Sanya Richards-Ross
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Sanya Richards-Ross, running in pain, OK if she misses Olympic team

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Reigning Olympic 400-meter champion Sanya Richards-Ross calls them gold-medal moments, when a complete stranger walks up to her and thanks her for a career that’s included plenty of celebrations, along with some tears.

Those moments are priceless for Richards-Ross, even more so with the 31-year-old retiring after the Rio de Janeiro Games. She’s a long shot to make the American squad at the Olympic trials because of a painful big toe that’s haunted her for years and a hamstring ailment that recently surfaced.

Richards-Ross insisted she’s OK if she doesn’t make the team — that it’s just as much about soaking it all in one last time.

Still, that competitive nature is hard to switch off. The four-time Olympic gold medalist and American record holder won’t go without one final kick down the back stretch.

“As an athlete, you’re optimistic until the very end. I can’t help but be that way,” said Richards-Ross, who begins Friday with a first-round heat. “If I’m in it, I can win it. If I don’t, I’m grateful that I made it this far.”

It’s been a stroll down memory lane for Richards-Ross since she arrived in Eugene earlier in the week. She and her dad went to the track and took a casual trip around it. Her dad has been by her side through her triumphs (her crowning achievement, 400-meter gold at the 2012 London Olympics) and her heartaches (finishing third at the 2008 Beijing Games when she struggled down the stretch and was later found crying underneath the stands). Not only that, but the health concerns, too — she spent five years fighting a painful autoimmune disease called Behcet’s syndrome, only to discover it may have been misdiagnosed.

“To walk the track with my dad and reflect on this amazing journey I’ve been on felt perfect,” Richards-Ross said. “I’m trying not to get too emotional, because I need to give everything on the track.”

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Her big toe is a big reason she’s calling it a career. Before this season, she had her third surgery, but the pain remains a “10” when she runs. Her shoe company, Nike, designed a spike for her to train in to take the pressure off her foot and it helps, but the pain persists.

“There’s a quality of life thing where I don’t want to run to the point that I can’t walk,” she said. “I want to run with my kids one day and not say, ‘Well, I used to run but that was only when I was young.'”

She’s long been the gold standard in the 400 since her days at the University of Texas. She was a member of the last three 4×400 relay teams that captured Olympic gold, but an individual Olympic gold eluded her until London.

Richards-Ross would love nothing more than to defend her crown in Rio, but it’s going to be difficult with a field that includes Allyson Felixeven if she has a sore ankle — up-and-comer Courtney Okolo and Francena McCorory, to name a few. Making matters worse, Richards-Ross hurt her hamstring in a race a few weeks ago, limiting her practice time. This after finishing seventh, more than 2 seconds behind the winner, during the Prefontaine Classic in late May at Hayward Field.

“Just taking it one race at a time,” said Richards-Ross, who’s trained under legendary coach Clyde Hart.

She’s already thinking about her post-race career. At the top of the list, she’d like to start a family with her husband, NFL defensive back Aaron Ross. She’s also in the process of writing a book, owns several businesses — including a luxury car service with her husband and a salon with her sister — and wants to launch a broadcasting career.

“Be the female version of Michael Strahan, because he transitioned so well,” said Richards-Ross, who lives in Austin, Texas. “I want to do something with as much fire and passion as I did my sports career.”

While there’s a chance she could be in the U.S. relay pool if she doesn’t finish in the top three, there’s also a chance this could be it. If it is, Richards-Ross said she’s not sure how she will punctuate her final big race on the track.

“It’s impossible to rehearse for something like this,” Richards-Ross said. “I want to be in the moment and whatever my emotions lead me to do, that’s what I’m going to do.”

As for how she wants to be remembered, that’s simple: Giving every race everything she had.

“I hope that fans were inspired by my effort,” Richards-Ross said. “As I was leaving the track (Tuesday), this father tapped me on the shoulder and said to me, ‘Sanya, you’ve been such a good role model for my daughter. “‘

Another gold-medal moment.

MORE: Jeter, Symmonds out of Olympic Trials

Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?

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He controversially beat Roy Jones Jr. for Olympic gold. He wishes he had silver.

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The last South Korean boxer to win an Olympic gold medal has spent the past 32 years wishing it was a silver.

Entering the men’s light-middleweight final against an American teenager named Roy Jones Jr. on the last day of the 1988 Games in Seoul, Park Si-Hun fantasized about etching his name in the pantheon of South Korean sports legends in front of a delirious home crowd.

He did get his gold three rounds later, but not the way he envisioned.

Park’s win by a 3-2 decision remains as one of the most controversial moments in boxing history, as Jones had seemed to dominate the fight from start to finish.

The outcome drew instant criticism and disdain, even from South Koreans, who heckled Park at the podium and bombarded local TV stations with phone calls protesting that the country’s home advantage had gone too far.

Jones went on to have a phenomenal professional career, retiring in 2018 with a 66-9 record that cemented him as one of the sport’s all-time greats. He is now a boxing commentator and is planning to fight Mike Tyson in an exhibition of retired greats later this year.

Deeply shaken and scarred, Park quietly retired at the end of the Seoul Games and spent the next 13 years as a middle- and high-school teacher in a rural seaside town before making a return to competitive boxing as a coach.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Park said his dream was to see one of his boxers pull off a convincing gold-winning performance in a future Olympics, which he said would possibly give him some sense of redemption and closure.

After three decades, it still stings that his gold is seen as a smudge on the image of the Games his country still glorifies as its coming-out party to the world.

“There’s hardened resentment built up in me that I will probably carry for the rest of my life,” said Park, 54, who now coaches the small municipal boxing team of Seogwipo City in the island province of Jeju.

“I didn’t want my hand to be raised (after the fight with Jones), but it did go up, and my life became gloomy because of that.”

Park still grimaces when talking about his match with Jones.

Desperate for Olympic glory, Park had gutted out the tournament with a broken right hand he suffered during training. He said it didn’t really matter until he met Jones, the one opponent in Seoul who was quicker than him.

With the injury taking away his right-hand, Park simply had no chance at slowing Jones, who was coming at him with “excellent speed, power and technique.”

“I was pretty quick for a middleweight, but Jones was at a different level,” Park recalled. “A boxer just knows whether he had won or lost a match. I thought I lost because I didn’t put up a fight deserving of a win.”

Park said he felt “confused” when the referee raised his hand. Wearing a stunned look on his face, Park awkwardly embraced and held up an expressionless Jones into the air.

He said he couldn’t wait to get off the podium, where he smiled weakly and slowly waved a bouquet of flowers toward the stands as fans let out hesitant cheers and scattered boos.

An even more humiliating moment came when a South Korean national broadcaster invited all of the country’s 12 gold medalists to a live TV celebration shortly after the Games. The host treated Park like he wasn’t there while interviewing each of the other 11.

There was an outpouring of media criticism and what Park described as “unspeakable” insults, which included derisive public calls for him to forfeit his medal.

The emotional distress “was like being hit with a hammer on the back of your head, again and again.”

“I keep thinking how my life would have been happier had I finished second,” Park said. “A gold medal is important, but isn’t any Olympic medal satisfying and glorious?”

Park said the sense of defeat and depression sometimes led to suicidal urges. He credits his wife for helping him navigate out of his darkest moods. The couple contemplated moving to a different country before deciding to stay after they had children.

Their youngest child, Rei, now a 20-year-old college student in Louisiana, has his own athletic ambitions, training as a javelin thrower with dreams of competing in the 2024 Olympics.

Park said he keeps his Olympic gold framed on a wall at his home in mainland South Korea, along with other awards he won in amateur competition. He doesn’t recall ever bringing it out of the house.

While Park doesn’t have many regrets about never going pro, saying he probably wouldn’t have gone far with an evasive style built for efficiency and avoiding hits but not for initiating pain, he still watched Jones’ post-Olympic triumphs with envy.

He wondered whether the public would ever forget the fiasco surrounding his gold medal, which the South Korean media brought up after almost every Jones fight or whenever there was controversy in any Olympic sport. He would try to laugh it off whenever students asked about his gold at school.

After overlooking him for years, South Korea’s boxing association reached back to Park in 2001, asking him to coach the national team following years of disappointing performances in international events, which reflected a dearth of talent in the sport.

During his on-and-off coaching stints with the national team since then, Park trained several boxers who performed decently in various events, but they never came close to an Olympic gold.

Park had the highest hopes for Lee Ok-Song, who won the men’s 51kg division in the 2005 World Championships. But Lee failed to reach the quarterfinals of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and retired after the Games.

Park said he had occasionally kept in touch with Jones, including a brief telephone conversation with him in 2004 while visiting Atlanta for an international event.

The International Olympic Committee in 1997 concluded it had found no evidence to support bribery allegations against the judges who voted in favor of Park in the Seoul Games.

The U.S. Olympic Committee had called for an investigation in 1996 after documents belonging to East Germany’s Stasi secret police revealed reports of judges being paid to vote for South Korean boxers.

While Park left South Korea’s national team after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, he hasn’t given up on his goal of winning an Olympic gold as a coach.

Among the four boxers he trains in Seogwipo, Park is most impressed with Kang Hyeon-Bin, who competes in the men’s 64kg division, and Cho Hye-Bin, a woman in the 51kg category.

“I am constantly looking for a raw stone I could polish into a jewel,” he said. “I want to sculpt a true Olympic gold medalist with my own hands and see that fighter take the highest spot on the podium. That would restore my honor and allow me to leave the boxing ring for good.”

MORE: Top U.S. Olympic boxing hopeful cleared of doping violations caused by sex

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