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Usain Bolt eager to prove doubters wrong as soccer trial starts

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Usain Bolt began his indefinite trial with an Australian professional soccer team on his 32nd birthday on Tuesday. And that, he insists, is proof that his new career is legitimate.

“People always gonna say what they want to say,” Bolt said when asked about those who call it “a gimmick.” “Just like when I was in track and field, people say a lot of things about me, but I always prove them wrong. It’s just another moment for me to prove them wrong. … I don’t care what people say.”

Bolt is training with the Central Coast Mariners, the last-place team in Australia’s top division.

His goal is to earn a contract with the club, whose league season begins in two months. His dream is to one day play for Manchester United.

“For me it’s just like track and field,” Bolt said. “The first day of training is always the roughest one. You can tell how much work you need to put in, what you need to do. But it felt OK. I know it’s going to take time and work, and I’m ready to work.”

Bolt said he turned down offers from teams in France and Spain, but not in the top division. He prefers Australia, where he doesn’t have to learn a language.

“The coach has explained to me that there won’t be any special treatment,” said Bolt, who fancies himself a winger or center forward and has to work on “the basic skills.” “They will treat me just like a footballer should be treated. … I don’t want to be treated like I’m the world’s fastest man.”

Central Coast Mariners coach Mike Mulvey said Bolt should be ready to play in a preseason match against local players on Aug. 31, but he doesn’t want to rush.

“If it takes 12 months, I’m happy for him to be here,” Mulvey said. “He’s already brought the biggest throng of media to this area. The highlight, the spotlight is on Central Coast.”

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VIDEO: Christian Coleman wins Birmingham Diamond League 100m in photo finish

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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