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.

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Noah Lyles’ unbelievable time comes with an oops at Inspiration Games

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Noah Lyles may one day break Usain Bolt‘s world record, but Thursday wasn’t going to be that day. Even if, for about five minutes, Lyles was the first man to break 19 seconds over 200m.

Lyles registered 18.90 seconds, racing alone against competitors simultaneously sprinting on tracks in Europe. The time was unbelievable, given Bolt’s world record was 19.19 seconds. Turns out, it was too good to be true.

Minutes later on the broadcast, commentator Steve Cram said that Lyles only ran 185 meters, starting from an incorrect place on his Florida track.

“You can’t be playing with my emotions like this,” tweeted Lyles, who raced in Sonic the Hedgehog socks. “Got me in the wrong lane smh.”

Lyles, 22, has run 66 official 200m races dating to 2013, according to Tilastopaja.org. He is the reigning world champion and the fourth-fastest man in history with a personal best of 19.50 seconds.

But he had never experienced what came Thursday, with few spectators and nobody else in adjacent lanes for the Inspiration Games, a socially distanced meet with Olympians competing against each other on different continents.

Perhaps the setting played a role in the mistake.

“It actually felt pretty good besides getting that full gust of wind,” Lyles, who ran into a registered 3.7 meter/second headwind, said before he knew his time or that he was 15 meters short.

Christophe Lemaitre, the Olympic bronze medalist from France, got the win in 20.65 seconds.

Earlier Thursday, Allyson Felix had a succinct reaction to the strangest victory of her sterling career.

“That’s weird,” she said after running 150 meters alone, in front of few spectators on a track in Walnut, California.

Officially, Felix ran 16.81 seconds — impressive, especially if the reported 2.6 meter/second headwind reading was accurate — to defeat Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world 200m bronze medalist Mujinga Kambundji.

Miller-Uibo raced alone in Florida. Kambundji was on her own in Zurich, the base of the Inspiration Games, a repurposed version of an annual Diamond League stop. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing meet organizers to get creative this summer.

Full meet results are here.

Felix, a 34-year-old mom with nine Olympic medals, called her event “very strange.”

“It feels sort of like practice, but not even because there’s really no teammates or anything,” she told 1996 Olympic decathlon champion Dan O’Brien at Mt. San Antonio College. “It’s hard to challenge yourself. I think that’s the big thing with running solo.”

Canadian Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse won a 100-yard race in 9.68 seconds, defeating French veteran Jimmy Vicaut (9.72) and Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica (9.87). De Grasse, Vicaut and McLeod raced together, in every other lane at a Florida track.

The 100 yards is scantly contested in top-level meets. Nobody has broken nine seconds in a 100-yard (91.44-meter) race, according to World Athletics. But Usain Bolt‘s estimated 100-yard time en route to his 2009 world record in the 100m was 8.87 seconds.

The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

“This was fun,” Felix said. “I can’t wait until we can do it in person.”

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Jeff Gadley, Willie Davenport changed bobsled as Winter Olympic pioneers

Jeff Gadley
Photos courtesy Jeff Jordan
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Jeff Gadley‘s life changed when a stranger in a car tailed him on a decathlon training run in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in 1978.

The driver was Al Hachigian, a veteran U.S. bobsledder on the lookout for new talent.

Hachigian found the right man. Gadley had just won the first Empire State Games decathlon and set sights on the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Trials. Once Hachigian got his attention, he asked the 23-year-old Gadley if he ever considered pushing a bobsled.

“Of course,” Gadley said. “I grew up in Buffalo.”

Hachigian looked at Gadley — undersized for a bobsledder at 5 feet, 8 inches, and no more than 180 pounds — and decided he was worth extending an invitation to a trials event for the 1978-79 season.

“I think you could do well,” Hachigian told Gadley. “But there are no Black bobsledders, so you kind of have to be a little bit prepared for some things.”

No problem, Gadley said.

A year and a half later, Gadley and a later bobsled convert — Willie Davenport, the 1968 Olympic 110m hurdles champion — became the first Black men to compete on a U.S. Winter Olympic team in any sport.

“It was a huge story,” leading up to the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games, Gadley said in a recent interview. “Since we were the first, people wanted to know how we felt. What you thought about the sport being traditionally white. My answer was always, look, I can’t attribute a particular color to playing out in the cold. To be the first African American ever to compete in the Winter Olympics, I think it’s nice. I think it broadens the thought process of people and maybe will bring, one day, stronger and faster athletes to the sport.”

Gadley and Davenport, push athletes in driver Bob Hickey‘s 12th-place sled at those Olympics, accelerated a line of accomplished athletes converting from track to bobsled. They were followed by, most famously, Edwin Moses, Renaldo NehemiahLauryn Williams and Lolo Jones. NFL players Willie Gault and Herschel Walker also pushed sleds.

“There is a myth in this country that says Blacks can’t make the American Winter Olympic team,” Davenport said, according to Jet magazine in 1980. “Jeff and I proved this to be wrong that you don’t have to be rich and white to make it.”

Back when Gadley joined the national team, it was all white and mostly men from around Lake Placid, home of the only Olympic-level bobsled track in the country.

“I’m sure a lot of these people had not been around African Americans before,” said Jeff Jordan, Gadley’s best friend from SUNY Plattsburgh who rounded out the four-man Olympic sled with Hickey, Gadley and Davenport.

Gadley excelled from the start, earning a spot at the 1979 World Championships. Not everyone on the team was excited about his quick rise. Gadley estimated that out of about 20 national team members, seven or eight didn’t like him because of his skin color. He knew about two definitively, witnessing a conversation at the worlds in Germany.

“The worst thing I heard is that someone didn’t want a Black guy on the back of their sled,” Gadley said. “The saddest part is knowing that, at the world championships, your own teammates don’t like you because of your color.

“I said, I’m not going to say anything. I’m not going to ride on the back of his sled anyway, even if I’m told to. I said, I don’t want to be on the back of your sled, either, and I just left it at that.”

Gadley competed in another sled at worlds, finishing 10th.

“It wasn’t all about skin color,” Gadley said. “Part of it was about you’re breaking up a culture.”

The next season, Hickey, a veteran driver from Upstate New York, was looking to fill his sled with push athletes. He chose the new group of Gadley, Jordan and Davenport. They won the Olympic Trials, despite Jordan and Davenport being rookies (Davenport reportedly pushed a bobsled for the first time a month or two before trials).

“They were the first real world-class athletes to hit bobsledding,” Jordan said of Gadley and Davenport. “We pretty much crushed them [the local bobsledders at Trials], and they did not like it. I don’t know if they would have liked it, period. It didn’t matter what nationality or color.

“The only thing they knew was they were getting their butts kicked. I can’t say we were mistreated other than they would rather have their buddies on the Olympic team.”

Davenport, at 36, was 12 years removed from his Summer Olympic title and the oldest U.S. bobsledder in Lake Placid. While his speed was an asset, his lack of experience was evident, his teammates said.

“Willie was on the other side of his career,” Jordan said. “He brought a lot of notoriety. We were in People magazine, on Good Morning America. None of that would have happened without Willie’s presence. He wasn’t there for the same reason Jeff [Gadley] was there.

“If Willie had just been another Jeff Gadley, would we have gotten that attention? Maybe, eventually, but there was quite a bit of attention early on.”

Gadley, Hickey and Jordan, in recent interviews, remembered the buzz at the Lake Placid Games. Curt Gowdy, the Hall of Fame sportscaster, called bobsled for ABC. President Jimmy Carter‘s 12-year-old daughter, Amy, showed up one day.

The Americans finished more than six seconds behind the winning East German quartet, but were slowed to an unknown degree by inferior equipment. Hickey said that the East German driver, 39-year-old Meinhard Nehmer, told Gowdy that the Americans would have won if they had his sled.

“They came and went quick,” Hickey said of the Olympics. “We weren’t prepared.”

It marked the end of the Olympic careers for Davenport and Gadley. Davenport died in 2002.

Gadley gave up the decathlon after the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games was announced. He now lives in Texas with his wife.

Most of his Olympic mementos and photos were discarded or lost over the last 40 years. But Gadley was glad for the experience and feels fortunate for the opportunity, back when bobsled was a regional, if not local, sport.

“I would say pioneers would be a good word to use,” for Davenport and I, he said. “It was just a matter of exposure where I was and what I was doing [at the time]. It made an example to others that, hey, as a Black guy, if he’s doing it, I can do it, too.”

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Jeff Gadley