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Alex Rigsby eyes first Olympics after painful cut four years ago

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Athletes learn they’ve failed to make an Olympic team in many ways, but for U.S. women’s hockey players, it has been especially heartbreaking in recent cycles.

Hilary Knight, arguably the world’s best player, says her family still has her rejection letter from before the 2006 Torino Winter Games, when she was in high school.

For Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, players trying out for the national team gathered in a room and listened as the U.S. head coach read off the names of those who made it.

Alex Rigsby remembers sitting in that room in Lake Placid, N.Y., in June 2013.

Rigsby, then a University of Wisconsin rising senior, was one of four goaltenders trying out for three spots on the national team, along with the three veteran 2010 Olympic goalies — Brianne McLaughlinMolly Schaus and Jessie Vetter.

The Olympic team would not be announced until Jan. 1, 2014, but this was for all intents and purposes the goalies’ decision day.

Three goalies make the national team. Three goalies would make the Olympic team.

In that Lake Placid room, U.S. head coach Katey Stone read off the national team names alphabetically.

McLaughlin … Schaus … Vetter. 

Rigsby did not hear her name. She was essentially the last goalie cut from the 2014 Olympic team.

“My heart just sank, head down, couldn’t believe it,” Rigsby remembered. “We had to pack our bags and leave. They had flights for us already. We had to go.”

The 2017-18 U.S. women’s national team will be announced Friday to wrap up a 42-player tryout camp in Florida.

The national team will consist of 23 players. That’s the same number as the Olympic team that will be named closer to the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Rigsby is now one of the veterans among six goalies trying out for three spots this week.

The only one with Olympic experience is Vetter, Rigsby’s fellow former Badger and training partner who gave birth to a boy on Feb. 27.

Rigsby played in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 World Championships, including shutting out Canada in an overtime win in the 2016 gold-medal game as she supplanted Vetter atop the depth chart. That was the first time Canada failed to score in an Olympic or world final since 2005.

Rigsby did not impress at the 2017 Worlds, playing in one game (and giving up three goals to Finland). Nicole Hensley earned both starts against Canada and notched two victories. Maddie Rooney, the youngest of six goalies at this week’s camp at age 19, was also on the 2017 Worlds roster.

Rigsby has carried a chip on her shoulder for the last four years after being cut.

“In life you need to prove people right and prove people wrong when you get the chance,” she tweeted the day the 2013-14 national team was announced.

Rigsby has already proven wrong a doctor who told her that she would never play at the elite level. She had to re-learn how to walk and skate after left hip surgery in 2010 and right hip surgery in 2011, the latter after backstopping Wisconsin to a national title as a freshman.

“Dropping into a butterfly [stance] again was one of the most terrifying things, but had to trust that I was far enough along in the healing process that I wouldn’t mess anything up,” she said.

Rigsby made her first worlds team in 2013 but didn’t see any game action behind Vetter and McLaughlin. Schaus missed that tournament due to a personal matter.

Though Schaus returned for the 2013-14 national team camp three months later, Rigsby felt she had performed well at camp. When coach Stone named the national team, longtime friend Brianna Decker said she sat next to Rigsby to take in the moment together. Decker made the team, but her roommate for three years in Madison did not.

“When I didn’t hear [Rigsby’s] name, it was hard for me to even enjoy myself being on the roster,” Decker said.

Rather than join a post-collegiate women’s league like the NWHL in the Northeast or CWHL in Canada, Rigsby chose to stay in the Midwest after graduating from Wisconsin.

She gets games in for the Minnesota Whitecaps, a women’s team dubbed “a collection of unpaid Midwestern hockey nomads who barnstorm against college teams” by The New York Times. The Whitecaps roster also includes Olympians, such as Jenny Potter, a 38-year-old who played on the first four U.S. Olympic women’s hockey teams in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010.

Rigsby also fills in on a 35-and-over men’s league team for a goalie who is a firefighter. In summers, she trains with NHL players in Madison and runs stadiums at Camp Randall (bleachers, not stairs).

She hopes to play only for the red, white and blue this fall and winter.

Rigsby wears a patriotic goalie mask custom molded to the shape of her head. She received it three days before her 2016 Worlds gold-medal-game shutout of Canada.

The mask features iconic American women on the right — Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe and Lady Liberty. On the left is Uncle Sam and a bald eagle.

The mask gets personal on the back.

A four-leaf clover for her grandfather who was born on St. Patrick’s Day and died when Rigsby was 5.

The initials of Latvian Ulvis Katlaps, the coach who helped make Rigsby a goalie and put the Olympics in her head at age 7. Katlaps died in 2013 at age 45 due to stomach cancer.

And a symbol for breast cancer for her mom, Nancy, who was diagnosed in 2012. It has been in remission for about four years.

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MORE: Minnesota hockey sisters for different nations in PyeongChang

Tori Bowie upsets Elaine Thompson; Gatlin, Felix struggle at Pre

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Tori Bowie ran a statement 200m at the Pre Classic, clocking the fastest-ever time before the month of June and upsetting Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica.

And she called it a training race.

“My coach made it clear that we were just training for nationals,” Bowie, huffing and puffing after winning in 21.77 seconds, told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “No pressure at all.”

Bowie, the Olympic 100m silver medalist and 200m bronze medalist, beat her personal best by .22 of a second.

While Bowie starred, U.S. stalwarts Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin dropped to fifth-place finishes Saturday.

Full Pre Classic results are here.

Athletes are preparing for the U.S. Championships from June 23-25, a qualifying meet for the world championships in London in August.

Felix finished fifth in the 200m behind Bowie, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller, Thompson and Olympic 200m silver medalist Dafne Schippers.

“Not that great, not that great today,” Felix said, according to meet officials. “I feel like my training is going well, it was good to get out here and see where I was at.”

Felix has a bye into the worlds in the 400m as defending world champion but is no longer a medal favorite in the 200m, where she won Olympic silver in 2004 and 2008 and gold in 2012. She clocked 22.33 seconds for fifth Saturday, which was .35 behind third-place Thompson.

Felix missed the 2016 Olympic team in the 200m by .01 while slowed by an ankle injury. But in 2015, a healthy Felix ran faster than 22.33 in all four of her 200m races.

Gatlin finished fifth in the 100m in 9.97 seconds, continuing his slowest season in recent years. At 35 years old, he is no longer looking like the top rival to Usain Bolt, who debuts in his farewell season June 10.

In fact, Gatlin may be in danger of not making the U.S. team in the 100m, which will be the top three finishers at nationals in four weeks.

In contrast, American Ronnie Baker is looking like a medal contender. He won Saturday in 9.86 seconds, which would be the fastest time in the world this year if not for too much tailwind (2.4 meters/second).

Baker, 23, has been a surprise this season, breaking 10 seconds a total of three times including Saturday. He was eliminated in the 2016 Olympic Trials semifinals and had not broken 10 seconds with legal wind before this year.

“My thoughts were, I’ve got every chance to win this just as much as everyone else does,” Baker told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “9.86 is unbelievable.”

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a 16-year-old, became one of the youngest-ever to break four minutes in the mile. He finished 11th against a field of older runners.

Four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah held off Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha to extend his 5000m winning streak to 11 meets dating to 2013. Farah clocked 13:00.7 to Kejelcha’s 13:01.21.

It marked Farah’s last track race in the U.S. as the Oregon-based Brit plans to switch to marathon running after the world championships in August.

Rio gold medalist Caster Semenya barely extended her 800m undefeated streak to 16 finals. The scrutinized South Africa edged Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui by one tenth of a second, clocking 1:59.78.

Olympic champion Omar McLeod took the 110m hurdles in 13.01 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. McLeod beat a field that included Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder (12.80), and 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Christian Taylor, a two-time Olympic champion, recorded the third-best triple jump of all time, 18.11 meters.

Rio bronze medalist Sam Kendricks won the pole vault against a field that included Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil, world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France and Swedish phenom Armand Duplantis, a Louisiana high school junior. Kendricks cleared 5.86 meters.

Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer won the 400m hurdles in 53.38 seconds, a personal best and the fastest time in the world this year. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad was fifth in her first 400m hurdles race of the year.

In the shot put, Olympic champion Ryan Crouser unleashed a 22.43-meter throw to beat a field including world champion Joe Kovacs.

Jasmin Stowers won the 100m hurdles in 12.59 seconds, .03 off the fastest time in the world this year. The field lacked suspended Olympic champion Brianna Rollins and world-record holder Keni Harrison, who recently suffered a broken hand.

Russian Maria Lasitskene won the high jump in her first competition outside of Russia since 2015, when she was world champion. Lasitskene competed as a neutral athlete Saturday as Russia is still banned from international competition due to its poor anti-doping record. Her 2.03-meter clearance matched the best in the world since June 2013.

The Diamond League continues in Rome on June 8, with coverage on NBC Sports Gold.

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VIDEO: Runner clocks No. 2 time ever … after stopping to fix shoe

Mo Farah on Oregon Project allegations: ‘I’m sick of it’

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — As he prepares for what could be his final track race on U.S. soil, Mo Farah remains dogged by doping allegations surrounding his team.

The British Olympian will race the 5000m Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic, the only U.S. stop in the elite Diamond League series (NBC, NBC Sports Gold from 4-6 p.m. ET).

Farah has said that 2017 will be his last year on the track, with an eye on the world championships in London this August. The 34-year-old plans to transition after that to marathons.

Farah defended his 5000m and 10,000m titles at the Rio Olympics last August, becoming the first British track and field athlete to win four Olympic gold medals. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth last December.

But at a news conference for the Prefontaine, Farah faced questions about allegations that paint his team, Nike’s Oregon Project, in a bad light.

Details have emerged from a 2016 report prepared by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on practices by the team, led by decorated U.S. marathoner Alberto Salazar. Allegations have also surfaced recently based on information obtained by the hacking group known as Fancy Bears.

“I just get sick of it, really, to be honest with you,” Farah said. “As an athlete you just want to do the best as you can, and that’s what I want to do. But it’s nothing new. It’s something the press likes to be able to twist it and add a little bit of spices and add stuff on it. Being an Olympic champion, four-time Olympic champion, you do get a lot of that stuff. But at the same time you just have to do the best that you can. I believe in clean sports.”

He said he has not read the USADA report that has shown up online.

“It’s nothing new. You tell me something new. Since 2011 it’s the same stuff,” Farah said, clearly exasperated. “It’s all right. That’s what you get being an Olympic champion, and what we do.”

Farah has been training for the past five months in Flagstaff, Ariz., for the outdoor season and his final bow at the worlds. He hopes to run both of his signature races, the 5000m and 10,000m, if his body lets him, he said.

Saturday’s Prefontaine will be bittersweet.

“I don’t like to think like that, but it will be, my last,” he said. “It will probably be very emotional knowing that will be my last track racing in the U.S. But you know, tomorrow (I) just can’t be worrying about anything. I just have to concentrate on the race and getting the job done.”

Farah will be part of a stellar field that includes Paul Chelimo, the 5000m silver medalist in Rio, and Kenyan Paul Tanui, the Rio silver medalist in the 10,000m.

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VIDEO: Runner clocks No. 2 time ever … after stopping to fix shoe