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Usain Bolt: Nobody is running fast, except for the women

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Usain Bolt is off to his slowest-ever start to a season. Having seen his rivals’ times, Bolt is not worried about ending his career in defeat next month.

“No one is really running fast at the moment,” Bolt said Wednesday, ahead of his last 100m tune-up before the world championships in Monaco (Friday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold). “I really can’t say [why]. The only thing I’ve noticed is the guys over the years who have really competed like me, Tyson [Gay], Asafa [Powell], and all these guys, we’re just getting older. So just the young crop is coming up now. I guess they’ll take time to mature.

“The girls have really outperformed us over the past three years. They’ve really stepped up and been running some fast times. It’s been really competitive. I take my hat off to the girls for really competing a higher level. I think we’re just getting old.”

Bolt, who failed to break 10 seconds in two June 100m races, will race in Monaco for the first time in three weeks. He visited a doctor in Germany following his last meet in the Czech Republic to work on his usual cranky back.

“People have counted me out [in past years], but I said the team I have always come through for me,” Bolt said.

Like in 2015, when Bolt pulled out of two early July meets with a leg injury and serious doubts about his readiness for those world championships. But Bolt visited his German doctor and returned four weeks before worlds to show medal-worthy form for the first time in nearly two years. He then swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at worlds.

This year is different. Bolt said he missed weeks of training following the April 20 death of friend and 2008 Olympic high jump silver medalist Germaine Mason.

“[My back] is not perfect, but I can train, which is the key thing,” Bolt said. “I’m training much better now. Over the next two weeks, it should be fine.”

In Bolt’s favor is a lack of challengers. Only one man has broken 9.90 seconds this year (American Christian Coleman, who couldn’t replicate that speed at nationals), and nobody has broken 9.96 outside of their home country.

At this time in 2015, Justin Gatlin had broken 9.80 a total of four times. Six other men had broken 9.90.

Bolt said it “would be good to dip under 10 seconds” in Monaco on Friday. He will likely need to in order to extend a four-year winning streak in 100m and 200m races, though the field lacks Coleman, Gatlin and Olympic medalists Yohan Blake and Andre De Grasse.

Bolt’s goal isn’t to win on Friday, but “to get perfect for when the big race comes, and that’s in three weeks [at worlds].”

Bolt added that he will not enter any meets after worlds, meaning his career finale will be the 4x100m relay at the London Olympic Stadium on Aug. 12.

“[My agent] says if I’m going to run after London, it has to be like a [Floyd] Mayweather[Conor] McGregor fight,” Bolt joked. “My coach said that I have to be his assistant until he decides to retire also.”

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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.

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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

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.

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