Allyson Felix, Justin Gatlin
Getty Images

Allyson Felix, Justin Gatlin ushered in new era of U.S. sprints

Leave a comment

It’s about 3 a.m. on Aug. 22, 2004, and little Lauryn Williams staggers back into athlete housing at the Athens Olympics.

Williams, a 20-year-old who would speak at her University of Miami business school graduation four months later, had that night placed second in the marquee women’s event of the Olympics — the 100m final — in her first individual event at a global championship. And then gone through hours of interviews, drug testing and all-around congratulations.

When she finally finished all that, she found Justin Gatlin. Gatlin, also an Olympic rookie, also competed at the Athens Olympic Stadium that night, winning his 100m quarterfinal heat. Gatlin would take gold in the event and be crowned the world’s fastest man about 18 hours after his encounter with the dog-tired Williams.

Williams laid out on the floor of their compound. Gatlin spoke.

“How are you feeling?” Gatlin asked.

“Well, I lost,” Williams said.

(This was a reversal of her immediate reaction on the track, when she could be heard yelling, “I’ll take the silver medal,” seconds after her name flashed on the scoreboard below that of Belarus’ Yulia Nesterenko, who beat Williams 10.93 to 10.96 seconds, the margin about the same as their difference in reaction time. Nesterenko had never broken 11 seconds before the Games, then did so in all four rounds in Athens, and never came close to doing so again.)

Gatlin responded.

“You’re No. 2 in the whole world,” he said. “You’re like one of the best athletes ever. What are you talking about?”

Williams was still lying on the floor.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re right,'” Williams recalled last week. “I definitely remember it very specifically, like it being very late and a lot of people still being up when I got back, and him really lifting me up in that moment.”

Maurice Greene was 30 years old in Athens, in what would be his Olympic farewell. He took 100m bronze behind Gatlin and Portugal’s Francis Obikwelu in a failed bid to join Carl Lewis as the only men to repeat as Olympic champion in the event.

In Athens, Greene couldn’t help but notice the unflappable presence of the youngest U.S. Olympic track and field competitor in 28 years — an 18-year-old named Allyson Felix.

“Nothing really fazed her,” Greene said, leaning back on a Manhattan hotel couch last week. “You just knew it was something special there.”

Felix, who had already turned professional, best expressed her poise to American viewers with calm, seemingly calculated responses in post-race interviews with NBC’s Bob Neumeier. Felix earned silver in the 200m on Aug. 25, matching Williams’ result from four days earlier.

“We were kind of like deers in headlights at the time, but we knew that something was changing,” Williams said last week. “There was a whole new brigade of us.”

Williams was speaking about not just herself, Felix and Gatlin, but of a larger group that debuted at the Athens Olympics and largely carried U.S. sprints through the next two Olympics.

Shawn Crawford, the 2004 Olympic 200m champion. Sanya Richards-Ross, the 2012 Olympic 400m champion. DeeDee Trotter, the 2012 Olympic 400m bronze medalist. Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 Olympic 400m champion.

Williams retired after London 2012, but everybody else is still competing. A large group of them could complete their Olympic careers in Rio, should they qualify.

Even Crawford, who had retired after missing the 2012 Olympic team but failed to take his name out of the drug-testing pool and was banned two years in 2013 for failure to update drug testers on his whereabouts. Crawford is planning to return once his ban is up in April, his agent said earlier this year, and Crawford is again being drug tested.

Gatlin and Felix are the headliners, the faces of U.S. men’s and women’s sprinting. Felix said last week that she and Gatlin hung out together in a lounge area at the Paris 2003 World Championships, when Felix made her global championship debut and Gatlin was there but not competing.

“We had both come on the professional scene right around the same time, and I think we were really just drawn into each other because we really didn’t know anybody else and everybody else was much older than us,” Felix said.

Their careers separated after Athens. Felix continued to be a global star, winning three World 200m titles and eventually her first Olympic 200m title in 2012. She won her first World 400m title this year and could go for a Michael Johnson-like 200m-400m double in Rio.

Gatlin tested positive for excessive testosterone in 2006, served a four-year ban and returned to the sport in 2010. He gradually improved and the last two years has been running the fastest times of his career, drawing scrutiny at the advanced age of 33.

Gatlin said he and Felix were “like sidekicks” in 2003. They conversed together and with others at a USA Track and Field Hall of Fame ceremony in New York last week.

“Her journey that she went through, basically setting the trend for a lot of these high school kids to come out and turn pro, she really captured lightning in a bottle for a dream,” Gatlin said.

When Gatlin trained to come back to the sport in 2010, Greene was one of the previous generation of sprinters with whom he spoke.

“Why do you want to come back,” Greene asked him, “because people are going to talk a lot about you.”

Gatlin asserted that he would rise above the stain of his doping ban.

“He came back to prove it,” Greene said.

To those who question why he’s running so fast at a time when most sprinters are past their primes, Gatlin always says he feels younger because of the four years he was forced to take off from the sport.

“Maybe the time off did him a lot of good,” Greene said.

Eventually, Gatlin and Felix will step aside, either by choice or by being pushed out by another new group of U.S. sprinters.

“There’s a lot of kids,” Felix said. “There’s so much going on I don’t think we can name one person. We’re going to see that emerge. You have Kaylin Whitney [a 17-year-old who has broken 22.50 in the 200m each of the last two years], Candace Hill [a 16-year-old who ran 10.98 over 100m this year] and a lot of really young girls. They need time to develop before we crown them.”

Gatlin noted training partner Isiah Young, 25, who finished second to Gatlin in the 200m at last summer’s U.S. Championships, and Trayvon Bromell, 20, who shared the World Championships 100m bronze behind Bolt and Gatlin.

“[Bromell] is like a younger version of me when it comes to having a hunger for it,” Gatlin said, “but not realizing the magnitude of what you’re doing.”

MORE TRACK AND FIELD: Justin Gatlin still regrets Worlds loss as 2016 nears

Chloe Dygert crashes over guard rail at world championships, has surgery

Leave a comment

American Chloé Dygert crashed over a guard rail at the world road cycling championships time trial, where she appeared en route to a repeat title, and underwent leg surgery as a result.

Dygert, who last year won by the largest margin in history as the youngest-ever champion, lost control of her bike while approaching a curve to the right. Her front wheel bobbled, and she collided with the barricade, flipping over into an area with grass.

Dygert, who had a left leg laceration, was tended to by several people, put on a stretcher and taken to a hospital in Bologna, Italy, about 25 miles from the worlds host of Imola.

“We are relieved that this crash was not worse than what it could have been,” USA Cycling chief of sport performance Jim Miller said in a press release. “While this crash is distressing, Chloe is young and a fighter. With Chloe’s determination, we know she will be back riding before we know it. For now, we want her to focus on healing.”

About 10 minutes after the crash, Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen won her first time trial title.

Van der Breggen took silver the last three years behind Dygert and countrywoman Annemiek van Vleuten, who missed this year’s race after breaking her wrist last week in the Giro Rosa.

Dygert, 23, had a 26-second lead at the 14-kilometer time check of the 31-kilometer race. Full results are here.

Dygert qualified for the Tokyo Olympics when she won last year’s world time trial title. She has been bidding to make the Olympics on the road and the track.

Worlds continue Friday with the men’s time trial airing on Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold for Cycling Pass subscribers at 8:15 a.m. ET. A full TV schedule is here.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: USA Cycling names Olympic team finalists

2020 French Open men’s singles draw, bracket

Leave a comment

Rafael Nadal was put into the same half of the French Open draw as fellow 2018 and 2019 finalist Dominic Thiem of Austria, with top-ranked Novak Djokovic catching a break.

Nadal, trying to tie Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, could play sixth-seeded German Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals before a potential clash with Thiem, who just won the U.S. Open.

Djokovic, who is undefeated in 2020 save being defaulted out of the U.S. Open, could play No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy in the quarterfinals before a possible semifinal with Russian Daniil Medvedev.

Medvedev is the fourth seed but is 0-3 at the French Open. Another possible Djokovic semifinal opponent is fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who reached the fourth round last year.

The most anticipated first-round matchup is between three-time major champion Andy Murray and 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka. In Murray’s most recent French Open match, he lost in five sets to Wawrinka in the 2017 semifinals.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

French Open Men's Draw French Open Men's Draw French Open Men's Draw French Open Men's Draw