Ato Boldon
NBC

Ato Boldon reflects on track and field season breakouts, looks to 2019

Leave a comment

Track and field was supposed to suffer in 2018. Usain Bolt‘s first year in retirement. No Olympics or world outdoor championships. Even the other established stars — Allyson FelixJustin GatlinWayde van Niekerk — scarcely competed or missed the season altogether due to injury. 

In their absence, new blood rejuvenated the sport in the middle of the Olympic cycle. Christian ColemanNoah Lyles and Michael Norman kept U.S. men’s sprinting to the top. The 400m and 400m hurdles will offer some of the most anticipated head-to-heads in 2019, with at least one world-record watch.

NBC Sports analyst Ato Boldon recapped the season in the sprints and looked ahead to 2019 in a Q&A [editor’s additions in brackets] …

OlympicTalk: Overall thoughts on the year, the first post-Bolt and without a major championship?

Boldon: I never bought the whole argument that Bolt’s going to leave this huge void athletically. I thought he would leave a void personality-wise, and I think maybe that has been nullified a little bit with the likes of [Qatar’s] Abderrahman Samba [second-fastest 400m hurdler of all time in just his second season in the event] and Noah Lyles and Sydney McLaughlin. It turned out to be a pretty good year.

The 400m went through a huge change with the addition of Michael Norman to the mix. In the women’s 400m, I finally got the sub-49 I’ve been waiting for since Sanya Richards-Ross [in 2009]. I’m really excited to see the next worlds, Olympics, worlds cycle [2019, 2020, 2021] because there’s just so much young talent. There are a bunch of world records coming.

OlympicTalk: Who is the man in the sprints right now?

Boldon: I don’t know if that’s for sure yet. It could be Christian Coleman. We saw that last year when he ran 9.82. That last race he ran to win the Diamond League [a 9.79, factoring in conditions arguably the best 100m ever outside the Bolt era], to end the season with that sort of statement, to say I’ve gone to a place none of you guys have ever been, makes him the man unless I see differently.

OlympicTalk: Who is more likely to be challenged in 2019 – Coleman in the 100m or Lyles in the 200m?

Boldon: Coleman, though Lyles is going to have better competition next year [than in 2018]. Michael Norman is going to go back to practice and say, “Nobody understands how good I can be at the 200m. That’s probably my better event.” [though Norman ran the world’s fastest 400m of 2018 and broke the indoor 400m world record]

Norman has a natural rivalry with Lyles [they were 2016 Olympic Trials breakouts, finishing fourth and fifth in the 200m as 18-year-olds]. He did not take that loss to Lyles [in the 200m in Lausanne] as well as some people may think.

OlympicTalk: We barely saw Allyson Felix compete this year. What do you see from her?

Boldon: I think she felt like she had some unfinished business after the Olympics [edged for 400m gold]. The problem is that when you’re Allyson Felix, nothing less than gold is going to be the goal. And now her path to gold is harder than it has ever been in her career in any event.

At age 33 next year, it looks like she will have to run a time that she’s never run to beat Shaunae Miller-Uibo, who just ran 48.9 [at age 24], and Salwa Eid Naser, who just ran 49 flat [at age 20]. I don’t see any way Allyson Felix [personal best 49.26] wins another 400m world title or Olympic title.

OlympicTalk: Would her chances be better if she focused on the 200m?

Boldon: The 200m is not an option for her anymore. As you get older, the speed goes [away] first. She doesn’t have 21.6 speed anymore. And guess what, Shaunae Miller-Uibo is still going to be in that event. You have the Olympic champion, Elaine Thompson, if she can overcome the Achilles injury. Allyson’s chance might be slightly better in the 200m, but I think it’s like zero [in the 400m] versus a one.

OlympicTalk: Wayde van Niekerk will go more than a year between races, possibly as much as 18 months, after meniscus and ACL tears last fall. How concerned are you about him getting back to his best?

Boldon: Any time you’re the world-record holder, the best in the history of the event, there’s concern. But it’s a knee, and people recover from knees a lot better than other things. On a one-to-10 scale of being concerned, I’m probably about a four. It’s on the lower side. He’s going to be back. He’s young enough [26]. I expect him to be back if not at his best, then very close.

OlympicTalk: Single best performance of 2018?

Boldon: Samba in the 400m hurdles, that he ran 46.98 [second only to Kevin Young’s world record at the 1992 Olympics] with nobody around him. When him and Rai Benjamin [who won NCAAs in 47.02] hook up next year, I want to be there. Samba has run less than 20 races in that event in his career. The guy has basically rewritten what a great season is in that event with very little experience.

OlympicTalk: After all the breakouts in the last year, name somebody who will in the next year.

Boldon: There’s a young lady from the University of Georgia in the 400m. Her name is Lynna Irby. She ran 49.8 to win the NCAAs as a freshman, taking down Kendall Ellis. She also ran a really fast 200m [22.25, third fastest American this year]. I think she’s the next American star in the 200m and 400m. I love everything about her, how she competes, her form.

OlympicTalk: Justin Gatlin didn’t race much this year but has a bye into the world championships as defending 100m gold medalist. Can he contend with Coleman and Lyles?

Boldon: He did the right thing this year. When you’re an old gunslinger [Gatlin is 36], you only have so many shots left. You don’t shoot them in a year where you don’t have a world championships. I don’t know that Gatlin’s going to beat Coleman if Coleman stays healthy, but he can still be a factor, no question about it.

OlympicTalk: Does Coleman break the American record in the 100m next year [9.69]?

Boldon: Yes.

OlympicTalk: How fast does Lyles go in the 200m next year?

Boldon: 19.5 [after running in the 19.6s four times this year].

OlympicTalk: Do Coleman and Lyles each double up in the 100m and 200m in 2019?

Boldon: You’re going to see Coleman and Lyles running the 100m and the 200m next year at the world championships trials.

Lyles can be Olympic champion and world champion in the next three years if they fix his start [in the 100m]. He’s way better in the last 50 than Coleman. It could be that if Lyles showed up next year with a proper drive phase and better start mechanics, that Lyles can be a 100m-200m threat just like everybody else.

Everybody forgot that Coleman is a 19.8 performer [in the 200m from 2017]. I think he’s actually faster than that. His mechanics issues come late in the race.

OlympicTalk: What races are you looking forward to most next year?

Boldon: The matchup between Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Salwa Eid Naser in the women’s 400m and the 400m hurdles between Rai Benjamin and Abderrahman Samba.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Simpson, Wightman win Fifth Avenue Mile titles

Two years out: 20 U.S. athletes to watch for Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Leave a comment

With Tuesday marking two years until the 2020 Olympic Opening Ceremony, a look at 20 U.S. athletes to watch on the road to Tokyo …

Perry Baker, Rugby
The former Arena Football League wide receiver blossomed into the world’s best rugby sevens player in 2017, leading the World Series in tries. Baker took part in sevens’ Olympic debut in Rio, where the U.S. men failed to get out of pool play.

Simone Biles
, Gymnastics
The only woman on this list who has yet to compete since Rio. But the quadruple gold medalist was so dominant in the last Olympic cycle that she’s expected to return to the top of the sport in her comeback this summer.

David Boudia, Diving
The only man on this list who hasn’t competed since Rio. Boudia, the greatest U.S. diver since Greg Louganis, considered retirement last year but was due to return to competition in 2018. However, a crash off the 10-meter platform in winter training resulted in a concussion that delayed that plan.

Jordan Burroughs, Wrestling
The man expected to become the greatest U.S. wrestler of all time was tearfully upset in Rio. Burroughs rebounded to win his fourth world title last year, which put the father of two one shy of John Smith‘s national record of six combined Olympic and world titles.

Christian Coleman, Track and Field
Beat Usain Bolt in the Jamaican’s last race, taking 100m silver at the 2017 Worlds. Coleman is the world’s fastest man since Rio (9.82 seconds). Also owns a 40-yard dash time (4.12) one tenth faster than the NFL Combine record.

Caeleb Dressel
, Swimming
Matched Michael Phelps‘ record seven gold medals at a world championships last year, albeit two came in mixed-gender relays that weren’t on the program in Phelps’ heyday. Dressel is unmissable for his arm tattoos and a blue bandana he carries in remembrance of a high school teacher who died of cancer in November.

Allyson Felix, Track and Field
Felix, eyeing her fifth Olympics, already has the most medals for a female U.S. track and field athlete. She’s one shy of Carl Lewis‘ record for any U.S. track and field athlete and three shy of the most medals for a U.S. woman in any sport. But Felix turns 34 in 2020, and the U.S. is deep in her best event, the 400m, with 20-somethings.

Morgan Hurd, Gymnastics
The Harry Potter super fan from the Olympian-starved state of Delaware had an incredible 2017. She went from sixth at the U.S. Championships to winning the world all-around title, the sport’s biggest prize aside from the Olympics. Hurd, who competes in glasses, knows that the U.S. women’s gymnastics teams is among the hardest to make in any sport in any nation. The expected returns of Biles this summer and Laurie Hernandez in 2019 will complicate matters.

Nyjah Huston, Skateboarding
Tokyo 2020 could introduce a whole new set of sports fans to Nyjah Huston, the longtime face of skateboarding who has his own Nike shoe. Huston has eight X Games titles in street, one of two skateboarding events added to the Olympics. Winter Olympians may also pursue the Summer Games in skateboarding, notably Shaun White in the park event.

Gwen Jorgensen, Track and Field
The first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion gave birth to Stanley last August, then announced a switch to the marathon. Her goal is to win a gold medal in Tokyo, but it’s a tall ask just to make the three-woman U.S. team. The U.S. has the reigning New York City and Boston Marathon winners in Shalane Flanagan and Des Linden, plus a world bronze medalist in Amy Cragg.

Katie Ledecky, Swimming
Since bagging four more golds in Rio, Ledecky used Bryce Harper as a medal rack, met Bruce Springsteen, enrolled at Stanford, changed coaches, won eight NCAA titles and five more world titles, turned professional and broke another world record. Can win more golds in Tokyo with the Olympic debut of the women’s 1500m (Ledecky is 18 seconds faster than any woman in history).

Noah Lyles, Track and Field
Fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials as an 18-year-old, the dancing, somersaulting, backflipping Lyles is turning into the most exciting sprint personality in the post-Usain Bolt era. Lyles has accompanying talent, too. He is the U.S. 100 champion (wearing “The Incredibles” socks) and fastest in the world this year in the 200m.

Simone Manuel, Swimming
Who can forget Manuel’s reaction to earning gold in Rio? The first black woman to grab an individual Olympic swimming title captured another five golds at the 2017 Worlds. Like her good friend Ledecky, she recently completed her Stanford career.

Sydney McLaughlin, Track and Field
At 17, the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years in Rio. McLaughlin just turned professional after an eye-catching freshman season at Kentucky where she posted the fastest 400m hurdles time in the world this year by more than a half-second. McLaughlin also lowered her 200m and 400m personal bests by seconds, making her the most versatile U.S. woman between hurdles and sprints since Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Alex Morgan, Soccer
The U.S. women’s soccer team may be reigning World Cup champions, but they unceremoniously exited the Rio Games in the quarterfinals. It marked the first time the Americans failed to make an Olympic final. Morgan, a 29-year-old forward, eyes her third Olympics in Tokyo and the chance to chase Abby Wambach‘s American record nine career Olympic goals. Morgan is at five.

Lakey Peterson, Surfing
Surfing is one of four sports debuting at the Olympics in 2020, along with karate, skateboarding and sport climbing. Peterson, a 23-year-old whose grandfather invented the Egg McMuffin, has been the top U.S. male or female surfer this year, challenging six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore of Australia.

April Ross/Alix Klineman, Beach Volleyball
Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings split less than a year after their Rio Olympic bronze medal. Ross partnered with the 6-foot-5 Klineman, and they won their first international event together in January. That also happened to be the first international beach tournament for Klineman, a former indoor player at Stanford.

Maggie Steffens, Water Polo
Approaching legend status at age 25. Steffens was the top scorer and MVP at the last two Olympics, leading the U.S. to a pair of gold medals. Steffens’ father played internationally for Puerto Rico, an uncle made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that boycotted and sister Jessica played on the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams.

Kerri Walsh Jennings/Nicole Branagh, Beach Volleyball
Walsh Jennings and Branagh are each 39 years old and have a combined five kids. They are the longest-standing partnership in elite U.S. women’s beach volleyball, although they have only been together for a year. Walsh Jennings is going for her sixth Olympics and fifth medal but is coming off a 2017 season-ending shoulder surgery (her sixth operation on that right shoulder). Come 2020, both Walsh Jennings and Branagh will be older than every previous Olympic beach volleyball player.

Serena Williams, Tennis
Williams made the Mother of all Comebacks to reach the Wimbledon final, 10 months after childbirth followed by pulmonary embolism complications that left her bedridden for six weeks. In the Olympic realm, the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion failed to earn a medal for the first time in Rio, falling in the third round in singles and the first round in doubles with older sister Venus Williams.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Softball is first event on 2020 Olympic schedule

Allyson Felix among sprinters to miss USATF Outdoor Championships

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Olympic gold medalists Allyson FelixJustin GatlinTori BowieLaShawn MerrittBrianna McNealKerron Clement and Dalilah Muhammad are among the stars not entered in this week’s USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

Christian Coleman, who took 100m silver at 2017 Worlds between Gatlin and Usain Bolt, will also miss the event.

Any athlete not on the current entry list will not compete.

Big-name absences aren’t shocking this year given it is the only year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or world championships to qualify for at nationals.

Felix, Gatlin, Bowie and Coleman have all dealt with injuries or withdrawn from international meets this spring. Merritt hasn’t raced on the Diamond League circuit this season.

Felix, the American record holder with 25 combined Olympic and world outdoor championships medals, will not race at senior nationals for the first time since 2002, when she was 16 years old.

A new generation of sprinters will headline nationals, including Noah Lyles and Michael Norman in the 200m and Sydney McLaughlin in the 400m. Phyllis Francis, the world 400m champion, is entered in the 200m. Kori Carter, the world 400m hurdles champion, is in the 100m hurdles with world-record holder Kendra Harrison.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Usain Bolt’s Olympic spikes stolen