Yohan Blake

Yohan Blake details ‘dreams’ for 2015

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If there’s a sprinter with more to prove than Usain Bolt this year, it’s countryman Yohan Blake.

Since the 2012 Olympics, Blake hasn’t looked anything like the man who won 100m and 200m silver behind Bolt in London (and upset Bolt in both distances at the Jamaican Olympic trials).

The last time we saw Blake in competition was July 11, trailing a lackluster 100m field in Glasgow, then tumbling to the track mid-race and being wheeled out of sight in a chair (video here).

“If I didn’t stop myself [in the race], I would be carried over,” Blake said while launching adidas’ “Ultra Boost” shoes in New York on Thursday. “That never happened to me before. I think it’s like karma. I was in training, saying I never get injured before [presumably in a race, since Blake has dealt with injuries suffered outside of competition].”

In Glasgow, Blake initially called the injury a cramp, but it was much worse, more serious even than a torn hamstring that caused him to miss almost all of the 2013 season.

“The muscle came off the bone and had to be reattached,” Blake said.

The 25-year-old who likes to be called “The Beast” — with matching long fingernails — is back training but said he will see a doctor in Munich in the first half of March, hoping to be cleared for full-speed workouts. Blake said he can reach full fitness two weeks after being cleared.

He will return to a sprint scene dominated in 2014 by Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion five years removed from a four-year doping ban. Gatlin posted the fastest 100m and 200m times in the world last year — 9.77 and 19.68 seconds — with Bolt largely sidelined due to a foot injury.

“You could say he’s the man,” said Blake, who ran 10.02 and 20.48 in 2014 before the Glasgow tumble.

Blake has said he sets dreams rather than goals. And the immediate dreams are very important, given he has also said he wants to retire before 2020, which would make the Rio 2016 Games his Olympic farewell.

He talks about regaining the World Championship in the 100m in Beijing this summer. Blake is the only man other than Bolt to win an Olympic or World Championships gold medal in the 100m or 200m since 2007. He did so in Daegu, South Korea, in 2011, after Bolt infamously false-started out of the 100m final.

“I’ve been dreaming from September about getting back my title,” Blake said. “Every day they trouble me about the 9.69 [his personal best in the 100m, set two weeks after the London Olympics], that I need to change it. I’m working to change that as well.

“I need to get back my title. And the Olympics, I need to get three golds there.”

Many would say Blake’s best chance at being pushed to a personal-best time would come in a race with Bolt, which hasn’t happened since the 2012 Olympics. Blake has cited “big money” for why they have entered the same meets but raced different distances, though Bolt’s agent has said it’s not about that.

Blake acknowledged it’s unlikely the two Jamaicans will go head to head before the Jamaican national championships in June.

“I don’t think they’re going to allow it,” Blake said, smiling. “But if it comes about, I will love it.”

It may not even happen at the Jamaican championships, as Bolt has byes into Worlds as the defending 100m and 200m champion.

Martina Hingis eyes Rio Olympics

Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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