Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin

Usain Bolt crushes Justin Gatlin in World Championships 200m

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A few minutes after Usain Bolt confirmed he’s still the world’s fastest man by winning the 200m at the World Championships on Thursday night, top challenger Justin Gatlin saw the Jamaican sitting on a dark folding chair on the crest of the Beijing Bird’s Nest track.

Gatlin, the best sprinter the last two years (before Bolt beat him in the 100m and 200m in Beijing) who served a four-year doping ban and has been billed as evil to Bolt’s good going into these World Championships, saw a tan bench, grabbed the seat and pulled it some feet to within arm’s length of Bolt.

Bolt, with a Jamaican flag draped over his left knee and holding green shoes in his left hand, noticed Gatlin approaching him. Bolt smiled.

Bolt extended his right arm across his body as Gatlin entered the picture, with an American flag in his left hand, and held out his right arm. They fived and shook hands. Bolt and Gatlin sat and spoke in spurts for 30 seconds while photographers captured the meeting from in front of and behind them.

Once both were sitting, Bolt appeared to speak first.

“He said, ‘I’m tired, my legs on fire,'” Gatlin later told Lewis Johnson on Universal Sports. “I said, ‘I’m tired, my legs on fire, too.'”

As Gatlin untied and removed his Nikes, Bolt rose from his chair to continue his victory lap, striding away from Gatlin.

“He talks a lot, I’ve noticed over the years, but that’s just who he is,” Bolt said of Gatlin in a press conference later, drawing a smile and laugh from Gatlin sitting to his right. “I’ve noticed that leading up to the championships he’s going to say a lot of stuff, but after the championships, he confuses you. You feel like he’s your best friend.”

From his bench, Gatlin then chased Bolt, which he will be doing for the next year until the Rio Olympics, for one final interaction. They pounded fists and went on their ways.

AP

“When [Gatlin] is not talking or saying what he’s going to do, he’s actually a cool person,” Bolt told Johnson on Universal Sports. “We were just talking how tired we were.”

Gatlin, 33 and the Olympic sprint king before Bolt took the throne in Beijing 2008, had been undefeated in the 100m and 200m in 2014 and 2015 going into the World Championships.

He lost both the 100m and 200m to Bolt, who had been doubted by many due to injuries the last two years, a lack of races and times far from his world-record peak in 2009.

Experts said Bolt’s victory over Gatlin in the 100m by .01 on Sunday was due to Gatlin’s mentally induced physical breakdown at the end of the race rather than Bolt’s 9.79-second form. After all, Gatlin was faster in the semifinals (9.77) earlier that night, in a race that did not include Bolt.

On Thursday, Bolt left no doubt that he is the world’s best sprinter. He trounced Gatlin with the fastest time in the world since Bolt’s 2012 Olympic victory. Thursday’s win was assured with at least 20 meters left, and Bolt knew it, pointing to his chest as he decelerated before the finish line.

Bolt clocked 19.55 seconds; Gatlin 19.74 (full results here), after going into the final with the four fastest times in the world since the start of 2014 — 19.57, 19.68, 19.68 and 19.71. Bolt’s fastest time before Worlds in that same span was 20.13.

Bolt: I may retire after Rio Olympics

Bolt doesn’t often acknowledge he’s motivated by others, but he said after the race that his celebration was due to the man two lanes to his left.

“Justin Gatlin was saying he was ready to go, he’s going to do something special,” Bolt told Johnson on Universal Sports. “For the 100m, I don’t mind. … When it comes to my 200m, I take it really personal. That’s the only reason I celebrated across the line.”

In a post-race press conference, Gatlin joked while sitting next to Bolt that the 29-year-old Jamaican “calls me an old man when we’re in the background.”

“Y’all don’t see that,” Gatlin told the media. “When we’re in the warm-up area, he’ll be like, ‘Old man!'”

Gatlin added another silver to his collection, 10 years after he won the World 200m title in his first race against Bolt. (Bolt finished last in that race (video here), pulling up with a reported leg injury). One year later, Gatlin began serving his doping ban, and the two would go six years between races together.

“It’s a cluster of electricity,” Gatlin said of Thursday’s final to Johnson on Universal Sports. “I want to say that I help, I guess, spawned the rivalry this year, bring excitement. I’m just happy to go out there and make the big man run this year. Be able to come back next year and do the same thing.”

Bolt and Gatlin could go head to head one more time at Worlds, in the 4x100m relay on Saturday (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra coverage, 2:30 p.m. ET). Jamaica won that relay at the last two Olympics and last three World Championships.

“I’m re-energized for that already,” Gatlin told Johnson on Universal Sports.

On his victory lap, Bolt was taken down by a cameraman on a Segway.

“They tried to kill me. I don’t know what’s going on,” Bolt said on the BBC, adding later on Universal Sports, “accidents happen.”

After his BBC interview, Bolt looked into the camera and, presumably, into the eyes of former 200m world-record holder Michael Johnson, who is now a studio analyst for the BBC.

“A lot of people been doubting me and saying I’m going to lose, like one of the guys in the studio,” Bolt said. “Michael Johnson, stop doubting me, bro.”

Also Thursday, Allyson Felix won her first World 400m title, breaking the record for most Worlds gold medals and overall medals for an American. More on Felix’s victory and what it means for Rio here.

World Championships: Broadcast schedule | Video: South African stretchered off after 400m gold

Earlier Thursday, U.S. Olympic champion Christian Taylor outdueled Cuban rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo (18.21 meters to 17.73) for triple jump gold. Taylor’s final jump of 18.21 marked the second best of all time behind Jonathan Edwards‘ 18.29m world record from 1995. Taylor bowed next to the pit after his jump. Edwards could be seen with an open-mouth smile, shaking his head in disbelief from a commentary box in the Bird’s Nest.

“My coaches told me to clear my head and just let it rip,” Taylor told Johnson on Universal Sports, adding on Eurosport, “When you’re that close to a record, it just makes you even hungrier for the next time.”

Polish world-record holder Anita Wlodarczyk captured her second hammer throw World title.

Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt was the fastest qualifier into Friday’s 110m hurdles final. Merritt’s kidney function is less than 20 percent, and he’s scheduled for a transplant Tuesday with his sister as the donor. Defending World champion David Oliver also made the eight-man final.

“I’m about 75 percent physical health right now,” Merritt said on Eurosport. “That should be enough to get me a medal, I hope.”

“It’s taken a lot of soul-searching,” Merritt said on the BBC. “It’s a really good distraction from the surgery.”

Two-time Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell Brown reached Friday’s 200m final, along with Worlds 100m silver medalist Dafne Schippers. Neither Olympic champion Felix nor 2013 World 200m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce entered the 200m in Beijing.

Neither 2009 World champion Caster Semenya (she of the gender-testing controversy) nor any Americans qualified for Saturday’s 800m final. The favorite is Kenyan Eunice Sum, the defending World champion and world’s fastest woman this year. In 2013, three U.S. women finished third, fourth and sixth in the event.

Reigning Olympic and World champion Brittney Reese failed to qualify for Friday’s long jump final. Another American, 2005 World champion Tianna Bartoletta, did make the 12-woman final as the top jumper in the world this year.

Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba qualified for Sunday’s 5000m final, where she’ll try to become the first woman to sweep the 1500m and 5000m at a single Worlds or Olympics.

All four Americans, including 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson and 2013 World champion Brianna Rollins, advanced to the 100m hurdles semifinals Friday. The final is also Friday.

Video: Usain Bolt’s only loss at the Olympics

Who is Germany’s greatest Olympian?

Birgit Fischer-Schmidt
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The combined all-time German Olympic medal total (including East Germany and West Germany) trails only the United States and Russia/Unified Team/Soviet Union. Norway owns the most Winter Olympic medals of any single National Olympic Committee, but the Germany/East Germany/West Germany sum is actually greater. A look at five of Germany’s greatest Olympians …

Kathrin Boron
Rowing
Four Olympic Gold Medals

Alternated gold medals between double sculls and quadruple sculls from 1992 through 2004, the last one as a mom, tacking on a bronze in 2008. Boron also earned eight world titles. In 19 total Olympic and world championships starts, she collected 12 golds, five silvers, a bronze and a fourth. An ankle injury kept her out of the 1988 Olympics at age 18, or else she could have been the first woman to take gold at five Olympics.

Birgit Fischer-Schmidt
Canoe-Kayak
Eight Olympic Gold Medals

Considered by some the greatest Olympian in history. Fischer-Schmidt won 12 Olympic medals (in 13 career Olympic events) and 37 world championships medals from 1979-2005, scattered among four retirements, two childbirths and the 1984 East German boycott. Fischer-Schmidt retired after earning her last two world championships bronze medals in 2005 at age 43. Had Fischer-Schmidt extended to one more Olympics in 2008, she could have been on the same team as niece Fanny Fischer, who earned a gold of her own in Beijing.

Georg Hackl
Luge
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only luger with three individual Olympic titles. Hackl was called the “Flying White Sausage” for his build and Bavarian roots, a nickname he opposed. His speed on the sled was not up for debate. Hackl finished second in singles and fourth in doubles in his Olympic debut in 1988. Then he won singles golds in 1992, 1994 and 1998 before bowing out in 2006. He then became a coach for the German team and its next luge great — 2010 and 2014 Olympic champion Felix Loch.

Claudia Pechstein
Speed Skating
Nine Olympic Medals

The only woman to compete in seven Winter Olympics. Pechstein owns Olympic titles in the 3000m, 5000m and team pursuit, the last medal of any color coming in 2006. At 48, she continues to race on the top international level, placing eighth, ninth and 11th at the world single distances championships in February, 28 years after her Olympic debut in Albertville, France. Pechstein served a two-year doping ban from 2009-11 over irregularities in her biological passport. She denied cheating and fought the ban in court for several years after its conclusion.

Isabell Werth
Equestrian
10 Olympic Medals

The most decorated Olympic equestrian with 10 medals and six golds. Werth, nicknamed the “Dressage Queen,” earned her first medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games and now, at 50, currently holds the Nos. 1 and 2 world rankings with two different horses. In 10 career Olympic events, she has never finished worse than second place. No other female Olympian can make that claim.

MORE: Most decorated U.S. female Olympian on front line of coronavirus fight

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Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 figure skating season

Nathan Chen and Jason Brown
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Before the cancellation of the world figure skating championships due to coronavirus, audiences were anticipating a head-to-head battle between two-time and reigning world champion Nathan Chen against two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu

Three Russian teenagers — and training partners — were likely to finish in some order atop the women’s podium. The hot spot of ice dance today, Montreal, was to play host to the championships, with four-time French world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France going for title number five. 

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China, just off a sixth Four Continents crown, were favorites to become three-time world champions, but young Russians Aleksandra Boikovi and Dmitrii Kozlovskii looked strong to challenge them. And what about the world championships debut of U.S. pair Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who arguably captured the top moment of the national championships in January? 

With or without the world championships, the 2019-20 season has come to a close. Here, the NBC Sports figure skating contributors reflect on the standout moments of the season. 

MORE: Nathan Chen, skating coaches react to cancellation of world figure skating championships

Men’s 

For the second season in a row, Chen successfully completed a double: full-time studies at Yale University, combined with a near-full slate of competitions. He remains undefeated since the 2018 Olympics, with wins at Skate America, Internationaux de France, the Grand Prix Final and the U.S. Championships. His only seeming concession to scheduling was skipping the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, held in Seoul, Korea in early February.

“Competition after competition keeps me motivated, knowing I have to achieve a certain goal at each competition,” Chen said early this season. “That’s what drives me through practices.”

The shining moment of his 2019/2020 campaign came in December at the Grand Prix Final in Torino, Italy, where he landed five quadruple jumps — two in combination with triple jumps — in a spectacular free skate that earned 224.92 points, a world record. His total for the event, 335.30, is also a record, and he defeated two-time Olympic champion Hanyu by nearly 44 points. 

Artistically, the highlight of the Chen’s free skate to Elton John’s “Rocketman” is a 30-second hip-hop sequence at the end of the routine. 

“I’m thrilled with the score,” Chen said after his “Rocketman” free skate in Torino. “I’m thrilled with this program.”

Hampered early in the season by a concussion suffered in an August car accident, Jason Brown hit his high note at Four Continents, where he skated two career-best programs to win silver behind Hanyu. His free skate, choreographed by David Wilson to music from Schindler’s List, was breathtaking in Seoul.

“My background, obviously, is Jewish, and the story is so touching,” Brown said. “I grew up learning about the Holocaust and about Oskar Schindler and the stories. I always wanted to skate to it, but it has to be when I’m at the level, maturity-wise, that I’m really ready to skate to it.”

Balancing skating with full-time studies isn’t doable when there are no available ice surfaces within an easy drive. Vincent Zhou couldn’t find the ice time he needed at Brown University. He withdrew from the Grand Prix Series and all but stopped skating after a few weeks, returning to the sport in full force around Christmas, under new coaches Lori Nichol and Lee Barkell in Toronto. He rallied to perform two clean programs and place fourth at nationals — his lowest finish since his 2016 senior debut — but made the Worlds team as the reigning Worlds bronze medalist.

MORE: Nathan Chen, from flu-ridden on the floor, fights for 4th U.S. title

Women’s 

Russia’s “three A’s” — Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova — combined to win every major international senior event on the 2019-20 calendar. Shcherbakova and Trusova both have quads, but Kostornaia, the Grand Prix Final and European champion, outshone her compatriots by combining elegance and musicality with a consistent triple Axel.

Alysa Liu of the United States, 14, made her long-awaited junior international debut, adding a quadruple Lutz to her programs and becoming the first woman to land a triple Axel and a quad in the same routine, doing it at the Lake Placid JGP in August. She won her second U.S. crown in January, and then capped her season with a bronze medal behind two Russians at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships early last month. 

“I don’t feel [outside] pressure to be the best in the world,” Liu told Phil Hersh of NBCSports.com/figure-skating in January. “I just take it step by step and work hard for myself.”

U.S. silver medalist Mariah Bell had a fine season, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix circuit and creating one of the signature moments of the U.S. Championships with a stirring, near-perfect free skate to “Hallelujah.”

“Looking back, this was by far the best season of my career, so I’m very proud,” Bell said on a teleconference the day worlds were cancelled. “I’m really looking forward to building on that next season.”

U.S. bronze medalist Bradie Tennell can also celebrate her best campaign. The 2018 U.S. champion qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the first time, and broke more new ground in Seoul last month where two career-high programs earned her a bronze medal at Four Continents, her first ISU Championships medal.

“I feel like I was able to relax and skate the way that I do every day,” Tennell said at a press conference in Seoul. “That’s kind of been my goal not only this year but also last year. I feel like I never quite achieved it last year. But this year throughout each competition I’ve been getting closer and closer, and at this competition I was able to really achieve that.”

Following a long road back to the sport that involved treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder, Gracie Gold earned a standing ovation at the U.S. Championships. She ultimately finished 12th after an emotional free skate to “She Used to be Mine,” but told reporters she would continue training for next season.

“I think I’ve earned that,” Gold said.

MORE: Gold recounts literally and figuratively running out of gas

Ice dance 

2019-20 was truly Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ season. The couple, who moved to Montreal to train under Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon last season, created a mesmerizing “Egyptian Snake Dance” program, won a silver medal at the Grand Prix Final and defeated longtime rivals Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue to take their second U.S. title, some five years after they first won the crown. Two weeks later, they won a second straight Four Continents title, defeating Hubbell and Donohue and Canadian champions Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier.

With Papadakis and Cizeron showing some cracks in their armor — the French duo placed second at the European Championships, their first loss since the 2018 Olympics — a world title seemed to be within Chock and Bates’ grasp. 

“This has been the best season of our careers, no doubt about that, and a big part of that is our program [“Egyptian Snake Dance”] and the way we performed it,” Bates said. “Also just the improvements we made to our skating, generally, since moving to Montreal have started to be recognized and rewarded.”

The French, who train alongside Chock and Bates, Hubbell and Donohue and many other teams in Montreal, may be glad to bid the 2019-20 season farewell. Their programs, especially their free dance to a spoken word poem, were not nearly as praised as their past efforts. After Europeans, a stressed Papadakis spoke to reporters about her mental fatigue, and the couple took a two-week break from training. Now, they have a long off-season to recoup and plan new programs.

Hubbell and Donohue, too, had a few ups-and-downs. The skaters and their coaches, Lauzon, Dubreuil and Romain Haguenauer, re-worked music edits and sections of choreography in their Star is Born free dance, hoping for a peak performance in Montreal and a third consecutive world medal. Now, the two-time U.S. champions will have a long off-season to create new programs.

The season ended on a truly somber note, with the loss of Chris Reed, a three-time Olympic ice dancer for Japan who died of a sudden cardiac event at age 30 in March. Fellow skaters paid tribute over social media for the Michigan-born Reed, who won 10 Japanese titles over his career. 

Pairs 

Chris Knieirm, winner of an Olympic team bronze medal and three U.S. Championships with his wife, Alexa, announced his retirement shortly after the couple withdrew following the short program at Four Continents. 

The Knierims, the only U.S. pair to execute a quadruple twist in competition, capped their career in January, at the U.S. Championship in Greensboro. Their final complete competition was highlighted by a clean, emotional performance to the romantic ballad “At Last,” which gave them a seven-point lead over Calalang and Johnson, and, ultimately, their third U.S. title

“It was a dream that was attainable to skate the way we did today, but it always seems something gets in the way,” Scimeca-Knierim said at the time. “I’ve just been wanting for this moment to happen, because it’s been a little bit of time for Chris and I to have a skate that makes you feel, like, alive. I’m just so happy.”

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier also announced a split, and Scimeca-Knierim and Frazier plan to for a new pair and compete next season

The shakeup will add to the likely shuffling of U.S. pair rankings next season. U.S. silver medalists Calalang and Johnson won the free skate at the U.S. Championships, and two weeks later placed a solid fourth at Four Continents. Lacking an international resume, they were controversially left off the world team in favor of 2019 U.S. champs Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who placed fourth in Greensboro. They had placed ninth at the 2019 Worlds, earning a second quota spot for the U.S. in the discipline. 

These two pairs, along with 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea, and perhaps, a few improving teams, will compete for supremacy. This, partnered with the new Scimeca-Knierim/Frazier partnership should lead to something to watch for in the upcoming season.

Other notable aspects of the season: 

By the middle of September, it already was clear the season would feature a jump revolution in women’s skating. Yet no one could have foreseen the speed at which it occurred and how far it went.

With statistics courtesy of skatingscores.com, this illustrates what happened:

Until 2018, just one junior or senior woman, Miki Ando of Japan, had been credited with landing a quadruple jump in a significant national or international competition (2002 Junior Grand Prix Final). From the 2017-18 season until the start of this season, there were 21 quad attempts by three skaters (Shcherbakova, Trusova, Yelizabet Tursynbaeva) in significant international competitions, with 13 getting full rotational credit and eight judged clean (positive or neutral grade of execution).

This season, seven women were listed for 42 quad attempts in significant international competitions, with four — Shcherbakova, Trusova, Kamila Valieva and Alysa Liu — getting credit for at least one clean quad and 25 of the 42 judged clean.

Trusova landed three clean quads in a single free skate and did three different types cleanly during the season — Lutz, flip and toe loop (plus a fourth, the Salchow, at the Japan Open, which Skating Scores does not list among its “major,” or significant, events because of its limited field). Shcherbakova did two clean quad Lutzes in a single free skate.

There was a similar great leap forward on triple Axels.

Until this season, only eight women had been credited with landing one in a significant international competition. Four of those eight had done it in the pre-IJS and pre-replay era.

This season, the triple Axel club got three new members: Liu*, Kostornaia and Young You. Two previous members, Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva and Rika Kihira, did more. The five had an aggregate 23 judged clean.

And all that was without the senior worlds.

(*Liu was credited with landing a triple Axel at the 2018 Asian Open, when she competed in the advance novice division.)

A bit of history

2020 also marked the 10-year anniversary of two notable Olympic moments from Vancouver 2010: Yuna Kim won South Korea’s first Olympic figure skating gold and Evan Lysacek won the first U.S. men’s Olympic gold since Brian Boitano in 1988.

MORE: In figure skating, a radical proposal to reshape the sport

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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