Anky van Grunsven

Rio record watch: first athlete to win medals at 7 Olympics?

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The Netherlands’ Anky van Grunsven could become the first athlete to win medals at seven Olympics and on five continents in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

If she competes.

It is a potentially juicy chase for history. Van Grunsven, who is not currently competing but hasn’t ruled out another Olympics, spoke unfazed when reminded of what’s at stake in a phone interview Monday.

“I don’t care,” she dismissed.

Van Grunsven turns 47 years old on Friday. She is a mother of two. She competed at every Olympics since 1988 in equestrian, a sport familiar with age records at the Games:

* Canada’s Ian Millar competed in his 10th Olympics in 2012, a record number across all sports.

* Japan’s Hiroshi Hoketsu went 44 years between his first and second Olympic equestrian appearances at Tokyo 1964 and Beijing 2008. He was the oldest of more than 10,000 total athletes in 2008 and again in 2012, when he was 71.

Equestrian, made up of the disciplines of dressage, eventing and jumping, is the only Olympic sport with no gender distinction. Men and women compete against and with each other in all six medal events — individual and team for each discipline.

Van Grunsven starred in dressage, which is the French word for training. It is, most simply, a test of a horse’s movements — “the highest expression of horse training, is considered the art of equestrian sport and is used as the groundwork for all other disciplines,” according to the International Olympic Committee.

For a visual understanding, watch highlights of the 2012 Olympic individual dressage competition.

Van Grunsven is the most decorated Olympian in her sport with nine medals, including an unprecedented three straight individual gold medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

“You look up to this person,” said German-born U.S. dressage rider Steffen Peters, a 50-year-old who competed against van Grunsven at the 1996, 2008 and 2012 Olympics. “I would say she is definitely up there among the best, if not the best.”

Van Grunsven received her first pony at age 6 and debuted at the Seoul 1988 Olympics at age 20. She won zero medals in South Korea, finishing outside the top 20 in the individual competition. At the time, the Netherlands had not won an individual Olympic equestrian medal since 1932.

“I was so upset that I did so bad [in 1988],” she said. “I was ashamed. But one hour later, I thought, I’m here, see what can I learn from this experience. It’s great that I’m part of it. For me, it was a big inspiration.”

Van Grunsven then won nine medals across the next six Olympics — team silver at Barcelona 1992, individual and team silver at Atlanta 1996, individual gold and team silver at Sydney 2000, individual gold at Athens 2004 (while pregnant with her first child and shortly after her father’s death), individual gold and team silver at Beijing 2008 and team bronze at London 2012.

In a sport that requires perfect harmony between human and animal, van Grunsven won individual Olympic gold medals with two different horses — Bonfire in 2000 and Salinero in 2004 and 2008.

“Everybody gets one horse of a lifetime,” Peters said. “To be so successful with multiple horses, that says a lot. … Out of all three disciplines [dressage, eventing, jumping], this would be the hardest discipline to receive a gold medal consistently.”

Van Grunsven, who trains riders now, did not compete at the biggest competition of 2014, the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, in the summer. She has no plan to compete in the near future, because she doesn’t have a horse that she believes she could pair with to perform at the level she would like.

“My focus is not on the competitions, because I don’t miss that at all,” she said. “It’s possible that it does happen again one day, but I’m not sure.

“If there would be this great horse, and if I was helping my team, like in London maybe, it means something. Otherwise, no. It’s not a must.”

Van Grunsven’s horse at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics — Salinero — retired in 2013. Van Grunsven is reminded of Salinero, and of Bonfire, daily.

There are life-sized statues of both horses a few minutes away from her home barn in the Dutch town of Erp. Van Grunsven said she can choose one of two roads to drive into her barn, and she prefers the path where she can pass by the statues. Fans do the same.

The Salinero statue was unveiled in November. Before they made the Bonfire statue, creators asked Van Grunsven if she would like to be immortalized on top of it.

“I don’t want to be a statue as long as I live,” she joked.

Yet she is still very recognized in the Netherlands, where soccer and speed skating are the most followed sports.

Van Grunsven said she came in second in a recent poll of most well-known Dutch female athletes behind speed skater Ireen Wuest, who won five medals at the Sochi Olympics. In the past, she shared national honors with swimmer Inge de Bruijn and cyclist Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel.

Van Grunsven admits that if she were to say she’s retired, it wouldn’t mean that much. She said she hated the pressure she felt going into the Olympics in 2008. After she won gold, she thought she would never want to go to the Olympics again.

“Then I went to London anyway [in 2012],” she said. “So, I’m not saying anything anymore. I’m never sure. I prefer to see how my life comes.”

Van Grunsven was sixth in the 2012 Olympic individual dressage and second-best among Dutch riders there. The Netherlands can send up to four dressage riders to Rio 2016.

Van Grunsven still spends days at her barn, training younger athletes and riding for fun. She will go to Rio — at the urging of her 10-year-old son — but perhaps only as a spectator.

If she does ride in Brazil, she would probably win at least one medal and become the first Olympian to win medals at seven Games, Peters said. Van Grunsven and three others — Van Grunsven’s longtime dressage rival German Isabell Werth, Italian fencer Valentina Vezzali and U.S. shooter Kim Rhode — could become the first Olympians to win medals on five continents.

“With Anky, I would say they [the Dutch dressage team] have a chance to win the gold,” Peters said. “Without Anky, they will certainly medal as a team.”

Michael Phelps’ potential record chases in Rio

Noah Lyles raises black-gloved fist, wins 200m in Monaco

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Noah Lyles said he had plans going forward to make statements, beyond his rapid sprint times. He did that in Monaco on Friday.

Lyles raised a black, fingerless-gloved right fist before getting into the blocks to win a 200m in his first international race of the season, conjuring memories of the famous 1968 Olympic podium gesture.

He clocked 19.76 seconds, leading a one-two with younger brother Josephus. Full results are here.

“As athletes it’s hard to show that you love your country and also say that change is needed,” was posted on Lyles’ Instagram, along with hashtags including #blacklivesmatter. “This is my way of saying this country is great but it can be better.”

Lyles, the world 200m champion, also paid respect to 1968 Olympic 200m gold and bronze medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos three hours before the race.

He tweeted an iconic image of Smith and Carlos raising their single black-gloved fists on the medal stand at the Mexico City Games. Thirteen minutes earlier, Lyles posted an Instagram Story image of his socks for the meet — plain, dark colored.

Smith and Carlos wore black socks without shoes on the podium to signify endemic poverty back in the U.S. at the time.

Lyles is known for his socks, often posting images of colorful pairs he wears before races, themes including Speed Racer, R2-D2 and Sonic the Hedgehog.

“We are at the point where you can’t do nothing anymore,” Lyles said Wednesday. “There aren’t any rules set out. You’re kind of just pushing the boundary as far as you can go. Some people have said, even if there were rules, they’re willing to go farther than that.”

MORE: Noah, Josephus Lyles take 4-year journey to Monaco

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Joshua Cheptegei breaks 5000m world record in Monaco

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Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei broke a 16-year-old world record in the 5000m by nearly two seconds, clocking 12:35.36 in Monaco on Friday.

Cheptegei, the 2019 World 10,000m champion who reportedly needed 80 hours to travel from Uganda for the Diamond League meet, took 1.99 seconds off Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele‘s world record from 2004. Bekele is also the 10,000m world-record holder and the second-fastest marathoner in history.

“It took a lot of mind setting to keep being motivated this year because so many people are staying at home, but you have to stay motivated,” Cheptegei said, according to organizers. “I pushed myself, I had the right staff with me, the right coach.”

Cheptegei, 23, came into Monaco as the 73rd-fastest man in history with a personal best of 12:57.41. But he declared before the meet that the world record was his goal, given he had no Olympics or world championships to peak for this year.

“It is very difficult to run any world record,” was posted on the Instagram of Bekele, who is part of the NN Running Team with Cheptegei. “Congratulations to my teammate [Cheptegei].”

Full Monaco results are here. The Diamond League next moves to Stockholm on Aug. 23.

In other events Friday, Noah Lyles easily won a 200m after raising a black-gloved first before the start. More on Lyles’ gesture and victory here.

Donavan Brazier extended a year-plus 800m win streak, clocking 1:43.15 and holding off countryman Bryce Hoppel by .08. Brazier won his last seven meets, including national, world and Diamond League titles in 2019, when he broke a 34-year-old American record.

Olympic silver medalist Orlando Ortega of Spain won the 110m hurdles in 13.11 seconds, overtaking world champion Grant Holloway. Holloway, who won worlds in 13.10 last autumn, finished fourth in 13.19.

Timothy Cheruiyot followed his 2019 World title by clocking his second-fastest 1500m ever. The Kenyan recorded 3:28.45, holding off Norwegian 19-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who set a European record of 3:28.68.

Sifan Hassan, the world’s top female distance runner, dropped out of the 5000m with two and a half laps left while in the lead pack. Two-time world champion Hellen Obiri won in 14:22.12, surging past Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey on the final lap.

Karsten Warholm ran the joint eighth-fastest 400m hurdles in history, a 47.10 against a field that lacked rivals Rai Benjamin and Abderrahman Samba. Warholm, the two-time world champion, ranks second in history with a personal best of 46.92, trailing only American Kevin Young‘s 46.78 from the 1992 Olympics.

American Lynna Irby won her Diamond League debut with a 50.50 in the 400m. Irby, the second-fastest American in 2018, failed to make the 2019 World team. On Friday, she beat Wadeline Jonathas, the top American in 2019.

Pole vault world-record holder Mondo Duplantis needed three tries to clear 5.70 meters, then won with a 5.80-meter clearance (and then cleared six meters). Duplantis, whose mom drove his poles 25 hours from Sweden to Monaco, brought the world record to 6.18 meters in February.

American Sam Kendricks, two-time reigning world pole vault champion, did not compete because his poles did not arrive.

MORE: Noah, Josephus Lyles take 4-year journey to Monaco

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