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Usain Bolt on Kobe Bryant, fatherhood and Tyreek Hill’s Olympic outlook

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MIAMI — The world’s fastest man sauntered into the back room of a Miami art studio that had been converted into a Gatorade pop-up for Super Bowl weekend.

He opened a bottle of Bolt24, Gatorade’s new off-the-field drink for the 24/7 athlete, an endorsement Usain Bolt takes literally.

“Last night I went to bed at, maybe, like 5 [a.m.],” he said the Saturday morning before Super Bowl Sunday, adding that outside of his native Jamaica, he believes the party scene in Miami is second only to London.

Bolt fully reclined and rested his legs in a NormaTec compression therapy device while spending the next 20 minutes discussing a wide range of topics with NBC Sports.

The retired sprinter recently announced he is going to be a father in a social post.

He does not know the gender of his child yet and declined to reveal the due date.

“I’m excited, but I’m nervous,” said the 33-year-old. “I’ve always been a fun guy, I’ve always been that person. But should I be that person and make my girlfriend [Kasi Bennett] be the bad guy? Those are the questions I’m asking, so we’ll see what happens.”

Bolt, who has two siblings and eventually wants three children, will not encourage his offspring to pursue sprinting.

“That’s going to be hard for my kid,” he said. “If they want to do it, I’m fine with it. But initially I’m going to say don’t do it, ’cause I know the pressure that will come along with it.”

Bolt has always wanted to have a son to follow in his footsteps. But after watching ESPN anchor Elle Duncan deliver an emotional tribute about Kobe Bryant’s pride in being a #GirlDad, Bolt is now hoping for a daughter.

“I could see in his eyes how much he loved his girls,” Bolt said. “I would love to have that feeling.”

Bryant’s untimely death hit Bolt hard. Bolt was driving when he heard the news and immediately pulled over. He completely stopped checking social media. He tried to watch the Lakers’ tribute, but changed the channel after five minutes because he teared up.

Bolt had at least three significant interactions with Bryant. During an NBA All-Star Weekend, Bryant paused a conversation with Bolt to fetch his daughters for sprinting advice and a photo.

Bolt believed he competed with Kobe’s Mamba Mentality.

“I wouldn’t say I was dedicated as Kobe,” Bolt said, “but when I competed, I went out there no matter what was going on and was focused.”

Being in Miami, the conversation eventually turned to football.

Bolt laughed when asked about Tyreek Hill, the Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver who said he is serious about trying to qualify for the U.S. Olympic track and field team. Hill, who reached the top in-game speed of any NFL player in 2019, was a world-class sprinter in high school but is seven years removed from his track days.

“No, there’s no chance,” Bolt said, pointing out that Hill would have to run the 200m three times over three days at June’s U.S. Olympic Trials. “A lot of people think it’s about one-off runs, but it’s rounds that really show who you are and the amount of work you do. So I think no, he wouldn’t make the team.”

Bolt, a longtime Packers fan, reiterated he would try out for the team as a wide receiver if Aaron Rodgers called.

“I think my hands are good,” he said, “and I know I’ve got the speed.”

But Bolt, who had a brief professional soccer career, would not listen if the MLS or another soccer league called.

“I think I’m past the soccer stage,” he said. “I tried it, and it was OK, but it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.”

Bolt still follows track closely.

He said it was “nerve-racking” watching the 2019 World Championships as the Jamaican men failed to earn a 100m or 200m medal for the first time since 2003.

“I actually missed it,” he admitted. “I was like, ‘Aw crap, did I do the right thing? Did I retire too soon?’”

But he has no regrets about retiring in 2017.

“You question yourself,” he said, “but I know I made the right decision.”

Bolt wonders why the Jamaican men stopped dominating the sprints since he retired.

“Hey, if you know, tell me,” he said. “But the girls are doing awesome, so that’s a good thing.”

Bolt will be in Tokyo during the Olympics. He has had conversations with television networks, but has not committed. He is excited to go to an Olympics as a fan, and hopes to experience swimming and an Argentina soccer match, in addition to track.

Bolt predicted a U.S. sprinter will win the Olympic men’s 100m title for the first time since 2004.

“From my standpoint right now, Christian Coleman has got the Olympics won already,” Bolt said. “He’s fearless. He’s really fearless.”

Yet Bolt has learned to never overlook Justin Gatlin, who finished second to Coleman at the 2019 World Championships but will be 38 in Tokyo.

“My greatest competitor was Justin Gatlin,” Bolt said. “For the last five years of my career, he kept me on my toes, and I will always respect him for that.”

Bolt was less confident predicting the Olympic 200m champion.

“I think [reigning 200m world champion Noah Lyles] could be beaten,” Bolt said. “In a one-off run, no. But through the rounds, he kind of didn’t impress me as much.”

Since he will be in Tokyo, Bolt was asked whether he could — hypothetically — lace up racing spikes and advance out of a heat to an Olympic semifinal in the 100m or 200m.

“For sure, no problem,” he said without hesitation. “In both.”

Does he still have enough speed to advance from an Olympic semifinal to a final?

“I think over 200m, I could make it to the final as the last, last guy,” Bolt predicted. “But in the 100m, I don’t think so.”

Both scenarios are purely hypothetical, since the deadline to unretire for a 2020 Olympic bid has passed. Retired stars like Bolt must re-enter the drug-testing pool six months before they are allowed to compete. Track’s international governing body confirmed that Bolt has not done so.

Since Bolt is happily retired from Olympic competition, how does he want to be remembered?

“I want to be remembered as one of the greats,” he said. “My only goal in track and field was to be among the greatest in the world. The Kobe Bryants, the Muhammad Alis, the Peles, the Maradonas. That’s how I want to be remembered. That’s the work I put in. I want to be remembered as one of the greatest sportsmen to ever live.”

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MORE: Bolt, Phelps lead dominant Summer Olympians of 2010s

 

Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
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Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

GREATEST OLYMPIANS: Germany | Liechtenstein | Japan

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Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

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