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Andre De Grasse’s return headlines Drake Relays on NBC Sports

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Andre De Grasse believes he could have entered the Drake Relays as the world champion in the 100m and 200m. Instead, he watched those finals last August. One from his hotel room. The other on replay on social media.

De Grasse, the Rio Olympic 100m bronze medalist and 200m silver medalist, will race for the first time in nine months at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday as part of NBC Sports’ weekend track and field coverage.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold will air live coverage of the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

Friday
Penn Relays: 5-6 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

Saturday
Penn Relays: 12:30-3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold
Drake Relays: 3-5 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

The Canadian De Grasse is the Drake Relays headliner, racing for the first time since suffering a grade 2 right hamstring strain four days before last year’s worlds in London.

De Grasse faces a Drake field that includes six other men who have broken 10 seconds, but of them only U.S. Olympian Mike Rodgers (9.85) has a better personal best than De Grasse’s 9.91 from the Rio Olympic final.

Rodgers, a decade older than De Grasse, hasn’t broken 10 seconds in his last 28 wind-legal races, according to Tilastopaja.org.

The field is not of much concern for De Grasse.

“I’m not looking for a specific time or anything,” he said Monday. “Just looking to get my legs under me, get the rust off, see what I can do and go from there.”

De Grasse said in a recent CBC interview that he’s been training for five months since the injury. He remembers the thoughts as he watched the world championships, starting with Usain Bolt‘s relegation to bronze in his last individual race won by Justin Gatlin‘s late surge.

“I knew that it could have been anybody’s race; [silver medalist Christian] Coleman could have won, Bolt could have won or Gatlin,” De Grasse said Monday. “When I watched it, I was surprised because usually Bolt would usually catch [up to win]. Coleman was out in front. You couldn’t really see where Gatlin was. Usually, Bolt would come back at the end. It looked like, for sure, that would happen. It looked like from my view that Coleman won. When I saw the replay, Gatlin kind of just snuck in there. … I was definitely surprised of the outcome. … I wish I could have been in it, but there’s going to be more opportunities for me.”

(De Grasse said he has not recently spoken with Bolt or “anybody in track in a while.” Last July, De Grasse’s coach was quoted saying that his sprinter was “booted out” of a race per Bolt’s wishes, which De Grasse later denied in a report, calling Bolt a legend.)

Gatlin’s winning time was 9.92 seconds into a .8 meters/second headwind. De Grasse failed to break 10 seconds in all five of his wind-legal 100m races last season, but he did run 9.69 with a mammoth 4.8 meters/second tailwind a month and a half before worlds.

Then came the world 200m final five days later. De Grasse said he had never heard of surprise winner Ramil Guliyev of Turkey. Guliyev won in 20.09, the slowest Olympic or world gold-medal time since 2003.

“I ran against all of those guys before and felt like I was capable of winning a race like that if I wasn’t injured,” De Grasse said. “To be honest, I had never heard of most of those guys in the 200m final except for I think a couple of guys, Wayde van Niekerk and [Nethaneel] Mitchell-Blake from Great Britain.”

De Grasse’s goals this season include breaking the Canadian 100m record of 9.84 (shared by Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey, the latter’s time a then-world record at the 1996 Olympics). He would like to lower his 200m personal best of 19.80 from Rio.

He wants to win a Diamond League trophy for being the best man over 100m or 200m through the season. The 100m remains his preferred distance (“That’s the glory event.”).

De Grasse said he plans to race most of the Diamond League schedule, starting with the first two meets in Doha and Shanghai the next two weeks. De Grasse and Coleman are slated for a head-to-head at a Diamond League meet in London in July.

No matter what De Grasse does this season, he does not believe he can wrestle the mantle of world’s fastest man from Gatlin or Coleman.

“You can’t say off this year that you’re the fastest man in the world,” De Grasse said, noting it’s the only year in the quadrennium without a global championships. “You’ve got to wait until next year to do that.”

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Lizzy Yarnold, double Olympic skeleton champion, retires

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Lizzy Yarnold, the 2014 and 2018 Olympic skeleton champion for Great Britain, has retired from the sport.

“I have lived out my dream and achieved far more than I ever thought possible in my 10 years in the sport,” Yarnold said, according to the Guardian. “but it’s time to move on. I am ready for a fresh challenge.”

Yarnold, 29, became the first Brit to earn multiple Olympic titles with her repeat gold in PyeongChang in February — and the first skeleton slider with two golds.

“At PyeongChang I didn’t want to go into the race thinking about retiring, and then afterwards I didn’t want to make the decision for the wrong reason, in rash emotion,” Yarnold said, according to the Telegraph. “So now when I’ve gone through all this rehab for the past six months [plus July back surgery], I’m retiring for the right reasons — not through injury, not for a bad competition, or any other reason but because I love the sport, and I’ve loved 10 years of it, but I think I’m ready.”

Yarnold bowing out further boosts 23-year-old German Jacqueline Lölling‘s hopes for a third straight World Cup season title and repeat world title this winter. Lölling and 30-year-old Brit Laura Deas took silver and bronze in South Korea behind Yarnold, who erased a .02 deficit to Austrian Janine Flock with a track record on her fourth and final run.

Yarnold’s chief rival leading into her first Olympics in Sochi in 2014 was the now-retired Noelle Pikus-Pace, one of the great American stories of those Games.

Yarnold dominated in Russia with the fastest run all four times down the track. Pikus-Pace, a mother of two, came out of a two-year retirement in 2012 and grabbed silver, four years after missing bronze in Vancouver by one tenth of a second.

Yarnold also earned a World Cup season title in 2014 and a world championship in 2015.

Great Britain, not a winter sports power, earned at least one medal in evrey Olympic women’s skeleton competition — Alex Coomber took bronze in 2002, Shelley Rudman silver in 2006 and Amy Williams gold in 2010.

“That feeling when you leave the changing room, walk out to the start block, with your jacket done up and your salopettes on and crash helmet in hand — a feeling of almost growing two inches taller because of being empowered, feeling in control,” Yarnold said, according to the Telegraph, “there’s something so magical about that, so I will miss that. But it’s also really tiring.”

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Loena Hendrickx on the rise, making Grand Prix debut at Skate America

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Belgian teenager Loena Hendrickx made her Winter Olympic debut in PyeongChang, and began her short program with the aim of becoming the first from her country to qualify for a ladies’ singles free skate since Katrien Pauwels in 1988.

Fresh off a 14th place finish in the men’s event, brother Jorik sat in the stands. He looked away as the music – a cool arrangement of Madonna’s “Frozen” – began, and covered his eyes as the 18-year-old set up for a planned triple lutz, triple toe combination.

Eight years younger than her two-time Olympian elder brother, Hendrickx knew the feeling.

“I get nervous when he competes, too,” she explained after winning a bronze medal at the Nebelhorn Trophy, an ISU Challenger Series event. “I might be even more nervous watching him than when I have to skate myself, because I don’t know how he’s feeling on the ice, and I can’t control his skate.”

She ultimately landed the combination – albeit under-rotated – and bested Pauwels’ result from Calgary by one place, finishing 16th overall. Even stronger skates were to come at the world championships in Milan, where she beat reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova in the free skate to earn a Top 10 total score and qualify for her first-ever Grand Prix events in the upcoming season.

“I’m very excited because that’s something you wish for. The first one is immediately in Skate America, so it’s very exciting. I’ve never been to the States before!”

Jorik was initially scheduled to skate alongside his sister at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Wash., but opted to withdraw and spend the start of the season working with other athletes, including Loena.

“He is working with me sometimes. I really can learn a lot from him because he has the knowledge and experience. I think he can teach me a lot.”

While the siblings work primarily with coach Carine Herrygers, Jorik assisted Loena in selecting her “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” short program music, another ’90s hit by Céline Dion.

“I really liked my program [“The Prayer” by Dion and Josh Groban] from two years ago, and so I think I chose the same style. I researched more of her music, and it was my brother who found this song. I didn’t like it at the beginning because I had another song I liked more.

“In the end, Jorik convinced me to take this one because it’s more powerful and I can skate better to powerful music.”

Hendrickx debuted the program in Oberstdorf, earning personal best scores to make the podium alongside Zagitova and Mai Mihara. More importantly, she achieved her pre-season goal of landing the lutz-toe combination – with positive Grades of Execution – in both phases of the competition.

While most of her competitors made waves as juniors, the Belgian struggled with multiple injuries – a 2016 stress fracture in her back, later a bone bruise on her landing knee – that kept her from eliciting the buzz many top skaters get on the Junior Grand Prix.

“After I healed, I was very happy to begin building back up again. For a long time, I worked on my fitness to make my back and body stronger. That made my jumps stronger and helped me perform better, more consistently.”

In a field that includes two-time world medalist Satoko Miyahara and U.S. national champion Bradie Tennell, Hendrickx heads to Skate America armed with a competitive technical arsenal, and a dose of inspiration imparted by her brother on the ice.

“In Belgium, there are fewer opportunities to be successful when you’re younger because it’s very difficult to combine skating with school. Jorik taught me that you never have to give up on your dreams. If you work hard, you’ll see where you can go.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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