Cheering for Dutch speed skater was easy for Team USA’s Heather Richardson

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SOCHI, Russia – Nearly all eyes fixed on orange at the conclusion of the 5000m at the Adler Arena on Saturday night.

Except for those of U.S. speed skater Heather Richardson.

While the Dutch celebrated a podium sweep led by champion Sven Kramer, she stared at a video scoreboard for two minutes with her phone at the ready, waiting for results.

Here’s why:

Dutch skater Jorrit Bergsma took bronze and joined Kramer and Jan Blokhuijsen on the podium, the second time the Netherlands has swept the medals in a single event. Multiple boisterous orange sections reveled.

Even Richardson, in black U.S. Speed skating garb and matching nail polish, grinned next to U.S. teammates in the athletes’ section. (The top U.S. finisher was high school student Emery Lehman in 16th.)

The only person who seemed slightly disappointed? Bergsma.

“I came here for gold,” he said.

***

Richardson and Bergsma will say their wedding vows sometime next year. For better, for worse, they’ve shared experiences watching each other skate the past three seasons.

It was a little different Saturday, it being their first Olympics together.

Richardson emerged into the stands just minutes before Bergsma skated and watched Kramer throw down an Olympic record time of 6 minutes, 10.76 seconds. Then came Bergsma, a 6-foot-3, 160-pound ultra marathon skater best known for beating Kramer in the 10,000m at this very arena at last year’s World Championships.

Richardson scooched to the edge of her seat.

The starter’s gun sounded.

Her eyes followed Bergsma around the 400-meter oval. He passed her shortly after finishing each lap. The first few were blistering, 29 seconds or better.

***

Bergsma is 28, one year older than Kramer, and has faced a gargantuan task of squeezing into the Dutch distance picture with Kramer and three-time Olympic medalist Bob de Jong, 37. The emergence of Blokhuijsen, 24, has complicated matters. (Bergsma tried to find a way around it four years ago in an aborted attempt to qualify for Kazakhstan for the Vancouver Olympics, with other Dutch skaters. They gave it up after learning it would have cost them their Dutch citizenship.)

He began dating Richardson 20 months after he missed the Vancouver Games. The American from High Point, N.C., took the initiative, breaking the ice with a Twitter message.

That led to texting, Skyping and dating the last three World Cup seasons as both blossomed as Olympic medal threats. Bergsma in the lung-searing 5000m and 10,000m and Richardson in the 500m and 1000m sprints.

Bergsma proposed in April during a vacation with the Richardsons in Myrtle Beach, S.C. His plan was to sneak onto the beach outside where they stayed.

“He actually took my phone down there with him and he actually called my mom right before he was about to do it so she was out on the balcony to see it as well,” Richardson told NBCOlympics. “Then he was calling his phone that was still in our room, and I’m like ‘Why is his phone ringing? I don’t even know where he is right now,’ and so he had to call like three times and I finally answered the phone like, ‘Uh hello,’ and he was like, ‘Go to the balcony.’”

They plan to get married next year. Richardson has talked about starting a family and moving to the Netherlands, but the former is far off and the latter isn’t set yet.

They skate for now. Pretty well, too.

Bergsma, who will get another shot at Kramer in the 10,000m on Feb. 18, has set personal records in the 1500m, 3000m, 5000m and 10,000m this season.

Richardson, too, is strong across distances with World Cup podiums in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m this season. The 2013 World Sprint Champion is arguably the gold-medal favorite in the 1000m.

She’s in her second Olympics after switching from inline skating and had a best of sixth at the Vancouver Games.

***

Bergsma skated past Richardson 12 times in Saturday’s race. Eleven times, she leaned forward and yelled words of encouragement to him.

Bergsma, who knew Richardson was there but could not make out her voice, faded over the final three laps and finished 5.9 seconds behind Kramer, slotting into second place.

“I felt at the end, if I want to skate for gold, I have to accelerate a little bit,” Bergsma said. “I tried to do that, but then I blew myself up. I lost a lot in the last laps.”

Jorrit Bergsma
Jorrit BergsmaAP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh

Bergsma lost more with the next pair as Blokhuijsen skated .95 faster.

“Silver I gave away,” Bergsma said. “It became bronze.”

Richardson didn’t see it that way. She was inspired.

“I’m excited for him,” she said, “and he makes me excited for races.”

They’ll switch places Monday when Richardson goes in the 500m, seeking the first U.S. women’s speed skating medal since 2002. Like Bergsma, she is a medal contender and would savor being able to share the Olympic medalist experience with her fiance.

“I think I might be a little more happy to get my medal,” she joked, “but I’m so proud of him.”

A Winter Olympics athlete couple story would be remiss without a mention of Valentine’s Day plans. There are no speed skating events on Feb. 14, but they haven’t set anything yet during coffee dates and bike rides together in the Olympic Village.

“With the races we also need our focus, and so we cannot enjoy too much with each other,” Bergsma said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to find the balance between focus on the races and being with each other.”

U.S. Open changes seeding policy for pregnancies

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Serena Williams will learn Wednesday if she is seeded at Wimbledon, while a top U.S. Open official is already reportedly saying its seeds will be revised if a return from pregnancy comes into play, though not naming Williams specifically.

The U.S. Open, the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year in September, would “revise the seedings if pregnancy is a factor in the current rankings of a player,” USTA president and chairwoman Katrina Adams said, according to The New York Times.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, was not given one of 32 seeds at the French Open in May, her first Grand Slam since coming back from having daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jron Sept. 1.

Her ranking had fallen to No. 453 due to maternity leave. She could enter the major tournament due to the WTA’s protected ranking rule, but it was up to Grand Slam organizers whether to give her a seed.

Williams reached the semifinals of her last eight U.S. Opens, missing the New York event in 2010 and 2017. She has won it six times. Her current ranking is No. 183.

If Williams neither makes a deep Wimbledon run nor plays plenty of summer hard-court matches, it’s likely the U.S. Open will have to decide whether to give her a seed. It sounds like organizers are prepared to.

“It’s the right thing to do for these mothers that are coming back,” Adams said, according to the report, adding that players should not be “penalized” for starting a family.

Williams reached the fourth round of the French Open in her first Grand Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant (but before the world learned). She withdrew before a round of 16 showdown with Maria Sharapova due to a pectoral muscle injury and has not played in a tournament since.

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MORE: Serena calls parts of Sharapova’s book ‘hearsay’

Noah Lyles takes next step to stardom as youngest U.S. 100m champion in 34 years

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Incredible, Noah Lyles.

Lyles, wearing red “The Incredibles” socks, won the U.S. 100m title in 9.88 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year, at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Des Moines on Friday night.

Lyles overtook Ronnie Baker in the final strides to win by .02 and become the youngest man to take the sprint crown since Sam Graddy in 1984. Nationals were held a week before Olympic Trials won by Carl Lewis in 1984. Essentially, Lyles is the youngest U.S. 100m champ since Lewis in 1981.

What’s more incredible is that Lyles is primarily a 200m runner, having finished fourth in that event at the 2016 Olympic Trials as an 18-year-old. Lyles is joint fastest in the world in the 200m this year and has not lost an outdoor 200m since the trials (he missed 2017 Nationals, and thus 2017 Words, with a hamstring tear).

“I wanted to prove myself as a 100m runner,” Lyles, who turned pro after Olympic Trials and skipped NCAA track, told Lewis Johnson on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’ve kind of been cheatin’ on my 200m. It’s time to go back to my baby.”

NCAA champion Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 100m in 10.91 seconds, beating Ashley Henderson by .05 and Olympian Jenna Prandini by .07.

Hobbs, 22, was seventh in her senior nationals debut last year. She entered Des Moines with the four fastest times among Americans this year, ranked No. 3 in the world behind Marie-Josée Ta Lou of Cote d’Ivoire and Nigerian Blessing Okagbare-Ighotegunor.

The U.S.’ established 100m stars — world gold and silver medalists Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman and world champion Tori Bowie — are not racing at nationals. This is the only year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or world outdoor championships.

USATF Outdoors continue Saturday on NBC (4-6 p.m. ET) and NBC Sports Gold (11 a.m.-6 p.m.), highlighted by 400m, 1500m and 100m hurdles finals.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Earlier Friday, Olympic champion Christian Taylor fouled and passed out of the triple jump after three jumps, shortly after finishing fifth in his 400m semifinal to miss Saturday’s final by one spot.

Olympian Zach Ziemek became the first man other than Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee to win the U.S. decathlon title since 2010. Ziemek, who finished third, third and second the last three years, scored 8,294 points to win by 275 over Solomon Simmons.

Favorites Kendall Ellis, Courtney Okolo and Shakima Wimbley advanced to Saturday’s women’s 400m final. Olympic silver medalist Allyson Felix and 2017 World champion Phyllis Francis chose not to race the 400m in Des Moines. Eighteen-year-old pro Sydney McLaughlin, fastest in the world this year in the 400m hurdles, entered the 400m but scratched before Thursday’s first round after feeling tightness in her quad in warm-up.

World bronze medalist Ajee’ Wilson and Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy highlighted the qualifiers into Sunday’s 800m finals.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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