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Olympic Year in Review: Social Media

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OlympicTalk takes a look back at the year in Olympic sports this week. Today, we review social media.

Gracie Gold’s ‘whimsical’ day trip with Taylor Swift

U.S. figure skating champion Gracie Gold enjoyed an Instagrammed day trip to Santa Catalina Island off the California coast with pop star Taylor Swift, among others, in January.

“It was just one of those whimsical things,” Gold said. “Just a casual text from Taylor Swift, no biggie.”

It looks like Gold wasn’t the only U.S. Olympic medalist to meet up with Swift this year.

U.S. cross-country skiers bring ‘Uptown Funk’ 

The U.S. cross-country ski team pulled off the closest thing the Winter Olympic world has seen to U.S. swimming’s “Call Me Maybe” video.

The skiers created an “Uptown Funk” music video over three weeks in Switzerland and Sweden with choreography by reigning World team sprint champion Jessie Diggins.

The video was played more than a half-million times on Facebook in the first 24 hours.

Michael Phelps announces engagement, fiancée’s pregnancy on Instagram

Michael Phelps kept his social media followers in the know regarding his family life, notably his engagement to longtime on-again, off-again girlfriend Nicole Johnson on Feb. 21.

Then, on Nov. 18, Phelps posted an Instagram with Johnson announcing she was 12 weeks pregnant.

That lines up for Phelps to become a father before the Rio Olympics. Stay tuned to his social channels.

Liu Xiang retires on Weibo

Liu Xiang, China’s first Olympic track and field champion, announced his retirement via social media, to his 32 million followers on Weibo on April 7.

In the 1,400-word post, the Athens 2004 110m hurdles champ said he was ”truly unwell and old and can no longer run and jump with you. Although it’s sad, although it’s painful, I really have no other choice,” according to track and field’s international governing body.

In comparison, Usain Bolt has 3.8 million Twitter followers and 16.9 million Facebook page likes.

@Caitlyn_Jenner breaks Twitter record

Caitlyn Jenner, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion formerly known as Bruce Jenner, broke President Barack Obama‘s record for fastest Twitter account to reach one million followers June 1.

Jenner’s account broke the one million mark about four hours after its first tweet, an image of the new Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair.

John Orozco’s heartfelt post

U.S. Olympic gymnast John Orozco tore his right Achilles for a second time in June, four months after his mother’s death, and questioned his career, life and faith on social media.

“I just keep asking myself ‘why is this happening right now?'” Orozco wrote. “‘Where’s the lesson in this?’ I’m counting my blessings and weathering this storm because it’s the only choice I have.”

Shawn Johnson gets engaged on Wrigley Field

Olympic champion gymnast Shawn Johnson was in for quite the surprise after throwing a ceremonial first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game in July, and it was all posted on social media.

Boyfriend Andrew East, a Kansas City Chiefs long snapper, got down on one knee and proposed to Johnson.

Usain Bolt and the Segway Cameraman

The only man to take down Usain Bolt in the last two years was a CCTV cameraman at the World Track and Field Championships on Aug. 27.

In the viral moment of the year, the world’s fastest man was briefly grounded at the Bird’s Nest on his victory lap after winning the 200m at the World Championships.

“They tried to kill me. I don’t know what’s going on,” Bolt said on the BBC, adding later on Universal Sports, “accidents happen.”

Bolt tumbled to the track and somersaulted, with a smile, and quickly got back up. He anchored Jamaica to the 4x100m relay title two days later.

“I have a few cuts, but it’s nothing I haven’t done to myself in training,” Bolt said on BBC radio. “I wasn’t looking. I was waving to the crowd, and I just felt something take me out.”

The cameraman, Song Tao, presented Bolt with a red bracelet after Bolt’s 200m medal ceremony the following day.

They shook hands, and Bolt patted Song on the back.

“The important thing is that he is OK,” Song said via a translator, according to the Guardian. “I’m fine and ready to get back to work.”

YouTube Star beats Usain Bolt

Technically, Bolt did lose a race in 2015 — to 8-year-old YouTube trainer Demarjay Smith on Ellen in a head-to-head parking lot duel in October.

Bolt, wearing jeans, did not back down, even though the starting blocks were positioned backwards. Smith clearly false-started, but Bolt didn’t call it back.

They sprinted for about 15 seconds, with Bolt unable to catch Smith and pulling up before the finish line, holding the back of his right leg.

“I got cramps,” Bolt said. “You got lucky, man. I want a rematch, though.”

Viktoria Komova’s steroid comments and apology

Viktoria Komova, the Olympic all-around silver medalist, reportedly apologized to U.S. gymnasts for accusing them of taking steroids in a post on a Russian social media site.

Komova and her Russian teammates have been regularly beaten by the U.S. since 2011, when Komova tearfully took all-around silver at the World Championships behind Jordyn Wieber.

Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports | Summer Sports | Photos | Social Media

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Michael Phelps’ fiancée was 12 months pregnant, rather than 12 weeks.

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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