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Refugee travel ban brings sadness to ‘Lost Boy’ Lopez Lomong

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Two-time Olympian Lopez Lomong‘s mind frequently wanders back in time during training runs through the woods.

He thinks about arriving in the U.S. as one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” with nothing more than a book featuring the Statue of Liberty on the cover. He remembers becoming a U.S. citizen in 2007 after being among the thousands of young civil war refugees brought to the nation. And proudly wearing the red, white and blue as the middle-distance runner carried the American flag at the 2008 Beijing Games.

That’s the inviting country he knows — the one to which he brought two brothers from Africa so they could run at American colleges. The one that hopefully someday welcomes his mom and sister, who remain back in Africa.

Now, Lomong’s new home created fresh fear with President Donald Trump‘s order to suspend all immigration for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days.

It weighs on him.

“I’ve been crying since I was 6 years old when I was taken away from my family. I don’t want to cry again,” Lomong said in a phone interview from Flagstaff, Arizona, where he’s training. “I don’t have tears anymore.”

Lomong was a child when rebels kidnapped him from the arms of his mother at a church service in his village in South Sudan. He escaped from the rebel camp with three older boys, running for three days before being taken by Kenyan border patrol troops to a refugee camp.

There, he stayed for a decade before being told about the “Lost Boys of Sudan” program. He wrote an essay about his life, and was selected to live with an adoptive family in the United States. He arrived on July 31, 2001, with nothing more than the clothes on his back — and that book featuring Lady Liberty.

“It was a blessing to come to this country,” said Lomong, who attended Northern Arizona University and rose to the ranks of All-American.

In 2008, Lomong was part of a U.S. men’s 1500m contingent headed to the Olympics that was truly diverse, joining Leo Manzano, who was born in Mexico, and Bernard Lagat, from Kenya.

“We were one team, wearing the same uniform, wearing the same colors. To me, that right there is what America is all about,” said the 32-year-old Lomong, who is making a movie about his lifelong journey. “We were one.”

He counts being picked to carry the flag for his new country in Beijing as one of his most treasured honors. He couldn’t stop grinning on his trip around the stadium.

Thousands of miles away, two young boys were watching from a one-bedroom apartment in Kenya, on a television bought for them by their big brother. Peter and Alex Lomong vividly remember the feeling of pride as they watched Lopez representing America that day.

They wanted to follow in his footsteps. He helped open the door.

Peter and Alex each attended Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, because their future coach/guardian saw an HBO’s “Real Sports” episode on Lopez and was so touched that he reached out to the family. The brothers moved in with coach Winston Brown and his wife in 2009 — and flourished. Both siblings are now runners in college — Peter a sophomore at Northern Arizona, and Alex a freshman at Ohio State.

“They were fantastic additions to not just our family but to the community,” Brown wrote in an email. “The most remarkable part was Lopez’s trust in Beth and I. He is a one-in-a-billion human being.”

Peter echoes that sentiment.

“I’m able to read, able to speak English, able to tell myself I have a future — all because of my big brother,” Peter said. “He’s an idol to me.”

And constantly looking out for them, which is why Trump’s order is so distressing to Lopez. It pauses America’s entire refugee program for months, and temporarily freezes immigration from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan.

He just wants his brothers — all immigrants — to have a chance at success. He also wants his siblings close, so he doesn’t have to worry about them.

“They’re just kids and want to learn. They want to do something to change their lives,” said Lopez, who also made the U.S. team for the 2012 London Games. “My brothers are here, and doing so great. I want them to be safe. I don’t want to lose anybody else.”

Lately, he’s experienced quite a bit of loss.

At the 2016 Olympic Trials, he was running with a heavy heart. He said he lost his dad and two other brothers in Africa — all within a span of a few months and with no explanation. He didn’t get to attend their funerals.

Someday, Lopez hopes to bring his mom and sister to the United States and reunite the family.

“I want them to be in this country, with the safety and the freedom that we all hold dear in this country,” Lopez said. “I represent this country with all my heart. I want to win a gold medal for this country. I want to do anything for this country.”

MORE: Mo Farah ‘relieved’ he can return to U.S., calls policy ‘discriminatory’

Nick Goepper opens Olympic qualifying on podium; contenders crash out

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — U.S. Olympic men’s ski slopestyle qualifying is underway with Sochi bronze medalist Nick Goepper delivering the first blow.

Goepper finished second at Dew Tour Breckenridge, taking the early edge in Olympic qualifying.

With a victory at any of the remaining selection events, Goepper would be looking good for one of up to four spots on the team for PyeongChang.

“I was really hoping to ski my best today, and I think I skied 98 percent,” Goepper said. “The Olympic selection podium is a bonus and eases the pressure a little bit for the next couple, but the pressure wasn’t really there. I’m just thinking of these as individual events [instead of Olympic qualifiers].”

Alex Hall (fifth place) and Sochi silver medalist Gus Kenworthy (sixth place) also got their Olympic qualifying attempts off to a decent start, but in order to be automatically nominated to the Olympic team, skiers need a minimum of two top-three finishes among five selection events.

Goepper was the only U.S. skier able to crack the podium in Breckenridge.

Sweden’s Henrik Harlaut (first place) and Norway’s Oystein Braaten (third place) played the role of spoiler for the rest of the U.S. team. Harlaut and Braaten are both considered medal contenders for PyeongChang.

Crashes took their toll on several U.S. Olympic hopefuls.

McRae Williams, the reigning world champion, was forced to drop out after crashing on his first run. Colby Stevenson and 2014 Olympian Bobby Brown also did not finish the contest after taking spills of their own.

The contest also missed the reigning Olympic gold medalist. Joss Christensen sat out the event as he rehabs from a torn ACL but plans to return in January for the final four selection events.

On the women’s side, Maggie Voisin remains on track for a nomination to the U.S. Olympic team.

She finished fourth, best among Americans, in the Olympic qualifier at Breckenridge on the strength of a run that featured three 900s.

Voisin won the first qualifier for women’s slopestyle, which was held last season.

She still needs one more top-three finish at any of the three remaining selection events to be eligible for an automatic nomination, but she has consistently been the top performer among the U.S. women.

With two-time X Games gold medalist Kelly Sildaru sidelined with a knee injury this season, the field looks wide open for PyeongChang.

Voisin, then 15, was slated to make her Olympic debut in Sochi as the youngest American in any sport but was injured just days before the competition.

As long as she stays healthy, she will be a medal contender in PyeongChang, as will Norway’s Johanne Killi and France’s Tess Ledeux.

Killi narrowly edged out Ledeux, who recently turned 16, for the victory in Breckenridge. Sarah Hoefflin of Switzerland rounded out the podium.

Four U.S. selection events remain for the men, and three events remain for the women. Olympic qualifying resumes in January with a series of contests in Aspen, Colo., and Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Ski Slopestyle 
(women through two of five events; men through one of five)
1. Maggie Voisin — 150*
2. Devin Logan — 82
3. Darian Stevens — 81
4. Taylor Lundquist — 52
5. Nadia Gonzales — 28

1. Nick Goepper — 80*
2. Alex Hall — 45
3. Gus Kenworthy — 40
4. Bobby Brown — 32
5. Cody LaPlante — 29

**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

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MORE: List of athletes qualified for U.S. Olympic team

Maame Biney, J.R. Celski join U.S. Olympic short track team

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Maame Biney will become the second African-born athlete to compete for the U.S. at the Winter Olympics and the first black woman on a speed skating team.

J.R. Celski, a three-time medalist, is going to a third Winter Games.

Biney, Celski and Aaron Tran qualified in short track at the Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, after the 500m on Saturday.

The team is now at five skaters — John-Henry Krueger and Lana Gehring qualified on the first night Friday.

Three more skaters will qualify Sunday after 1000m races — two men and one woman.

One of Katherine Reutter-Adamek and Jessica Kooreman, the top U.S. women at the last two Olympics, is guaranteed to miss the PyeongChang team.

Neither could keep up with the 17-year-old Biney, who moved to the D.C. area from Ghana with her father at age 5, on Saturday.

Biney swept the 500m finals, taking leads from the start and holding off more experienced women. She actually fell — while celebrating after crossing the finish line in the last race.

Afterward, NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce told Biney that eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno believes Biney doesn’t know how good she is.

“People have been telling me that forever, and I think right now I’m kind of seeing it, but I feel like I have a long ways to go, but thanks Apolo,” said Biney, who won a junior world championships bronze medal last season.

Celski did not win the men’s 500m, where he is the world-record holder. Krueger did, with Tran in second.

But the fact that Krueger finished in the top two in Friday’s 1500m and the 500m means that Celski gets on the team via his second-place finish in the 1500m.

Celski won two bronze medals at the 2010 Olympics and another relay silver in Sochi.

He took a full season off after Sochi — undergoing hip surgery — and overcame further knee and back injuries the last two years to return to the World Cup podium this season.

Celski is the only American to earn an individual World Cup medal this season (a bronze) in 24 total races.

Celski won’t be able to race the 500m in PyeongChang if Thomas Hong makes the Olympic team on Sunday.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic short track skater gets 4-year doping ban

U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Friday 6:45-8 p.m. 1500m rounds STREAM LINK
8:30-10 p.m. 1500m finals NBCSN | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12-1:45 p.m. 500m rounds STREAM LINK
2:30-4 p.m. 500m finals NBC | STREAM LINK
Sunday 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 1000m rounds STREAM LINK
1-3 p.m. 1000m finals NBC | STREAM LINK