Justin Gatlin, Allyson Felix sizzle at Prefontaine Classic

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U.S. Olympic champions Justin Gatlin and Allyson Felix put down statement times in winning sprints at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday, perhaps the top international meet before the World Championships in August.

Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champ five years removed from a four-year doping ban, clocked 19.68 seconds to win the 200m (video here). It matched his personal best set in 2014 and the fastest time in the world since the 2013 World Championships.

Full Prefontaine Classic meet results are available here.

“When I saw the time, I know I’m on course to go onto the World Championships [in Beijing in August],” Gatlin, 33, told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “It’s going to be a real rumble in the jungle,” he added when asked about 2015, 2016 and possible matchups with Usain Bolt.

Bolt, the world-record holder at 19.19 who was not in the Prefontaine Classic field, hasn’t run 19.68 or better since he won the 2013 World Championship in 19.66. At the 2013 Worlds, Gatlin took silver behind Bolt in the 100m but did not race the 200m.

“[Bolt] is the kind of guy who’s going to rise to the occasion when it’s time to go,” Gatlin said of Bolt on USATF.TV after the meet. “I’m looking for a time, every time he runs this year, the time’s going to steadily drop and drop and drop. By the time, maybe the [Worlds] semis like he did in 2012 [at the Olympics], he just woke up [9.87] jogging and he came out and ran [9.63] in the finals. That’s what I’m looking to see out of Usain Bolt coming in this year at the World Championships.”

Gatlin is questioned for running his fastest times at an advanced age of 33, after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2006.

“I think it’s more a gift than a curse,” Gatlin said of not competing from 2006 to 2010 to NBC Olympics analyst Ato Boldon on USATF.TV. “I think it gave my legs a little shelf life. I never had any major injuries, maybe a hamstring strain here or a quad strain there. I just really wanted to show everybody that I could come back. But it wasn’t [just] me. I want to say that guys like yourself, Ato Boldon, Frankie Fredericks, Carl LewisLeroy Burrell, Linford Christie, those guys ran well into their 30s [editor’s note: Boldon and Burrell did not break 10 seconds in the 100m in their 30s]. I’m just taking that page out of their book. You know what, your career’s not over when you hit 30. I think a lot of guys this day and age think that.”

Earlier, Felix, the Olympic 200m champion, won the 400m over Olympic 400m champion Sanya Richards-Ross (video here). Felix clocked 50.05, her fastest 400m time since she took silver at the 2011 World Championships in 49.59, which marked the last time she ran the 400m at a global championship.

“I just want to explore it more,” Felix told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN of the 400m.

Felix has said she will run either the 200m or the 400m at the World Championships in Beijing in August, but not both. Notably, the 200m semifinals and 400m final at Worlds are 70 minutes apart.

Felix, who owns six Olympic medals and 10 Worlds medals, has an automatic berth on the World Championships team in the 200m but must finish in the top three in the 400m at the U.S. Championships in June to qualify in both races.

Tyson Gay won the 100m in 9.88 seconds, his fastest time since 2011 if excluding the times wiped out from his doping ban (race video here). Gatlin is the only other American to break 9.90 since the London 2012 Olympics.

Olympic and World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce took the women’s 100m in 10.81, her fastest time since Sept. 6, 2013. Fraser-Pryce had not broken 11 seconds since 2013 before Saturday. Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure was second in an identical time, followed by American Tori Bowie, the fastest woman of 2014, in 10.82 (race video here).

Earlier, 2013 U.S. champion English Gardner outleaned Jamaican Elaine Thompson in a 100m B final. Both clocked a personal-best 10.84. Gardner, like Fraser-Pryce, had not broken 11 seconds since 2013.

“I’ve been struggling the past couple of two years, I switched coaches, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to bounce back,” Gardner tearfully told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN. “I’m overwhelmed because I started losing a little bit of faith in myself.”

Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada defeated U.S. rival and World champion LaShawn Merritt in the 400m, 43.95 to 44.51. James clocked the fastest time in the world this year.

American Jenny Simpson took the 1500m in 4:00.98. Simpson, the 2014 Diamond League champion, won gold at the 2011 World Championships and silver at the 2013 World Championships.

“This is where legends win, and where they’re born,” Simpson told Lewis Johnson on NBC on the 40-year anniversary of 1972 Olympic 5000m runner Steve Prefontaine‘s death. “I’m trying to write my name in the history books.”

Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman captured the Bowerman Mile finale in 3:51.10, edging American Matthew Centrowitz by one tenth.

French Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie won the pole vault but missed three attempts at matching his world record of 6.16m.

In the 110m hurdles, France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde clocked 13.06, the fastest time in the world this year, beating Americans Olympic champion Aries Merritt (13.12) and World champion David Oliver (13.14).

Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim cleared 2.41m to win the high jump but took no attempts closer to the 22-year-old world record of 2.45m due to leg cramps.

U.S. champion Johnny Dutch edged 2005 World champion Bershawn Jackson in the 400m hurdles, 48.20 to 48.22. Olympic and World silver medalist Michael Tinsley was third in 48.79, completing a U.S. sweep. Jackson remains the fastest in the world this year at 48.09.

Two-time Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi won the 3000m steeplechase, crossing the finish line in lane 3 and dancing in celebration, not unusual for the Kenyan. Kemboi won in 8:01.71, the fastest time ever in the U.S.

The Diamond League continues with a meet in Rome on Thursday. The U.S. Championships, also in Eugene, are June 26-28. The World Championships are Aug. 22-28 in Beijing.

Ashton Eaton withdraws before first decathlon since 2013

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated there were two days between the women’s 400m and women’s 200m at the World Championships.

Chock, Bates charge to second U.S. title; Hubbell, Donohue charge the wrong way

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Evan Bates, who had just won his second U.S. ice dance title with partner Madison Chock, put it best.

“Ice dance is a strange sport in some ways,” he said.

Chock and Bates have had their share of unusual mishaps in their near 10-year career, but on Saturday night at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, everything was smooth sailing.

The couple’s exotic “Egyptian Snake Dance” free dance went off without a hitch, gaining the highest possible levels for nearly all of its elements and impressing judges with its intricacy, synchronization and striking lifts. It earned 134.23 points, giving the Montreal-based team the win with 221.86.

“It was (our coach Marie-France Dubreuil’s) idea for me to be a snake, and Evan a traveler who finds me,” Chock said of the routine. “It was just such a fun process, cool new characters for us to dive into, and we’ve really been enjoying it. It shows when we skate.”

Greensboro has been lucky for the skaters, who teamed up in 2011; they won their first U.S. title here in 2015. The five-year title gap is the longest in history for U.S. ice dance champions.

“It feels longer than five years,” Chock said with a breezy laugh. “It feels so much has changed, and in us as people as well (as dancers). We’re in a very good place, we could not be happier with the way the season has been going.”

If Chock’s humor was lighthearted, Madison Hubbell’s can only be described grim.

Hubbell and her partner, Zach Donohue, trailed their long-time rivals and Montreal training partners by about 1.3 points following Friday’s rhythm dance. A stellar outing of their Star is Born free dance might have won a third consecutive U.S. title; instead, it became a living nightmare.

“Out of the first element, the dance spin, we got turned around somehow and came out the wrong direction,” Hubbell said. “The next four elements, which are pretty valuable elements, all were facing the wrong direction.”

(Video available here for NBC Sports Gold subscribers; Hubbell and Donohue skate at the 1:06:50 mark.)

Not until their fifth element, a step sequence, did the skaters get back on track. In between, there was a world of hurt, likely unnoticed by many members of the audience but readily apparent to the judges, who had seen the free dance in  practice.

“Our twizzle sequence, it’s a high-scoring element, is supposed to charge right at the judges, and today it charged away from them,” Hubbell said. “In the rotational life, there’s a large leg flare that looks very cool going the opposite direction, and today I just opened my crotch right in front of the judges.”

The score was far from disastrous; Hubbell and Donohue’s 130.88 points for their “wrong-way” free dance gave them 217.19 overall. But it was a missed opportunity to show judges, and fans, the improvements they had made to A Star Is Born since the Grand Prix Final in December.

“It was probably one of the hardest performances, and not the most enjoyable,” Hubbell said. “It was a really thoughtful focus on the elements, and somehow putting one portion of the brain aside to fix things as best we could.”

The silver medal was Hubbell and Donohue’s first. They also won bronze medals in 2012, and 2015-17.

Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, whose rhythm dance to Saturday Night Fever stole the show on Friday, felt their Flamenco-style free dance didn’t pack the same punch.

“Yesterday was such a high for us, in terms of (audience) reaction and performance, that tonight didn’t have the same euphoria when we finished,” Hawayek said. “Both Jean-Luc and I see the potential for it being much higher than what we were able to put out today.”

Despite the disappointment, the third team in the Montreal troika earned 118.57 points and won a second consecutive bronze medal with 201.16.

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Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

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Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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