Getty Images for Puma

Usain Bolt ready for tears as retirement nears

Leave a comment

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Usain Bolt makes retirement ‘belly’ bet

Ragan Smith finds joy in college gymnastics after life-changing decision

AP
Leave a comment

Ragan Smith, after her first two weeks of college gymnastics, quickly pointed out the coolest part of competing for the Oklahoma Sooners. It’s the noise that erupts on the last pass of her floor exercise, or upon her dismount off the uneven bars or balance beam.

They are similar sounds to what drew her to commit to Oklahoma back in 2015, when she was 15 years old.

“The girls in practice were all cheering for each other,” she recalled in a phone interview earlier this month.

Last spring, Smith called Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler with a request. The Texan wanted to enroll at OU that summer, a year earlier than planned. Originally, Smith committed to the university with the intention of deferring until after the 2020 Olympic season.

Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate in her first year at the senior elite level, began this Olympic cycle in 2017 by winning the U.S. all-around title. Granted, the triumph came during Simone Biles‘ one-year break. But consider that Smith’s margin of victory — 3.4 points — was greater than Biles’ average margin for her four national titles from 2013-16.

Everything changed for Smith on Oct. 6, 2017. Minutes before she was to compete as the favorite in the world championships all-around, she suffered an ankle injury warming up on vault (reportedly three torn ligaments). She was withdrawn from the meet and fought injuries for the rest of her elite career.

In calling Kindler last spring, Smith signaled she was ready to move on from Olympic-level or “elite” gymnastics. It is possible for collegians to compete at U.S. Championships or Olympic trials, but no woman with NCAA experience has made any of the last three Olympic teams.

“I felt like my time was done in elite,” said Smith, whose mother and aunt competed for Auburn and Maryland, respectively. “I really just wanted to move on with my life and everything.”

Kindler was walking in an academic center on campus when Smith called her last spring.

“[Smith] said, ‘I was in the shower, and I was thinking, and I think I really, really want to come,'” Kindler said. “‘My body is ready to be done with elite gymnastics, and my mind is ready to move forward, and I would love to come to school this year. Is there a spot for me?’

“We saved a spot in case she changed her mind [about waiting until after the Olympics], but the plan was always for her to defer. We never talked about anything else, so I was very surprised by the phone call.”

Kindler urged Smith to think it over. Discuss it with her elite coach, 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal.

“[Zmeskal] and I had a really good understanding of what Ragan’s goals were, which is why I think it had to be Ragan’s decision,” Kindler said. “I didn’t want to place any influence on anything. Kim thinks the world of Ragan. She was in full support. Her and I texted back and forth and spoke about it. She said she wanted Ragan to think about it a little bit, and she did do that, and still had decided that this was for her. I think Kim supported that decision, just as I said I would support whatever she wanted to do.”

Smith shared the news on July 7.

“I have moved on from the 1st chapter of my life and on to the 2nd,” was posted on her Instagram, accompanied by a photo of her in a crimson leotard. “I am so excited to be joining the class of 2019.”

Smith joined the defending national champion program, one that captured three of the last four NCAA titles. By enrolling a year early, Smith gets to be teammates with senior Maggie Nichols.

Nichols was second to Biles at the 2015 U.S. Championships, making her a bona fide contender for the Rio Olympic team. Early in 2016, Nichols tore a meniscus on a vault landing and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. She announced retirement from elite gymnastics two days after finishing sixth at the Olympic trials, one spot behind Smith, and not being named to the Olympic team.

Last season, Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years.

Smith said she has already benefited from Nichols’ experience, coming to her with questions to aid her transition.

“What an incredible opportunity to have Ragan and Maggie on the same team,” Kindler said.

The Sooners are 9-0 this year and 26-0 since the start of 2019. Smith was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week each of the season’s first three weeks. Not incredibly surprising, given Smith’s pedigree.

Perhaps more notable: Kindler said Smith hasn’t had a single ankle problem since arriving in Norman in July.

Back in August 2018, Smith said the ankle still hurt sometimes, that she had not completed a practice without pain that whole year and a coach joked to her, “You already have a 100-year-old body.”

Smith is competing easier routines collegiately than as an elite, as is the norm. But Kindler found that her passion for the sport has not waned.

“As an elite athlete, you don’t necessarily have to learn anything when you come to college,” Kindler said. “In fact, you can scale back what you’re doing, but I feel like she has a real eagerness to continue to refine what she’s doing and to learn new skills. She wants to continue to get better, and I love that about her.”

At her first college meet, Smith remembered the feeling of adrenaline brought on by competing not just for herself, but for women with whom she will call teammates week in and week out for the coming years.

“I didn’t want to let go of elite because it’s been, like, my whole life and my dream and everything,” said Smith, who was inspired by McKayla Maroney‘s 2012 Olympic vault and then had a dog named Rio. “But at the same time, my mind was telling me to come to college and have fun. I’m glad I made that decision, because I love it here.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Athletes warily embrace progress as USA Gymnastics evolves

Dustin Johnson wonders if Olympic golf will properly fit into his schedule

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dustin Johnson, the world’s fifth-ranked golfer, said he isn’t sure the Tokyo Olympics will fit well into his schedule, assuming he qualifies for what will be a very competitive U.S. team of four.

“Obviously representing the United States in the Olympics is something that, you know, definitely be proud to do,” he said when asked if the Ryder Cup and the Olympics are goals this year. “But is it going to fit in the schedule properly? I’m not really sure about that, because there’s so many events that are right there and leading up to it. So you know, I’m still working with my team to figure out what’s the best thing for me to do.”

Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner and world No. 1 in 2017 and 2018, is the third-highest ranked American at the moment behind Brooks Koepka (who also spoke about the Olympics on Tuesday, saying they’re not as important as majors) and Justin Thomas.

Johnson is ranked one spot ahead of Tiger Woods, who has voiced intent to play in Tokyo should he qualify.

But the current world rankings, based on a two-year, rolling window of results, do not exactly mirror Olympic qualifying, which takes into account only results after the 2018 U.S. Open. Rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter has Thomas, Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay as the current U.S. top four in Olympic qualifying. Woods is fifth and Johnson seventh.

The cutoff to determine the Olympic field of 60 golfers overall is after the U.S. Open in June.

The Olympic golf tournament is July 30-Aug. 2. There is no PGA Tour event that weekend. The FedEx Cup Playoffs start two weeks after the Olympics. Last season, Johnson did not play the tournaments that will immediately precede and follow the Olympics — the 3M Open and the Wyndham Championship.

Johnson did qualify for the Rio Olympics but withdrew a month before the Games, citing Zika virus concerns as other golfers did.

“This was not an easy decision for me, but my concerns about the Zika virus cannot be ignored,” Johnson said in a statement at the time. “[Wife] Paulina and I plan to have more children in the near future, and I feel it would be irresponsible to put myself, her or our family at risk.”

Paulina gave birth to their second son in June 2017.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?