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Ten women’s events to watch at Olympic Track and Field Trials

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More than 100 athletes will qualify for Rio by the end of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., from July 1-10 on NBC Sports.

The top three finishers per event, provided they meet the Olympic standard, are in line to go to the Games. More finishers in the men’s and women’s 100m and 400m sprints, usually the top six, make the team for the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.

The U.S. Olympic track and field team is always the largest in size across all sports.

This year’s squad could be favored for even more success than 2012, when it led the medal standings with 28 total and nine gold, with the Russian track and field out of the picture for now.

However, the U.S. will look to bounce back from the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, where it topped the medal table with 18 overall, its smallest haul since 2003. Jamaica and Kenya took more golds.

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Here are 10 women’s events to watch:

Long Jump
July 1-2
2012 Olympics: Brittney Reese (gold), Janay DeLoach (bronze), Chelsea Hayes (first round)
2015 Worlds: Tianna Bartoletta (gold), Janay DeLoach (eighth), Jasmine Todd (first round), Brittney Reese (first round)

Outlook: Bartoletta is the reigning world and national champion. But the favorite may be Reese, who won every Olympic and world title from 2009 through 2013 and has the four best U.S. marks this year. DeLoach finished behind Bartoletta and Reese at the 2015 Nationals, and in last year’s world rankings.

High Jump
July 1-3
2012 Olympics: Brigetta Barrett (silver), Chaunté Lowe (sixth), Amy Acuff (first round)
2015 Worlds: Chaunté Lowe (first round)

Outlook: Lowe is the reigning national champ, but Vashti Cunningham wasn’t present at that event because she was competing in Junior Nationals. The 18-year-old daughter of retired NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham posted the two best American marks in 2015. So far this year, Lowe owns the three top U.S. outdoor clearances, but Cunningham’s indoor best was better. Elizabeth Patterson could push them, and so, too, could 40-year-old Amy Acuff, who seeks her sixth Olympic appearance. Barrett is retired.

400 Meters
July 1-3
2012 Olympics: Sanya Richards-Ross (gold), DeeDee Trotter (bronze), Francena McCorory (seventh)
2015 Worlds: Allyson Felix (gold), Phyllis Francis (seventh), Natasha Hastings (semifinals)

Outlook: Coming off an ankle injury, Felix’s first chance to earn a spot on her fourth Olympic team comes in the 400m, which she’s never run individually at an Olympics. But she won the world title last year after posting a personal-best 49.26. Richards-Ross won the London gold medal in 49.55 but failed to make the 2015 Nationals final and suffered a hamstring strain earlier this month. Keep an eye on Courtney Okolo, who set an NCAA record in April with a time of 49.71, second fastest in the world this year. Also in April, Quanera Hayes went 49.91.

800 Meters
July 1-4
2012 Olympics: Alysia Montaño (fifth), Alice Schmidt (semifinals), Geena Gall (semifinals)
2015 Worlds: Brenda Martinez (semifinals), Molly Beckwith-Ludlow (semifinals), Alysia Montano (first round)

Outlook: The crowd favorite might be Montaño, who placed fifth in the London Olympics behind two Russians who later received lifetime doping bans. In 2014, Montano famously ran the 800m at Nationals while 34 weeks pregnant, and she won her sixth national title last year. But the actual favorite might be Ajee’ Wilson, who posted the world’s best 800m time in 2014, and the U.S.’ best in 2015 and so far in 2016. She would have been a medal contender at 2015 Worlds but pulled out due to a stress fracture in her left leg.

100 Meters
July 2-3
2012 Olympics: Carmelita Jeter (silver), Tianna Bartoletta (fourth), Allyson Felix (fifth)
2015 Worlds: Tori Bowie (bronze), English Gardner (semifinals), Jasmine Todd (semifinals)

Outlook: Jeter withdrew before Trials with a quadriceps injury that has slowed her for years. Bowie’s 10.80 in May is the second-best mark this year, and Gardner’s 10.81 is No. 3. The race is likely for the third individual Olympic berth to join Bowie and Gardner. Three other American women have also gone under 11 seconds this year.

100 Meter Hurdles
July 7-8
2012 Olympics: Dawn Harper-Nelson (silver), Kellie Wells (bronze), Lolo Jones (fourth)
2015 Worlds: Brianna Rollins (fourth), Sharika Nelvis (eighth), Dawn Harper-Nelson (semifinals), Keni Harrison (semifinals)

Outlook: Americans went 2-3-4 in this event at the 2012 Olympics, and they very well could sweep it in Rio. U.S. women posted the world’s top 15 times last year, despite missing the worlds medals, and they have the best 11 so far this year. The top four all belong to Harrison, who broke Rollins’ American record at the Pre Classic on May 28. Nelvis and Jasmin Stowers posted the world’s best 2015 times.

400 Meter Hurdles
July 7-10
2012 Olympics: Lashinda Demus (silver), Georganne Moline (fifth), T’erea Brown (sixth)
2015 Worlds: Shamier Little (silver), Cassandra Tate (bronze), Kori Carter (semifinals)

Outlook: Little has owned the 400m hurdles in the U.S. since posting three of the world’s five best times last year. Included in those marks were a world silver medal and U.S. and NCAA titles. Just behind her at Worlds and Nationals, and much of the rest of the year, was Tate. These two are near-certain locks to take the top two berths to Rio. Demus will miss the Trials due to injury.

1500 Meters
July 7-10
2012 Olympics: Shannon Rowbury (sixth), Morgan Uceny (11th), Jenny Simpson (semifinals)
2015 Worlds: Shannon Rowbury (seventh), Jenny Simpson (11th), Lauren Johnson (semifinals), Kerri Gallagher (semifinals)

Outlook: The battle here is really for the third Olympic berth, because Rowbury and Simpson should snag the first two. Rowbury and Simpson ranked third and fourth in the world, respectively, in this event last year, and Simpson already owns a top-10 time this year. Simpson edged Rowbury at the 2015 Nationals, but Rowbury broke the American record three weeks later.

Pole Vault
July 8-10
2012 Olympics: Jenn Suhr (gold), Becky Holliday (ninth), Lacy Janson (first round)
2015 Worlds: Sandi Morris (fourth), Jenn Suhr (fourth), Demi Payne (first round)

Outlook: Suhr shouldn’t have a problem getting back in the Games to defend her gold medal, but the 34-year-old will be challenged by the 23-year-old Morris. They were part of a three-way tie for fourth at last year’s Worlds. Earlier last summer, Suhr handily defeated Morris at Nationals.

200 Meters
July 8-10
2012 Olympics: Allyson Felix (gold), Carmelita Jeter (bronze), Sanya Richards-Ross (fifth)
2015 Worlds: Candyce McGrone (fourth), Jeneba Tarmoh (sixth), Jenna Prandini (semifinals)

Outlook: Felix hopes to complete the 200m-400m double in Rio, but first she has to qualify in both events. This has long been her best event: defending 200m Olympic champion, two previous Olympic silvers and three world titles. She didn’t run the 200m at the 2015 Worlds as she focused on the 400m. Bowie’s 21.99 is the second-fastest in the world in 2016, and tops among Americans, but Felix hasn’t yet raced the 200m this year due to her ankle injury. Keep an eye on Ariana Washington, the Oregon freshman who swept the NCAA 100m and 200m titles; her 22.21 in the 200 is fifth in the world this year.

MORE: Olympic Track and Field Trials broadcast schedule

Loena Hendrickx on the rise, making Grand Prix debut at Skate America

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Belgian teenager Loena Hendrickx made her Winter Olympic debut in PyeongChang, and began her short program with the aim of becoming the first from her country to qualify for a ladies’ singles free skate since Katrien Pauwels in 1988.

Fresh off a 14th place finish in the men’s event, brother Jorik sat in the stands. He looked away as the music – a cool arrangement of Madonna’s “Frozen” – began, and covered his eyes as the 18-year-old set up for a planned triple lutz, triple toe combination.

Eight years younger than her two-time Olympian elder brother, Hendrickx knew the feeling.

“I get nervous when he competes, too,” she explained after winning a bronze medal at the Nebelhorn Trophy, an ISU Challenger Series event. “I might be even more nervous watching him than when I have to skate myself, because I don’t know how he’s feeling on the ice, and I can’t control his skate.”

She ultimately landed the combination – albeit under-rotated – and bested Pauwels’ result from Calgary by one place, finishing 16th overall. Even stronger skates were to come at the world championships in Milan, where she beat reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova in the free skate to earn a Top 10 total score and qualify for her first-ever Grand Prix events in the upcoming season.

“I’m very excited because that’s something you wish for. The first one is immediately in Skate America, so it’s very exciting. I’ve never been to the States before!”

Jorik was initially scheduled to skate alongside his sister at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Wash., but opted to withdraw and spend the start of the season working with other athletes, including Loena.

“He is working with me sometimes. I really can learn a lot from him because he has the knowledge and experience. I think he can teach me a lot.”

While the siblings work primarily with coach Carine Herrygers, Jorik assisted Loena in selecting her “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” short program music, another ’90s hit by Céline Dion.

“I really liked my program [“The Prayer” by Dion and Josh Groban] from two years ago, and so I think I chose the same style. I researched more of her music, and it was my brother who found this song. I didn’t like it at the beginning because I had another song I liked more.

“In the end, Jorik convinced me to take this one because it’s more powerful and I can skate better to powerful music.”

Hendrickx debuted the program in Oberstdorf, earning personal best scores to make the podium alongside Zagitova and Mai Mihara. More importantly, she achieved her pre-season goal of landing the lutz-toe combination – with positive Grades of Execution – in both phases of the competition.

While most of her competitors made waves as juniors, the Belgian struggled with multiple injuries – a 2016 stress fracture in her back, later a bone bruise on her landing knee – that kept her from eliciting the buzz many top skaters get on the Junior Grand Prix.

“After I healed, I was very happy to begin building back up again. For a long time, I worked on my fitness to make my back and body stronger. That made my jumps stronger and helped me perform better, more consistently.”

In a field that includes two-time world medalist Satoko Miyahara and U.S. national champion Bradie Tennell, Hendrickx heads to Skate America armed with a competitive technical arsenal, and a dose of inspiration imparted by her brother on the ice.

“In Belgium, there are fewer opportunities to be successful when you’re younger because it’s very difficult to combine skating with school. Jorik taught me that you never have to give up on your dreams. If you work hard, you’ll see where you can go.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series 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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Chris Mazdzer adds doubles luge after Olympic medal

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Olympic luge silver medalist Chris Mazdzer is doubling up this winter.

Mazdzer has decided to compete in both singles and doubles in World Cup events, in large part because USA Luge didn’t have another option to partner with Olympic doubles veteran Jayson Terdiman.

If the Americans didn’t have a senior doubles team ready for the World Cup, they wouldn’t have been able to compete in team relays this winter — and Terdiman effectively would have been forced into retirement.

“It’s a lot of motivation,” Mazdzer said Monday from Lake Placid, New York, where he and Terdiman took five training runs together at Mount Van Hoevenberg on the season’s opening day for sliding at USA Luge’s home track. “I like when people are like, ‘Chris, you won’t be able to do that.’ This hasn’t been done successfully in two-plus decades. But why not now?”

The move also brings Mazdzer back to his roots. He and Terdiman were successful as a junior team, medaling twice at world championships and winning USA Luge’s team-of-the-year honors for the 2007-08 season.

“It could be something,” Terdiman said. “We’re hoping we’re able to find that magic. It’s asking a lot, but we have a lot of confidence in our own abilities.”

Mazdzer became the first American men’s singles luge athlete to win an Olympic medal, grabbing the silver at the PyeongChang Games earlier this year. Terdiman is a two-time Olympian in doubles, going in 2014 with Christian Niccum and this year with Matt Mortensen. Niccum retired after the 2014 Olympics, and Mortensen retired after PyeongChang.

So Terdiman spent the summer without a partner, and a couple of hours before former USA Luge teammate Megan Sweeney’s wedding, he and Mazdzer got together for coffee.

“I thought about retirement a lot this summer,” Terdiman said. “It was going to be forced if I didn’t have anybody to slide with, and that was a very real thing until Chris and I sat down a couple hours before Megan’s wedding. We talked about him doing both. The confidence he has in himself is very large. He’s going to give it a shot and we’ll see what happens.”

Mazdzer understands that this means he will have a most unusual winter.

There are nine World Cup races this season, and six of those call for the men’s race and the doubles race to be contested on the same day — so Mazdzer will be logging very long hours at the track. There also were International Luge Federation rules to consider about training runs; sliders typically get five or six runs at a track before a World Cup, and Mazdzer will be permitted to get the full allotment of training in both disciplines.

“I’m really pumped about this,” Mazdzer said. “Having the team relay is a huge part of being on the U.S. team. I want to see the U.S. win team relays. I think we’re capable. We have a fantastic team and if doubles works out, we’ve got a shot.”

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