Jessica Springsteen, Georgina Bloomberg face tough road to making Olympics

Jessica Springsteen
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Making the U.S. Olympic equestrian team is much about timing, and neither Jessica Springsteen nor Georgina Bloomberg has been fortunate in that respect in recent months.

The show jumpers are entered in this week’s Longines Masters of Los Angeles among several Olympic hopefuls, including three of the four members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic show jumping team.

But neither Springsteen nor Bloomberg is riding her best horse in L.A. Springsteen’s Vindicat W and Bloomberg’s Juvina have been hampered by leg tendon problems for months and may not be able to compete again until next year, if at all before the Rio Games.

So Springsteen, daughter of rocker Bruce Springsteen, and Bloomberg, daughter of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, add that adversity on top of trying to beat out more experienced Americans by next summer to make a four-rider Olympic team in an event where the U.S. quartet won gold in 2004 and 2008.

“So much depends on having the right horse and having everything working in your favor at the right time, your horse being peaked and your horse being sound,” said Melanie Smith-Taylor, a 1984 U.S. Olympic show jumping team champion who has covered the last seven Olympics for NBC.

Springsteen, 23, in particular looked like a hopeful for Rio 2016 even before the London 2012 Olympics, when she was a teenager showing promise in a sport where athletes in their 40s, 50s and even 60s have won medals. She’s been competing since she was a kindergartener.

She was the 14th-ranked rider in the final standings when the four-rider 2012 Olympic team was announced. Springsteen’s farm purchased Vindicat W, which a Brit piloted to Olympic gold in London, one month after the Games. By April 2014, she and Vindicat W were ranked No. 2 on the U.S. Equestrian rider/horse list.

The complete 2016 U.S. Olympic show jumping team selection procedures haven’t been published yet, but it’s anticipated that the team of four riders and horses will be chosen from a list of at least 10 rider/horse combinations finalized in April.

That list of at least 10 will be made up primarily of riders and horses whose competition results rank them high on lists such as the one Springsteen and Vindicat W were No. 2 on in April 2014.

With Vindicat W out, Springsteen’s ranked No. 51 and No. 58 on that list’s most recent update last Friday, though she won the most recent rider of the week honor following a win on another horse in a Vienna, Austria, event earlier this month.

This came after Springsteen became a Gucci model and was named by one British outlet as one of the world’s 50 most marketable athletes over the next three years.

Springsteen’s confidence was higher last spring, when she had Vindicat W and was among 10 finalists for the U.S. team for the World Equestrian Games, the sport’s prestigious, once-every-four-years event. Springsteen did not make that team, and the U.S. won bronze without her in Normandy, France.

“It really felt like the Olympics was the next goal,” Springsteen said in a recent phone interview, before the Vienna victory. “It’s definitely a disappointment to not be in contention for that right now, to not have a horse I can compete with. Right now, I’m looking for a new horse.”

Bloomberg, 32, came back from December 2013 childbirth to win the Central Park Grand Prix in September 2014 riding her top horse, Juvina.

She returned to headline the event last weekend but without Juvina.

“There is, in my opinion, no horse that’s more talented than she is in the world. It’s always the best one that’s injured,” Bloomberg joked in Central Park before last week’s event. “That’s the way it works. [Juvina] would be sort of my first choice for Rio, and it does not look like she will be back for next year. Obviously I’m hoping, but I have a couple of other horses that are stepping up and hopefully will surprise me. It’s still something I will work my ass off to try to accomplish.”

Bloomberg was the fourth-ranked U.S. rider in March, when Juvina first suffered the tendon injury.

She was part of the U.S. team at the Pan American Games in July in Toronto, where she was the third-best American out of four in the individual jumping competition.

Now, she is ranked eighth and ninth on two other U.S. Equestrian rankings lists where Springsteen is 23rd and 21st, respectively. They’re looking up at the likes of Olympic team event champions McLain Ward and Beezie Madden, who will be 40 and 52 years old, respectively, come Rio 2016.

“It’s hard in our sport because obviously the rider’s only 50 percent,” said Bloomberg, who in her career has suffered a concussion from a fall and broken her back, collarbone, an ankle and wrist. “You’ll see a lot of talented riders that work very hard and are very deserving but will never make the Olympic Games just because they don’t have the right horse at the right time.”

MORE EQUESTRIAN: Rio record watch: First athlete to win medals at 7 Olympics?

Germany denied gold-medal sweep of world luge championships races

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Austrian Jonas Müller denied Germany’s bid to sweep all eight singles and doubles races at the world luge championships.

Müller, a 25-year-old who was not on Austria’s Olympic team, won the men’s event by .104 of a second over German Max Langenhan at worlds in Oberhof, Germany, combining times from two runs. Another Austrian, 2018 Olympic champion David Gleirscher, earned bronze.

Germany won the first seven of eight singles and doubles races on Friday and Saturday, including sprint events that aren’t on the Olympic program. Its last gold-medal sweep at worlds was in 2013, when there were four events on the program. Germany also swept the Olympic golds in 2014 and 2022.

Müller, the 2020 World silver medalist who dropped out of Austria’s top three men last season, said his sled broke in a crash at a World Cup two weeks ago in Sigulda, Latvia.

“I flew home the next day and unpacked the old sled again,” he said, according to the International Luge Federation. “As you can see, the old sled doesn’t seem so bad.”

While Germany has dominated women’s and doubles events, this marked the third consecutive worlds with a non-German men’s winner, its longest drought since the mid-1990s.

Johannes Ludwig retired after winning last year’s Olympics. Felix Loch, a two-time Olympic champion and record six-time world champion, placed fourth on Sunday.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic found this trip to Australia far less complicated, and far more successful, than that of a year ago.

Unable to enter his best event in 2022 after being deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19, Djokovic accomplished all he could have wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis.

Only briefly challenged in the final on Sunday night, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) for a record-extending 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title overall. As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“He’s the greatest that has ever held a tennis racket,” Tsitsipas said.

Djokovic stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run at the tournament for a man in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 there to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two at the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man in tennis history.

Margaret Court, with 24, Serena Williams, with 23, and Steffi Graf, with 22, have the most among women.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, allowing the 35-year-old from Serbia to break a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most. Jimmy Connors holds that mark, at 109.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece’s other one also ended in a loss to Djokovic, at the 2021 French Open.

He was superior throughout against Tsitsipas, but especially so in the two tiebreakers. He took a 4-1 lead in the first and after it was 4-all, pulled off three points in a row. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple then climbed into the stands, pumped his fist and jumped with his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, and other members of the entourage, and collapsed, crying.

Little doubt this is of no solace to Tsitsipas, but there is no shame in failing to defeat Djokovic in Melbourne. Challenging his dominion on those blue hard courts is every bit the monumental task that taking on Nadal on the red clay at Roland Garros is.

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30,

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, he likely regretted the choice, because Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

One of Djokovic’s many other strengths is his return game, and he accumulated three break points within 17 minutes, converting the last for a quick 3-1 lead when Tsitsipas double-faulted.

The trophy for which they were playing was displayed on a pedestal near a corner of the court, and both men would get within reach of it whenever wandering over to towel off between points at that end.

So close, yes, but for Tsitsipas, never truly close enough.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was, put simply, too good. Too accurate with his strokes — making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe — and anticipation. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble). Too dangerous with his returns and damaging enough with his serves.

Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one shot, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after the faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible — and had worried him at the beginning of Week 1, prompting him to turn to what he said was “a lot” of pain-killing pills and other treatments he didn’t detail.

And then there was the more complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal victory. The tournament banned spectators from bringing in flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Both Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding, based on Srdjan thinking he was with a group of Serbian fans.

Because of that episode, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal victory over Tommy Paul on Friday, and was not seen in the Djokovic guest box on Sunday.

No matter any of it, Djokovic managed to excel as he so often does, winning 17 sets in a row after ceding one in the second round last week.

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