Margaux Isaksen
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U.S. modern pentathlon in Rio will be Isaksen sister act

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Margaux Isaksen says Rio may be her final Olympics, but she hopes it’s the first of many for Isabella Isaksen.

The U.S. women’s modern pentathlon team of two is a sister act. Margaux, 24, goes to her third Games (she debuted at age 16 in Beijing). Isabella, 22, made her first Olympics, but she had to wait three weeks after the final qualifying event in May before it became official this month.

Margaux’s voice cracked in a phone interview when asked which Isaksen Olympic berth meant more.

“I’m definitely happier for her,” she said.

And Margaux desperately wanted one more Olympic shot, after finishing fourth at the 2012 London Games.

The difference between her and bronze medalist Yane Marques of Brazil was eight points — 5,340 to 5,332 after 10 hours of competition across fencing, swimming, show jumping, running and shooting.

She would have retired after the London Games if she made the podium. Margaux missed a medal by one touch in fencing, one rail in horse riding or less than two seconds in the combined running and shooting event.

“It’s actually, obviously, something I’ve thought about quite a lot,” she said. “Especially the year after the Olympics, but even to this day.”

She felt she owed it to her coaches and support circle to try for Rio (though she refused to use the #RoadtoRio hashtag until she officially qualified). Regardless of what happens in Rio, Margaux plans to take at least the next two years to focus on other ventures. Philanthropy on a local level in her native Arkansas, notably.

“Retirement’s on the back of my mind,” she said. “I never know if I’m going to want to continue to do this. That was something I’ve always said, when I first started this sport, when I don’t love it anymore, I won’t do it anymore.”

Her body might have a say, too.

Margaux’s performance in London was incredible, not only because it was the best Olympic modern pentathlon finish by an American since 2000, but also because she had been sidelined nearly six months by a severe case of mono. Margaux restarted her training about six weeks before the Games.

This year, she seriously sprained her left ankle in February and has tried to train and compete through it, only to twist and roll it a few more times. Then she found out last week the she suffered a small stress fracture in her leg.

“Hopefully, in three weeks, I’ll be able to run again,” Margaux said last week from Colorado Springs, home to many elite athletes who live at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. “My body, quite frankly, has never been as strong as it was before I got sick [in 2012].”

It showed at the World Championships in May. Margaux failed to qualify for the 36-woman final for the first time in a senior career that began at age 16 in 2008.

“I’ve had probably, no, not probably, I’ve definitely had the worst season of my life,” she said. “I honestly have taken all of the pressure off of myself at this point, because I honestly have no idea what to expect in Rio.”

Little sister Isabella can’t have that great of an idea of what to plan for, either. She attended neither the 2008 Beijing Games (costs) nor the 2012 London Games (stayed home to train for the World Junior Championships).

The sisters were together at the Senior World Championships on May 27, as spectators. They watched the final for which they failed to qualify. By then, Margaux knew she was going to Rio. Isabella wasn’t 100 percent sure, with a few close rivals in rankings also competing.

“Thankfully, I mean this sounds horrible, they kind of messed up, which allowed me to stay high enough on points,” Isabella said.

Isabella started modern pentathlon between the Beijing and London Olympics. One year after Margaux’s mono, she got it, too. It affected her for two years, during which she married Egyptian modern pentathlete Amro El Geziry, and she said she’s just now feeling fully healthy again.

Her struggles are now more mental than physical.

“I had at least one point of every competition [in this Olympic cycle] where I thought, am I good enough?” Isabella said. “I psyched myself out [at Worlds in May]. I stressed myself out too much, thinking like I have to perform every event really well so I can qualify [for the Olympics].”

Now that both Isaksens have qualified, they can enjoy the Games together.

In 2012, Isabella cried as she watched on a computer stream as Margaux finished fourth. After the ducts dried, she went back to training in Colorado. The next month, the sisters shared team event and relay gold medals at the World Junior Championships in Poland; Margaux won individual gold.

Margaux, while unsure of her prospects at her third Olympics, predicted the Rio Games will “be the first of many Olympic Games and many successes” on the senior level for Isabella.

“I just get a little emotional when I think about it,” she said. “I want it even more for her than I want it for myself.”

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Rio Olympics

Julia Mancuso retires, joins NBC Olympics for PyeongChang

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Julia Mancuso, the most decorated female U.S. Olympic skier with four medals, ended her bid for a record fifth Olympics and is retiring after a victory lap in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Friday.

Mancuso, 33, could not fully come back from right hip surgery that kept her out the previous two full seasons.

She raced three times this season without cracking the top 40.

Mancuso would have had one last chance to prove she deserved a PyeongChang Olympic place at a World Cup stop in Cortina this weekend.

Instead, she’s calling it a career now.

She will still go to PyeongChang, as a reporter for NBC Olympics and for “The Olympic Zone,” the nightly 30-minute show that airs on NBC affiliates.

“It has been an epic battle with my hip injury, and the past three years I have put everything into returning to competition at the highest level and the goal to reach my fifth Olympic Games,” Mancuso said in a U.S. Ski & Snowboard press release. “There have been really promising days during this challenging process, and I have kept my spirits up despite many who questioned or doubted me. Sadly, I haven’t found the progression to compete with the best in the world again, but I’m proud to have fought until the very end. It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to ski racing, but I do so with a full heart.”

Mancuso made her name as a big-event racer.

She reached 36 podiums in 398 World Cup starts (nine percent) but earned nine medals in 40 Olympic and world championships starts (23 percent).

None bigger than the 2006 Olympic giant slalom in Sestriere, Italy.

Mancuso battled driving snow and poor visibility to take gold, having never before won a World Cup or world championships race (but with five world junior titles and two 2005 World bronze medals). She stayed up late the previous night watching women’s figure skating on TV while eating Pop Tarts.

At the medal ceremony, the free spirit donned a plastic tiara, a gift presented by coaches at a team dinner. She also wore the tiara in place of a helmet for a slalom run in the combined event.

“Oh my God, I just won the Olympics,” Mancuso told teammate Stacey Cook immediately after winning, reportedly adding to media an hour later as Olympic champion, “You can’t imagine how weird it is to say that out loud.”

Mancuso had some lean seasons on the World Cup in the next two Olympic cycles, yet surprised for downhill and super combined silver medals in 2010 and another super combined bronze in 2014.

Mancuso, along with Lindsey VonnBode Miller and Ted Ligety, was part of a golden generation of U.S. Alpine skiing. At least one of the four won a medal at every Olympics and world championships since 2002.

Now Miller and Mancuso have retired, and Vonn and Ligety are likely going to their last Olympics in PyeongChang.

Mancuso bid this year to join cross-country skier Kikkan Randall and (very likely) snowboarder Kelly Clark as the first U.S. woman to compete in five Winter Olympics.

Mancuso also would have been the second-oldest U.S. Olympic Alpine skier ever after Miller, the only American skier with more Olympic medals than Mancuso’s four.

Hip problems resulting from a birth condition kept that from happening.

Mancuso has hip displaysia, a misalignment of bones that causes the joint to deteriorate faster than normal.

When Mancuso was 18 years old, a doctor said she needed to choose between ski racing (Mancuso had already been to an Olympics at age 17 in 2002) or living a healthy life.

“I left crying and never went back to that doctor,” she said.

Mancuso underwent surgery after that 2006 Olympic title. The pain returned and, by 2015, became unbearable.

She underwent another hip surgery, this one much more complicated. The operation fixed cartilage damage, cleaned up bone spurs and put more anchors in her labrum because of a slight tear with doctors warning that her hip would probably be 90 percent of what it was, according to The Associated Press.

Mancuso spent six months on crutches. She hoped to return to racing last season but was limited to being a forerunner.

Again, this season, she delayed her comeback and never was able to race at the level she wanted.

“It’s really hard for me to walk normally,” Mancuso said in April. “A lot of people ask me why I’m doing it [skiing], because I can’t even walk. Why would I ski? The truth is, skiing is way easier. Skiing is fun because it is easy, and my body loves it. My body loves to ski, and my body needs to ski. … It improves my quality of life.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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South Korea coach banned for allegedly beating Olympic champ

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s skating authorities suspended a national team coach for allegedly beating Olympic short track speed skating champion Shim Suk-hee.

The Korea Skating Union on Friday said Shim left a national team training center for two days this week after she was allegedly assaulted by one of her four male coaches. She returned to the center on Thursday.

Skating authorities confirmed an investigation is under way, but did not identify the coach.

Shim, then 17, won gold (3000m relay), silver (1500m) and bronze (1000m) at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

She is one of South Korea’s biggest stars going into the PyeongChang Olympics.

Shim is the reigning world champion in the individual 3000m, which is not an Olympic event, and the overall world bronze medalist.

No details of the incident have been released, and It wasn’t immediately known if the 20-year-old was injured.

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