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Kelly Clark and long, halfpipe road to Olympics No. 5

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VAIL, Colo. (AP) — For the better part of a month, Kelly Clark needed help for everything. She wasn’t allowed to sit up straight, and her feet were bound together to avoid compromising tissue around her newly repaired hip that needed rest and plenty of hard work to become functional again.

This is the price the 33-year-old snowboarding icon was willing to pay to go for a fifth trip to the Olympic halfpipe.

And though Clark – with her gold medal and the two bronze medals that she values every bit as much – has nothing left to prove to anyone but herself, this is the road she was willing to travel to make sure she leaves the competitive side of her sport on her terms.

“A very limiting, humbling experience,” Clark called the seven-month repair-rehab-and-recovery process that began with surgery last March. Among the fixes: Repair the labrum – the cartilage around the hip socket that holds the leg – and reattach part of the hamstring tendon that had torn away from the bone.

“I had to reevaluate what success looks like,” Clark said. “If I kept the same measure of success of, `I’m this amazing athlete,’ – well, I was not an amazing athlete. I was a person who needed a lot of help to get through the day, whether it was emotionally, mentally or physically.”

Nobody inside the snowboarding world would be surprised if Clark does what no snowboarder has done and makes a fifth Olympic team. And nobody would be surprised if she’s at the top of the podium in the mountains of Korea next February: After getting healthy, Clark returned this season to win an Olympic test event in Korea and a U.S. Grand Prix contest at Mammoth Mountain, California.

But in a year where the bulk of the attention has gone to Chloe Kim, the 16-year-old phenom whose parents are from South Korea, Clark has stayed somewhat under the radar. Her reaction to the Kim sensation: “I was a (teenager) at one point, too.”

As Clark puts it, she was snowboarding before snowboarding was cool . Before it was an Olympic sport and before most resorts even allowed the then-renegades on the mountain.

At 18, Clark helped change all that, coming into her own in the 2001-02 season by winning the last two Olympic qualifiers, the Winter X Games, the Olympics and the U.S. Open. Her victory at the Salt Lake City Games, which came about 24 hours before the U.S. men swept the medals on the halfpipe, officially put snowboarding on the map.

Her prescient comments from that day: “Maybe it will shine a light on snowboarding, and people will look at it in a different way.”

Snowboarding hasn’t been the same since then and, in a way, the journey Clark has taken from her home in West Dover, Vermont, through the upper echelons of the sport has included many of the same growing pains.

“She didn’t seem to be getting any fulfillment or joy out of it,” said longtime U.S. halfpipe coach Rick Bower, speaking about the period between 2003-06, when Clark struggled to adjust to life as an Olympic champion. “It seemed like she was going through the motions. I kept wondering, does she want to keep doing this?”

Clark had a winning run going at the 2006 Turin Games before falling on her last jump – a slip-up that left her in fourth place behind Americans Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler, along with Kjersti Buaas of Norway. Certainly, the next generation of snowboarders had caught up and passed the 2002 champion.

But no.

Clark finished third at the next two Olympics and, in between those games, put together a 16-contest winning streak, the likes of which may never been seen again on the halfpipe.

For all those victories, though, she insists the Olympic bronze medals were as meaningful as any win “because you value things based on what they cost you.”

On a mushy halfpipe in Vancouver, Clark closed with a frontside 900 jump on her second and final opportunity after falling hard and hurting her wrist on the same jump in the previous run. “She was definitely scared and crying and feeling pressure immensely,” Bower said. “To be able to put a run down under those circumstances and get on the podium, it was pretty cool.”

On an equally poor halfpipe in Sochi, she won bronze after falling six straight times – five during practice runs, then once in competition.

“I could have just said, `It’s over, thanks for coming,”‘ Clark said. “But when I look back at that performance, it was what I personally overcame that night that made it such a victory.”

So, it makes perfect sense that a gold medal in Korea isn’t what’s motivating Clark these days.

She overcame the difficult hip surgery to give herself a chance in 2018 and ensure she wouldn’t be bailing out of the sport for health reasons.

And 15 years after making the halfpipe part of the mainstream conversation in American sports, she has remained a central part of that conversation.

“If it was only about winning things, I probably should’ve stopped a long time ago,” Clark said. “The motivators change over the years. But I think I still have something left to contribute, and I haven’t hit my potential, and that’s why I’m still here.”

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Michael Phelps on Ledecky, Bolt, McGregor, Boomer’s first words

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NEW YORK — Michael Phelps sat down for a quick Q&A last week while visiting to promote Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts campaign

(condensed and lightly edited)

OlympicTalk: What was your favorite moment of the summer’s world swimming championships?

Phelps: I loved watching Caeleb [Dressel] do some of the things that he did. It’ll be interesting to see what his event program looks like over the next couple of years to see if he adds or takes away any events. It’s good to start at world championships and show and see that you can do it at a world championships. Now I would say it’s really trying to perfect that schedule. We started doing a schedule like that in ’02 or ’03, and it took us four to six years to really kind of figure out what the best way to do it was. We perfected it by Beijing.

Also Katie [Ledecky]. I’ve talked to Katie a little bit over the last couple of weeks. It’s fun to see and hear her excitement level. Coming off a world championships after an Olympic year is always challenging. The world championships after an Olympics is usually kind of blah. It’s going to be fun to watch her transition the next couple of years and see what happens.

It’s fun watching some of these younger guys now step up, younger women step up and swim some of the times they’re swimming. I literally said to [my agent] this morning, “I probably could come back, but I just have zero desire.”

Like, I have a friend who is in the process of making a choice to continue or to stop [competing]. I was like, yeah, it’s fun, I’m finally back into working out again, like, pretty big, where I’ve lost probably 12 to 15 pounds since my highest point. It’s just getting back into that rhythm. It’s something for me that’s so easy and so simple to do. I was like, “I think it would be really easy to do it [return to competitive swimming]. I just don’t have any goals. I have nothing to come back and want to do.”

OlympicTalk: What sense did you get from Ledecky of what she thought about her world championships performance?

Phelps: It’s tough to always drop time, right? I went almost six years without doing a best time [from 2011 Worlds to his 4x100m free relay split at the 2016 Olympics]. It’s annoying. It’s the worst. I absolutely hated it. But if you do have meaningful goals, and they do keep getting you out of bed every single morning to go in and try and perfect them, then you’ll be fine.

From an outsider looking on, my opinion, it’s hard to watch when she’s reached this high point where she’s basically broken every single world record countless times — over and over and over and over and over again. There are times you’ll plateau a hair. It just depends on what you do to make that next step. For me, I’m hoping she jumps. I’m hoping she takes a huge hurdle.

I basically just reached out and was like, I’d love to help. There are very few people that understand what you’re going through. Let me know if I can do anything.

It’s going to be fun to watch her really, I would say, almost go back to the basics. She obviously knows what to do to be the best. She’s proved it time and time again. It’ll be fun to watch her grow.

OlympicTalk: So you reached out to her?

Phelps: I reached out to her. Just checking to make sure she’s OK. There’s probably three or four people on the national team that I’ll talk to.

OlympicTalk: I’m wondering who that swimmer is who is thinking whether to come back.

Phelps: You’ll see soon enough.

OlympicTalk: American?

Phelps: Yeah.

OlympicTalk: Do you consider Dressel’s seven golds at worlds, with two in the new mixed-gender relays, the same as your feat in 2007?

Phelps: Obviously, seven gold medals is seven gold medals, right? For me, [2007 World Championships] was the first time I could have won eight [gold medals], but we DQed in morning [medley] relay.

You can’t take anything away from winning seven gold medals, right? There are very few people who have had that opportunity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a relay or an individual event. A relay event is kind of more challenging because we all have to work together.

I’m not a huge fan of the mixed relays, but I’m not in the sport anymore. But I think it is kind of cool that it’s basically a chess match, right? Try to figure out the best order [of male and female swimmers].

It’s going to be really challenging for anybody to put a team together that can beat the U.S. Our depth is just ridiculous.

OlympicTalk: Chase Kalisz said before worlds that you said some things to him after his Olympic silver medal that he won’t forget. What can you share about that?

Phelps: I just said if he wants to win a gold medal, make sure he always remembers what a silver feels like. There’s going to be countless days where he’s probably not going to want to go to work out. Or he’s probably not going to want to make that extra little bit of commitment to make sure he has a better chance to win that gold medal next time.

And you have every four years to have that chance. I just want to make sure the kid’s ready. I was always somebody who worked better with past experiences. If I had a defeat, that’s what made me get out of bed in the morning, to make sure I did not have that feeling of getting second. I hated getting second.

And I know how bad he wants to win [an Olympic] gold medal. He knows what he’s doing. He’s swimming well. He’s training well. He had a great year [sweeping the 200m and 400m individual medleys at worlds].

OlympicTalk: Did you watch Usain Bolt’s last races, and did it make you think of anything, the way it ended for him?

Phelps: I’m sure that’s probably not how he wanted it to end, somebody who has had great success for three Olympics, right?

Who knows, maybe he does come back and do something again? For me, that was the biggest thing of why I wanted to come back. I had that 400m IM and 200m butterfly in 2012 that just left a sour taste in my mouth. I didn’t want that for the rest of my life.

OlympicTalk: Have you heard anything from Conor McGregor?

Phelps: No. I don’t think I will. I don’t think he’ll reach out for a race.

OlympicTalk: Has Boomer spoken his first words?

Phelps: He wakes up every morning and screams “Da-Da!”

OlympicTalk: So does that count?

Phelps: I’m counting it. He said “Da-Da” before “Mom,” so yeah. I mean, that’s all he says. I’m the morning guy. I take the morning shift. So every morning he’s yelling dad at the top of his lungs.

OlympicTalk: You’ve spoken about your campaign with Colgate before. What’s new this time around?

Phelps: We’re becoming a family four, five if you add [eight-time Olympic medalist] Allison [Schmitt], and if you think, the average family per day can waste up to 400 gallons. We can waste so much water. It’s not just brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You think about everything else that goes into that. We have a big yard, so water in the yard. Always trying to make sure we’re saving every single drop. It’s something we can all work on together.

Since we first launched the campaign, I think I’ve found more and more that people are coming up and being like, every time I brush my teeth now I think of you and turn off the water. People are doing it, and we want to make another push to get people on board.

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VIDEO: Phelps says he could come back if he wanted to

Lolo Jones the latest bobsledder to suffer concussion effects

Lolo Jones
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Lolo Jones said she suffered concussion symptoms after a Wednesday bobsled accident and that it’s “the weirdest injury” of her two-sport career.

“I’ve learned a lot in the past week about concussions and treatments,” was posted on her Instagram on Sunday. “This was the weirdest injury I’ve had in my life. Some days I would wake up feeling great and then one thing would have me dismantled in minutes. I’m grateful to sports med, my coaches and my teammates all who shut me down to protect my health.

Jones, one of 10 Americans to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, joked that she used her free time off social media the last few days “to call up all of my exes because clearly I wasn’t thinking right.”

Jones was one of six push athletes named to the U.S. national team earlier this month. It’s expected that three of those six will make the Olympic team this winter.

The World Cup season starts the second weekend of November in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Concussions are not uncommon for bobsledders. Even with helmets, their high-speed crashes are high-risk.

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic medalist, suffered a concussion in a race crash on Jan. 26, 2015. The after-effects lasted into the following season, causing her to miss four races.

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