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Justin Gatlin: I’m still the man to beat at U.S. Championships

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Justin Gatlin believes he remains the nation’s preeminent 100m sprinter, despite an injury-plagued early season followed by slow times in spring meets.

“I would consider myself the man to beat,” at the U.S. Championships in three weeks, Gatlin said Tuesday, according to Reuters. “When it comes to trials and nationals, I usually step up and am the dominant sprinter.”

Gatlin, 35, is tied for 13th in the U.S. 100m rankings this year with a top wind-legal time of 10.14 seconds. Each of the previous five years, he had run 9.91 or faster by June 1. Gatlin took silver behind Usain Bolt at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds and the 2016 Olympics.

But Gatlin has said injuries slowed him this spring — ankle, calf, quadriceps, groin — forcing him to miss chunks of training in March and April, according to Reuters. Gatlin’s agent and his coach have said the 200m is no longer part of his program.

“This season is going to test my fortitude mentally and physically probably more than any other season,” said Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion who came back from a four-year doping ban in 2010.

Gatlin finished fifth in the Pre Classic 100m in a wind-aided 9.97 seconds on Saturday, but only one of the top four was an American (winner Ronnie Baker). Gatlin was the top American in his previous Diamond League 100m, bettering Baker in a fourth-place finish in Doha on May 5.

Gatlin would become the second-oldest American to race the 100m at an Olympics or world championships should he finish in the top three at the U.S. Championships and then compete at worlds in London in August.

The oldest is Gail Devers, the 1992 and 1996 Olympic women’s 100m champion who raced at the 2004 Athens Games at age 37.

At nationals, Gatlin’s biggest threats appear to be Baker and University of Tennessee sprinter Christian Coleman, the only U.S. men to break 10 seconds (wind legal) this year.

His top domestic rivals in recent years — Tyson Gay and Trayvon Bromell — have been absent from international competition since the Rio Olympics.

Gay, the 2007 World 100m champion, hasn’t raced outside of Florida this year. Bromell, a 2015 World 100m co-bronze medalist, hasn’t raced at all since Rio and is coming back from Achilles surgery.

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VIDEO: Runner clocks No. 2 time ever … after stopping to fix shoe

Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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