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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

U.S. men look to fill Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte void at swim worlds

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With Michael Phelps retired and Ryan Lochte suspended, the superstars at the world swimming championships clearly lie on the women’s side.

But the men’s events will include world-record chasers, a stinging rivalry and, perhaps, the emergence of Phelps and Lochte’s successor as leading U.S. man.

Caeleb Dressel came through in Rio under arguably the most pressure of any swimmer, starting off the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team in his very first Olympic splash with a personal-best time.

Dressel, a 20-year-old who nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation, has nine events to choose from at worlds in Budapest starting Sunday.

He qualified in four individual events — 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles — and is eligible for all five relays (two mixed-gender).

In the last 15 years, only two U.S. men have raced in four individual events at a single Olympics or world championships — Phelps and Lochte.

Dressel is in the medal mix in all of his individual events, ranking No. 1 in the world this year in the 100m fly, No. 3 in the 50m free, No. 4 in the 100m free and No. 5 in the 50m fly. He is also almost guaranteed medals in any relays that he enters given the unmatched U.S. depth.

Dressel has never been to a worlds and raced just one individual event in Rio. He’s the potential breakout star on a U.S. team, surrounded by more proven names.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

Ryan Murphy, who swam for the same Jacksonville, Fla., club team as Dressel, swept the backstrokes in Rio and broke the 100m back world record leading off the medley relay. That dominance has not quite carried over so far in 2017. Murphy ranks third in the world in the 100m and 200m backs this year.

Chase Kalisz, a longtime Phelps training partner in Baltimore, has followed up his Rio Olympic 400m individual medley silver medal well this year. He chopped two seconds off his personal best in the 200m IM and goes into Budapest ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400m IM by nearly a half-second.

The U.S. boasts more medal threats including Nathan Adrian (sprint freestyles), Townley Haas (200m free), Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes (breaststrokes), but nobody is a clear favorite.

The surest bets are world-record holders Adam Peaty and Ippei Watanabe in the breaststrokes and Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri in the 1500m free. Paltrinieri could challenge a five-year-old world record held by Sun Yang.

Speaking of Sun, the mercurial Chinese superstar is set to renew his rivalry with Australian Mack Horton. In Rio, Horton memorably called Sun “a drug cheat,” in reference to Sun’s three-month suspension in 2014 for using a banned stimulant.

Horton then went out and beat Sun in the 400m freestyle, dethroning the Olympic and world champion. Horton and Sun could face off in four individual events in Budapest.

Key men’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Sun has been two seconds faster than Horton this year
4x100m freestyle relay — Olympic silver medalist France won’t defend world title; U.S. favored

Monday, July 24
100m breaststroke — Peaty has the eight fastest times ever and fastest by .95 this year

Tuesday, July 25
200m freestyle — Haas the only man within .64 of Sun in 2017
100m backstroke — Rio silver medalist Xu Jiayu was .01 shy of Murphy’s WR in April

Wednesday, July 26
200m butterfly — Japan and Hungary lead the post-Phelps-era world; Chad le Clos ranks 8th in 2017
800m freestyle — Italian Gabriele Detti fastest in 2017 by six seconds, but slower than Sun’s winning times in 2011, 2013, 2015

Thursday, July 27
200m individual medley — Phelps, Lochte won the last 12 Olympic/world titles
100m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel

Friday, July 28
200m backstroke — U.S. won 14 of the last 15 Olympic/world titles, including Murphy in Rio
200m breaststroke — Watanabe broke WR in January; surprise Olympic champ Dmitriy Balandin ranks No. 127 this year
4x200m freestyle relay — U.S., without Lochte, Phelps, looks to take world title back from Great Britain

Saturday, July 29
50m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel
100m butterfly — Joseph Schooling eyes Phelps’ WR, but Dressel ranks No. 1 in 2017

Sunday, July 30
400m individual medley — Kalisz ranks No. 1 in 2017, but time is .94 slower than Kosuke Hagino in Rio
1500m freestyle — Sun holds WR of 14:31 but hasn’t broken 14:55 since 2014
4x100m medley relay — Great Britain will lean on Peaty to challenge U.S.

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MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

Katie Ledecky eyes more history as women to star at swimming worlds

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The year after the Olympics isn’t always known for it, but there should be fireworks in the women’s events at the world swimming championships in Budapest next week.

Katie Ledecky could match Missy Franklin‘s record of six gold medals at a single worlds by swimming one more event than she did at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics. Judging by Ledecky’s times at the U.S. Championships last month, the rising Stanford sophomore is in her usual dominant form.

Hungarian Katinka Hosszu, swimming in front of her home fans, could try to equal Ledecky with four individual golds in backstrokes and individual medleys.

Swede Sarah Sjostrom could do the same in the 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles, where world records are under threat.

Ledecky, Hosszu and Sjostrom are all bidding to become the first women to three-peat in an individual event at worlds.

Then there’s the return of the greatest rivalry in swimming. After their memorable Rio duel, King and Yulia Efimova rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year in all three breaststrokes.

Spain’s Mireia Belmonte and American Leah Smith have never won an individual world title, but they could be the busiest swimmers of all next week.

Belmonte could race 7,4000 total meters if she makes every event final. Smith could get up to 7,000 meters. Both would outdistance Ledecky and Hosszu in mileage.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

The women’s program could have been even more loaded if not for two notable absences. Australian Cate Campbell, the 100m freestyle world-record holder, is sitting out world champs.

Australia beat the U.S. in the 4x100m free relay at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, but without Campbell, the Americans are about even with the Aussies. Ledecky’s bid for six golds could hang on this race on the opening night.

Ledecky also greatly benefits from Sjostrom’s decision to skip the 200m freestyle. In Rio, Sjostrom was the closest swimmer to Ledecky in her individual events, coming .35 shy in the 200m free while outsplitting Ledecky in the final 50 meters.

Key women’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Ledecky hasn’t lost a 400m free since the 2012 Olympic Trials
4x100m freestyle relay — Showdown with Campbell-less Australia crucial for Ledecky’s six-gold bid

Monday, July 24
100m butterfly — Sjostrom’s only competition is her world record of 55.48
200m individual medley — Nobody has been within a second of Hosszu this year

Tuesday, July 25
100m backstroke — Kylie Masse was .09 off the longest-standing women’s swimming world record at Canadian Champs
1500m freestyle — Ledecky is 25 seconds faster than anyone else this year
100m breaststroke — Efimova is .13 faster than King this year

Wednesday, July 26
200m freestyle — Ledecky’s toughest individual event made easier by Sjostrom’s absence

Thursday, July 27
200m butterfly — Olympic champ Belmonte eyes first world title; Nos. 2, 3, 4 from Rio absent
4x200m freestyle relay — China is strong, but Ledecky is the U.S.’ ace in the hole

Friday, July 28
100m freestyle — Heavy favorite Sjostrom .02 off the world record in June
200m breaststroke — Efimova is two seconds faster than second-ranked King this year

Saturday, July 29
200m backstroke — Kathleen Baker can inherit throne from retired Maya DiRado 
800m freestyle — Likely Ledecky’s sixth and final event, could match Franklin’s gold record

Sunday, July 30
50m freestyle — No. of sub-24-second times this year — Sjostrom: 6; Rest of World: 0
400m individual medley — Hosszu, after breaking WR by two seconds in Rio, slower this year
4x100m medley relay — U.S. should gap Australia, China on breaststroke leg

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MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

*Correction: The integrity of a Lilly King quote attributed to Agence France-Presse in earlier version of this story has been called into question and was removed.