Justin Gatlin
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Justin Gatlin still regrets Worlds defeat as 2016 nears

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NEW YORK — When Justin Gatlin mentions the World Championships in Beijing from two months ago, he still speaks in a sentimental tone.

There is the lingering hurt from being beaten by Usain Bolt in the 100m final. Gatlin, who later broke down in tears in the Bird’s Nest on Aug. 23, has watched replays.

“Toughest loss I’ve taken in my career because I feel like I let myself down,” Gatlin said in a Manhattan hotel lobby Thursday morning, more or less repeating his initial reaction from Aug. 23, and then pausing before adding context. “It wasn’t about getting beat by Usain. It wasn’t about being one of the slowest times I ran of the season. It was about, that at the end of the day, I didn’t perform 100 percent in the race and during the race while I was competing. I didn’t do what I was doing all season long. I veered away from what my strategy was, especially the last 20 meters. That’s something that I regret going into this season.”

There is also the residue of the scrutiny on Gatlin’s character from that meet.

He is five years removed from a four-year doping ban and is given the cold shoulder, or worse, by many in the sport. New IAAF president Seb Coe said last year he had “big problems” with Gatlin being eligible for an Athlete of the Year award (rules have changed, and serious doping offenders are no longer eligible for IAAF awards).

“I keep my head down and keep running,” Gatlin said.

Some of the most enduring images of Gatlin from Worlds were of him sitting next to and joking with Bolt after their 200m final and at a later press conference. Or of his face while on the podium at the 100m medal ceremony, when he called out a spectator for verbally harassing his mother.

“Beijing was more of a coming-out party for my human side,” he said. “I think people realize that I have been on a long journey. I have weathered a really big storm. Throughout the whole time, I have not lost my human side.”

That doesn’t change Gatlin’s mistakes. He said he’s been drug tested about 70 times this year, a majority at his Florida home with blood and urine tests.

“From day one, it’s fine with me,” Gatlin said. “Nothing to hide. Nothing to run from. So I’m happy with how many times I’m getting tested, hope that my supporters are comfortable with it and the critics as well. I want them to know that the system is working.”

Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion, cycled through coaches and training partners when his suspension was up in 2010. About four years ago, he began working in the Orlando area under coach Dennis Mitchell, a three-time Olympian who also served a doping ban.

Mitchell’s stable of sprinters includes Isiah Young, a 25-year-old who finished second to the 33-year-old Gatlin in the 200m at the U.S. Championships in June. They share a passion.

“People ask me what would I do if I wasn’t a track and field runner, it would be two things,” Gatlin said. “I would try to work in special ops, and I would be a [pro] wrestler. [Young] is a huge fan of wrestling, way bigger than I am.”

Gatlin said he and Young attended a WWE card in Orlando in April — “our first real bonding experience” — and they each bought replica championship belts from a souvenir stand for about $30.

The belts were on the line this past season at Mitchell’s practices, with Gatlin and Young exchanging titles based on who performed better in various drills.

“Try to bring a little spice,” to practices, Gatlin said. “It’ll be maybe two weeks when I have his belt for the whole time, and he’ll get the belt back, and then he has to get my belt.”

One thing Gatlin takes with him around the world is his son’s first sports medal. Jace was born three months before Gatlin’s doping ban ended in 2010.

“He doesn’t care about the medal,” Gatlin said in a beIN Sport profile this summer. “He cares about the candy that comes with the medal.”

In 2010, Gatlin sat on a bench next to the Georgia Tech track in Atlanta, days before his first competition in four years, and explained the meaning behind his 11th and most recent tattoo — a four-leaf clover on his right wrist.

“I needed some luck,” he said.

Gatlin added two tattoos since — the words “Logos Ethos Pathos” in cursive across his upper chest, signifying man’s foundations, he said, and a tiger’s face on his left bicep.

“A representation of my hungry animal coming out,” Gatlin said.

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Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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