Usain Bolt: People calling me ‘underdog’ for final race

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Usain Bolt is paying attention to what the track and field world is saying before the expected last individual race of his career on Saturday.

He doesn’t agree with it.

“Again, I’m the underdog for some reason,” Bolt said at a press conference in London on Tuesday. “That’s what I keep reading. That’s what my team keeps telling me. So I’ve got to prove myself once more.”

Bolt competes in what is expected to be his final meet before retirement at the world championships at the 2012 Olympic Stadium.

The 100m final is Saturday (NBC and NBC Sports Gold, 3 p.m. ET).

The 4x100m final is Aug. 12 (NBC and NBC Sports Gold, 3 p.m. ET).

Bolt’s fastest time this season is 9.95 seconds, which ranks him seventh in the world in 2017.

It’s his lowest standing going into any Olympics or world championships. And in Bolt’s six previous Olympic and world 100m titles, the silver medalist ran 9.89 or faster.

Bolt is not worried. He’s encouraged by steady improvement this season. Bolt’s first two 100m races in June were 10.03 and 10.06, followed by the 9.95 in Monaco on July 21 in his last worlds tune-up.

“Shows that I’m going in the right direction,” Bolt said. “It’s all about who can keep their nerves and who’s ready to challenge. I’ve been here many times. I know I’m ready. It’s go time.”

WORLDS: TV Schedule | 5 Men’s Races to Watch | 5 Women’s Races

Like in 2015, when Bolt had an injury-shortened build-up to worlds. He didn’t break 10 seconds until one month before the championships (a pair of 9.87s in one day) and then won worlds in 9.79 seconds.

This year, Bolt can take confidence in that the rest of the world is slowing down, too.

Justin Gatlin, the 2015 World and 2016 Olympic silver medalist, has a best time of 9.95 seconds in 2017.

Another American, Christian Coleman, owns the fastest time in the world this season, a 9.82 from the NCAA Championships on June 7. But Coleman, who is untested on the global stage, followed that with a 10.04, 9.93, 10.02 and 9.98 in his last four races.

There’s also this stat: Bolt has the fastest time in the world run outside one’s home country this year.

Bolt was asked Tuesday if he’s still the fastest man in the world. Yes, he says, adding that his suggested headline for the Sunday newspapers is “Unbeatable.”

Bolt was asked if he will reconsider retirement if he loses on Saturday.

“It’s not going to happen,” Bolt said, “so we won’t have that problem.”

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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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