Usain Bolt ready to race after ‘off’ season, meeting Michael Jordan

Usain Bolt
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NEW YORK — Usain Bolt met Michael Jordan for the first time at the Super Bowl two weeks ago.

I just wanted a picture,” Bolt said. “You hear about Michael Jordan, and you see some of his films and stuff over the years. It was great to meet him, get a word in. I didn’t try to question him too much. It felt weird asking him about the past and stuff like that. So I just talked a little bit about basketball. Not when he used to play, but just random games and stuff.”

Bolt has a bit of basketball experience. He dunked in the 2013 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.

The world’s fastest man spent Tuesday in the city that will host this weekend’s NBA All-Star Game, but the six-time Olympic champion said he won’t take part in the festivities.

No, Bolt planned to fly back to Jamaica on Wednesday morning after promoting Puma’s new line of Ignite shoes in Times Square. There’s work to be done following what he called an “off” season in 2014.

Bolt, 28, ran a total of 400 meters in competition last year, delaying the start of his season due to March foot surgery and ending it early in August, in part to ensure he was injury-free going into 2015.

Now, there are more doubts of Bolt’s dominance than at any time since he broke his first world record in the New York rain in the spring before the 2008 Olympics.

“People were writing that I retired, like I stopped running or something,” Bolt said Tuesday. “I’ve had a couple of bad seasons, but I’ve always come back and shown up.”

Bolt, who owns the 100m world record of 9.58 seconds from 2009, last summer clocked 10.06 on a Brazilian beach and 9.98 indoors in a Polish stadium and ran two relay legs at the Commonwealth Games.

Emerging rival Justin Gatlin had six of the world’s seven fastest times last year, including a 9.77, matching Bolt’s winning 100m mark from the 2013 World Championships.

This is a key year, a World Championships year, and the year leading up to what Bolt said will be his last Olympics in 2016.

Bolt is expected to debut this season in a 400m in Jamaica on Saturday, a not-unusual distance for him to open a campaign.

What are the goals? Triple gold at the World Championships in Beijing in August? Staying healthy? Setting up for the 2016 Olympics?

“It’s all of that really,” Bolt said. “For me, it’s always to go to the championships, to defend my titles, to get more golds and continue to add to my legendary status.”

Bolt said his coach cranked up the training program going into this season because of last year’s struggles.

“I need to put in a lot more work,” Bolt said. “I’m in no doubt I’m in great shape.”

Bolt said he visited the doctor who performed his foot surgery in Germany last March, and the doctor gave him a good-to-go signal.

If the injury taught Bolt anything, it’s to be more cognizant of his body.

“I just take notes of everything that happens,” he said. “If I feel a pain, make sure I check it out. Not like one time [in the past] where I feel a pain and I say all right, maybe it’s just from training. Now I’m really taking note of everything that’s happening around me.”

At the Super Bowl, Bolt joined one of the greatest gatherings of sports talent in history. He didn’t want to pester Jordan too much, saying the Charlotte Hornets owner appeared busy watching his team play on his phone.

But Bolt said he was “fascinated” by quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III. He sought to ask both about the specifics of their jobs.

How do you stay focused with 300-pound men barreling toward you? What do you do when your primary receivers are blocked off?

“I got different answers,” said Bolt, a Green Bay Packers fan because that’s the first team he saw play on TV growing up in Jamaica. “For me, it’s hard. They’ve got to remember 200 plays.”

Many will anticipate Bolt’s return to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Stadium in August. He hasn’t been back since he broke the 100m and 200m world records seven years ago.

“People say it’s going to be pressure, because I’ve set a bar in the Bird’s Nest, so actually now I have to surpass that bar,” Bolt joked.

A showdown with Gatlin would add to the theater. Asked if he watched Gatlin’s races last year, Bolt chuckled softly. Perhaps it was in regard to Gatlin’s history. The American is five years removed from a four-year doping ban. Bolt has said he’s in favor of lifetime doping bans for those who purposely cheat.

“I try to be a nice person here, not say anything rude,” Bolt said, pausing to continue the thought. “He did well last season. So that’s good.”

Bolt addressed a number of topics, including an instance in Trinidad and Tobago since the last Olympics where a woman asked him for a hug, he obliged, and she started crying. That was a first.

“I call it my Michael Jackson moment,” Bolt said. “She was broken down in tears, shaking. I was like, this is weird. It was cool, though.”

And his famous victory lap at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, last summer.

“A victory lap takes an hour,” Bolt said. “Nobody wants an autograph anymore. Everyone wants a selfie for Instagram.”

And, finally, his planned retirement following the 2017 World Championships in London. What if Bolt lost his last individual race there? Could he retire with his finale being a defeat?

“I don’t think I could,” Bolt said. “On my last race, my last championship, I don’t think I could.”

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Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
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Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

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