Justin Gatlin

Ato Boldon’s track and field season awards

1 Comment

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

Figure skating Grand Prix: Five things to watch

Getty Images
Leave a comment

World champions Nathan Chen and Alina Zagitova. Former U.S. champions Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell. Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou. World champion ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, and two-time U.S. ice dance champions/world championship medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. Quads, quads, quads.

All of these skaters and jumps will be featured in figure skating’s Grand Prix, which runs from this weekend’s Skate America to the Grand Prix Final Dec. 5-8 at the 2006 Olympic venue of Torino, Italy. January has the U.S. Championships and European Championships, February has the Four Continents Championships, and the season wraps up with the world championships in March.

TV SCHEDULE: How to watch Skate America

Here’s what to watch over the next two months:

1. Dominant dancers due for defeat? 

France’s Papadakis and Cizeron have won four of the last five world championships. The only duo to beat them since 2014, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moirhas officially retired. They’re still in their mid-20s. They posted the four highest scores last season.

The reigning world championship silver medalists, Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, had a major breakthrough last season. Until last season, they had never won the Russian championships, never skated in a Grand Prix Final, never finished higher than fourth in the European championships and never finished higher than ninth in the world championships. They still haven’t won a medal in the European championships or won a Grand Prix event. Were their second-place finishes in the world championships and Grand Prix Final a fluke or a sign that they’re ready to challenge for the top?

The top U.S. contenders, Madison Chock/Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue, train in Montreal with Papadakis and Cizeron, so they know what it takes to get to the top. Hubbell and Donohue posted the highest scores after the French champions and Russian runners-up last year to take their second straight world championship medal and a win at the Grand Prix Final ahead of Sinitsina/Katsalapov. Chock and Bates earned world championship medals in the middle of the decade and finished sixth last year as Chock returned from a long injury layoff.

Oddsmakers would surely favor Papadakis and Cizeron in every competition, but will the underdogs have their day?

The GP schedule for the top dancers and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Hubbell/Donohue, Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko, Caroline Green/Michael Parsons
  • Skate Canada: Hubbell/Donohue, Green/Parsons, Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
  • Internationaux de France: Papadakis/Cizeron, Chock/Bates
  • Cup of China: Sinitsina/Katsalapov, Chock/Bates, Hawayek/Baker
  • Rostelecom Cup: Sinitsina/Katsalapov
  • NHK Trophy: Papadakis/Cizeron, Carreira/Ponomarenko, Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter

2. Can Vincent Zhou topple Chen and Hanyu?

The 2017 world junior champion has steadily and rapidly climbed the ranks since moving to senior level, taking sixth in the 2018 Olympics and third in the 2019 Four Continents before laying down two stunners, taking third in the world championships and posting a score of 299.01 in the World Team Trophy, a mark bested only by Chen and Hanyu.

This season, after spending his youth in Colorado and California, he’ll go across the country to start college at Brown.

Chen and Hanyu have been over the 300-point mark, and Japan’s Shoma Uno is consistently over 275 — the only skater other than Chen, Hanyu and Zhou to beat that standard last season. (Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world championship runner-up, picked a bad time to fall just under 275 — the world championships, where he finished fourth behind the other three high scorers.)

The GP schedule for the top men’s skaters and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Chen, Jason Brown, Alexei Krasnozhon
  • Skate Canada: Hanyu, Camden Pulkinen
  • Internationaux de France: Uno, Chen, Tomoki Hiwatashi
  • Cup of China: Pulkinen, Zhou
  • Rostelecom Cup: Uno, Zhou, Krasnozhon
  • NHK Trophy: Hanyu, Brown, Hiwatashi

MORE: Zhou balances Brown University with overseas assignments

3. Can the Tampa-trained pair of Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès follow up their big year?

James has taken a long and winding road to the top of the pairs world. She was born in Canada, then lived in Bermuda and Virginia before competing as a singles skater for Britain. When she moved to pairs, she also switched to France to partner first with Yannick Bonheur and then Ciprès.

For several years, the pair won the French championship but not much else. In the 2017-18 season, they earned a couple of Grand Prix medals and placed fifth in the Olympics before claiming their biggest international prize to date, a bronze medal in the world championships.

Last year, the pair went on a hot streak. They won Skate Canada. They won the Internationaux de France. They won the Grand Prix Final. They won the European championship. Finally, their streak ended at a bad time, and they took fifth in the world championships.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won their second world championship last season after missing the GP season because of Han’s foot injury. Russia’s Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were second in the world championships.

U.S. champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc skated in the U.S. Classic last month and posted a higher score than any of their compatriots last year. The previous champions, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, were seventh last year. The last two U.S. champions — Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier and Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — also are continuing to compete this year.

The GP schedule for the top pairs and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier, Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson
  • Skate Canada: Tarasova/Morozov, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim, Calalang/Johnson
  • Internationaux de France: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier
  • Cup of China: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea
  • Rostelecom Cup: Tarasova/Morozov, Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov
  • NHK Trophy: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim

4. How many more young quad-jumping Russians can women’s skating handle? 

Zagitova is the defending world champion, and she isn’t even the Russian with the biggest buzz heading into the new season.

Back-to-back world junior champion Alexandra Trusova is the first woman to land a quadruple Lutz in competition. She’s also the first to land a quad toeloop. She landed two quads in one program at the 2018 world juniors, and she has done three in an unofficial skate this fall. She’s only 15. Her free skate this season includes music from “Game of Thrones.”

Anna Shcherbakova, also 15, has landed a quadruple Lutz and was second in last year’s world juniors, and she upset Trusova and Zagitova to win the Russian championship.

Trusova and Shcherbakova both lost in last year’s junior Grand Prix Final to yet another Russian, Alena Kostornaia, who’s 16 now and has the good taste to skate to the Muse song “Supermassive Black Hole” in her free skate.

Kostornaia, Trusova and Shcherbakova will make their senior-level Grand Prix debuts this season. Trusova already has competed this year and posted the highest score recorded under the new scoring system, just ahead of prior marks from Zagitova and Kostornaia.

5. Can the U.S. women put it together this year? 

Chen and Zhou give the U.S. men two legitimate medal threats in any competition, and the U.S. ice dance machine continues to spin forth contenders. But women’s skating has been in a long dry spell since the era of Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen ended. Ashley Wagner, the last U.S. woman on the podium in a major event, has retired.

Today, 2018 U.S. champion Bradie Tennell has shown she’s capable of big numbers, but cracking the top five has been difficult.

The reigning U.S. champion, Alysa Liu, is age eligible for only the Junior Grand Prix series. She’s 14, and she has already posted a score higher than any U.S. woman other than Tennell posted last year.

The good news for the U.S. women is the return of 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen after an injury-riddled 2018-19 season. Like Zhou, she’s heading to an Ivy League school, enrolling at Cornell.

Two-time U.S. medalist Mariah Bell and the ever-entertaining Starr Andrews also have two Grand Prix assignments this season.

Ting Cui, the bronze medalist after Trusova and Shcherbakova in the 2019 world junior championships, withdrew from her Grand Prix events with an ankle injury.

The GP schedule for the top women and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Shcherbakova, Chen, Tennell, Amber Glenn
  • Skate Canada: Trusova, Tennell
  • Internationaux de France: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Andrews, Bell
  • Cup of China: Shcherbakova
  • Rostelecom Cup: Trusova, Bell
  • NHK Trophy: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Chen, Andrews, Megan Wessenberg

MORE: Tennell on self-doubt, lessons learned in 2019

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

 

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!