Usain Bolt vs. Justin Gatlin; Diamond League Zurich preview

Usain Bolt
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The World Championships are behind us, but there are still plenty of reasons to keep an eye on track and field. Foremost, the first of two Diamond League finals, Thursday in Zurich, Switzerland.

Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin will face off over 100 meters at 3:28 p.m. Eastern time on Universal Sports (full start lists here). Bolt beat Gatlin in the 100 at worlds earlier this month in his closest margin of victory in an Olympic or worlds final ever (.08 of a second). Gatlin handed Bolt a defeat in Rome in June by .01.

Bolt hasn’t raced a 100 since worlds, while Gatlin won a race into a slight headwind in rainy Linz, Austria, in 10.08 seconds Monday.

At a pre-meet press conference, Bolt reiterated what he’s been saying since 2012, that his plan is to enter three events at the Rio 2016 Olympics — the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay.

“For me, the key thing is just to go to defend my titles, and that’s my focus,” Bolt said, according to The Associated Press. “It would be the first time anybody has ever won three times in a row.”

Bolt and Gatlin are clear favorites in Zurich, as they were at worlds in Moscow. The Olympic silver medalist, Yohan Blake of Jamaica, is done for the season with a hamstring injury. The man with the fastest time this year, Tyson Gay, is out after failing multiple drug tests.

Don’t be surprised if Bolt goes faster than his season’s best 9.77 from the World Championships. That’s because he and other sprint stars have a history of posting fast times after worlds. In 2011, Bolt posted his season’s best 9.76 on Sept. 16. On that same day, Yohan Blake ran the second fastest 200 meters ever — 19.26. Bolt ran a meet record 19.66 in a 200 in Zurich last year.

Bolt spent Wednesday in Zurich, meeting FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who gave Bolt a ticket to the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro, according to Reuters.

Bolt, a soccer lover who wishes to play for Manchester United, also touched the World Cup trophy for the first time. Somebody in Zurich suggested to Bolt he go into sports administration after he retired.

“I have thought about it, I have to admit I’m slightly lazy, but we’ll see where it goes,” Bolt said, according to Reuters.

The rest of the field in Zurich is led by Jamaicans Nesta CarterKemar Bailey-Cole and Nickel Ashmeade and Americans Walter Dix and Mike Rodgers.

Other events to watch Thursday:

Men’s High Jump (2 p.m. ET): Ukrainian world champion Bohdan Bondarenko could take another shot at Javier Sotomayor‘s 20-year-old world record of 2.45 meters. Bondarenko tried and failed to better it at the London Anniversary Games in July and the World Championships earlier this month, where he won with a 2.41-meter jump.

Women’s 5,000 (2:13): Finally, we get to see the queens of distance running meet. Ethiopian world and Olympic champions Meseret Defar (5,000) and Tirunesh Dibaba (10,000) will go in the same race for the first time in competition in seven years, according to Agence France-Presse.

Women’s 200 (2:44): Triple world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is in the field. Can anyone beat her? American Olympic champion Allyson Felix is out with her torn hamstring. World silver medalist Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast will give it a shot.

Men’s 110 Hurdles (3:02): All four Americans from the worlds final are in the field, including world champion David Oliver and Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt. Merritt will be looking to make up for a disappointing sixth-place finish at worlds. Also Cuban Dayron Robles, the 2008 Olympic champion, is in the field after missing worlds.

Women’s 800 (3:10): Like Robles, Caster Semenya returns after missing the World Championships, A knee injury limited the 2009 world champion early in the season, and she failed to post a qualifying time for worlds.

Men’s 400 (3:20): LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James face off yet again. They’ve traded wins agains each other this year. Merritt took the world title in a personal-best 43.74, while James, the Olympic champion, finished a disappointing seventh.

Where is Jeff Demps?

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record with slopestyle gold

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a four-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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