Sydney McLaughlin
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Sydney McLaughlin, 16, qualifies for Rio in 400m hurdles

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Fast fact: Teenager Sydney McLaughlin can juggle on a unicycle.

That’s nothing compared to this: The 16-year-old is headed to Rio as the youngest to make the U.S. Olympic track team since the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games.

And to think, the 400-meter hurdles phenom had a panic attack before the start of the trials. She thought the stage might be a tad too big for her.

It wasn’t. McLaughlin, a soon-to-be senior at Union Catholic in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, finished third on Sunday, behind winner Dalilah Muhammad and Ashley Spencer.

“Sometimes, I just forget that I’m 16,” McLaughlin said. “There’s not as much expectation. You know, I don’t get paid for this. I’m here just for fun.”

Once she got to work, she certainly had a ball. She planned to celebrate by going out for dinner. On her menu — a cheeseburger, maybe some sweet potato fries, and possibly topped off with a slice of cheesecake.

“I want be like her when I grow up,” said the 23-year-old Spencer. “At 16 years old, I wasn’t doing anything. I was running track, but it was like, meh? She’s an Olympian.”

It has always taken a bit of coaxing to get McLaughlin to the starting line — both as a kid, when her father bribed her with a chocolate bar with almonds to keep her running at 6, and just before the trials.

But her high school coach, Mike McCabe, has a counseling degree that he put to good use. He told her it was only nerves and everyone gets them.

“I think it was more self-doubt,” he explained. “It was the big stage, ‘I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t know if I belong here.’

“We shared with her that everybody has this. It’s not just her because she’s so young. The elites have it, and they’ve been doing it for years.”

The pep talk hit the mark. Although, the world and American junior record holder isn’t exactly used to trailing like this. She finished in a world junior-record time of 54.15 seconds, which was still 1.27 behind Muhammad. She also was able to hold off fourth-place finisher Kori Carter.

“She’s a beast,” Carter said. “She’s the truth. I was in every single heat with her and she carries herself like a pro. I know she’s going to represent the U.S. amazingly.”

McLaughlin grew up idolizing Allyson Felix, who finished fourth in the 200 meters and missed out on making the U.S. squad in the event. But that’s why McLaughlin appreciates Felix — those kinds of setbacks don’t get her down. Felix still has the 400, an event she won last weekend, and will focus on that.

“You realize that sometimes you have to lose in order to get better,” said McLaughlin, who still plans to compete at world juniors later this month in Poland. “That’s a big thing.”

McLaughlin, who turns 17 on Aug. 7, tried to find humor in just about everything. After winning her heat in the semifinals during a steady drizzle, she said, “The rain messed up my hair, but that’s OK.”

Just Sydney being Sydney.

“She’s super-consistent as a racer,” McCabe said. “You don’t see many bad days. You come to a meet like this and you have to be on at the right time. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. Running isn’t her life. Running chose her. She just happens to be real good at it.”

Ginny Fuchs hopes to emerge from OCD, tearful Olympic experience

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None of the boxers at this week’s U.S. Olympic Trials competed at a prior Olympics, but flyweight Ginny Fuchs remembers the specifics of her one Olympic experience in Rio.

Fuchs, who won the 2016 Olympic trials but failed to clinch a spot at the Games in international qualifiers, was nonetheless named team captain and brought to Rio as a sparring partner.

She had mixed feelings. Watching from the crowd as Claressa Shields repeated as Olympic champion on the final day of the Games was motivating. Fuchs had toyed with turning professional but, after talking to Shields, decided to forge another four years as an amateur for another chance to become an Olympian.

The Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony, two weeks before that Shields final, was too much for Fuchs to bear. She could not stay in the Athletes’ Village nor march with the U.S. delegation at the Maracana.

“I remember watching the Opening Ceremony at the place I was at with everybody,” she said. “I couldn’t watch. It was hard for me to watch. I went back to my room, cried and went to bed.”

Fuchs is favored to win the 51kg/112-pound division this week at Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Lake Charles, La., with finals streaming live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday (4-7 p.m. ET). It’s one of five women’s Olympic weight classes, up from three in 2012 and 2016, the first two editions of the Games for female boxers.

No boxer can clinch an Olympic spot this week, but failing to make a final would all but end Tokyo hopes.

Fuchs’ toughest opponent in this Olympic cycle — which included an undefeated 2017 and a 2018 World bronze medal among more than 130 fights — may be herself. Fuchs has been open about struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It started in fifth grade.

“I can remember the first time I was on the school bus, and I was looking at the ground and looking at everybody’s backpacks on the floor,” said Fuchs, a 31-year-old from the Houston area. “And an instant thought came in mind, like, Oh my god. Everybody’s backpack is getting contaminated by this dirty floor on the bus.”

She cited a more recent example: spending up to 40 minutes washing her hands searching for that “perfect clean feeling.” Fuchs found boxing via a boyfriend after she was kicked off the LSU cross-country running team as a freshman walk-on for damaging school property in a prank.

She said the disorder hit her hardest this year. In January, she was driving to a Walmart three times a day to buy cleaning supplies, according to The New York Times.

She underwent intensive therapy and skipped October’s world championships, where she could have established herself as a clear Olympic gold-medal favorite.

“I still am going to probably do therapy for the rest of my life,” Fuchs said. “Maybe not as intense as I’m doing it right now, but it’s almost like training for boxing.

“You’ve got to keep training to keep winning in boxing. So I’ve got to keep training my OCD thoughts and how to handle and manage it. … Boxing is giving me hope almost. Like OK, outside the ring and in my room and the bathroom, I feel like [OCD] controls me and feel trapped. But I have this environment in this space in the gym, in the boxing ring, where I can be myself. And not let it attack me in a way where I can still enjoy life and not be trapped.”

Should Fuchs make the final of her division in Lake Charles, she will advance to a January camp and tournament, after which the U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying will be named.

If selected, Fuchs would head to a North and South American Olympic qualifying event in early spring in Buenos Aires to clinch the spot she could not secure four years ago. If necessary, she could get a second chance at a global qualifier in May in Paris.

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Yulia Efimova has lawyer ready if Russia ban affects her

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Yulia Efimova, the Russian swimmer who earned two Rio Olympic silver medals after initially being excluded from the Games for serving a prior doping ban, is bracing for another legal fight after the latest sanctions against her nation.

On Monday, Russia was banned from the 2020 and 2022 Olympics and the next four years of world championships in Olympic sports due to more recent anti-doping violations. However, its athletes can still compete as neutrals, if meeting specific anti-doping criteria, similar to how they did at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Efimova was initially barred from the Rio Olympics under an IOC mandate that any Russian who previously served a doping ban would be ineligible due to the country’s anti-doping violations at that time.

Efimova appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled that IOC stipulation unenforceable. She went on to earn 100m and 200m breaststroke silver medals and develop a rivalry with American Lilly King, who said Efimova should not have been eligible.

It’s unclear from Monday’s ruling whether Efimova will be allowed to compete as a neutral, should Russia accept the sanctions or any appeal to CAS by the nation be denied.

“I will behave in a similar way,” to 2016, Efimova said, according to RT.com. “I have already hired a lawyer. There is a rule that a person can’t be punished twice for the same offense. If you violate a driving code or instigated a brawl you will not be punished twice for that. I hope it will work, but I cannot be sure of [a positive outcome].

“Right after my race at the Rio Games, I said that this doping controversy was not over, it was just the beginning, and we would have problems in the future. It was quite clear. And with every new year the situation is only getting worse and worse.”

Efimova, 27 and the two-time reigning world 200m breast champion, was banned 16 months between 2013 and 2015 after testing positive for a steroid. A FINA panel ruled that Efimova was not intentionally trying to cheat but was negligent in failing to read the label of a GNC store supplement.

“Yes, long ago I made a doping violation,” Efimova said this week, according to RT. “But there are a great number of U.S. and European athletes who have a similar situation regarding doping, and they are competing without any restrictions. If you want to introduce those regulations, they must be equally applied to all athletes, not only Russian competitors.”

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