Justin Gatlin
AP

Justin Gatlin wins race on track over water (video)

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Justin Gatlin admits a few years ago he would have found it difficult with the Olympics being in a place like Rio de Janeiro — with its beaches, nightlife and myriad diversions.

“When the Olympics come around, you can be distracted by the glitz, the glam,” Gatlin said. “Especially with the Olympics being in a place like Brazil, which is known to have big festivals, have festive parties and to have a great time.”

Gatlin was focused on Sunday in Rio and won a 100m exhibition ahead of the Olympics opening in two months.

The promotional race was run “on water,” a sprint across a 100m runway built over a small pond on the grounds of Brazil’s former imperial palace — known as Quinta da Boa Vista.

Gatlin ran 10.19 seconds in a light rain, off his top time this season of 9.93.

After three races in about a week Gatlin, heads back to the United States for training before the Olympic Trials from July 1-10 in Eugene, Ore. Gatlin won 100m gold in 2004 in Athens and is expected to challenge Usain Bolt, who has won the 100m in the last two Olympics.

“I want to go out with a bang,” said Gatlin, who has been banned twice for doping violations. “I want it to be one of the most exciting races in track and field history. And I want not just the fans here (in Brazil), but all around the world to stand still for nine seconds and be able to watch the fastest race ever.”

Asked about running nine seconds, he laughed and repeated: “Yeah, nine-flat.”

Bolt has the world record of 9.58 set in 2009.

Gatlin was asked about the Zika virus, which has its epicenter in Brazil and has been shown to cause birth defects in babies. He said he hoped to show that “Brazil is safe, it’s a great place to come.”

He said few athletes would be deterred.

“This is an Olympic dream,” he said. “It comes every four years, and sometimes as an athlete you don’t get that opportunity again.”

The World Health Organization has told pregnant women to stay away from Zika areas, although it says the Games should not be postponed, as some medical experts have urged.

Gatlin must qualify for Rio at trials. Nothing is guaranteed for any American — gold-medal winner or not.

“I don’t have that ticket yet,” he said. “My family has that ticket. They already have their tickets to Rio. The pressure is on me to be able to make sure I make the team.”

MORE: Gatlin, alter ego trailed by film crew for documentary

Mano a Mano
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U.S. Olympic women’s tennis qualifying already looks intense

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Serena Williams is in strong early position to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. For everyone else, including older sister Venus Williams, every set of ranking points could be crucial over the next 10 months, including at the upcoming U.S. Open.

The U.S. has seven women in the world top 36 — not including 52nd-ranked Venus — but only four singles players can go to an Olympics from any one country come the rankings cutoff next June.

Serena Williams leads the way for Americans in second place overall in Olympic qualifying — which counts WTA rankings points starting after the 2019 French Open and running through the 2020 French Open. She has 1,885 points despite playing just two events the last two months, taking runner-up at Wimbledon and the Canadian Open.

Only Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, who has already been named Romania’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer, has more Olympic qualifying points (2,395).

After Serena, three more U.S. women are in the top 10 in Olympic qualifying — Sonya Kenin (No. 5), Madison Keys (No. 8) and Alison Riske (No. 10).

Keys, a quarterfinalist or better at all four Grand Slams in her career, jumped from outside the top 20 among Americans to the No. 3 American by notching her biggest title in Ohio last week.

Notables who must improve their ranking start with Venus Williams, who moved from 18th on the U.S. list to eighth by reaching the Cincinnati quarterfinals. She turns 40 before the Tokyo Games and could become the oldest Olympic singles player since the sport returned to the Olympic program following a 64-year break in 1988. She already owns the modern-era record of five Olympic tennis medals from her five previous Games and could still get to the Olympics in doubles if she doesn’t qualify in singles.

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 12th in U.S. Olympic qualifying, winning a total of three matches among four tournaments in the window.

The veterans Williams sisters, Keys and Stephens, who made up the 2016 U.S. Olympic singles team, must fend off an emerging class.

Kenin, 20, backed up her French Open upset of Serena Williams by winning a lower-level event in June and then beating the world Nos. 1 and 2 the last two weeks.

Riske is playing some of the best tennis of her career at age 29. She beat world then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make her first Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon, a week before her wedding.

Then there are two of the phenoms of the year. Coco Gauff, 15, is ninth in U.S. Olympic qualifying after a run to the Wimbledon fourth round. Gauff was granted a wild card into the U.S. Open, after which she can’t play in more than five senior tournaments (and possibly no more than three) until her 16th birthday in March due to WTA age restrictions to keep young teens from burnout.

Amanda Anisimova, 17, is 13th in U.S. Olympic qualifying. Her best results this year — French Open semifinal, Australian Open fourth round — came before the Olympic qualifying window.

It’s looking like the toughest U.S. Olympic women’s singles team to make outright since 2004. Back then, the U.S. had Nos. 4 (Lindsay Davenport), 7 (Jennifer Capriati), 8 (Venus Williams), 11 (Serena Williams) and 18 (Chanda Rubin). Davenport, Capriati and Serena didn’t play at the Athens Games, opening the door for Lisa Raymond to play singles and doubles in Athens.

In 2000, Serena Williams didn’t make the Olympic singles field despite being ranked eighth in the world. A max of three players per nation were taken to Sydney, and the U.S. had Nos. 2, 3 and 6 in Davenport, Venus Williams and Monica Seles.

An Olympic rule mandating a minimum of Fed Cup appearances could affect Tokyo 2020 eligibility. However, the fine print allows for that to be bypassed in discretionary exceptional circumstances.

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U.S. Olympic Women’s Singles Qualifying Standings (Max. 4 can qualify)
1. Serena Williams — 1,885 points
2. Sonya Kenin — 1,081
3. Madison Keys — 972
4. Alison Riske — 802
5. Jennifer Brady — 356
6. Jessica Pegula — 348
7. Madison Brengle — 344
8. Venus Williams — 302
9. Coco Cauff — 298
10. Bernarda Pera — 280
11. Lauren Davis — 245
12. Sloane Stephens — 238
13. Amanda Anisimova — 230

U.S. athletes qualified for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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The U.S. Olympic team roster for the 2020 Tokyo Games will eventually reach more than 500 athletes. It is currently at seven.

Qualifying competitions and Olympic Trials events dot the schedule from now into early summer 2020.

Athletes qualified so far:

Modern Pentathlon
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Sport Climbing
Brooke Raboutou

Swimming
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Triathlon
Summer Rappaport

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