Justin Gatlin

Ato Boldon’s track and field season awards

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The track and field season is just about wrapped up. The non-global championship year provided plenty of highlights, even if few of them included Usain Bolt, who ran a total of 400m in competition this year.

Here are NBC Olympics track and field analyst Ato Boldon‘s awards for the 2014 season:

Male Athlete: Justin Gatlin (Undefeated in the 100m and 200m with world-leading times of 9.77 and 19.68)

Ato’s Take: A no-brainer. He’s still a very controversial figure for obvious reasons, but this was one of the best sprint seasons ever. When you get Usain Bolt to admit he wouldn’t have beaten him this year, that means a lot. If Gatlin didn’t have the 200m season that he had, I would have given the edge to Mutaz Barshim, simply because he became the No. 2 high jumper ever behind Javier Sotomayor. Statistically, Barshim had better marks than Gatlin, but Gatlin gets the edge for being undefeated in two events.

Female Athlete: Valerie Adams (Undefeated in the shot put, 56 straight competitions without a loss)

Ato’s Take: She started to make it look a little ridiculous this year. Not only is she winning, but nobody is really close. She might be the most dominant athlete in any track and field event for the last couple years. I also like Sandra Perkovic (Croatian who won six of seven Diamond League discus competitions) and Jenny Simpson (Diamond League 1500m champion). Simpson is so much better now than when she won the World title in 2011.

Jenny Simpson on Olympic embarrassment, meeting Mary Slaney

Men’s Event: High jump (five men cleared 2.40m, with Qatar’s Barshim and Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko taking several attempts at breaking the 21-year-old world record of 2.45m)

Ato’s Take: No question here, and I don’t even know what second place would be. This really started last year at the World Championships (won by Bondarenko at a championship-record height, followed by three world record attempts). It’s very rare that an event is able to sustain that momentum to another year. We’ve had good 100m, 200m seasons that dovetail a little bit into the season that follows. I don’t see any reason, especially with their ages, why they’re not going to keep this going (Barshim is 23, Bondarenko 25).

So infrequently in my career did everything stop for a field event. That was the case a lot this season. These guys rewrote the all-time top 10, they beat up on each other every week, and we were the better for it because they were jumping heights we haven’t seen in quite some time.

Photos: #ThingsBarshimCouldJumpOver

Women’s Event: 3000m Steeplechase

Ato’s Take: When I ran, the U.S. just did not factor in this race, but Emma Coburn was the third-fastest woman in the world this year. The season’s over with just two Ethiopians in front of her, and she’s younger than them (23). For the U.S., gone are the days where the medals come just from the sprints and relays. This year has indicated where there are some medals available in events that the U.S. hasn’t previously medaled in.

Men’s Singular Performance: Mutaz Barshim jumping 2.43m in Brussels

Ato’s Take: To become the second-highest jumper of all time. Gatlin’s 19.68 (200m in Monaco) because of the other people in that race (Nickel Ashmeade, Christophe Lemaitre, Tyson Gay, Curtis Mitchell) and because of the margin of victory (.31) is honorable mention, as well as Renaud Lavillenie‘s world record in the pole vault (in the indoor season).

Women’s Singular Performance: Tori Bowie’s 10.80 in Monaco

Ato’s Take: Also, Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk breaking the world record in the hammer throw (the only women’s Olympic event world record broken this year).

Men’s Surprise: Justin Gatlin’s 200m running (19.68 in July; 19.71 in September)

Ato’s Take: He had never broken 19.80 before this year, despite the fact he won Olympic and World Championships medals in the event. What also bears mentioning is the 110m hurdles. Of the 10 fastest times this year, Pascal Martinot-Lagarde had five of them. Nobody could have predicted that at the beginning of the year. And the U.S. only had one of the top 10 in Ronnie Ash.

Brussels Diamond League replay: Sunday, 2-3 p.m. ET, NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra

Women’s Surprise: Tori Bowie

Ato’s Take: Nobody knew who she was in 2013. This year she’s ending the season with the fastest time in the world in the 100m, and, for most of the season, she had the fastest time in the 200m. If she’s healthy (Bowie pulled up in her last race Aug. 24 with a leg injury), she makes the next three global championship teams and is winning medals.

Looking Forward to in 2015: The return of the Jamaicans to face Gatlin

Ato’s Take: I think Bolt’s people have figured out something. It doesn’t matter what they do from now up until the day of the 100m final in Rio. The reality is that Bolt could potentially lose Worlds next year, and I don’t think that’s going to damage his legacy. His legacy is an Olympic legacy. One thing I expect to see from Bolt is he’s going to run more 200s, and he’s already talked about it (wanting to break his 19.19 world record). The 100m is harder for him as he ages.

Also, Sanya Richards-Ross versus the world in the 400m, because she appears to be fully back (from the post-Olympic toe injury). And Christian Taylor versus Will Claye in the triple jump.

Don’t Forget AboutAshton Eaton coming back after a 400m hurdles season

Ato’s Take: He and I had a conversation about running the 400m hurdles last year, and he was really trying what many people think is one of the hardest events in track and field. He got all the way down to 48.69 seconds and ended up beating some guys who specialize in it (like the Olympic gold and silver medalists in Glasgow). A lot of people may scoff at the whole notion of the world’s greatest athlete, but in his case it’s not up for debate.

Yelena Isinbayeva set to return to pole vault training, report says

UCI looks for new host for 2020 World Road Cycling Championships

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The International Cycling Union (UCI) is looking for a new host for the 2020 World Road Cycling Championships due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Switzerland can no longer host the week-long event in late September after a national decision to extend a ban on events with more than 1,000 people through next month.

Amid reports the competition has been canceled, the UCI clarified Wednesday that it still hopes to hold it in some form, perhaps without some of the junior or senior races.

It now seeks an “alternative project,” preferably still in Europe and on the same dates (Sept. 20-27).

Worlds were due to start in Switzerland on the same day that the rescheduled Tour de France ends, though the senior elite men’s races are typically not on the first three days.

The Tour de France is still scheduled to start Aug. 29.

Last year, American Chloe Dygert starred at road worlds, winning the time trial in dominant fashion. Other world champions in Olympic events: Annemiek van Vleuten (road race), Rohan Dennis (time trial) and Mads Pedersen (road race).

MORE: Chloe Dygert had the most dominant ride in history. It still drives her nuts.

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Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15 in 2000

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In the biggest race of his young life, a 15-year-old Michael Phelps turned for the last 50 meters in fourth place of the U.S. Olympic Trials 200m butterfly final on Aug. 12, 2000.

His mom, Debbie, couldn’t watch. She turned away from the Indianapolis Natatorium pool and stared at the scoreboard. Both Debbie and Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, mentally prepared their consolation speeches for the rising Towson High School sophomore outside Baltimore.

Then Phelps, fueled by nightly Adam’s Mark chicken sandwich-and-cheesecake room service and amped by pre-race DMX on his CD player, turned it on. He zoomed into second place, becoming the youngest U.S. male swimmer to qualify for an Olympics since 1932.

Phelps had “come out of nowhere in the last six months” to become an Olympic hopeful, NBC Sports swimming commentator Dan Hicks said on the broadcast. True, Phelps chopped five and a half seconds off his personal best that March.

“He doesn’t know what it means to go to the Olympics and how it’s going to change his life,” Tom Malchow, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist who held off Phelps in that trials final, said that night, according to The Associated Press. “He’s going to find out soon.”

Phelps, who did his trademark arm flaps before the trials final, made Bowman look like a prophet. Four years earlier, the coach sat Debbie down for a conversation she would not soon forget.

“Told me what he projected for Michael,” Debbie said, according to the Baltimore Sun‘s front-page story on a local 15-year-old qualifying for the Sydney Games. “He said that in 2004, he would definitely be a factor in the Olympics. He also said that he could be there in 2000, to watch out for him. At the time, he was only 11.”

The trials were bittersweet for the Phelps family. Whitney, one of Phelps’ older sisters, withdrew before the meet with herniated discs in her back that kept her from making an Olympics after competing in the 1994 World Championships at age 14.

After Phelps qualified for the Olympics, one of the first people to embrace him was Whitney on the pool deck.

The next week, Phelps, still with bottom-teeth braces, did his first live TV sitdown on CNN, swiveling in his chair the whole time, according to his autobiography, “Beneath the Surface.”

The next month, Phelps finished fifth in his Olympic debut, clocking a then-personal-best time that would have earned gold or silver at every previous Olympics.

Following the Olympic race, gold medalist Malchow patted Phelps on the back, according to “No Limits,” another Phelps autobiography. What did Malchow say?

“The best is ahead of you.”

MORE: Meet Arnie the Terminator, Katie Ledecky’s top rival

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