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Usain Bolt’s mom says faith, family, laughter keep him calm

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NEW YORK (AP) — How does the mom of Usain Bolt help the world’s fastest man keep his cool?

“We say things that will make him laugh,” said Jennifer Bolt as her sprinter star offspring faces down what just may be his last Olympics.

At nearly 30, Bolt has six Olympic gold medals from the Beijing and London Olympics. Though he withdrew July 1 from Jamaica’s national meet with a slight tear in his left hamstring, the world record holder in the 100- and 200-meter dash proved his fitness July 22 in the 200 at the London Anniversary Games and deemed himself good to go for Rio.

A few days before the London event, his mom visited New York and said in an interview that she wasn’t worried, having long ago learned that calming her own nerves was the best way to soothe Usain.

“I know he’s going to get well and everything will be OK for the games,” said the soft-spoken Jennifer, who has been cheering him on since his speed first surfaced around 12 or 13.

“I tell him just stay focused, remember God, remember to pray and read your Bible,” she said.

Usain has come back from injuries before, including left hamstring problems. When it happened in 2004 at what was supposed to be his first Olympics, in Athens, he didn’t make it past the first round. He was just 17.

“It was a bit scary because we didn’t really understand and know what it was,” Jennifer said. “He had wanted so much to be at the Olympics and he just couldn’t make it.”

Jennifer and Usain’s dad, Wellesley, live in the same village along Jamaica’s northern coast where they ran a general store during his youth. They’ve been helping him, Jennifer said, “not get nervous” since 2002, when at age 15 he debuted at the World Junior Championships in Kingston.

He won the 200-meter — and that was the beginning for the 6-foot-5 sprinter, who had never been away from his parents or his modest village of Sherwood Content in Trelawny Parish before he left for Kingston to train professionally.

At 12, when he earned a scholarship to attend a high school known for turning out strong athletes, it all clicked for Jennifer. Bolt loved cricket and football growing up but he has said he settled on track because he was good at it.

As a child, she said, “he could not keep still. Even in the bed, you could see him tossing. When he started high school, that’s when we see that he’s really competitive.”

Over the years, Jennifer said, she has realized her best approach is to remain strong when her son falters.

“I learn to cope with it. I cannot feel down when I have to support him. I just pray and hope that everything will be good,” she said. “I know that he still depends on his mother.”

It’s just as he did as a teen.

“I can remember in 2002 for the world championships. At the time he was 15 and before the games he didn’t want to go. And he cries, and I had to try to comfort him, encourage him to go out and do his best because he didn’t feel that he could have done it,” she said. “I was really, really, really nervous and, you know, my legs shake. My heart beat.”

Then she listened to the crowd.

“The crowd was behind him. From then I don’t feel that nervous,” she said.

The scene plays out a bit in “The Boy Who Learned to Fly ,” a new short animated film produced by Gatorade and based on Usain’s life. The advice her animated self gives to her jittery teen before the 2002 junior worlds: “You can always go fast when you keep it light.”

Norman Peart, who handles finances for Usain, has been a mentor since he was 15. Peart accompanied him to Kingston when Usain first left home to train. Usain lived with him, and later his wife and kids, for three years.

There’s a saying in Jamaica that fits Usain perfectly, said Peart, 13 years his senior.

“We say, you have to have crocodile skin to handle the pressure, and he does,” he said.

So how do the two think the ebullient Usain’s retirement, maybe in the next year or so, will play out? Jennifer thinks he’d make a great TV analyst.

“He’d put a little vibes to the sports,” she laughed of her son’s reputation for his trademark “lightning bolt,” his love of flashing huge smiles and his party spirit.

Peart thinks the same of Usain’s future.

“I can see him as an analyst. And he’ll do stuff with Puma for years to come for sure,” said Peart of one of Usain’s biggest endorsement deals.

But before that: “The first thing he’ll do is take a little break. He’d love some time for himself.”

MORE: Usain Bolt lands in Rio for his final Olympics

French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

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

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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