An Usain Bolt press conference should be its own event

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RIO DE JANEIRO – I can tell my kids one day that, yes, I was there when Usain Bolt snapchatted a Scandinavian journalist rapping him a love song.

“I don’t really have a question,” a man claiming to be a Norwegian media member said at a press conference Monday evening. “I just want to say, I really love you man.”

And then he broke into song:

Usain Bolt, you’re my favorite guy. 

I’m loving your moves, and your feet and your style 

I hope that you win, I hope that you got the golden ring

I hope you get to go and not get followed by a Segway.

Nothing quite brings the world together like a Bolt “press conference.”

VIDEO: Usain Bolt had (too much?) fun at his press conference

In 2012, a Chilean women elicited laughter at Bolt’s pre-Olympic conference by telling him he was gay (the happy version, it was clarified after the question) and then asking when he would come to Chile to spin records as a DJ. Bolt was also asked in London if he had been given any of the free condoms at the athletes’ village.

In 2014 at the Commonwealth Games, an Australian journalist used his opportunity to ask Bolt a question to request a selfie. Bolt said he would oblige later.

Two weeks ago, I received an email invitation to a Jamaica Olympic Association-Puma event scheduled for Aug. 8 at a place called Cidade das Artes in southwest Rio.

Bolt’s name was not in the text, but it was implied. He is Puma’s worldwide ambassador.

Naturally, I googled the venue. The second sentence in its Wikipedia entry says the building was inaugurated in January 2013 with the musical, “Rock in Rio.” Seemed a perfect place to introduce Bolt for his fourth and final Games.

I arrived at the venue Monday evening and walked past an unfilled kiddie pool, a mix of tourists and even more adults in Team Jamaica outfits.

Even so, you wouldn’t have guessed Bolt was set to hold court.

There were no front-and-center signs outside referencing Bolt, which must have been by design. I found a table lined with green-and-gold clad officials, a check-in as I suspected, and made my way up to what was billed as “the largest theater in South America.”

Inside, there were about 20 rows of red seats. And three tiers of balconies. I could not see the stage from the back doors, however, as dozens of camera crews had already set up.

MORE: How to watch Usain Bolt at the Rio Olympics

They were accompanied by raised bleacher seating that resembled a large summer camp bonfire, enough for a few hundred more media members.

The 2000 Olympic triple jump champion Jonathan Edwards emceed the hour-long show. And a show it was.

A video montage of Jamaica’s Olympic legends preceded the question-and-answer sessions. Jamaica has won 67 medals, it pointed out – 66 in track and field, 1 in cycling.

Bolt was saved as the last athlete to talk.

First, other track and field team members came up in waves before him, but with every question asked, we all knew that might mean one fewer question for Bolt if they wanted to keep on schedule.

Finally, Bolt entered to applause at 6:30 p.m. This kind of welcome is generally frowned upon at press conferences, but this was no ordinary press conference.

“First of all, you’ve got to clap louder than that,” Bolt said as he walked across the stage in a gold shirt and backwards cap toward Edwards. “That was weak.”

And so Bolt went on answering questions.

He lamented having to buy a TV for his room here, that fellow sprinter Asafa Powell takes his shirt off to much and said, as he does in every large media gathering, that he wants to run sub-19 seconds for the 200m one day.

There was one bit of actual news amid the splendid celebration.

Bolt, coming off a hamstring injury, said his coach called his only Olympic tune-up race two weeks ago “one of the worst races” he’s ever run. Bolt seemed unconcerned.

Bolt does enter these Olympics as the fourth-fastest man in the 100m this year, and the fifth-fastest in the 200m. But nobody has beaten him to the finish line of an Olympic or world championships final since 2007.

The latter fact carries more weight than the former stat as Bolt readies for his 100m opening round Saturday. The 100m semifinals and final are Sunday.

Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic climbed into the Rod Laver Arena stands to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title Sunday and, after jumping and pumping his fists with his team, he collapsed onto his back, crying.

When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.

This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago, when he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. And Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”

Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“I want to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year; coming back this year,” Djokovic said, wearing a zip-up white jacket with a “22” on his chest. “And I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.”

The 35-year-old from Serbia stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run there in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two from the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man.

Only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Serena Williams, with 23 — are ahead of him.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most.

“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far,” Tsitsipas told Djokovic.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.

On a cool evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chants from supporters of both men prompting repeated pleas for quiet from the chair umpire, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially so in the two tiebreakers.

He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then reeled off the last three points. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all of the tears.

“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30.

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).

“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.

Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?

Uh, no.

A 15-stroke point concluded with Djokovic smacking a cross-court forehand winner that felt like a statement. Two misses by Tsitsipas followed: A backhand long, a forehand wide. Those felt like capitulation. Even when Tsitsipas actually did break in the third, Djokovic broke right back.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get when allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions were eased.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible.

And then there was the complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding; Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.

Still, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal or the final.

No matter any of it, Djokovic excelled as he so often has.

“He is the greatest,” Tsitsipas said, “that has ever held a tennis racket.”

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