Usain Bolt: ‘I pretty much gave up’ in slowest 200m final since 2006

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NEW YORK — Usain Bolt couldn’t explain what went wrong after winning a 200m race in a slow 20.29 seconds at the Adidas Grand Prix on Saturday, increasing doubt about his form a little more than two months before a possible showdown with Justin Gatlin at the World Championships. 

It marked Bolt’s slowest 200m time, not including prelim races, since 2006.

“I’m not overly happy with it,” Bolt told Lewis Johnson shortly after his first race in the U.S. in five years, at the site of his first world record seven years ago. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on.”

Bolt said how he ran the curve portion of the 200m was the worst of his career, which has included six Olympic gold medals and world records in the 100m and 200m.

Bolt’s time Saturday was far short of Justin Gatlin‘s world-leading 19.68 seconds from May. Bolt won by .03 over Zharnel Hughes among a field that did not include Gatlin and into a 2.8 meters/second headwind. Watch the race video here.

“I got out of the blocks, and I just didn’t go anywhere,” Bolt said. “After the turn, I pretty much gave up.”

Bolt’s race Saturday was his third 200m since 2013 after he missed much of 2014 following foot surgery that March. Bolt previously ran 20.13 and 20.20 this year. His world record is 19.19 from 2009.

“This season is not going so smoothly,” Bolt said. “I’m trying to figure out what’s going on. I need to get on top of things, try to work my way back. … At this pace, my legacy is going to be in trouble.”

Bolt will race the 100m and possibly the 200m at the Jamaican Championships in two weeks, his coach said after the race. Bolt’s spot on the Worlds team is not dependent on his results at the Jamaican Championships.

“He didn’t approach the turn with his usual aggression that he’s capable of,” longtime coach Glen Mills said several feet away from Bolt as the sprinter received a post-race massage. “His training is coming along gradually. … He’s going to be running a lot more races in order to get him into competitive peak shape. He hasn’t been doing much in terms of competitive running. Over the next two months, you’ll see him doing quite a lot more races with a more aggressive approach in order to get the kind of competitive level we would like.”

Mills said Bolt is in better condition now than he was at this point in 2013, when he was coming off a slight hamstring strain and went on to sweep the 100m and 200m at Worlds.

Americans are preparing for the U.S. Championships in Eugene, Ore., in two weeks, where they will be looking to finish in the top three of their events to make the World Championships team. Reigning World champions and Diamond League season champions have byes into Worlds.

Also Saturday, Tyson Gay won the 100m in 10.12 seconds into a 1.7 m/s headwind (video). Gay ran 9.88 on May 30 and is the second fastest American this year behind Gatlin, who has a bye into Worlds. (Full Adidas Grand Prix results here)

Tori Bowie prevailed in the 200m in 22.23 into a 2.8m/s headwind (video), the fastest time ever into that much of a wind, according to the IAAF’s Jon Mulkeen. Only Olympic champion Allyson Felix, who has a bye into Worlds, has been faster among Americans this year. Bowie, primarily a long jumper until spring 2014, was the fastest woman in the world in the 100m last year.

Olympic champion Jenn Suhr finished third in the pole vault, failing to clear 4.64m. Brazil’s Fabiana Murer cleared 4.80m for the win, just .01 off Suhr’s world-leading clearance for 2015.

Former New York Giants running back David Wilson triple jumped 14.66m in his first meet in four years. He fell well shy of the 16.30m needed to automatically qualify for the U.S. Championships.

Cuban Pablo Pedro Pichardo, the best jumper this year, won with 17.57m over Olympic silver medalist Will Claye.

Kenyan Olympic champion David Rudisha, beset by injury much of the last two years, won the 800m in 1:43.58 (video), just .02 off the fastest time in the world this year.

U.S. champion English Gardner won the 100m in 11.00 (video), two weeks after she clocked a personal-best 10.84 at the Prefontaine Classic. Gardner is ranked second among Americans this year, behind Tori Bowie, who ran 10.82 at the Prefontaine Classic.

Sharika Nelvis won the 100m hurdles in 12.65 seconds (video). Summer and Winter Olympian Lolo Jones was fourth in 12.95 as she continues to come back from a hamstring injury.

The fastest U.S. women this year are Jasmin Stowers (12.35), Kendra Harrison (12.50) and Nelvis (12.52). World champion Brianna Rollins has a bye into Worlds. The 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson is the fourth fastest American this year.

World champion David Oliver won the 110m hurdles in 13.19 into a headwind, topping 2011 World champion Jason Richardson by .07. The fastest American this year (and second fastest in the world) is Olympic champion Aries Merritt (13.12).

Mary Cain, who in 2013 became the youngest American to make a World Championships team at age 17, finished fourth in a 1000m (video). It was her first race since announcing she moved from her training base in Oregon back to her native New York.

“It was just a decision, honestly, because of my long school year,” said Cain, who finished her freshman year at the University of Portland while running professionally. Cain said Alberto Salazar is still her coach. Salazar is under scrutiny after a BBC and ProPublica report that quoted former team members saying Salazar violated medical and anti-doping rules with some of his athletes.

Ajee’ Wilson took the 800m in 1:58.83 (video). Wilson, 21, was the fastest in the world last year and is No. 2 this year.

The 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner finished seventh in the 400m in 45.89 (video), his fastest time since 2013. He’ll need to be about one second faster at the U.S. Championships to make the World Championships team individually.

Francena McCorory won the 400m in 49.86, the fastest time in the world this year. McCorory’s top rivals, countrywomen Sanya Richards-Ross and Allyson Felix, were not in the field Saturday.

Puerto Rican Javier Culson took the 400m hurdles in 48.48, his fastest time this year but .39 slower than the world’s fastest man in 2015, American Bershawn Jackson. Culson was the fastest man in 2014. Jackson pulled out of the Adidas Grand Prix to be with his ill mother.

Flashback Video: Usain Bolt at the Athens 2004 Olympics

2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

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The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

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Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

Kara Eaker
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Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

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