Meghan Musnicki
AP

Meghan Musnicki, poetic pride of Naples, is veteran leader of dominant U.S. women’s eight

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When Meghan Musnicki returned home to Naples, N.Y., after winning 2012 Olympic rowing women’s eight gold, she was feted with a congratulatory banner, a parade and a poem.

“I rode in the back of a convertible, and my nana got put in a Camaro and was driven down the center of Main Street,” Musnicki said.

The town’s poet laureate, Hank Ranney, read to Musnicki in front of a good chunk of the 2,500 natives of Naples in western New York.

Here’s what he said:

Meghan Musnicki, now that’s a name to remember.
A 2012 Olympic team member.
That’s a time in her life she’ll never forget
and neither will we. On this you can bet.

Yes, you and your team set out on a quest,
and you got the Gold Medal, proving you were the best.
Your friends and family are so proud of you
and we’re honored to share this moment with you.

You competed so all of the world could see,
representing your country…our land of the free.
So cherish those moments. They’re yours to behold.
We’re proud of you girl. You got the GOLD!!

 

Naples may have to prepare another ceremony next year.

Musnicki, 32, was the lone member of the 2012 Olympic eight crew who made the team for this past summer’s World Championships. In fact, she’s made five straight World Championships teams in the event dating to 2010.

Musnicki is part of one of the most dominant teams in U.S. Olympic history. The women’s eight has won 10 straight global titles — the last two Olympics and every World Championship starting with 2006.

“A lot of the younger athletes, I’ll recommend that they go talk to Meghan,” U.S. women’s coach Tom Terhaar said.

That’s because Musnicki was cut three times from the U.S. rowing team before her Olympic debut, the last failure in 2009.

“It was made totally clear to her that if she doesn’t improve, she’s not going to make it,” Terhaar said.

So Musnicki poured every last drop into her training and came back that fall for a 6000m erg test, a rowing machine drill that takes a little more than 20 minutes for elite women. The work Musnicki had put in since that third cut would show in her final time.

“I wanted to make sure that I had given it everything I could possibly give it. So if, in fact, it didn’t happen, I could walk away from it saying I gave it everything I can,” Musnicki said. “It’s hugely a team sport, but in order to get yourself onto the team, you have to be able to ask from yourself more than you’ve ever asked.”

The result? Musnicki chopped 30 seconds off her previous personal best.

“That was the moment where I was like, OK, this kid did do the work,” Terhaar said.

Musnicki hasn’t missed a team since, living and training in Princeton, N.J. She was part of the eight crew that repeated as Olympic champion in London and could be the only returning Olympian on the 2016 team, should she keep her streak going next year.

Mary Whipple, the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic coxswain now retired, said Musnicki told her during the second week of the London Games that her eyes were set on Rio 2016.

“There’s nothing going to hold her back, barring injury,” Whipple said.

Musnicki grew up competing in other team sports in Naples (where she is one of two notable past residents on the town’s Wikipedia page) and was a basketball player as a freshman at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York when a coach suggested she row.

Musnicki, a lover of Naples’ staple grape pies and Christian Louboutin designer shoes, evolved to help earn two Division III national titles at Ithaca College, where she transferred to be closer to her mom in Naples following her father’s death due to a heart attack when she was a freshman at St. Lawrence.

Like her hometown, Ithaca College brought Musnicki back and had her wear that Olympic gold medal in front of a large crowd.

Musnicki draped the medal over a black robe during a 17-minute commencement address to 1,398 graduates on May 18, celebrating 10 years since her graduation.

“What on earth could I, a 32-year-old from Naples, New York, who has spent the last seven years living in what can only be described as a bubble of non-reality while training for the Olympics, possibly tell you about what life has in store for you?” she said while standing at a podium, outside, at the school’s football field.

Musnicki delivered a speech highlighting four points.

  1. Set a goal, make a plan, but be willing to change it (Musnicki originally wanted to become a nurse practitioner)
  2. Fail, a lot
  3. Exercise (the gratitude muscle)
  4. Stay in the moment

Musnicki then led the graduates in a drill — complete silence for 30 seconds, the same period of time that in 2009 proved to Terhaar she belonged on the team.

“Didn’t that seem like a lifetime?” she told the graduates after the half-minute was up.

MORE RIO 2016: Daily events to watch at the 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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