Justin Gatlin: I’m the guy to beat right now

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Justin Gatlin didn’t lack confidence at his first meet of the season Saturday.

“This year is all about medals. I want to win when it counts,” Gatlin said at the Texas Relays, according to The Associated Press. “I’d say I’m the guy to beat right now.”

Would Usain Bolt agree?

Gatlin, who debuted in a relay at the Texas meet, has not raced Bolt since September 2013. In August 2013, Bolt won the World Championships 100m final, 9.77 seconds to Gatlin’s 9.85.

In 2014, Gatlin posted five of the six fastest 100m times, including a best of 9.77. Bolt ran a total of 400 meters in competition for the year, half in relays, and cut his campaign short due to March foot surgery.

Yohan Blake, the 2012 Olympic 100m and 200m silver medalist behind Bolt, said in January, “You could say he’s [Gatlin] the man.”

Bolt said in August that he didn’t think he would have beaten Gatlin if they raced against each other last year.

Asked of Gatlin again in February, Bolt chuckled softly and chose his words carefully. Bolt has said he’s in favor of lifetime bans for athletes who purposely cheat. Gatlin is five years removed from a four-year doping ban.

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

Gatlin recently made headlines by re-signing with Nike, which had dropped him after his initial drug ban in 2006.

This season, Gatlin, 33, hopes to become the oldest man to win an Olympic or World Championships 100m. He’s not expected to go head-to-head with Bolt before then, though Bolt will race individually in the U.S. for the first time in seven years.

Domestically, Gatlin’s biggest threat may be a man he hugged at the Texas Relays on Saturday. That’s Baylor sophomore Trayvon Bromell, the World junior 100m champion in a junior record 9.97 seconds last June. Bromell is 14 years younger and four inches shorter than Gatlin.

Only Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers ran faster than Bromell last year, among Americans.

“The sky’s the limit,” Gatlin said of Bromell, according to The Associated Press. “Some people question his height and his size, but he’s able to use his body to his advantage. [Last year] was a year when short striders were the fastest sprinters. It hasn’t hurt anybody else.”

Bromell, who ran a wind-aided 9.90 on Saturday, also impressed Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles.

Charles, a former NCAA Championships 100m finalist for the University of Texas, introduced himself to Bromell, but Bromell did not recognize him, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

“I knew it had to be a football player,” Bromell said, according to the report. “He looks like a football player. But I only study track.”

Usain Bolt details retirement plan for 2017

*Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin last raced at the 2013 World Championships. They last raced at a Diamond League meet in Brussels in September 2013.

Chad le Clos seeks Sun Yang’s Olympic gold medal for doping case

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NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Chad le Clos believes he has a claim on Sun Yang’s gold medal from the Rio Olympics, with a verdict imminent on the Chinese swimmer’s latest doping case.

“He should be banned. It’s as simple as that,” Le Clos said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “Anyone who tests positive should be banned. I should get my gold medal back from Rio.

“Not for the moment. I lost that. I don’t really care about that,” Le Clos added on Wednesday. “It’s just for my record. If I break my leg and I can’t swim again I want my record to say, ‘Two individual golds, two individual silvers.’ Because that’s what it should be.”

Le Clos’ Olympic record currently contains one gold medal and three silvers — including a second-place finish to Sun in the Rio Olympic 200m free

Odds are, though, that Sun won’t lose any Olympic titles when the Court of Arbitration for Sport issues its ruling over his alleged refusal to provide blood and urine in September 2018 in a visit by sample collectors to his home in China. During the late-night confrontation, a security guard used a hammer to smash a container holding Sun’s blood as the swimmer lit the scene with his mobile phone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed after swimming federation FINA merely warned Sun and cited doubts about credentials shown by three sample collection officials.

A three-time Olympic champion, Sun could be banished from the sport for up to eight years but any ban likely won’t be backdated before September 2018 — meaning all of his Olympic medals seem safe.

But there’s also the fact that international swimming authorities worked to protect Sun from being banned, according to a Swiss supreme court document.

FINA has faced criticisms in the past for favoring Sun during his career. It did not announce Sun’s three-month ban for doping imposed by Chinese authorities until after it ended in 2014.

“I just hope the system and whatever we have is really accurate,” said Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú, who won three golds in Rio. “I just hope the decisions they are making is fair and is for the sport and not for other reasons.”

The medals that Sun risks losing most are the two golds that he won at last year’s world championships in the 200m and 400m frees. At the event in Gwangju, South Korea, fellow medalists Mack Horton of Australia and Duncan Scott of Britain refused to stand with him on the podium.

Sun has denied any wrongdoing. Any ban imposed in the coming days would likely prevent him from competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I have nothing against anybody. It’s not personal,” Le Clos said. “It’s just how the world should be. If you cheat or if you do something wrong, like if you false start, you get disqualified. It’s simple as that.”

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U.S. Olympic luger Emily Sweeney looks forward from depression bout

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Luge’s World Cup campaign ends this weekend in Germany, where most of the best 100 sliders in the sport will be looking to close their international seasons on a high note.

Emily Sweeney won’t be among them.

Her season ended a couple weeks ago, on her terms.

The U.S. veteran is officially two years into her recovery from a crash at the PyeongChang Olympics that she walked away from — even with a broken neck and broken back — and two years away, she hopes, from being a medal contender at the Beijing Games.

She decided to listen to her body and step away from the frantic end of the season, heading home instead to meet her sister’s new baby and formulate a plan for her offseason.

Here’s what she has learned: Fractures heal, but everything else takes time. So while her body still betrays her from time to time on the track, an additional focus on the mental game is what Sweeney hopes will get her to the medal podium in Beijing in 2022.

“I am very comfortable about thinking about my weaknesses because I failed so much early on,” Sweeney said. “I didn’t make two Olympic teams right in a row. I constantly had to look at myself and say ‘What’s wrong? What am I not like?’ I had to be creative with my training and with the whole process. And so, I think I’m pretty comfortable with challenges.”

That’s why, this season, when she felt like her body couldn’t do it anymore she simply went home. The decision was not easy: Her team is still competing, she has plenty of friends on the circuit and her longtime boyfriend — Italian star Dominik Fischnaller — is a serious contender to win the men’s World Cup overall title.

But a setback right now could throw a serious wrench into her Olympic plans. The problem was pressure, not in the sense of what’s comes with the prospects of winning or losing in competition, but the massive gravitational force that sliders feel and fight through when they are on the ice at speeds often topping 80mph. It takes tremendous strength, and Sweeney’s neck still isn’t always up to the challenge. So, with wear and tear of the season taking a toll, she headed home.

“It’s not a question of if I’m good enough,” said Sweeney, who won a medal at last season’s world championships — cementing her status as one of the fastest women on ice. “I see it in my splits. I would have first-place splits, then get to the pressure and I ended up 15th. I just couldn’t keep going through this cycle of pushing it, pushing it, pushing it and then losing all my speed as soon as I can’t hold my head up anymore.”

So she’s working on her body and her mind.

Sweeney is one of the most-upbeat sliders on the luge circuit; always smiling, always happy, and most of the time her good mood is genuine. After the crash, however, the good mood wasn’t always there, and it took Sweeney some time to realize that there was more wrong than just the fractures in her neck and back.

“I went into a depression,” Sweeney said. “It’s weird saying that. But it feels foreign to me to say I broke my neck and my back two years ago. And it feels dramatic to say, which I guess I need to just get more comfortable with that. But I think that just the way I was raised was like, ‘All right, brush it off and move on.’ And that’s why I think I appear a lot of times like it’s just sunshine and rainbows, but this one forced me to stop. But you have to. And the alternative is to stay at that low and that just becomes miserable.”

From therapy came a plan: Do one thing a day to feel better toward the ultimate goal of medaling in 2022.

Most days, she succeeds. When Sweeney is right, especially in sprint events, few women in the world have a chance of catching her. Her sliding career is peaking. Her mental game, she thinks, is catching up.

And now she’s got two years to put the whole package together.

“Being an Olympian was my dream since I was 7 years old,” Sweeney said. “And then I became an Olympian, and I said, ‘Well, that’s not enough. I want a medal.’”

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