Ryan Bailey

Ryan Bailey hopes health yields return to Olympic form

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It is the final night of track and field at the London Olympics. Ryan Bailey stands on the Olympic Stadium track, his body turned away from the clicking cameras and his head tilted all the way down, facing his lime shoes, his hands resting on his hips and his heels nearly touching.

It appears the 23-year-old Olympic rookie is trying to escape the cauldron created by the wide-stanced man taking up the entire lane to his inside. Usain Bolt stretches his arms, flexes his biceps and stirs the crowd. Many of some 80,000 spectators focus on that tiny patch of the track, 40 seconds before the 4x100m relay final begins.

Bolt and Bailey are the anchor legs, waiting for their respective black and yellow batons after three exchanges in less than 30 seconds.

Bolt is seeking his sixth Olympic gold medal. Bailey is the U.S. sprinter who used to live out of a car, was once involved in gangs and stabbed three times with a pocket knife in high school, as detailed in pre-Olympic feature stories.

The gun goes off. Americans Trell Kimmons and Justin Gatlin hand a lead to third sprinter Tyson Gay, who loses the edge to Olympic 100m silver medalist Yohan Blake around the curve.

Bolt jumps out of his three-point stance. Bailey, one inch shorter, goes with him. They receive their batons almost simultaneously.

“I just ran for my life,” Bailey, on a fractured heel bone, repeated in interviews that chilly night. “We were neck and neck, for a little while.”

For about two seconds. Bailey (or any other man on the planet) didn’t stand a chance — “When [Bolt] got the stick,” Gay said, “there was nothing we could do about it.”

Bailey can be proud of the finish, two tenths behind Bolt, who ran through the line, and a total U.S. time of 37.04, matching the previous world record. Bailey can be seen in the background of many photos of Bolt doing Mo Farah‘s “Mobot” celebration on his deceleration.

Bailey talked after that race about still learning to run relaxed. That was a reminder that he is seven years younger than Gatlin and Gay. Bailey had equaled his personal best, 9.88, in the 100m final six days earlier and was the second youngest in that eight-man field behind Blake.

Neither Gatlin nor Gay is entered at this week’s U.S. Championships, where names are listed in order of fastest qualifying times. Bailey would seem a favorite then, but he is not even a certainty to make the 100m final in Sacramento, Calif., on Friday.

His track record since London becomes clear while scanning down the list, searching for the fifth-place 100m finisher from the Olympics. One. Two. Three. … no Bailey yet … Four. Five. Six. … still not there … Seven. …

Eight. Ryan Bailey. 10.10. 

He hasn’t beaten 10 seconds since 2012, a two-year stretch weighed down by post-Olympic surgery on that heel bone, the flu and a balky hamstring. The hamstring in particular has been a constant for Bailey since he began running track as an Oregon high school sophomore.

Except for that Olympic season.

“I felt pretty lucky. I’ve never gone that long without an injury,” Bailey said before the Adidas Grand Prix in New York two weeks ago, leaving out the broken heel bone.

Two months after the Olympics, Bolt told Sports Illustrated of Bailey, “”People keep saying he’s the one, but he’s got a lot of work to do.”

The problem has been getting that work in. He withdrew from last year’s U.S. Championships due to the hamstring, leaving him to watch the World Championships on TV. He hasn’t raced in a European Diamond League meet since 2012.

“If I can just put together a good six months of training, I think I’ll be golden,” said Bailey, who works under coach John Smith in Southern California. “Until then, I’ve got to take care of the leg.”

Bailey said in New York that he was healthy, “but how well I’ll run, we’ll see.” He covered 100m in 10.29 seconds, into a 1.9m/s headwind. He was fifth, but the fastest American.

Bailey doesn’t remember much about that Olympic relay. He’s watched it a handful of times.

Plus, who knows how much longer he will own that silver medal, given Gay’s doping suspension. Nobody has asked him for it yet. He declined comment on Gay and the uncertain situation.

Those seconds in London, when Bailey stood near the Bolt spotlight, are vanishing in those multiple ways. But Bailey hasn’t disappeared and is quick to remind of two years ago

“Nobody expected me to make the team [in 2012], and I did,” Bailey said. “You can’t really guarantee anything.””

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Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal rekindle record bids at French Open

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Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will play on the same day at the French Open through the quarterfinals, assuming each advances that far and the weather doesn’t wreak havoc. Each time they walk on the crushed red clay, the legends move closer to tying all-time records.

Williams, in her 10th bid since returning from childbirth to tie Margaret Court‘s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, battled and then rolled past 102nd-ranked countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0.

“I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena,” she said of the difference between a 74-minute first set and a 27-minute second set. “I love the clay, and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

Nadal, in his second major since moving within one of Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Slam titles, swept 83rd-ranked Belarusian Egor Gerasimov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

“Six months without playing a single tennis match is not easy,” said Nadal, who skipped the U.S. Open and then lost his third match at his comeback tournament in Rome. “I had to stop playing tennis for more than two months, so situation is difficult.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Their pursuits are very different.

Williams is already the greatest player in history by many measures, especially considering most of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and some at the Australian Open without the world’s best players.

Williams has lost all four of her major finals since her life-threatening childbirth. But she is not the favorite in Paris, despite the absence of 2019 champion Ash Barty of Australia and recent U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka. Williams hasn’t made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in four years and just went 16 months between competitive matches on clay.

She’s also battling an Achilles injury that affected her during a U.S. Open semifinal run three weeks ago. She’s spent most of her preparation time in France rehabbing.

“A ton of prayer,” she said, noting coming early to a post-match press conference to maximize her subsequent time handling the Achilles. “I’m doing so much for it.”

None of Williams’ potential first three opponents have ever beaten her. Next up: Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Like Williams, Nadal next plays on Wednesday. He gets Mackenzie McDonald, one of six American men to so far reach round two, the most since 1998.

For more than a decade, followers have debated the greatest male player in history between Nadal and Federer (and now Novak Djokovic). But not until winning the 2019 U.S. Open did Nadal move within one Slam of Federer’s total.

Now, Nadal can tie Federer and pass the Swiss if he wins the next two French Opens (and Federer doesn’t win the next Australian Open).

Nadal is going for his 13th crown in Paris, as usual downplaying his favorite status. This time, he’s noting the cool, slow, autumnal conditions and a new brand of tennis ball that is disadvantageous.

“Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros,” Nadal said last week. “The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament.”

Federer is not playing after two knee operations. Nadal, who at 34 is five years younger than Federer, has the opportunity in the coming matches and months to tip the scales in his favor. And help deny Djokovic, who is 33 with 17 Slams.

Nadal is not one to engage in that GOAT debate. Turns out, neither is Williams.

“You can’t compare two people that are equally great,” she said of Nadal and Federer. “I don’t understand why people want to pit who’s this, who’s that? They both have spectacular careers that 99 percent of people can only dream of and they both deserve.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310.

Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
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Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

MORE: Orser reacts to Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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