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Hope Solo, not retiring, apologized to Sweden captain after ‘cowards’ comment

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Hope Solo, who is not retiring, said a Sweden co-captain told her she didn’t need to apologize for her comments calling the Swedes “a bunch of cowards” following the U.S.’ quarterfinal loss at the Rio Olympics.

Solo, a 35-year-old suspended until February by U.S. Soccer, said she spoke to Swedish co-captain Lotta Schelin shortly after the Aug. 12 match that ended in penalty kicks. Solo and Schelin were once club teammates for a Swedish league team in 2004.

“I said to her, ‘You know, Lotta, I said something. I used the word “cowards” when talking about you guys, and I didn’t mean that. I’m so sorry,'” Solo said in a Swedish interview published Friday. “And she was like, ‘Oh, I know you, don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it.’ And she’s like, ‘Look, the American team has been in the last five championship games in the Olympics. Five championships.’ And she’s like, ‘We never have.’ She’s like, ‘So, for us to beat a better-skilled team like Brazil and like America, we had to drop back defensively.’ And she knew it, but for the most part, we just hugged and we laughed and she accepted my apology. She didn’t even think I needed to apologize.”

Solo said she wasn’t enraged, emotional or angry when she made the “cowards” comments to journalists after the match.

“I’m not a loose cannon, like I think the media projects,” Solo said. “I didn’t mean to come across that the players were cowards or the coach was a coward. I meant the style of play, it wasn’t very Olympic-spirited.

“I think Lotta Schelin, No. 8, the captain for Sweden of course, is one of the best players in the world — one of the best attacking players in the world. So it was really difficult to watch her drop back defensively, and I saw her, most of the time, in the 18-yard box in her defense.

“And I wanted her to attack me, I wanted to play against Lotta. I wanted to try to stop her shots. I love the competitive nature between America and Sweden. It was a little disappointing to see them drop back to the 50-yard line to play defense.”

Solo added that she has not spoken with Swedish coach Pia Sundhage, the former U.S. women’s national team coach, since the match.

“She coaches the other team, so it’s kind of hard to speak to Pia, or have a relationship with Pia anymore,” Solo said.

Solo said her immediate future is up in the air, joking that she’s “jobless.” Her husband, former NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens, is retired after playing his last football game in 2010 at age 30.

“Retirement suits you,” Stevens recently told Solo. But Solo isn’t accepting that.

“I’ve had a lot of offers to play overseas, so maybe Sweden will welcome me back,” Solo joked.

VIDEO: Solo’s immediate reaction to six-month suspension

Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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