Ato Boldon on Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin and the 2017 season

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Four-time Olympic medalist Ato Boldon, NBC’s lead track and field analyst, witnessed a memorable year for the sport.

35-year-old Justin Gatlin shocking Usain Bolt to win the 100m world championship.

Bolt falling to the track in the final race of his decorated career.

The best-ever performance for the U.S. at Worlds, led by sprinter Allyson Felix, who passed retired Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey for the most career world championship medals.

Boldon discussed the 2017 track and field season before the year’s final Diamond League meet, which will take place today at 2:00 p.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold.

What are your biggest takeaways from the 2017 track and field season?

My biggest takeaways are the new stars emerging. You need only look as far as the world championships in London and the number of first-time world champions to realize that there are some new faces that you better get familiar with, because chances are they are around to stay.

Justin Gatlin upset Usain Bolt to win the 100m world championship. At 35, how much longer can he be a top sprinter?

I thought Justin had lost a step after last year. The response to that was, ‘Well, how is he the world champion in 2017?’ Simple answer: 9.92 seconds was all it took to win Worlds, one of the slowest winning times ever. If the winning time at championships (including the USA Championships) is 9.9, Justin will remain competitive. If Christian Coleman, Andre De Grasse and younger sprint stars of the world make it 9.7, he will be forced out.

Now that Bolt is hanging up his spikes, who will become the face of track and field?

I think it will be Wayde van Niekerk, because I think he has the ability to dominate his event (400m) the way Bolt did. I was disappointed to hear him say he won’t double at a championship again. The sport needs that. He was a lean from pulling off something that had been done before only once, so I hope he’ll reconsider. He doesn’t have the same extrovert personality as Bolt, but it’s partly the media’s job to continue to make him appealing to the global audience.

As the 2017 season comes to a close, who will you be watching in 2018?

In 2018, I will be watching the youngsters who almost won this year to see if they improve or decline next year: Coleman (100m silver), Salwa Eid Naser (400m silver from Bahrain), Steven Gardiner (400m silver from Bahamas), and Marie-Josee Ta Lou (100m and 200m silver medals from Ivory Coast).

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MORE: World champion Justin Gatlin beaten in Diamond League final

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.

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, he 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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