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Justin Gatlin lines up at World Relays reminded of his missing piece

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After Justin Gatlin lies down for a massage ahead of the IAAF World Relays, he ponders what’s left to accomplish before his controversial-but-decorated career ends in the coming years.

Gatlin has the greatest title in sprinting — Olympic 100m champion from 2004 — and pulled off the 100m/200m double at the 2005 World Championships. Both came before his four-year doping ban.

What also squeezes into the lede is that he won the last individual race of Usain Bolt‘s career, relegating the Jamaican to bronze in the 2017 World Championships 100m final and shushing the London crowd that had booed him before and after every round.

Gatlin is asked what, if anything, is missing. He thinks about it. He has just finished a training session in Japan for the World Relays (TV/stream schedule here), where he headlines a U.S. 4x100m team with Noah Lyles.

“Just keep doing it again and again,” Gatlin says, unable to come up with an answer. After two seconds of silence, he adds this: “Win the world championships and Olympics with my relay team. That would be a great accomplishment.”

It would also be a foreign one for Gatlin, who has been a part of eight U.S. 4x100m pools between the Olympics and world championships but never grabbed gold in the relay.

2004: Surprise Great Britain relegates the U.S. to silver in the Athens Olympics.
2005: Mardy Scales and Leonard Scott botch a handoff in the preliminary heat before Gatlin could get a chance in the final to complete a 100m, 200m and 4x100m sweep.
2007, 2008, 2009: Gatlin is excluded from two world championships and the Beijing Olympics due to a four-year doping ban.
2011: The U.S. DNFs after Doc Patton collides with burly British anchor Harry Aikines-Aryeetey.
2012: A valiant effort, but Ryan Bailey cannot outsprint Usain Bolt on anchor at the London Olympics. The U.S.’ silver medal is later stripped due to Tyson Gay‘s doping ban.
2013: Gatlin got the baton with a slight lead on anchor but had to adjust to keep from stumbling into Bolt’s lane. Bolt easily passed Gatlin. Jamaica won by three tenths.
2015: The U.S. led coming around the third-leg curve, but Gay and Mike Rodgers couldn’t complete their handoff in the zone and were disqualified.
2016: After the U.S.’ victory lap for earning a bronze medal, they were disqualified upon replay showing Gatlin received his handoff from Rodgers before the zone.
2017: Bolt somersaults in his last race, but Christian Coleman cannot run down Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, and Britain wins by .05.

Gatlin was part of winning U.S. quartets at the last two World Relays in 2015 and 2017 (the Americans beat a Bolt-anchored team in the former).

This will almost surely be the last time Gatlin takes part in the event and could be looked at as the beginning of a farewell tour that’s expected to end at either the 2020 Olympic Trials or, should he make a fourth Olympics, back in Japan for the Tokyo Games.

Gatlin said 2019 and 2020 will be his last two years of sprinting, according to Reuters in December.

“It’s a target I’m looking at,” he said Thursday, not confirming the timeline but not ruling it out. “I’m not trying to predict the future. At some point you’ve got to look to the future. Right now just focusing on what I’ve got to focus on.”

Gatlin can race carefree this spring and summer, knowing he has a bye into late September’s world championships 100m as defending champion.

He will be 38 come the summer of 2020 and in line to break Gail Devers‘ record as the oldest U.S. Olympic sprinter. He is already the oldest Olympic 100m medalist after finishing second to Bolt at the Rio Games. (Gatlin, by the way, said he has not conversed with Bolt since they last met at 2017 Worlds. “I’ve been watching him play soccer,” he joked.)

In limited racing last season (partially due to injury, partially to rest), Gatlin failed to break 10 seconds in the 100m for the first time since his out-of-shape comeback summer in 2010 when he raced at outposts Rakvere, Joensuu and Arzana while being excluded from major European meets.

Gatlin pulled up with a microtear in his upper left leg in a 200m in Grenada last month and missed some training. He has yet to race a 100m this year and said his agent is still working out his schedule after he enters a lower-level meet in Osaka on May 19.

It looks like Gatlin must summon his speed from the last Olympic cycle to have a chance at making the three-man 2020 Olympic 100m team.

The world’s top three men from 2018 were all Americans more than a decade younger than Gatlin. All went faster than Gatlin’s best time from 2017: Christian Coleman (9.79), Ronnie Baker (9.87) and Lyles (9.88).

Four more Americans born in the 1990s broke 10 seconds, making it possible that Gatlin could be an underdog to even make the Olympic relay pool (usually the top six in the 100m at trials).

“A lot of people said I would never be 9.7 when I came back to the sport,” Gatlin said, referencing his personal best of 9.74 at age 33 in 2015. “I’m always up for a challenge.”

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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