allyson Felix, who passed retired Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey for the most career world championship medals.

Boldon discussed the 2017 track and field season before the year’s final Diamond League meet, which will take place today at 2:00 p.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold.

What are your biggest takeaways from the 2017 track and field season?

My biggest takeaways are the new stars emerging. You need only look as far as the world championships in London and the number of first-time world champions to realize that there are some new faces that you better get familiar with, because chances are they are around to stay.

Justin Gatlin upset Usain Bolt to win the 100m world championship. At 35, how much longer can he be a top sprinter?

I thought Justin had lost a step after last year. The response to that was, ‘Well, how is he the world champion in 2017?’ Simple answer: 9.92 seconds was all it took to win Worlds, one of the slowest winning times ever. If the winning time at championships (including the USA Championships) is 9.9, Justin will remain competitive. If Christian Coleman, Andre De Grasse and younger sprint stars of the world make it 9.7, he will be forced out.

Now that Bolt is hanging up his spikes, who will become the face of track and field?

I think it will be Wayde van Niekerk, because I think he has the ability to dominate his event (400m) the way Bolt did. I was disappointed to hear him say he won’t double at a championship again. The sport needs that. He was a lean from pulling off something that had been done before only once, so I hope he’ll reconsider. He doesn’t have the same extrovert personality as Bolt, but it’s partly the media’s job to continue to make him appealing to the global audience.

As the 2017 season comes to a close, who will you be watching in 2018?

In 2018, I will be watching the youngsters who almost won this year to see if they improve or decline next year: Coleman (100m silver), Salwa Eid Naser (400m silver from Bahrain), Steven Gardiner (400m silver from Bahamas), and Marie-Josee Ta Lou (100m and 200m silver medals from Ivory Coast).

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MORE: World champion Justin Gatlin beaten in Diamond League final

Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

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Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

WORLDS: TV Schedule | Pairs Preview | Nagasu’s Outlook

Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

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Olympic golf qualifying, format largely unchanged for 2020

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The Tokyo 2020 Olympic golf tournaments qualifying and format will remain largely the same as they were for the sport’s return to the Games in 2016, according to Golf Channel, citing a memo sent to PGA Tour players.

The format will again be four rounds of stroke play with 60 men and 60 women taken from the world rankings, according to the report.

The qualifying window to determine the rankings will be July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020 for men and July 8, 2018 to June 29, 2020 for women. That’s a slight change, as for 2016 the dates were the same for men and women.

The 2016 process saw a maximum of two men and two women per country, or up to four if they were ranked in the top 15.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said one month after the Rio Games that he hoped the Olympic golf format would be changed to have more medals awarded.

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