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

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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