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Usain Bolt ready for tears as retirement nears

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NEW YORK — Three months.

Usain Bolt, the gangly Trelawny boy born with scoliosis who grew into the greatest sprinter of all time, has three months left in his track career.

He says he has three, maybe four meets to go before retirement — Kingston on June 10 (his final Jamaican meet), Ostrava, Czech Republic, on June 28 and possibly another tune-up before the world championships. He also isn’t ruling out a meet after worlds.

Still, Bolt envisions his career ending at worlds in London, a place he has called a second home. He has the 100m final on Aug. 5 and the 4x100m relay Aug. 12.

“I’ve thought about it many times,” Bolt says in a basement nook of a lower Manhattan studio space, after smiling and gabbing for a few dozen international media at an event promoting his apparel sponsor, Puma.

Bolt mentions his 2016 film, “I am Bolt,” and a scene where he began thinking about retirement.

“I started getting a little bit emotional,” Bolt remembers. “Knowing that it could be your last big race in front of so much crowd, that’s something I know I’m going to miss when I retire.”

Bolt is quick to say he has never cried at a race.

Not after any of his nine Olympic titles (since reduced to eight due to a relay teammate’s doping). Not after defeats, such as failing to advance out of his first Olympic race in 2004 or his infamous false start out of the 2011 World Championships 100m final.

That in mind, Bolt thinks about the scene three months from now in the London Olympic Stadium. Tears?

“To be actually in the stadium and know that this is it, you never know,” he said. “What will I do? What should I say? How should I go about it? But I haven’t come up with anything solid yet. I’m open. Hopefully it’s not too emotional.”

Bolt decided not to race the 200m, his trademark event, this season because he doesn’t want to risk losing and doesn’t want to train as hard.

“Can’t mess it up at the end,” Bolt said. “It’s not really that stressful this season. My coaches really adjusted my program a lot, so it’s not as intense as it used to be. But it still gets me where I need to go.”

Bolt says his longtime coach, Glen Mills, believes he could continue for one more Olympics in 2020, but only if the sprinter wants to. Bolt, who turns 31 in August, has made it clear that he doesn’t want to.

He dislikes the rigors of training and enjoys staying out late and straying from proper nutrition. Bolt has been known to show up at group step classes in Jamaica on mornings after fried-chicken dinners.

“I’m back on my diet now,” he says. “My coach tells me stay focused because it’s the home stretch.”

Bolt is confident in his 100m. Asked of his biggest rival, and he says he doesn’t know. This is a departure from past years, when it was clear that either training partner Yohan Blake or Americans Tyson Gay or Justin Gatlin were pushing Bolt.

“The only person that I’ve seen really compete at his best [this season] is Andre De Grasse,” Bolt said of the 22-year-old Olympic 100m bronze medalist from Canada. “He’s really shown promise early in the season. I always wait until the trials [late June for the U.S. and Jamaica] to see who’s really stepping up because that’s when it really matters.”

The day after Bolt’s interview, De Grasse finished an unimpressive fifth in a 100m race in Qatar in 10.21 seconds. Bolt has never been that slow in a 100m final, according to Tilastopaja.org, but he rarely competes this early in the year and never races when he’s not confident of victory.

Bolt is less sure of what is shaping up to be his final race — the 4x100m relay at worlds.

“That’s what I’m worried about,” he said. “I’m not worried about individual. I have all the abilities to do the individual, because I’m going to show up ready.”

Bolt noted his countrymen dropped the baton in the 4x100m heats at the IAAF World Relays last month. Bolt was also part of the Jamaican team that was beaten by the U.S. in the 4x100m at the 2015 World Relays. It’s his only defeat in top-level competition in nearly four years.

But the U.S. has a penchant for failing on the biggest stages — one medal combined from the last four worlds and three Olympics, where Jamaica prevailed all seven times.

“The 4x100m is always tricky,” Bolt said. “I always worry a little bit, but my teammates always come through.”

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Abdulrashid Sadulayev pins Kyle Snyder in Rematch of the Century

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Kyle Snyder called out Abdulrashid Sadulayev in the spring, saying he could beat the Russian more soundly than in the 2017 Match of the Century. That Sadulayev was getting bad advice from those who told him he could beat Snyder if he entered the world championships in the 97kg freestyle division again this year.

Turns out, Sadulayev’s advisers were right.

The Russian Tank pinned Snyder for gold in the Rematch of the Century at wrestling worlds in Budapest on Tuesday. It was over in 70 seconds.

Sadulayev took control with a single-leg shot at 40 seconds, quickly took Snyder down and, after 20 seconds of jostling, used his 215 pounds on top of Snyder to get the American’s shoulders on the mat.

“Ended quickly,” Snyder said. “That stunk. Everybody knows Sadulayev’s a very talented wrestler. He hit me in a good move, and it worked out well for him. … This one doesn’t even really hurt too much right now.”

Snyder, 22, lost on the global championship stage for the first time. In 2015, he became the youngest American to win a world title. In 2016, he became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. In 2017, he beat Sadulayev in the worlds final 6-5, overcoming a two-point deficit in the final minute in a battle of Olympic gold medalists.

Former Russian freestyle coach Magomed Guseynov was proven prophetic Tuesday.

“Sadulayev wasn’t prepared well last time,” he told United World Wrestling. “[Sadulayev] is 10 times better than Snyder. … Being a coach with 47 years of experience, I guarantee that Sadulayev won’t give him a chance to score a single point. Sadulayev will wrestle as if Snyder is an amateur.”

Sadulayev, a 22-year-old from Dagestan, was undefeated at the senior international level from November 2013 up to that 2017 World final. He beat four Rio Olympic 86kg opponents by a combined 28-1.

Sadulayev was more impressive than Snyder in Monday’s early rounds, winning all four matches by the 10-point mercy rule. Snyder’s closest match was his semifinal, a 3-0 win over two-time world medalist Pavlo Oliynyk of Hungary.

In other divisions Tuesday, three-time world champion Adeline Gray beat Olympic gold medalist Erica Wiebe of Canada to reach Wednesday’s 76kg final. Gray took 2017 off to recover from injuries after surprisingly missing the medals at her first Olympics in Rio.

Helen Maroulis, a 2015 and 2017 World champion and Rio gold medalist, opens her bid Wednesday to tie Tricia Saunders for the U.S. female record of four combined Olympic and world titles.

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Skate America champ Satoko Miyahara hopes to challenge Russians

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Like many elite figure skating coaches, Mie Hamada trains two of her country’s top athletes: Satoko Miyahara, the four-time and reigning Japanese champion who won her second straight Skate America title on Sunday; and Rika Kihira, the sport’s leading female proponent of the triple axel.

Also in common with many of her colleagues, both of Hamada’s star pupils will compete at the same Grand Prix event: NHK Trophy, held Nov. 9-11 in Hiroshima, Japan.

Unlike most coaches, though, Hamada is clear about which student she wants to win, be it at NHK or this season’s Japanese and world championships.

“I hope the champion is 18, because we want to see a senior lady, not a senior girl, don’t you think?” Hamada said in Everett. “A skater who has a story, not only jumps.”

A skater like Miyahara, who at age 20 is about four years Kihira’s senior.

“Jumps are very important, we know that, but the five (program) components, the artistry, should also count,” Hamada said.

“This is figure skating,” she added, drawing out each syllable for emphasis.I hope judges understand what is important for the sport.”

In Everett, Miyahara had it all: two intricate, elegant programs; gorgeous spins and steps; clean triple jumps – everything except a triple axel. She was the only lady in the event to land a triple lutz, triple toe combination that wasn’t judged under rotated. In fact, none of her jumps received the dreaded “<” – quite a feat, given some of her prior results and the new, more stringent international judging system (IJS) guidelines.

“During the off-season I did some training with very light weights, and it was very new for me,” said the tiny Miyahara, who is listed in her ISU bio as five feet tall. “I was training to make my hamstrings stronger. I had a bad habit of not using the butt and the hamstrings, only to use the front side (of my thighs), and that was not good for big jumps.”

Hamada, weary of the under rotations that have cost Miyahara dearly in the past, is behind the new regimen.

“This year, Satoko has a new strength trainer, and she worked very hard in the summer time, so she gets extra muscle,” Hamada said. “Then in October, we just relaxed and did some easier exercises before (Skate America).”

Miyahara has grown stronger in other ways. At last season’s Skate America, the skater spoke of her dangerous calcium deficiency, for which she was taking supplements. That has improved, but Miyahara remains underweight. Off-ice in Everett, she was never without a small canvas bag packed with snacks, and she apologetically delayed our interview so she could sit down and eat some.

“I like to eat, so it’s not hard for me, but I don’t know why I lose weight when I come to competitions,” Miyahara said. “There is no practice like the usual practice, it’s a lot less, but I think maybe I am using my mind a lot and I need food.”

Hamada speculates the weight problem is due to her skater’s deep work ethic, which includes her studies at Kansai University in Osaka.

“Each day, every day, every moment, she is working hard,” Hamada said. “She has to think about nutrition all of the time. Most skaters her age are trying to lose weight, but she is the opposite. She has to take carbohydrates, she has to take everything.”

Both coach and skater hope the increased strength – plus a revised judging system that includes grades of execution (GOE) for elements ranging from -5 to +5 – help Miyahara challenge the Russian contingent this season, including Olympic champion Alina Zagitova and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva.

“It is not a very easy thing, but I think I have to improve my programs and jumps, and everything, to get more (GOE) pluses,” Miyahara said. “When I compete with Russians, I always watch them and think, ‘why do they jump like machines?’”

For now, though, Miyahara’s main competition is training partner Kihara. In the few weeks leading up to NHK, they will share the ice in Osaka, where they always skate together in the same sessions.

“Rika learns how to use her edges from Satoko, who has beautiful edges and skates without any noise,” Hamada said. “But Satoko learns how to jump from Rika, so it’s a good situation. They are not enemies, they are good rivals. It is very important to have a good rival.”

Kihira – the first lady to land a triple axel-triple toe loop combination in history, at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season – plans two triple axels in her free skate at NHK, Hamada said. Although she is working on quadruple jumps, including toe loop and salchow, she likely will not attempt them this season.

“(Kihira) is working very hard on the artistry, because I want her to become a very beautiful lady skater with triple axel and quad,” Hamada said. “This year I am not planning to have quads in her programs but I want beautiful edges, beautiful flow.”

And Miyahara, as always, vows to work harder.

“It’s a very good environment for me to practice (with Kihira), because she pushes me and I feel like I have to do more,” she said.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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