Jessica Springsteen
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Jessica Springsteen, Georgina Bloomberg face tough road to making Olympics

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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?

Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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