Tervel Dlagnev overcomes back injury to lead U.S. Olympic wrestling qualifiers

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Two days ago, Tervel Dlagnev didn’t think he’d be wrestling at the U.S. Olympic Trials or perhaps ever again.

“I was about to quit,” Dlagnev said on NBCSN, adding later, “I had a really, really weird, scary pain go down my back and into my legs. I don’t want to go through that again. At that point, I wasn’t even thinking about performance. I was thinking about my future and playing with my boys.”

Dlagnev saw a chiropractor and persevered to join two fellow 2012 U.S. Olympians in becoming the first three members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Iowa City on Saturday night.

All three wrestlers to clinch Rio berths — Dlagnev, Elena Pirozhkova and Ben Provisor — did so in sweeps of best-of-three finals at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Dlagnev, bad back and all, bounced Zach Rey in the freestyle 125kg finals, repeating the result of the 2014 and 2015 World Championships Team Trials finals.

Dlagnev lost a bronze-medal match in London and in Rio will try to become the first U.S. super heavyweight to earn an Olympic medal since 1996.

Pirozhkova, who ousted Erin Clodgo in the women’s 63kg finals, goes back to the Games after losing her only match at London 2012. She earned World Championships gold in 2012, silver in 2010 and 2014 and bronze in 2013.

“Last time around, I was just so happy to make an Olympic team,” the Russian-born Pirozhkova said, adding, “Opening Ceremonies, you see the flame being lit, that kind of stuff really takes your breath away. For me, it took away from my wrestling. So now I’ve been through that. I want another chance to win a gold medal.”

Provisor dumped Jake Clark in the Greco-Roman 85kg finals, after not making any of the three World Championships teams since he went 1-1 at London 2012.

Since the last Olympics, Provisor said he had back surgery, a pinched nerve, removed a bone spur, a sports hernia surgery, a grade-three hamstring tear and a torn forearm tendon that required surgery.

“It’s been a long road,” said Provisor, whose wife, Leigh Jaynes-Provisor, earned a World bronze medalist last year.

Jaynes-Provisor had to compete one weight class higher than expected on Saturday because she didn’t make weight and lost her first match.

In other classes not yet qualified for Rio on Saturday night:

  • Frank Molinaro beat Bellator MMA signee Aaron Pico, 19, in men’s freestyle 65kg.
  • London Olympian Kelsey Campbell swept Alli Ragan in women’s 58kg.
  • Tamyra Mensah swept Brittany Roberts in women’s 69kg.
  • Jesse Thielke swept 2008 Uzbekistan Olympian Ildar Hafizov in Greco-Roman 59kg.
  • RaVaughn Perkins, who served a doping ban and didn’t wrestle in 2015, beat Pat Smith in Greco-Roman 66kg.
  • Joe Rau beat Caylor Williams in Greco-Roman 98kg.

Those winners can qualify for the Olympics at international tournaments later this spring.

The U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials conclude Sunday with preliminary matches beginning at 10 a.m. ET and finals at 7 p.m. ET, both on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Both reigning U.S. Olympic champions — Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner — and all four reigning U.S. World champions — Adeline GrayHelen MaroulisKyle Snyder and Burroughs — wrestle Sunday.

MORE: Olympic, World champs could vie for one Olympic spot

Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s road back through destruction, death

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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