Justin Gatlin eyes more 200s after undefeated season

Justin Gatlin
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Justin Gatlin hopes to race the 100m and the 200m at the 2015 World Championships, setting his sights on becoming the second-fastest American ever in the 200m following an undefeated 2014.

“Possibly run 19.4 [seconds in the 200m],” Gatlin said in a phone interview Tuesday. “[The 100m] is my first focus. Then prepare myself to run 200s after that.”

Michael Johnson holds the American 200m record of 19.32 set in the 1996 Olympic final. If Gatlin can better 19.50, he would pass two-time 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Walter Dix as the fourth-fastest all time in the event and second among Americans.

Usain Bolt has the world record, 19.19, and Yohan Blake has run 19.26.

Gatlin’s confidence is understandable after he won all of his races this season — though Bolt and Blake missed much of the campaign due to injury.

The 2004 Olympic 100m champion clocked a personal-best 100m (9.77) at age 32, matching his then-world record time from 2006 that was wiped out due to his four-year doping ban that lasted to 2010.

He also ran his fastest-ever 200m, a 19.68 in Monaco on July 18. Bolt ran 19.66 to win at the 2013 World Championships, where Gatlin only contested the 100m.

Gatlin was most proud of his effort in Brussels on Sept. 5, though. That’s where he posted that 9.77 over 100m and then won a 200m in 19.71 an hour later, the fastest single-day sprint double in history.

“I went into the season preparing for a good, challenging season, and I came out dominant,” Gatlin said. “It’s a preview going into next season. Me and my coach wanted to put together a blueprint to be successful the next three years [through the Rio 2016 Olympics].”

In Rio, Gatlin could become the oldest man to stand on an Olympic 100m or 200m podium by two years (Linford Christie won the 1992 Olympic 100m at 32).

‘A lot of people, I guess, want to count me out, but I think with my age and my wisdom, being away from the track for a while has brought me fresh legs,” Gatlin said, likening his age in track years to 26 or 27. “I’m still 32, but I love how my body feels.”

Gatlin did fail to check off one goal this season — the American record in the 100m. He’s still .08 off Tyson Gay‘s mark from 2009. Gay returned from a doping suspension in July. Gatlin said he and Gay did not speak at length this summer.

“We’re just competitors,” Gatlin said. “No ill-will against him.”

Gatlin did take notice of Bolt’s comments earlier this month. Bolt said he didn’t think he would have beaten Gatlin this year, given the Jamaican’s injury and Gatlin’s form. Bolt and Gatlin haven’t raced against each other since September 2013. Gatlin beat Bolt once in June 2013.

“I have respect for him, and I’m glad that he could show respect for me,” said Gatlin, who said he partied with Bolt after their last meet together in Brussels last year. “I’m a guy who’s not scared of him. He knows that.”

Gatlin said Bolt showed his human side this season, being set back by foot surgery and held to two relay legs and two low-key 100m races.

“When you’re dominating [like Bolt], it’s a lot of wear and tear on your body,” he said. “It’s day-in and day-out that you have to be on top. That’s more punishing that just losing.”

Like Bolt, Gatlin has taken to a signature pre- and post-race move, firing an imaginary gun with his fingers. The first three letters of his last name is slang for a gun. Friends call him, “Gatlin Guns.”

“I look at myself as a gunslinger,” Gatlin said. “You can’t win every race, but I’m coming out shooting.”

Gatlin was also motivated this season by meets that refuse to invite athletes who have served lengthy suspensions.

“The one thing about this sport that I’ve learned is people say whatever they want to say behind your back or to the media, but when it’s time to talk to you or acknowledge something, they forget that it happened,” Gatlin said, mentioning a meet promoter from a Zurich competition, which did not invite him due a bylaw outlawing athletes with lengthy bans, according to The Associated Press. Gatlin said he also sat at a dinner table with that promoter.

Gatlin told the AP in August, “I look at myself as the ‘Batman’ of track — a vigilante. You may not like me, but I’m needed.”

“This year, I really wanted to show them that your meet really lacks luster without me involved,” Gatlin said Tuesday. “Usain Bolt’s not the only headliner that’s out there, that brings excitement to races.”

Gatlin’s perfect season and checkered past make his candidacy for season awards an interesting case. Asked who he would vote for as the top U.S. and global men’s track and field athletes this year, he said, “I guess it would be kind of cliché to vote for myself, huh.”

So Gatlin instead tipped his cap to LaShawn Merritt, the Diamond League 400m champion, and Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim, who became the No. 2 high jumper of all time this year.

Lauryn Williams ‘playing with the idea’ of bobsled this season

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new uptempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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