Jillion Potter done with cancer treatment, eyes U.S. rugby return, Olympics

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Jillion Potter, a U.S. Olympic rugby hopeful diagnosed with cancer in September, completed six cycles of chemotherapy in January, finished radiation March 31 and is training with an eye on returning to international competition later this year and making the 2016 Olympic team.

Potter, 28, was diagnosed with stage III synovial sarcoma three months after waking up in June with swelling underneath her jaw, what she later learned was a cancerous tumor.

Before that, Potter was on the U.S. roster for all five legs of the 2013-14 IRB Women’s Sevens World Series. Rugby sevens debuts at the Olympics next year. The U.S. women’s team is likely to clinch a berth at Rio 2016 by the end of June.

Potter last saw a doctor the first week of April, when a scan revealed clear lungs.

“I can’t say 100 percent, but maybe 99 percent confident that I’m cancer-free,” Potter said in a phone interview from Denver on Thursday. She said she’ll know for sure after a doctor check-up in June.

Potter, who shaved her head last year, spent her first week post-radiation with wife Carol in Key West, Fla., earlier this month. Then she returned to Denver and got back to work.

She said she’s running three times per week, lifting three times per week and doing speed and agility work once per week.

“For a very long time I’ve never had to scrape the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, but chemo really takes a toll on your bone marrow, red blood cells, white blood cells,” Potter said.

The biggest struggle is cardio. Potter is prone to fatigue and isn’t nearly as strong as this time one year ago. During her chemotherapy — four-day hospital stays each separated by 21 days — she often walked a three-mile loop outside her hospital with Carol or visiting teammates. If it was snowing, she rode a stationary bike.

“I dreaded going back every month [for chemotherapy] because it’s very cruel in a way that the first week [after] is pretty awful, and then the second week is a little bit better, and by the third week you are normal, not like normal normal, but you feel good,” Potter said. “But by the time you feel good, you’ve got to drive back knowing you’re going to go through this again and again.”

But she’s confident she’ll be back at full strength by the one-year anniversary of her diagnosis.

“I’m very grateful I’ve been able to take this in stride,” she said. “I’ve had some side effects, but overall I think I managed it very well.”

The Women’s Sevens World Series debuted in 2012-13 and opened in Dubai in late November or early December each season. Potter is targeting a return to competition in Dubai in seven months, if not sooner.

Potter said doctors haven’t protested her aggressive training regimen.

“Everyone’s in my corner and rooting for me,” she said. “They just smile and give me a big hug.”

The Rio Olympic roster limit is 12 players. The current U.S. player pool is twice that.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Potter, who previously came back from breaking her neck in 2010, said of making the Olympic team, “a challenge that I welcome. I’m still very confident that I can make the squad.”

Potter and her wife discussed the very real concern of a recurrence.

“We decided that you can’t live your life in fear,” Potter said. “This is a dream that I have that we want to pursue.”

Chess official: We’ll use pieces made of ice to get into Winter Olympics

Dear Ice bath, it's been awhile. How I (don't) miss you…#recoverthehardest @denver_sports_recovery

Posted by Jillion Potter on Thursday, April 30, 2015

French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

Karolina Pliskova
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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

Nathan Chen
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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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