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Usain Bolt returns; 5 track and field events to watch Saturday

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Usain Bolt embarks on his latest-ever start to an Olympic season with his first competition since Aug. 29 at a meet at the Cayman Islands on Saturday night.

Bolt, last seen in race form sweeping the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the 2015 World Championships, makes his 2016 debut in a low-key meet against largely low-key competition.

On the other side of the world, several more Olympic and World medalists, including Bolt rival Justin Gatlin, gather in Shanghai for the second Diamond League meet of the year.

Start lists are hyperlinked for the Cayman Invitational men’s 100m and the Shanghai Diamond League meet.

Here’s the Shanghai and Bolt schedule Saturday (all times Eastern):

4:55 a.m. — Women’s high jump
5:50 — Women’s discus
5:51 — Men’s shot put
6:22 — Women’s long jump
6:45 — Men’s pole vault
6:55 — Men’s high jump
7:04 — Men’s 400m hurdles
7:12 — Women’s 1500m
7:25 — Men’s 100m
7:35 — Women’s 400m
7:40 — Men’s long jump
7:43 — Men’s 800m
7:52 — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
7:55 — Men’s javelin
8:11 — Women’s 200m
8:20 — Men’s 5000m
8:44 — Men’s 110m hurdles
8:40 p.m. — Usain Bolt in Cayman 100m

Here are five events to watch:

Shanghai women’s discus — 5:50 a.m.

Every women’s track event in Shanghai lacks either the Olympic favorite or top American, but the discus checks both boxes.

The field includes Olympic champion Sandra Perković of Croatia, World champion Denia Caballero of Cuba and American record holder Gia Lewis-Smallwood.

It will be an early test for Lewis-Smallwood, who broke the American record in 2014 but struggled in 2015, finishing 11th at Worlds, reportedly while injured.

Shanghai men’s 100m — 7:25 a.m.

Gatlin races his third 100m of the year against Mike Rodgers and Isiah Young, who finished third and fourth at the 2015 U.S. Championships (with Gatlin not in that field).

Plus, Qatar’s Femi Ogunode, who broke 10 seconds in his last two races of 2015 in September and his first two races this year in April, including a 9.91 that’s the fastest in the world for 2016.

But only Gatlin is an Olympic medal favorite in this group. He severely rolled an ankle last fall, then ran 9.90 on April 16 (with too much tailwind to be a legal time) and 10.02 last Sunday into a slight headwind.

On May 15, 2015, Gatlin ran 9.74, a time that would have beaten Bolt at the World Championships in August. He does not appear to be near that form this spring, but there’s plenty of time to reach it before the Olympic Trials and the Rio Games.

Shanghai men’s 800m — 7:43 a.m.

David Rudisha is the reigning Olympic and World champion and world-record holder, but the Kenyan is not the unstoppable force he was four years ago.

Rudisha went more than one year between races in 2013 and 2014 due to a right knee injury he first noticed in Central Park. Yes, he won the 2015 World title, but Rudisha received incredible fortune by not having to face any prior Olympic or World medalists in the final.

In Shanghai, Rudisha gets U.S. champion and 2013 World silver medalist Nick Symmonds, who last raced Aug. 8, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Shanghai 110m hurdles — 8:44 a.m.

The climax event of the meet includes the five fastest men’s hurdlers this year and three Americans who own Olympic or World titles.

There’s 2011 World champion Jason Richardson, 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt and 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Plus, Jamaicans Omar McLeod and Hansle Parchment and Spain’s Orlando Ortega, the top three men this year.

McLeod prevailed in the Diamond League opener in Doha last week, with Merritt taking sixth in his first Diamond League race since a Sept. 1 kidney transplant.

Cayman men’s 100m — 8:40 p.m.

There is one man scheduled for this race who will keep Bolt somewhat honest. That’s countryman Kemar Bailey-Cole, whom you may remember Bolt controversially beat with identical times at this meet three years ago.

Bolt is 8-0 against Bailey-Cole all time, according to Tilastopaja. Bolt’s all-time best record against one sprinter is 22-0 against Churandy Martina of the Netherlands, according to the website.

Bolt’s first races in 2004, 2008 and 2012 all came in March or April, according to Tilastopaja, but he was set back by a reported ankle injury this winter.

In 2012, Bolt’s first 100m came May 5, when he ran 9.82, but given an injury-slowed last couple of years, don’t expect him to go that fast on Saturday.

“Most of my friends, we have a bet on how fast I’m going to run,” Bolt said in a press conference Friday, via audio obtained from Cayman 27. “I have 9.91, so we’ll see how that goes.”

VIDEO: Race against Bolt’s world record with ‘BeatBot’

Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 season in ski and snowboard sports

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Most ski sports don’t hold world championships in even-numbered years, but the coronavirus pandemic brought World Cup campaigns to an early conclusion two years ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

With the seasons over, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is collecting goggles to provide to health-care workers.

Here’s what we learned in various sports:

ALPINE: Mikaela Shiffrin has company 

The U.S. ski star was on pace to win her fourth straight World Cup season trophy before her father’s sudden passing in early February. She planned to return in March with an outside chance at keeping her title, but the remaining races of the season were canceled. Italy’s Federica Brignone took the trophy, with Shiffrin second.

While Shiffrin held a substantial lead in the World Cup before her hiatus, she wasn’t as unbeatable as she was in the 2018-19 season, when she won a staggering 17 times. That’s an impossible bar to clear, but Shiffrin’s rivals made up enough ground to make future World Cup season titles and the career win record seem less certain than they seemed a year ago.

In Shiffrin’s final slalom race, a discipline in which she has rarely lost in recent years, she placed third behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson. Ten days before that, she was second to Vlhova, whose progress impressed Shiffrin. That marked that first time since 2014 that she lost two straight slaloms in the same season. (She was second in the 2016-17 season finale and second again in the 2017-18 season opener, then won 12 of the next 13 slaloms.)

Shiffrin’s ability to get on the podium in any race, no matter the discipline, will make her the World Cup favorite for years to come. But the big prize won’t be as easy as she has made it seem in recent years, and at 66 career victories, she’ll need time to catch Lindsey Vonn‘s women’s record of 82 wins and Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record of 86.

CROSS-COUNTRY: Diggins, Bjornsen stay in world’s elite 

Jessie Diggins will forever be remembered for winning the 2018 Olympic team sprint with Kikkan Randall as NBC’s Chad Salmela screamed “HERE COMES DIGGINS,” but she also has a strong World Cup resume that she continues to build.

Diggins finished sixth in the season standings for the second straight year, a drop from her second-place finish in 2018 but still comfortably in the top 10. She was joined there by Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, who eighth-place season put her in the top 10 for the second time.

Bjornsen led the three-stage season opener in Ruka, Finland, after taking third in the sprint and finished fourth overall, one place ahead of Diggins, who took third in the pursuit. Diggins added four more podium finishes before the end of the season.

NORDIC COMBINED: Norway takes control 

Jarl Magnus Riiber won his second straight World Cup title at age 22, with fellow Norwegian Joergen Graabak taking a career-high second. Two more Norwegians were in the top six Jens Luraas Oftebro (fourth) and Espen Bjoernstad (sixth). 

In women’s Nordic combined, which is on track to become an Olympic event, U.S. athlete Tara Geraghty-Moats was a close second to Russia’s Stefaniya Nadymova.

READ: Geraghty-Moats has eyes on 2026

SKI JUMPING: U.S. women shut out 

A decade after leading the charge to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics and eight years after teenager Sarah Hendrickson won the World Cup, the U.S. women went a whole season without an athlete picking up World Cup points. Hendrickson postponed her retirement but competed only on the Continental Cup this season.

U.S. women also won two of the first three ski jumping world championships Lindsey Van in 2009 and Hendrickson in 2013.

In men’s jumping, Austria’s Stefan Kraft edged out Germany’s Karl Geiger to reclaim the World Cup title he last held in 2017. Geiger’s previous career best was 10th in 2019. Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi, last year’s champion, took third.

FREESTYLE SKIING: Blunck keeps flying

U.S. halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck followed up his second straight world championship in 2019 with his first World Cup season title. Blunck won both events in the U.S. — December’s competition at Copper Mountain and February’s event at Mammoth Mountain. 

Colby Stevenson (slopestyle) and Alexander Hall (big air) were second in their events. Hall won twice, landing a switch left double 1800 to win in the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. Stevenson also won at the X Games in Aspen.

In women’s competition, 18-year-old Marin Hamill was second in slopestyle, and Jaelin Kauf finished in the top three for the third straight year.

French skier Perrine Laffont had a dominant season in women’s moguls, winning all six regular moguls events and two of four dual moguls, to take her second straight World Cup title.

SNOWBOARDING: Corning wins in Atlanta and in World Cup

Atlanta’s SunTrust Park hosted a World Cup big air competition, with Chris Corning and Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi winning. Corning also won in Cardrona, New Zealand, and took his second big air season title to go along with slopestyle titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Dusty Henricksen was third in World Cup slopestyle on the strength of a win at Mammoth Mountain, followed by fellow U.S. teen Justus Henkes.

U.S. women’s snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Julia Marino won the only World Cup slopestyle events each one entered. Anderson also won the X Games slopestyle.

Olympic and world halfpipe champion Chloe Kim sat out the season after breaking an ankle in March 2019 and enrolling at Princeton.

BIATHLON: Never count out Dunklee 

Susan Dunklee hasn’t had great success on the World Cup circuit since taking a world championship silver medal in 2017, when she finished a career-best 10th in the World Cup, but she once again took world championship silver in the sprint at Antholz.

Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s World Cup title despite missing two weeks after the birth of his first child, edging Frenchman Martin Fourcade by two points to spoil the seven-time World Cup champion’s final season.

Boe won his second straight World Cup title, as did Italy’s Dorothea Weirer in the women’s competition.

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Simon Ammann ramps up for one more run at Olympic ski jumping

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Simon Ammann, the Swiss ski jumper who gained fame for his resemblance to Harry Potter in 2002 and went to win all four Olympic ski jumps on North American soil this century, has walked back talk of retirement and now says he wants to continue through the 2022 Olympics.

Ammann won the normal hill and large hill in Salt Lake City in 2002. European ski jumpers don’t necessarily get attention from U.S. talk shows, but the 20-year-old Ammann had two things that set him apart. First, his wins were tremendous upsets. Second, he looked like Harry Potter.

He wound up appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” which makes him a wild-card connection in the Kevin Bacon game the peripatetic actor was the other guest on the show that night, and Ammann happily posed with Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick after the show.

Eight years later, Ammann duplicated the feat in Vancouver. This time, he left behind the Harry Potter glasses behind, though he made an enthusiastic walk through the mixed zone wearing comically oversized sunglasses that made him look like the Buggles’ Trevor Horn in the “Video Killed the Radio Star” video, the first music video on MTV.

In 2010, his victories weren’t quite as unexpected. He won the World Cup season title that year, sandwiched between two second-place finishes.

In 2002, on the other hand, he took off from the Olympic hill at Park City having never won a World Cup event. His two wins in the Olympics were his first two in any international competition in the FIS database.

Ammann has also had success in major competition in Asia. He took gold and silver in the 2007 world championships in Sapporo, Japan, the first two of his four career world championship medals. He also won a World Cup event in Sapporo in 2010.

In recent years, though, Ammann hasn’t been competitive on the World Cup circuit. He has been on the podium only once since 2015. Since taking his last major-event medal in 2011, his best result in the world championships was seventh place in 2013.

But he’s already shown he can, like Harry Potter, conjure a surprising performance.

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