Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt talks Olympic history, racing in the U.S., more in Q&A

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NEW YORK — Usain Bolt made a rare appearance in the U.S. on Wednesday, about 10 days after he ended an abbreviated track season and one day after playing cricket in India.

OlympicTalk caught up with Bolt. Here are excerpts from the interview:

OlympicTalk: If you were president of the IAAF and could change one thing about track and field, what would it be?

Bolt: One thing I’d have to really try to address is always going to be drug use. I think one thing I would put in place is that if you make a mistake, you get a ban for a couple years. But if you seriously did it on purpose, you should be banned for life.

OlympicTalk: If you were president of the International Olympic Committee and could change one thing about the Olympics, what would it be?

Bolt: I don’t know. I think the Olympics is a great competition. I really don’t have an issue with the Olympics. They work well.

OlympicTalk: Who do you consider the greatest Olympian of all time?

Bolt: Herb McKenley. (McKenley, the first Jamaican Olympic 100m medalist, won four Olympic sprint medals over the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.) Back in the days, these guys are my idols growing up. I live to see these guys. These guys really pushed the barrier coming up and did great for Jamaica starting out. I lived to see these guys and be just like them.

OlympicTalk: Your confidence is obvious, but what would it take for even a little self-doubt to creep in between now and the Rio Olympics? Injuries? Somebody else running extremely fast?

Bolt: I never doubt myself. In life, you learn that you will lose some. For me, I’m always confident. As long as I’m fit, I’m confident. If I get injuries, I slightly won’t be so confident, but I’m always going to be ready to race.

OlympicTalk: What is the most stinging defeat you’ve had in your career, aside from the false start in the 2011 World Championships 100m final?

Bolt: That’s it, [the false start in 2011]. That’s really it. My coach, when I started out, they would always talk, “You’re going to lose some. You’re never going to win every race.” So when I lose, it’s never a big deal to me. It’s just something to learn from, to move on from.

OlympicTalk: A lot of people don’t know that you competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. What do you remember about that experience?

Bolt: Not much. Seeing Yao Ming for the first time. That’s one thing that always sticks in my mind. And it was hot as hell.

OlympicTalk: You’ve visited a lot of places, like India just now. Is there anywhere you haven’t been where you would like to visit and/or race?

Bolt: Thailand and Greece, the islands of Greece.

OlympicTalk: If you raced Justin Gatlin this season, do you think you would have been able to beat him?

Bolt: [Takes a second to think] Well, if I had gotten a little bit more races under my belt, yeah. But perfect conditions, if he’s running 9.8, I don’t think so. I don’t think I would beat him.

OlympicTalk: We haven’t seen you race in the U.S. since you broke your first world record in 2008. There are a lot of sponsor issues and things you can’t totally control, but if it comes down to the end of your career and you still haven’t raced here since 2008, are you going to make it a point to say, “I want to do a race in the United States again?”

Bolt: As you said, Adidas took over the race [the annual Diamond League event in New York that was under Reebok sponsorship in 2008]. So it’s Adidas athletes [Bolt is sponsored by Puma]. For me it would be cool. It’s always good because I know that all the fans always give a great reception every time I come to the meet in New York.

OlympicTalk: We see how great it is to be Usain Bolt. What’s the worst part of being Usain Bolt?

Bolt: Being Usain Bolt [laughs]. I think it’s going out and not being able to just relax sometimes. Sometimes you go to have a bite to eat. You just want to chill, and all these fans want pictures and stuff.

OlympicTalk: The biggest sports star in the U.S. right now is LeBron James. The last time we saw you in the U.S., you were courtside at a Miami Heat game watching him. Did you meet him there? If so, what did you talk about?

Bolt: No. I’ve met LeBron before. He’s a great motivator. He’s a hard worker. I follow him on Instagram, so I see the work he puts in and the determination he has. I have nothing but respect for him also.

OlympicTalk: We see you being brought into meets onto the track in cars, in rockets, in Humvees, and the presents people give you. And obviously in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games, the lap around the track with all the selfies was pretty amazing. Can you point out one moment in your career that really blew your mind?

Bolt: One of the moments was actually Beijing, on my birthday, when I came out and the whole crowd sang happy birthday for me. That was an experience. That was like wow.

OlympicTalk: Any souvenirs you take from every Olympics, outside of your medals or track kits?

Bolt: I always collect the mascots. My mom or friends always steals them, so right now I don’t have them though.

Lolo Jones is second track Olympian to go on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Novak Djokovic rolls at French Open; top women escape

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Novak Djokovic began what could be a march to his 18th Grand Slam title, sweeping Swede Mikael Ymer 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 in the French Open first round on Tuesday.

The top seed Djokovic lost just seven points in the first set. He gets Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis in the second round in a half of the draw that includes no other man with French Open semifinal experience.

Djokovic had plenty going for him into Roland Garros, seeking to repeat his 2016 run to the title. The chilly weather is similar to four years ago.

“I don’t like usually comparing the years,” he said. “But I think [the conditions are] quite suitable to my style of the game.”

As is Djokovic’s form. His only loss in 2020 was when he was defaulted at the U.S. Open for hitting a ball in anger that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Djokovic got a break with the draw when No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem was put in No. 2 Rafael Nadal‘s half. The Serbian also won his clay-court tune-up event in Rome, where he received warnings in back-to-back matches for breaking a racket and uttering an obscenity.

“I don’t think that [the linesperson incident] will have any significant negative impact on how I feel on the tennis court,” Djokovic said before Roland Garros. “I mean, I won the tournament in Rome just a week later after what happened in New York.

“I really want to be my best version as a player, as a human being on the court, and win a tennis match. Because of the care that I have for that, I sometimes express my emotions in good way or maybe less good way.”

If Djokovic can lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires two Sundays from now, he will move within two of Roger Federer‘s career Slams record. Also notable: He would keep Nadal from tying Federer’s record and head into the Australian Open in January, his signature Slam, with a chance to match Nadal at 19.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Tuesday, No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Sofia Kenin each needed three sets to reach the second round.

The Czech Pliskova rallied past Egyptian qualifier Mayar Sherif 6-7 (9), 6-2, 6-4. Pliskova, the highest-ranked player without a major title, next gets 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

“Let’s not talk about my level [of play],” Pliskova said. “I think there is big room for improvement.”

Kenin, the American who won the Australian Open in February, outlasted Russian Liudmila Samsonova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

“It doesn’t matter how you win — ugly, pretty, doesn’t matter,” Kenin said on Tennis Channel.

She gets Romanian Ana Bogdan in the second round. Only one other seed — No. 14 Elena Rybakina — is left in Kenin’s section en route to a possible quarterfinal.

American Jen Brady, who made a breakthrough run to the U.S. Open semifinals, was beaten by Danish qualifier Clara Tauson  6-4, 3-6, 9-7.

Sam Querrey nearly made it eight American men into the second round, serving for the match in the third set. But he succumbed to 13th-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. It’s still the best first-round showing for U.S. men since nine advanced in 1996.

The second round begins Wednesday, highlighted by Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.

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

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U.S. men off to best French Open start in 24 years

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The last time U.S. men started this well at the French Open, Sebastian Korda wasn’t alive and his dad had yet to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Eight American men are into the second round at Roland Garros, the largest contingent in the last 64 since 1996. It could have been nine, had Sam Querrey served out the match in the third set against 13th seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Still, the U.S. has more men in the second round than any other nation. Astonishing, given U.S. men went a collective 1-9 at the 2019 French Open.

Back in 1996, nine American men won first-round matches. That group included Pete SamprasAndre AgassiJim Courier and Michael Chang (in Sampras’ deepest run in Paris, to the semifinals).

Clay has long been kryptonite for this generation of Americans — the last U.S. man to make a Roland Garros quarterfinal was Agassi in 2003.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

This group includes veterans like Jack Sock, who swept countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 on Monday. Sock, 28, was once ranked eighth in the world.

He then dropped out of the rankings entirely, missing time due to injury and going 10 months between tour-level match wins. He’s now at No. 310 and preparing to play No. 3 Dominic Thiem in the second round.

“A pretty horrific two years in a row,” Sock said. “I’m not opposed to silencing some haters after the last couple years I’ve gone through. I’ve read and seen enough of it, heard enough of it. I’m kind of ready to reestablish myself out there, let people know that I’m back.”

Then there’s 35-year-old John Isner, the big server who swept a French wild card in round one. Isner, the highest seeded U.S. man at No. 21, has posted some decent Roland Garros results, reaching the fourth round three times.

There are new faces, too. Taylor Fritz is seeded 27, aged 22 and in an open section of the draw to make his first Grand Slam fourth round.

On Sunday, 20-year-old Korda became the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since an 18-year-old Andy Roddick beat Chang in 2001.

He is the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda and brother of the world’s second- and 22nd-ranked female golfers (Nelly and Jessica).

So far, Sebastian’s biggest feats: winning the 2018 Australian Open junior title and, in his only golf tournament, beating both of his sisters when he was 11. It was around that age that he gave up ice hockey and focused solely on tennis.

Korda was hooked after watching a Czech whom his dad coached, Radek Stepanek, at the U.S. Open in 2009.

“He played Djokovic on [Arthur] Ashe [Stadium] like at 10:30 at night,” Korda, nicknamed Sebi, said on Tennis Channel. “Completely packed. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I went home, and I was like, this is exactly what I want to do.”

An American man is already guaranteed to make the third round in Paris. Korda faces Isner on Thursday.

“I grew up on the clay,” Korda said, “so I know how to play on it a little bit.”

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

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