Struggling Usain Bolt set for toughest race in two years

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Usain Bolt said most of his races this year “have been really poor” but insisted confidence for the World Championships next month, saying “I’m not planning to lose” and “it just takes one run to get to 9.7 [seconds shape],” according to reports from his London press conference Thursday.

Bolt spoke one day before he’s scheduled for arguably his toughest race since Sept. 6, 2013, a 100m at a Diamond League meet at the 2012 Olympic Stadium, where three years ago he swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m Olympic titles for a second straight Games. The full schedule and start lists are here.

“When the championship comes, if anybody knows anything about me, I show up,” Bolt said. “I’m not worried about times. … Sometimes I struggle through the season. … But I’m sure when I get to the championships, I’ll always be ready.”

The last two seasons have been a struggle for Bolt, though he hasn’t tasted defeat since June 6, 2013, the longest winning streak (by days, not races) in his career.

He ran 400 meters total in competition in 2014, a season shortened by March foot surgery. He hasn’t raced this season since June 13, citing a leg injury.

And in either year, he hasn’t faced the world’s best sprinters — longtime rivals Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell and Justin Gatlin, the man favored to dethrone Bolt as World 100m and 200m champion in Beijing next month.

On Friday, the 100m field includes two of the seven fastest men in the world this year, France’s Jimmy Vicaut (tied for fourth at 9.86) and American Mike Rodgers (No. 7 at 9.88). That alone makes it tougher than any field Bolt has faced since 2013.

Bolt will also have to race twice, in a preliminary heat and then the final at 4:29 p.m. ET.

The American Gatlin is the only man to run 9.80 or better since the start of 2014, and he’s done so six times. The 33-year-old, five years removed from a four-year doping ban, hasn’t lost an individual race since Sept. 6, 2013.

Bolt’s best time since Sept. 6, 2013, when he beat Gatlin, is 9.98, though he has only raced 100m three times in that span.

Video: Bolt talks Rio 2016, retirement, celebrities with Ato Boldon

Iran banned from judo for instructing athlete to withdraw rather than face Israel opponent

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Iran has been banned from international judo for instructing one of its athletes to withdraw from August’s world championships rather than face an Israeli judoka.

The International Judo Federation said Iran authorities instructing Saeid Mollaei to withdraw rather than face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki was “a serious breach and gross violation” of its code of ethics and the Olympic Charter.

IJF spokesman Vlad Marinescu said any ban won’t apply to the Tokyo Olympics. That’s because it’s the Iranian Olympic Committee, not the Iranian Judo Federation, which formally enters the Olympic team.

“We have been informed by IJF that they will launch a proper procedure giving all concerned parties the right to be heard,” an International Olympic Committee spokesperson said. “Should the issue become an Olympic issue we will take the result of this procedure into consideration.”

An IJF disciplinary commission said it “has a strong reason to believe that the Iran Judo Federation will continue or repeatedly engage in misconduct” given its history of similar actions with its athletes potentially facing Israelis.

Mollaei, a 2018 World champion, said he was afraid to return to Iran after disobeying those orders at worlds. He competed anyway but lost one round before a potential final with Muki.

“I want to compete wherever I can,” Mollaei said in a statement from the IJF. “I live in a country whose law does not permit me to. We have no choice, all athletes must comply with it. All I did today was for my life, for a new life.

“I need help. Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid.”

The IJF said it would help Mollaei prepare for next year’s Olympics, also in Tokyo. If Iran refuses to enter him, one option could be the International Olympic Committee-backed team of refugee athletes.

Iranian sports teams have for several decades had a policy of not competing against Israelis, which the country does not recognize. The IJF has said Iranians have thrown matches and used “questionable injuries” to avoid competing against Israelis.

Mollaei’s case came four months after judo officials hailed a breakthrough in relations with Iran, publishing a letter signed by Salehi Amiri pledging to “fully respect the Olympic charter and its non-discrimination principle.”

Back in August, Iranian Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar accused the IJF of trying to “create problems” with Mollaei, the IRNA news agency reported. He said Iran will send a protest letter to the IOC.

Iranian team manager Majid Zareian also criticized the IJF, saying “everything was set in advance to put Mollaei against a participant from (Israel).”

“They did not allow me to be present next to my athlete in exercise salon,” Zareian said. “After the competitions they changed hotel of Mollaei without my permission, against the regulations.”

He denied reports Iranian authorities had put pressure on Mollaei.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: Israel, judo federation hail letter from Iran; Tehran silent

Jacarra Winchester, after foe bites her, wins first wrestling world title

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Jacarra Winchester missed the Rio Olympic wrestling trials after tearing her knee playing soccer. She missed a medal at the 2018 World Championships after a semifinal-winning takedown was reversed.

There was no denying her on Wednesday.

Winchester, who picked up wrestling a decade ago as a high school junior, became the first American to earn a medal at the worlds in Kazakhstan this week. And it was gold.

She came back to beat Japanese Nanami Irie 5-3 in the final of the 55kg division, a weight class that is not on the Olympic program. Winchester must move to 53kg or 57kg next year.

But for now she can celebrate quite a journey. At 26, she’s one of the older wrestlers to become a first-time world champion. She believed she had what it took last year, when a reversed call kept her from the final and she subsequently lost a bronze-medal match.

Winchester, who has problems sleeping, said she replayed the end of that semifinal in her head ever since.

“There’s no reason why I should have gotten beat,” she said Wednesday. “Clearly I have what I need on the mat. I just need to change my mindset. … Just knowing you’re the best, pushing yourself and not letting anything get to me.”

That helped in Tuesday’s semifinals, where Winchester said her Turkish opponent bit her, pulled her hair and twisted her fingers. Winchester, who grew up in the Oakland, Calif., area, said that when she started wrestling she had no Olympic goals.

“I had a mindset of I’m not a quitter,” she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Adeline Gray reached Thursday’s 76kg final, where she will try to become the first American to earn five world titles.

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