Usain Bolt vs. Justin Gatlin for last time in 2013; Diamond League preview

Justin Gatlin, Usain Bolt
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Usain Bolt’s had a dominant year, unless you look at the times.

Bolt lost once all season, by .01 of a second, and won triple gold at the World Championships last month. He stayed healthy and made consistent improvement through the summer while his past rivals fell to failed drug tests (Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell) and injury (Yohan Blake).

Going into his final race, a 100 meters in a Brussels Diamond League meet on Friday, Bolt rated his 2013 an eight out of 10.

“I won,” Bolt, 27, said, “but I wouldn’t say it was in Usain Bolt fashion.”

He’s right. Bolt’s season’s bests are 9.77 and 19.66. (Gay has actually run faster than Bolt this year, but you’ve got to believe his 9.75 will be wiped out once his doping consequences come down).

If Bolt doesn’t go faster Friday (2:45 p.m. Eastern time), he will finish the year with his slowest season’s best in the 100 since 2010 (9.82) and in the 200 since 2007 (19.75). He will go into 2014, the lightest year in track with no Olympics or worlds, with doubts over his dominance. Blake will return healthy. The younger Jamaicans Warren WeirKemar Bailey-Cole and Nickel Ashmeade will probably be faster.

And then there’s Justin Gatlin, who is four years older than Bolt and probably under greater pressure to perform in 2014 as he phases out of the typical prime age for sprinters.

Gatlin was the one man who beat Bolt this year, in a 100 in Rome in June, and took silver to Bolt’s gold in the 100 at worlds by .08. That margin in Moscow was the smallest victory by Bolt in an Olympics or worlds ever.

If Gatlin can summon a surge to defeat Bolt in Brussels (Universal Sports, 2 p.m. ET), the track and field landscape will only get more interesting going into 2014.

Here are other storylines in Brussels (full start lists/timetable):

Men’s Shot Put (12:30): All the medalists from Moscow are in the field — David StorlRyan Whiting and Dylan Armstrong — as well as two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski. If you remember worlds, Storl’s winning throw was at first called a foul but then allowed by officials after reviewing a photographer’s camera.

Men’s 400 Hurdles (2:04): Trinidad and Tobago world champion Jehue Gordon takes on American Michael Tinsley in a rematch of a thrilling worlds final, won by Gordon by .01 of a second.

Women’s 100 (2;13): One more chance for Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce to demolish a field. Fraser-Pryce’s season’s best is 10.71. Only one other woman in the field has gone sub-10.9 this season — American Barbara Pierre.

Men’s 200 (2:20): Weir, the world silver medalist and Olympic bronze medalist, is the clear favorite here. But check out American Walter Dix, the four-time world and Olympic medalist, coming back from yet another injury. Dix set a rather interesting record in a 100 in Zurich, Switzerland, last week. He finished in ninth place in 10.07 seconds, the fastest ever time for a ninth-place finish in a 100 meters race. Most elite races, of course, field eight competitors.

Women’s 400 (2:55): Christine Ohuruogu and Amantle Montsho face off again. Ohuruogu dipped to beat Montsho at worlds, even though they both crossed in 49.41 seconds. Also in the field are the top Americans from worlds — Natasha Hastings and Francena McCorory.

Men’s 800 (3:03): American Nick Symmonds gets one more shot at Ethiopian Mohammed Aman, who overtook Symmonds at worlds for gold. Symmonds took the two-lap race at last week’s meet in Zurich, but Aman was not in the field. Perhaps Symmonds will be aided by the presence of American Duane Solomon, who took out the pace hard at worlds and finished sixth.

Women’s 100 Hurdles (3:15): It’s one more opportunity for 2012 Olympic champion Sally Pearson to show she’s past a hamstring injury. The Australian peaked at worlds with back-to-back 12.50s, grabbing silver behind American phenom Brianna Rollins, who has run four times faster than Pearson’s best this year. Rollins isn’t in the field in Brussels, but the third- and fourth-place finishers from Moscow are — Tiffany Porter and Dawn Harper-Nelson.

Women’s 1,500 (3:21): American Jenny Simpson takes aim at Ethiopian-turned-Swede Abeba Aregawi, who has won five Diamond League 1,500s this season in addition to the World Championship. Simpson, who won in Monaco in July in an Aregawi-less field, took silver to the Swede in Moscow after winning the world title in 2011.

Usain Bolt plans to retire after 2016 Olympics

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Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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