Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt still reigns, edges Justin Gatlin for 100m title

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Usain Bolt watched Justin Gatlin dominate the sprints for nearly two years going into the World Championships, the two Olympic 100m champions notably never racing against each other in that span.

In their first race together since Gatlin’s last defeat, the American led halfway through the Worlds 100m final in Beijing on Sunday.

Bolt gritted his teeth for his last few strides. Gatlin, two lanes to his right, stumbled slightly. His arms flailed. Bolt noticed. When they both leaned into the finish line, Bolt had regained (or perhaps retained) his champion status, with his slowest winning time in an Olympic or Worlds 100m final and by his smallest margin — .01.

“I could tell [Gatlin] kind of fell apart the last part of the race,” Bolt said with a chuckle on BBC Radio.

In what could be called an upset, Bolt stole the World title from Gatlin — 9.79 seconds to 9.80. It was Bolt’s fastest time since Aug. 11, 2013. Gatlin ran faster than 9.79 in the semifinals two hours earlier, against a field that did not include Bolt.

Gatlin, the fastest man in the world in 2014 and 2015, lost for the first time since Sept. 6, 2013.

“It’s been rough coming back from injury, watching Justin Gatlin dominate throughout the season,” Bolt, who had March 2014 foot surgery and saw a doctor in Munich for a joint problem earlier this summer, said after his Sunday win on Eurosport. “I’m just happy to be back, and I’m happy I got it done.”

NCAA sprinters Trayvon Bromell (U.S.) and Andre De Grasse (Canada) shared bronze at 9.92 (full results here).

Here’s the photo finish picture.

Watch the race on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra‘s World Championships coverage Sunday from 1-2:30 p.m. ET.

“Last five meters I kind of stumbled a little bit,” Gatlin said on Eurosport. “I got nipped at the line.”

Gatlin undressing in the final stretch was surprising given an unflappable form developed over his winning streak. Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion five years removed from a four-year doping ban, was nicknamed “Pork Chop” by training partners in his return to the sport in 2010, when he was overweight and known to throw up at practices.

He failed to make the 2011 Worlds final, finished third to Bolt at the 2012 Olympics and second to Bolt at the 2013 Worlds. He was the world’s fastest man each of the last two years, but Gatlin and Bolt never raced against each other in that span. Very notable.

Gatlin’s mistake Sunday was a “Bolt-forced error,” retired Olympic 200m and 400m champion Michael Johnson said on the BBC. Gatlin hadn’t been tested like that in a race, or even ran on such a big stage, since 2013, the last time he and Bolt went head to head.

“It wasn’t a stumble that was caused by anything other than Usain Bolt, because he saw Bolt coming,” Johnson said on the BBC. “[Gatlin] tried to get that finish line to come to him, because he knows that. You’re going to feel Bolt over there. He’s an imposing figure.”

Bolt hasn’t lost since June 6, 2013, which was his only defeat at the hands of Gatlin. Bolt is in the midst of his longest winning streak (by days) of his career.

Bolt won his third World 100m title to go along with his two Olympic titles in the event. Bolt and Gatlin could go head to head again in the 200m final Thursday in Beijing.

Before Sunday’s final, Gatlin had run 9.80 or faster seven times since the start of 2014, winning more than 20 straight races. No other man in the world had run 9.80 or faster once in that span, including Bolt, whose fastest time was 9.87.

Bolt stressed coming into this meet that he “transforms” for global championships and marked his 29th birthday Friday by being dusted with flour by friends at his hotel.

Bolt said Thursday of Gatlin’s undefeated streak, “I wasn’t there competing against him, but now I’m here.”

On Sunday, Bolt’s victory lap celebration included bicep flexing, enjoying his signature “To Di World” pose while wearing a Jamaican flag like a scarf and pointing to a large yellow fan banner that read “BOLT NO. 1.”

Gatlin, running his fastest times this year at age 33, could be seen smiling shortly after the race and then being embraced by an older female spectator, both speaking into each other’s ears.

In the earlier semifinals Sunday, Bolt put a scare into the Bird’s Nest when he stumbled shortly after his start due to dragging his left foot along the track out of the blocks. He came back to win that race in 9.96 seconds. Gatlin clocked 9.77 in his semifinal with a more relaxed slowdown across the finish.

Bolt said his coach told him after the semifinal that he was “thinking too much.”

“I told myself, that’s right,” Bolt said on Eurosport after running his slowest 100m final time at an Olympics or World Championships. “I’ve been here so many times. I know what it takes to be a winner.”

World Track and Field Championships: Men’s events to watch | Women’s events | Broadcast schedule | Competition schedule

Earlier Sunday night, Great Britain’s Jessica Ennis-Hill won the heptathlon, competing in her first global championship since winning the 2012 Olympics and giving birth to baby boy Reggie on July 17, 2014.

“It was a massive surprise to even be here to be honest,” Ennis-Hill, who didn’t decide if she felt healthy enough to compete at Worlds until late July, said on the BBC. “To be here and finish on top, I’m really, I’m at a loss for words. … If I come away with a bronze medal, I would have been so, so happy. So to have won the gold is even better.”

Ennis-Hill, who scored 6,955 points for gold in 2012, scored 6,669 in Beijing and beat Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton by 115 points.

Ennis-Hill’s countrywoman and medal favorite Katarina Johnson-Thompson fell out of the picture when she fouled on all three of her long jumps earlier Sunday.

Shot putter Joe Kovacs became the first U.S. gold medalist of the meet, throwing 21.93 meters to beat German two-time defending World champion David Storl (21.74 meters) and Jamaican O’Dayne Richards (21.69 meters).

Kovacs emerges from family tragedy, Olympic miss to glory

In the women’s 100m heats, Jamaican defending champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and American Tori Bowie, the fastest woman in the world in 2014, both ran 10.88, the fastest time ever in Worlds heats. They’ll go in the semifinals and, if they advance, the eight-woman final, both Monday.

Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha of Kenya advanced to Tuesday’s 800m final. His two biggest rivals, defending World champion Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia and Botswana’s Nijel Amos, the Olympic silver medalist and fastest man in 2014, surprisingly failed to make the eight-man final.

The men’s 400m hurdles final Tuesday will include none of Bershawn Jackson, Johnny Dutch and Jehue Gordon, who were eliminated in either the first round or the semifinals. Gordon, of Trinidad and Tobago, was the defending World champion. Jackson and Dutch, both Americans, had combined to run the six fastest times in the world this year going into Worlds.

In their absence, U.S. Olympic and World silver medalist Michael Tinsley could be in line for his first global championship gold medal in Tuesday’s final.

All medal contenders in the women’s 1500m advanced to Tuesday’s final, including Ethiopian world record holder Genzebe Dibaba, American record holder Shannon Rowbury and 2011 World champion Jenny Simpson.

In the men’s 400m heats, American defending champion LaShawn Merritt and Grenada Olympic champion Kirani James advanced to Monday’s semifinals.

In the women’s 400m hurdles heats, Czech defending World champion Zuzana Hejnova and the fastest woman this year, U.S. NCAA champion Shamier Little, advanced to Monday’s semifinals.

Flashback: Watch Usain Bolt lose at 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.

MORE: Takeaways from abbreviated 2019-20 winter sports season

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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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