Margaux Isaksen
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U.S. modern pentathlon in Rio will be Isaksen sister act

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Margaux Isaksen says Rio may be her final Olympics, but she hopes it’s the first of many for Isabella Isaksen.

The U.S. women’s modern pentathlon team of two is a sister act. Margaux, 24, goes to her third Games (she debuted at age 16 in Beijing). Isabella, 22, made her first Olympics, but she had to wait three weeks after the final qualifying event in May before it became official this month.

Margaux’s voice cracked in a phone interview when asked which Isaksen Olympic berth meant more.

“I’m definitely happier for her,” she said.

And Margaux desperately wanted one more Olympic shot, after finishing fourth at the 2012 London Games.

The difference between her and bronze medalist Yane Marques of Brazil was eight points — 5,340 to 5,332 after 10 hours of competition across fencing, swimming, show jumping, running and shooting.

She would have retired after the London Games if she made the podium. Margaux missed a medal by one touch in fencing, one rail in horse riding or less than two seconds in the combined running and shooting event.

“It’s actually, obviously, something I’ve thought about quite a lot,” she said. “Especially the year after the Olympics, but even to this day.”

She felt she owed it to her coaches and support circle to try for Rio (though she refused to use the #RoadtoRio hashtag until she officially qualified). Regardless of what happens in Rio, Margaux plans to take at least the next two years to focus on other ventures. Philanthropy on a local level in her native Arkansas, notably.

“Retirement’s on the back of my mind,” she said. “I never know if I’m going to want to continue to do this. That was something I’ve always said, when I first started this sport, when I don’t love it anymore, I won’t do it anymore.”

Her body might have a say, too.

Margaux’s performance in London was incredible, not only because it was the best Olympic modern pentathlon finish by an American since 2000, but also because she had been sidelined nearly six months by a severe case of mono. Margaux restarted her training about six weeks before the Games.

This year, she seriously sprained her left ankle in February and has tried to train and compete through it, only to twist and roll it a few more times. Then she found out last week the she suffered a small stress fracture in her leg.

“Hopefully, in three weeks, I’ll be able to run again,” Margaux said last week from Colorado Springs, home to many elite athletes who live at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. “My body, quite frankly, has never been as strong as it was before I got sick [in 2012].”

It showed at the World Championships in May. Margaux failed to qualify for the 36-woman final for the first time in a senior career that began at age 16 in 2008.

“I’ve had probably, no, not probably, I’ve definitely had the worst season of my life,” she said. “I honestly have taken all of the pressure off of myself at this point, because I honestly have no idea what to expect in Rio.”

Little sister Isabella can’t have that great of an idea of what to plan for, either. She attended neither the 2008 Beijing Games (costs) nor the 2012 London Games (stayed home to train for the World Junior Championships).

The sisters were together at the Senior World Championships on May 27, as spectators. They watched the final for which they failed to qualify. By then, Margaux knew she was going to Rio. Isabella wasn’t 100 percent sure, with a few close rivals in rankings also competing.

“Thankfully, I mean this sounds horrible, they kind of messed up, which allowed me to stay high enough on points,” Isabella said.

Isabella started modern pentathlon between the Beijing and London Olympics. One year after Margaux’s mono, she got it, too. It affected her for two years, during which she married Egyptian modern pentathlete Amro El Geziry, and she said she’s just now feeling fully healthy again.

Her struggles are now more mental than physical.

“I had at least one point of every competition [in this Olympic cycle] where I thought, am I good enough?” Isabella said. “I psyched myself out [at Worlds in May]. I stressed myself out too much, thinking like I have to perform every event really well so I can qualify [for the Olympics].”

Now that both Isaksens have qualified, they can enjoy the Games together.

In 2012, Isabella cried as she watched on a computer stream as Margaux finished fourth. After the ducts dried, she went back to training in Colorado. The next month, the sisters shared team event and relay gold medals at the World Junior Championships in Poland; Margaux won individual gold.

Margaux, while unsure of her prospects at her third Olympics, predicted the Rio Games will “be the first of many Olympic Games and many successes” on the senior level for Isabella.

“I just get a little emotional when I think about it,” she said. “I want it even more for her than I want it for myself.”

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Rio Olympics

Bianca Andreescu to miss U.S. Open

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Bianca Andreescu withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic” compromising her ability to prepare to defend her Grand Slam title.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level,” Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, posted on social media. “The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there. However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.”

Andreescu’s absence means the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be without both 2019 male and female singles champions.

Rafael Nadal previously announced he would not defend his title, saying he would rather not travel given the global situation. Roger Federer is also out after knee surgery. Women’s No. 1 Ash Barty didn’t enter, either, citing travel concerns.

Last year, Andreescu made her U.S. Open title run as the 15th seed, sweeping Serena Williams in the final. Ranked 208th a year earlier, she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen Slam winner since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Andreescu then missed the Australian Open in January due to rehab from a knee injury that forced her to retire during a match at the WTA Finals on Oct. 30. She also missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019 following a rotator cuff tear.

MORE: Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis competition

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Noah, Josephus Lyles, after years of supporting each other, meet on track’s highest level

Noah Lyles, Josephus Lyles
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When Noah and Josephus Lyles first talked about turning professional out of high school — Josephus brought it up before their junior year — the goal was, of course, to sprint on the sport’s highest international level — together.

They will do that in Monaco on Friday (2 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold).

The Lyles brothers will compete in the same Diamond League meet for the first time, and in the same race to boot. Though Noah has long focused on the 200m and Josephus the 400m, they will both contest the shorter distance at Stade Louis II.

“This is going to be really special,” Noah said.

“It makes me more comfortable, just knowing me and my brother are in the same race,” said Josephus, at his first Diamond League meet since 2018.

Noah, when asked the significance of the race that’s coming more than four years after they turned pro, suggested a reporter ask their mom.

“She’s probably over the moon right now,” he said.

Josephus remembered their mom, Keisha Caine Bishop, screaming in excitement upon learning last week that he earned a lane in Monaco. Noah, the reigning world 200m champion, was already in the field.

“It is definitely harder to watch,” when they’re in the same race, Bishop said, “but not because you’re worried about who’s going to win and who’s going to lose, because I don’t look at track like that.

“My nervousness more comes from I just want them both to do their best, so that we can all celebrate as a family. Because if one has a great race and the other one doesn’t have a great race, then it’s kind of hard for everybody to celebrate. You have to compartmentalize your emotions a little more.”

Bishop, an NCAA 4x400m champion at Seton Hall in the 1990s, is familiar with the balance. Even though her two sons born one year and four days apart last raced against each other in January 2017 at their first professional meet.

“The only reason I run track is because of Noah, honestly,” Josephus, who is younger, said while sitting next to Noah in 2017, days before their pro debut. “When I first started track, I quit because I didn’t like it.”

Josephus, a 400m/800m runner before giving it up, returned to the sport in eighth grade. He had planned to try out for the basketball team. Noah, originally a high jumper, was still doing track and field at the time, so Josephus went out for it, too. This time, he focused on races one lap and shorter.

“Turns out I was really good,” Josephus said. (The Lyles’ sister, Abby, ran one track race around age 6 and didn’t care for it, later finding her passion in biochemistry.)

Throughout high school, the brothers tore up tracks while attending T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Va., best known for the film “Remember the Titans.”

Bishop recalled the times one brother supported the other through adversity. Such as when Noah prayed for Josephus’ success in 2014, when Josephus was on crutches with a twisted ankle. Josephus came back that season to win the 400m at the New Balance Nationals, where Lyles took second in the 200m.

“When they race, they are more concerned about the other person than they are themselves,” Bishop said.

Or in 2016. Josephus suffered a season-ending torn right hip flexor two months before the Olympic Trials. A year before, as a high school junior, Josephus ran a 400m time that would have made the Olympic Trials final, where the top six of eight men would qualify for the Olympics.

Josephus still watched his brother race at trials, in the 200m, from the Hayward Field stands.

“He was trying to be strong,” Bishop said, “but I knew, as a mom, that it was very painful.”

Josephus excitedly detailed the experience on camera after Noah broke the national high school record and nearly pulled off the incredible, coming .09 shy of the Olympic 200m team of three men.

“Sometimes it can get a little hard. If one of us is doing well and the other one is not doing well, it can be rough,” Josephus said. “On the other hand, it can be really good because it’s a lot of support. It’s almost like an accountabili-buddy.”

The brothers achieved their goal by signing with Adidas shortly after trials.

Then in 2017, Noah strained his right hamstring and withdrew from the USATF Outdoor Championships before the 200m final. The family gathered before leaving the stadium in Sacramento.

“I said, ‘OK guys, we have to walk out of this warm-up area, and we have to do it as a team,'” Bishop said. “‘At the end of the day, the only people left will be the three of us. And it’s not just the end of today. It’s going to be the end of your careers. When all the newspapers are gone, television cameras, nobody’s writing about us, we are still a family, and that is all that matters.”

Josephus continued to battle the hip injury, yet lowered his 400m personal best in 2017 (making his Diamond League debut during Noah’s absence) and 2018. At the 2018 USATF Outdoors, Noah won the 100m and Josephus placed sixth in the 400m.

If it had been an Olympic or world championships year, both would have made the U.S. team. Instead, they looked to qualify for their first biennial world outdoor championships in 2019.

That spring, Josephus began throwing up every time he ate. He left a European swing after just one race. He saw several doctors leading into nationals, where he was eliminated in the semifinals. He got an endoscopy and learned his diaphragm was restricted, affecting his eating and breathing. It was fixed after the meet.

“A rough year,” Josephus said.

Noah won the U.S. 200m title two days after Josephus’ 400m semifinal. Noah took gold at the world championships in Doha, after which his most meaningful interaction came by phone with his brother, who was back home in the States after dealing with those chest problems.

Support flowed from both ends of the line — congratulations from an inspired Josephus and excitement from Noah, amped for the upcoming Olympic year and the prospect of a Lyles in every flat sprint and men’s relay in Tokyo.

“I never try to forget that I can be in that same position of being injured, and he could be the one doing well,” Noah said last fall. “So I want to always be able to bring good support to him.”

Noah and Josephus live together in a house near their training base in Clermont, Fla.

The pandemic relegated them to grass fields when tracks were closed for nearly two months. When they returned to more normal training, their coach, Lance Brauman, started putting Josephus in groups with 100m and 200m sprinters, including his brother, regularly for the first time.

Josephus, who beat Noah and world 110m hurdles champion Grant Holloway for a Virginia high school indoor 55m title in 2016, raced a pair of 200m in July. He lowered a five-year-old personal best from 20.74 to 20.41 and then 20.24, which helped book the spot in Monaco.

“When I run 19 [seconds], that’ll be that next level,” said Josephus, while noting the 400m remains his primary event. “I still have a little bit ways to go. Hopefully, this weekend will be a game-changer.”

Here they are, the week after what would have been their first Olympics this summer. Noah and Josephus Lyles are in the same race at the most anticipated track meet of the year.

The Olympic cycle has been bittersweet, said Bishop, reminded of what she stressed to her sons through the ups and downs.

“Life comes in seasons, and your season might not come when you wanted it to come,” she said. “The lesson might not be the lesson you thought it would be, but your season will come.”

MORE: Four years later, life changes for runners who shared Olympic moment

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