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Devon Allen, set to fly with Philadelphia Eagles, still sees track in his future

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No, Olympic 110m hurdler Devon Allen has not raced any of his new teammates since signing with the Philadelphia Eagles in April.

“Being a pro track and field athlete, I don’t race for free,” Allen said with a chuckle. “I was like, ‘All right, we’ll race but for $10,000 a race,’ and nobody took me up on that yet.”

And no, Allen has not had a chance to hurdle a defensive back.

“The funny thing is, I feel like people kind of know I’m the hurdler,” he said, “so they’re not going to go low on me.”

But the 27-year-old NFL rookie wide receiver proved to himself that he belongs on a football field.

“I know it’s been a while since I’ve played football, but I’ve played it my whole life,” Allen said in a video interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia from his apartment in Annapolis, Maryland. “Hopefully it’s going to be like riding a bike.”

Allen, who will race reigning world champion Grant Holloway in the USATF NYC Grand Prix 110m hurdles on Sunday (4-6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app and Peacock), is delicately balancing his passions for football and track.

He competed in both sports at the University of Oregon, leading the Ducks with seven touchdown receptions as a redshirt freshman in 2014. After finishing fifth at the 2016 Rio Games, he returned to collegiate football until he tore his left ACL and MCL and suffered meniscus damage in a non-contact injury defending a punt return in a game Sept. 17, 2016.

He turned pro in track in November 2016 and circled 2020 as the year he would return to football, but when the Tokyo Games were postponed to 2021, he had to wait another year.

“It took five years and now I’m here,” said Allen, who missed an Olympic medal by four hundredths of a second in Tokyo.

Allen caught the attention of the Eagles after clocking 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Oregon’s Pro Day in April, despite not having played a snap of football since 2016. Within 20 minutes, Allen was on the phone with Eagles general manager Howie Roseman.

“It’s good to go somewhere where you’re wanted,” Allen said, adding that “a few” other teams also expressed interest.

His return to football did have a false start.

On May 29, just hours before he was scheduled to depart for Eagles organized team activities (OTAs), he tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time. Symptoms were mild, but rather than running routes for Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, Allen had to settle for catching passes from his track coach, Jamie Cook.

“I haven’t been with an NFL caliber quarterback since I was in college,” Allen said.

Allen has had the chance to bond with his new teammates away from the football field.

When Allen broke the Penn Relays 110m hurdles record on April 30, several Eagles were in attendance. His pre-race dinner? A crawfish boil hosted by Hurts.

“[Hurts] told me that the second, third and fourth batches were going to be a lot more spicy than the first, and he wasn’t lying,” Allen said. “I was definitely feeling it the next few days.”

For the next two months, Allen is mostly focused on track. His goal is to finish in the top three at the USATF Outdoor Championships (June 23-26) to qualify for the world championships (July 15-24). Both meets are at his former college home in Eugene, Oregon.

Allen reportedly signed a three-year contract with the Eagles, but he will still need to earn a roster spot.

Once the Eagles open training camp on July 26, he plans on hanging up his track spikes until after the Super Bowl, assuming he makes the team. Then, if everything goes to plan, he would compete in track during the 2023 NFL offseason and return to football for training camp.

“The training is similar,” Allen said. “I train to be as explosive and strong as possible on the track, and that’s pretty much what I’ll be doing with football.”

The biggest challenges for Allen in transitioning to football have been learning the playbook and running routes that require a change of pace.

“I’ve been running track, so it’s not like I’ve been stopping a lot,” Allen said.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Allen compared his game to Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.

Allen said he’d “like to think” he will be the fastest player in the NFL, although he admitted he lost a race to Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill in high school.

“I could see myself very early on just being a major deep threat,” Allen said. “I mean, that’s one thing I’m good at. I can run. There’s no doubt in my mind.

“I’m a lot more physical than people are going to expect, and I’m excited to do that again. That’s something I missed.”

Allen has been impressed by his new teammates. This offseason, the Eagles acquired wide receivers A.J. Brown and Zach Pascal to go along with DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins and Greg Ward.

“I do think we definitely have the fastest receiver corps in the NFL and probably one of the best receiver rooms in the NFL as well,” he said.

Allen claims that he is in the best shape of his life, having run a 100m personal best in April and the year’s third-fastest 110m hurdles at the Penn Relays.

“My job is going to be the fast guy,” Allen said. “I’m one of the fastest men in the world, so I need to be able to show that on the field.”

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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

 

Olympic champion Kikkan Randall, cancer survivor, beats NYC Marathon goal

Kikkan Randall
NBC Olympics
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NEW YORK – Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” blared through the loudspeakers in Central Park as Kikkan Randall crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon.

The Olympic cross-country skiing champion clocked 2:55:12, easily beating her three-hour goal, just one year after her final round of chemotherapy for stage 2 breast cancer.

“I bet I ran as fast today as I would have last year if I hadn’t had cancer,” Randall said.

Randall immediately received a hug from 1984 Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson, who had texted her advice during training.

“[Cancer] is part of my story, but it’s not the defining thing,” Randall said. “I love being an athlete and facing challenging goals.”

The last 20 months have been a roller coaster for Randall, who will turn 37 on New Year’s Eve.

She won the U.S.’ first cross-country skiing gold medal with Jessie Diggins in the team sprint at her fifth and final Olympics in PyeongChang. She planned on celebrating her retirement from ski racing by running the November 2018 New York City Marathon.

But after a Mother’s Day hike with her husband Jeff Ellis and their 2-year-old son Breck, less than three months after February 2018 Winter Games, she discovered a lump in her right breast. It was later diagnosed as stage 2 breast cancer.

She underwent six rounds of chemotherapy in the summer and fall of 2018. She is “pretty confident” that she has been cancer-free since Nov. 2018.

She remained physically active and even considered keeping her 2018 marathon entry, but instead traveled to New York to support Olympic teammate Liz Stephen.

Last Halloween, bald from chemotherapy, Randall dressed as Mr. Clean.

This Halloween, with trademark pink streaks back in her hair, she went as a unicorn.

Randall ran with Stephen during most of the 2019 race. But with half a mile to go, Randall had enough energy to push the pace and Stephen, who finished 25 seconds later, encouraged her to sprint ahead.

“My engine is still so strong from skiing,” Randall said. “It’s my legs that are like, ‘whoo!’”

Randall will decide in the spring whether she wants to run the 2020 race. In the meantime, she would like to complete an off-road triathlon.

“I love having a goal,” she said.

Crossing the finish line was a feeling Randall did not experience during her PyeongChang triumph, since Diggins completed the final leg of the six-lap race (inspiring the memorable “Here comes Diggins! Here comes Diggins!” call).

“Crossing the finish line in any race, especially when you hit the goal that you want, is such a great feeling,” Randall said. “It makes it worth it.”

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MORE: 2019 New York City Marathon Results