Carli Lloyd
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Carli Lloyd ranks Olympic final-winning goals, World Cup hat trick

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Carli Lloyd learned something from scoring dramatic goals in the world’s biggest tournament finals.

Take a souvenir when it’s all over.

“You know, I was late to the boat on that one,” she said recently. “In 2015 World Cup, I grabbed the ball. Well, I did get a ball from 2008 and 2012 [Olympics], as well, but it wasn’t like the game ball. But from now on, if I score in the final, I’m stealing the ball.”

Lloyd hopes her next try at thievery will come at the Rio 2016 Olympics, where the U.S. women could go for a fourth straight gold medal. They’re favored to qualify for the Games at a CONCACAF tournament in February in Texas, where the two finalists earn Olympic spots.

Lloyd, one of three finalists for the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award to be presented Jan. 11, is best known for scoring three goals in the first 16 minutes of the World Cup final July 5, a 5-2 win over Japan in a rematch of the 2011 final won by the Japanese.

Before that, Lloyd also netted all of the U.S. goals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold-medal games, the former against Brazil in extra time.

How does she rank those three feats?

“Obviously the 2015 No. 1, 2012 No. 2 and 2008 three,” Lloyd said. “They’ve all been stepping stones to get me to the 2015. It’s hard to kind of put in order because it’s like this evolution of continuing to improve. 2008, I was very inexperienced. 2012, I was more experienced, I was way more fit, but I was benched before [those Olympics]. So that posed a different challenge. … It’s almost like, after I finish each event, it’s like that was better than last year. That’s kind of the evolution of my career.”

Lloyd and the U.S. program will count on that progress in 2016.

She’s started 23 of the 24 total U.S. matches at the last two Olympics and two World Cups (coming off the bench in the 17th minute of the 2012 Olympic opener, scoring the game winner in a U.S. comeback and playing every minute the rest of the tournament).

No other American field player has started even one match at all four of those tournaments.

Olympic and World Cup teammates Abby WambachShannon BoxxLori Chalupny and Lauren Holiday have retired. One of Lloyd’s midfield partners, Megan Rapinoe, tore an ACL last week, eight months before the Rio Games.

“I’m now emerging as a leader on the team, someone who needs to take some of the younger players under their wing, has to command the offense, just really lead by example on and off the field and be someone who’s encouraging,” said Lloyd, who is 33 and two years older than any other regular U.S. starter in the field.

An August trip to Rio would not be her first Brazil visit. She scored five goals, including a hat trick, at the December 2014 Tournament of Brasilia, losing to Brazil in the final.

“It was awful,” she said. “We were in Brasilia. There was absolutely nothing there. … I’m looking forward to being in some other cities.”

Lloyd mapped out the rest of her career. Ideally, Olympic gold in Rio, another World Cup title in 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Games as her finale.

She described the Olympics and the World Cup as “completely the same.”

“I don’t want to say it’s not as hard to win an Olympics, but there’s less teams [12 versus 24 at the World Cup],” Lloyd said. “It’s not like the end-all, be-all for a soccer player. The World Cup is like the World Cup. And there’s a lot of teams, and it’s really hard to win it.”

One of her dream moments in the five months since the World Cup was speaking with Lionel Messi through a translator in Houston on Aug. 31.

See you in January, Messi told her, referencing the FIFA awards. Messi is one of three finalists for the men’s Player of the Year.

“It took scoring three goals in a World Cup final for people to actually see what I’ve been doing all these years,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t just emerge this World Cup. I’ve done things over the past, and for whatever reasons it’s just been flying under the radar.”

MORE SOCCER: U.S. women’s star tears ACL eight months before Rio

40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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MORE: Japanese athlete’s bid to become oldest Olympian in history still alive

With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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