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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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Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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