Jillion Potter makes U.S. rugby team, 14 months after cancer diagnosis

Jillion Potter
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Jillion Potter took another step in her comeback from cancer, making the 12-player U.S. rugby team as captain for the Women’s Sevens Series season opener in two weeks in Dubai.

She also proved U.S. soccer legend Abby Wambach right.

Potter, 29, was a key cog in the U.S. sevens team when she was diagnosed with stage III Synovial sarcoma in September 2014, three months after waking up with swelling underneath her jaw, what she later learned was a cancerous tumor.

As Potter began fighting the rare, soft-tissue cancer, she received an email on Oct. 6, 2014, at 1:56 p.m., with Abby Wambach as the sender’s name. Potter at first thought it was a joke.

“Some sort of scam,” she recalled, laughing, on Tuesday.

It wasn’t. Potter said she later came to believe that one of her rugby teammates knew one of Wambach’s soccer teammates.

Potter saved Wambach’s email, pulled it up on her phone Tuesday and read it aloud.

“If I know one thing about rugby players, it’s that they are the baddest players out there,” Wambach wrote. “You can beat it no doubt.”

It touched Potter, who expressed her thanks then and also said on Tuesday that she was excited to update Wambach on her progress.

“I thought about if I made the squad for Dubai, or something like that, when things are rolling pretty rapidly, that I would shoot her an email,” Potter said.

USA Rugby announced the Dubai roster from a 24-player national-team pool Friday.

The first U.S. Olympic women’s rugby team, which will be chosen next year before the Rio Games in August, will, like the team Potter just made, include 12 players, putting the Dubai team members in strong positions to become Olympians.

“It took a while for me to get back,” Potter, who started playing rugby while at the University of New Mexico a decade ago, said before the Dubai team was chosen. “I feel like I’m on the right track to Rio.”

Potter returned to training in April, after 18 weeks of chemotherapy and two months of radiation, with an eye on returning to international competition by the end of 2015 and making the 2016 Olympic team.

“Besides the whole cancer thing, I had a great year last year,” Potter said. “I’m still the same athlete. Hopefully I’ll be a better player.”

This season’s Women’s Sevens Series includes four legs, a reduction from six last year and 10 for the men. The U.S. women finished fifth in last season’s Sevens Series and qualified for the Rio Olympics by winning a continental qualifier June 14.

VIDEO: Carlin Isles talks about emotional start to rugby career

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona World Championships women’s pro race

Ironman Kona World Championship

The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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U.S. men’s gymnastics team named for world championships

Asher Hong
Allison and John Cheng/USA Gymnastics

Asher Hong, Colt Walker and world pommel horse champion Stephen Nedoroscik were named to the last three spots on the U.S. men’s gymnastics team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Brody Malone and Donnell Whittenburg earned the first spots on the team by placing first and second in the all-around at August’s U.S. Championships.

Hong, Walker and Nedoroscik were chosen by a committee after two days of selection camp competition in Colorado Springs this week. Malone and Whittenburg did not compete at the camp.

Hong, 18, will become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009. He nearly earned a spot on the team at the U.S. Championships, but erred on his 12th and final routine of that meet to drop from second to third in the all-around. At this week’s camp, Hong had the lowest all-around total of the four men competing on all six apparatuses, but selectors still chose him over Tokyo Olympians Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus.

Walker, a Stanford junior, will make his world championships debut. He would have placed second at nationals in August if a bonus system for attempting difficult skills wasn’t in place. With that bonus system not in place at the selection camp, he had the highest all-around total. The bonus system is not used at international meets such as world championships.

Nedoroscik rebounded from missing the Tokyo Olympic team to become the first American to win a world title on pommel horse last fall. Though he is the lone active U.S. male gymnast with a global gold medal, he was in danger of missing this five-man team because of struggles on the horse at the U.S. Championships. Nedoroscik, who does not compete on the other five apparatuses, put up his best horse routine of the season on the last day of the selection camp Wednesday.

Moldauer, who tweeted that he was sick all last week, was named the traveling alternate for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. It would be the first time that Moldauer, who was fourth in the all-around at last fall’s worlds, does not compete at worlds since 2015.

Though the U.S. has not made the team podium at an Olympics or worlds since 2014, it is boosted this year by the absence of Olympic champion Russia, whose athletes are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

The U.S. women’s world team of five will be announced after a selection camp in two weeks. Tokyo Olympians Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles are in contention.

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