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Usain Bolt joins list of two-sport sprinters

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Usain Bolt is far from the first gold-medal sprinter to translate speed into another sport.

As the world’s fastest man attempts to catch on with an Australian professional soccer team, a look back at other notable Olympic speedsters who plied other trades (photo credits: Getty Images) …

Justin Gatlin, Football

The 2004 Olympic 100m champion tried out for the Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a wide receiver in 2006 and 2007, during his four-year doping ban, but did not sign a full contract.

“I was very green, didn’t know how to run a route at all,” Gatlin told The PostGame in 2017, adding that then-Bucs coach Jon Gruden nicknamed him “Gold Medal.” “It was serious … the guys knew that I came with some credentials and I was there to learn and take everything in.

“A lot of people think, OK, you’re fast and you’re a 100m sprinter, so you can be a wide receiver. Contrary to popular belief, a 400m runner is way more fitting for a wide receiver role. … [Play after play] it’s all about really endurance and actually governing your speed.”

Lauryn Williams, Bobsled

Bobsled has a long history of converts — from Herschel Walker to Chris Chelios — but Williams is the only athlete to earn Olympic sprint and bobsled medals.

The 2004 Olympic 100m silver medalist was inspired to try the ice sport in June 2013, when she ran into recent bobsled convert Lolo Jones at an airport.

“Why not get out there and try it?,” said Williams, who was retiring from track and field. “I didn’t really have any plans for the rest of my life.”

She was just about a natural. Ten months after hearing Jones out, Williams pushed the top U.S. sled at the Sochi Olympics, earning another silver medal with Elana Meyers Taylor.

After Sochi, Meyers Taylor picked up rugby and tried to convert Williams to a third Olympic sport, but to no avail. Williams retired from all competition in 2015.

“I fell in love with bobsled after just six months and wish I had found it sooner,” Williams said. “It really poured a refreshing sense of life into my heart, which was just what I needed at this point in my life.”

Yohan Blake, Cricket

Yohan Blake

Blake hasn’t gone pro in cricket, though he has played locally in Jamaica, famously breaking the rear windshield of a car a few weeks after becoming the joint-second fastest man of all time.

In 2014, Blake said he wanted to play for one of England’s most successful cricket clubs, Yorkshire, saying he “can bowl fast and hit the ball miles.”

“Somewhere around 26-27 I think I’ll reach my peak in athletics, so somewhere around 29-30 I want to be playing cricket,” Blake said then, according to the Guardian.

There has been considerably less cricket talk regarding Blake, who is now 28, since he returned from major hamstring injuries in 2015 and missed the individual podium at the Olympics and world championships.

Bob Hayes, Football

The only man to win an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl, but much more than that. “Bullet” was nearly unbeatable from 1962 through the 1964 Olympics, winning 49 straight races at one point.

At the Tokyo Games, Hayes matched the 100m world record and won by the largest margin in history at the time, then anchored the 4x100m relay to a world record, rallying with an unofficially timed 8.6-second leg (video here).

He turned to the NFL after his Olympic triumphs, like several U.S. star sprinters did in that era. Hayes revolutionized the game. When he entered the league, pass defenses were limited to man-to-man. But Hayes’ speed was too much for any defender, which led to zone defenses that have become prevalent in today’s game.

“Maybe I don’t know the fakes now, but I sure know you gotta have them, and that’s more than most pure sprinters know,” Hayes said before starting his pro football career, according to Sports Illustrated. “I’ve studied all the good flankers, and I think I can catch a ball with any of them, and I’m faster.”

He played 11 NFL seasons, breaking Dallas Cowboys records for receiving yards and touchdowns, and made three Pro Bowls. Olympic sprint medalists to follow Hayes into the NFL included Tommie Smith

Hayes died of kidney failure at age 59 in 2002 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

Marion Jones, Basketball

Jones, who was stripped of three gold medals and two bronzes from the 2000 Olympics after admitting to doping, played basketball before and after her sprint career.

As a freshman, she was the starting point guard for the University of North Carolina’s NCAA title-winning team. She played three seasons before concentrating fully on track and field, earning All-America consideration from multiple publications, and remains one of UNC’s career scoring average leaders (16.8 points per game).

Jones served six months in prison in 2008 for lying under oath about her performance-enhancing drug use and a check fraud scam.

In 2010, she signed with the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock as a 34-year-old mother of three. She averaged 2.6 points over 47 games in the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

“The biggest surprise is just how strong and just physical the ladies are. … I’m strong, but I feel like I’m easily bumped around,” Jones said in her first season. “Maybe a little of it is age.”

NBC Olympic Research and the OlyMADMen contributed to this report.

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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