U.S. sprinters not looking at Usain Bolt’s injury as equalizer

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EUGENE, Ore. — Justin Gatlin paid no attention to the Jamaican Olympic Trials on Friday night, until he received a text message from a friend.

That’s how Gatlin learned that Usain Bolt scratched before the 100m final in Kingston due to a grade-one hamstring tear.

Gatlin’s response? You’re lying.

“Get a text out of nowhere saying that, it’s like April Fool’s,” Gatlin said. “Like, let me check the calendar real quick.”

Gatlin, the primary rival to Bolt since the 2012 Olympics, had no problem at his Olympic Trials on Saturday afternoon. He won his 100m first-round heat in 10.03 seconds. The semifinals and final are Sunday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN and NBC Sports app).

Though Gatlin has been slower this spring than his torrid pace of 2015, he obviously stands to benefit if Bolt is less than 100 percent at the Rio Olympics in one month. Assuming Bolt is named to the Jamaican team, which is expected but still complicated.

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Gatlin is the only man to beat Bolt in the last four years in a 100m or 200m (once, by .01, in June 2013).

He was favored to hand the Jamaican defeat at the 2015 World Championships, until Gatlin uncharacteristically lost his signature running form in the final strides of the 100m final and lost by .01.

Since, the 34-year-old Gatlin has downshifted, partially due to a serious offseason ankle injury. His best wind-legal 100m time so far this season is 9.93 seconds. At this same point last year, Gatlin had already clocked 9.74 and 9.75.

Bolt, meanwhile, ran 9.88 on June 11, his fastest time this early in a year since 2012. He was looking like a far stronger favorite for Olympic gold than in 2012, until Friday night happened.

Gatlin isn’t yet looking at Bolt’s setback as an equalizer. The key date is July 22, when Bolt is next scheduled to race and prove he deserves an Olympic berth.

“Maybe if I was a rookie, I would have thought I hit the lotto,” Gatlin joked. “Right now I’m just worried about beating a United States field.”

That field includes Trayvon Bromell, the 20-year-old co-world bronze medalist in the 100m from last year. Bromell had the fastest time of everybody on Saturday, taking his heat in 9.94 seconds. It was his first race since suffering a grade-one Achilles tear one month ago.

Bromell shares an agent with Bolt. He refused to speculate if a victory over a less-than-100-percent Bolt would mean any less than one over a fully fit world’s fastest man.

“I don’t look at anything like that,” Bromell said. “We all have the same dreams. You just want to make it to that level.”

Bolt has been injured going into global championships before. In 2004, he made his Olympic debut at age 17 as a medal contender but was eliminated in the first round, slowed by a hamstring injury. In 2012, he pulled out of his last meet before the Olympics citing a back injury.

“It’s a tradition,” Bolt’s former top rival, Tyson Gay, joked after advancing Saturday.

One man who knows what it’s like to race a doubted Bolt is Mike Rodgers. Rodgers came within .03 of Bolt at a meet in London on July 24 of last year, when Bolt showed medal-worthy form for the first time since 2013.

Rodgers deemed it fair that Bolt can be named to the Jamaican Olympic team without earning his place at Trials. But he didn’t agree with it.

“I feel like it’s a cop out,” said Rodgers, who is 0-16 in his career in individual races against Bolt, according to Tilastopaja.org. “He should run just like everybody else. But at the end of the day, he’s Bolt. … It’s fair. He’s the man. You can do what you want to do. It’s like Jordan. He’s the man. LeBron’s the man. So you know how that go.”

One track superstar who gets no such second chance is Allyson Felix, racing with a significantly painful ankle injury at Trials this week. The owner of 19 Olympic/world medals fought through it for a second straight day Saturday, advancing to the 400m final Sunday.

She has four more races left in Eugene, and she has to contest all of them if she wants to make the Olympic team in the 400m and 200m.

“If I could have another month, that would be ideal,” Felix said. “That’s not how it goes here in America, so just keep fighting.”

MORE: Russian Olympic boss takes swipe at Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay

Netherlands on the board; more world records at speed skating worlds

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It took four world records from other countries before the Netherlands won its first title in an Olympic program event at the world single distances speed skating championships.

Jutta Leerdam got the dominant skating nation on the board on the third day of the four-day competition and in the ninth Olympic program event. Leerdam scored an upset over defending champion and world-record holder Brittany Bowe, the American who ended up eighth.

Leerdam, 21, prevailed despite having zero World Cup podiums to her name. She clocked 1:11.84, just .23 slower than Bowe’s world record set on the same Utah Olympic Oval last year. Bowe, who recently had her yearlong win streak snapped in the 1000m, finished in 1:12.92.

“It’s a nightmare,” Bowe said, according to media on site.

Later, the Netherlands won the men’s team pursuit in a world record 3:34.68, the fifth world record in Olympic events the last two days on the world’s fastest ice at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Full results are here.

The world championships conclude Sunday, highlighted by American Joey Mantia defending his world title in the mass start.

In other Saturday events, both the men’s 1000m and women’s 5000m world records fell. On Friday, world records were lowered in the men’s 10,000m and women’s team pursuit.

Pavel Kulizhnikov followed his Friday world 500m title with the 1000m crown, repeating his double gold from 2016. Kulizhnikov was one of the Russians banned from the PyeongChang Olympics after he served a prior doping ban.

On Saturday, Kulizhnikov clocked 1:05.69 to take .49 off Dutchman Kjeld Nuis‘ record from last March, also set at Salt Lake City. Nuis, the Olympic 1000m and 1500m champion, took silver, 1.03 seconds behind.

Russian Natalya Voronina and Czech Martina Sablikova both went under Sablikova’s world record in the 5000m. Voronina came out on top in 6:39.02, 2.99 seconds faster than Sablikova’s record from a year ago and 2.16 seconds faster than Sablikova on Saturday.

Voronina’s time would have been the men’s world record as recently as 1993. Sablikova won the previous 10 world titles in the event dating to 2007.

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MORE: World Single Distances Championships broadcast schedule

Christian Coleman wins 60m at USATF Indoor Champs in history’s second-fastest time

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Christian Coleman overcame an average start to nearly break his 60m world record at the USATF Indoor Championships, a signal that the Olympic 100m favorite is in form to start the season.

Coleman clocked 6.37 seconds, matching the second-fastest time in history behind his world record 6.34 from 2018.

“I thought I had a shot at the record,” Coleman, the 2019 World 100m champion, told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “We haven’t done a whole lot of speed work [in training], so I’m pretty satisfied.”

Coleman now has the four fastest 60m times in history. He beat a field at nationals in Albuquerque that did not include Olympic 100m contenders Noah Lyles and Justin Gatlin, who did not race the indoor season.

Nationals mark the last major meet of the indoor season, given the world indoor championships were postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak in host China.

USATF Indoors: Results

In other events Saturday, Olympic champion Ryan Crouser launched the second-farthest indoor shot put in history — 22.60 meters. It was six centimeters shy of American Randy Barnes‘ world record from 1989.

Shelby Houlihan earned her 13th national title and her second in as many days. Houlihan, fourth in the 2019 Worlds 1500m, followed Friday’s 3000m title by pulling away in Saturday’s 1500m in 4:06.41.

Olympic steeplechaser Colleen Quigley was second, 1.89 seconds behind. Elle Purrier, who last Saturday ran the second-fastest indoor mile in history, withdrew before the race.

Sandi Morris beat Jenn Suhr in a battle of the 2016 Olympic silver medalist and 2012 Olympic champion in the pole vault. Morris cleared 4.90 meters, where Suhr failed at three attempts.

World bronze medalist Vashti Cunningham earned her fifth straight U.S. indoor high jump title.

MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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