Alex Rigsby eyes first Olympics after painful cut four years ago

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Athletes learn they’ve failed to make an Olympic team in many ways, but for U.S. women’s hockey players, it has been especially heartbreaking in recent cycles.

Hilary Knight, arguably the world’s best player, says her family still has her rejection letter from before the 2006 Torino Winter Games, when she was in high school.

For Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, players trying out for the national team gathered in a room and listened as the U.S. head coach read off the names of those who made it.

Alex Rigsby remembers sitting in that room in Lake Placid, N.Y., in June 2013.

Rigsby, then a University of Wisconsin rising senior, was one of four goaltenders trying out for three spots on the national team, along with the three veteran 2010 Olympic goalies — Brianne McLaughlinMolly Schaus and Jessie Vetter.

The Olympic team would not be announced until Jan. 1, 2014, but this was for all intents and purposes the goalies’ decision day.

Three goalies make the national team. Three goalies would make the Olympic team.

In that Lake Placid room, U.S. head coach Katey Stone read off the national team names alphabetically.

McLaughlin … Schaus … Vetter. 

Rigsby did not hear her name. She was essentially the last goalie cut from the 2014 Olympic team.

“My heart just sank, head down, couldn’t believe it,” Rigsby remembered. “We had to pack our bags and leave. They had flights for us already. We had to go.”

The 2017-18 U.S. women’s national team will be announced Friday to wrap up a 42-player tryout camp in Florida.

The national team will consist of 23 players. That’s the same number as the Olympic team that will be named closer to the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Rigsby is now one of the veterans among six goalies trying out for three spots this week.

The only one with Olympic experience is Vetter, Rigsby’s fellow former Badger and training partner who gave birth to a boy on Feb. 27.

Rigsby played in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 World Championships, including shutting out Canada in an overtime win in the 2016 gold-medal game as she supplanted Vetter atop the depth chart. That was the first time Canada failed to score in an Olympic or world final since 2005.

Rigsby did not impress at the 2017 Worlds, playing in one game (and giving up three goals to Finland). Nicole Hensley earned both starts against Canada and notched two victories. Maddie Rooney, the youngest of six goalies at this week’s camp at age 19, was also on the 2017 Worlds roster.

Rigsby has carried a chip on her shoulder for the last four years after being cut.

“In life you need to prove people right and prove people wrong when you get the chance,” she tweeted the day the 2013-14 national team was announced.

Rigsby has already proven wrong a doctor who told her that she would never play at the elite level. She had to re-learn how to walk and skate after left hip surgery in 2010 and right hip surgery in 2011, the latter after backstopping Wisconsin to a national title as a freshman.

“Dropping into a butterfly [stance] again was one of the most terrifying things, but had to trust that I was far enough along in the healing process that I wouldn’t mess anything up,” she said.

Rigsby made her first worlds team in 2013 but didn’t see any game action behind Vetter and McLaughlin. Schaus missed that tournament due to a personal matter.

Though Schaus returned for the 2013-14 national team camp three months later, Rigsby felt she had performed well at camp. When coach Stone named the national team, longtime friend Brianna Decker said she sat next to Rigsby to take in the moment together. Decker made the team, but her roommate for three years in Madison did not.

“When I didn’t hear [Rigsby’s] name, it was hard for me to even enjoy myself being on the roster,” Decker said.

Rather than join a post-collegiate women’s league like the NWHL in the Northeast or CWHL in Canada, Rigsby chose to stay in the Midwest after graduating from Wisconsin.

She gets games in for the Minnesota Whitecaps, a women’s team dubbed “a collection of unpaid Midwestern hockey nomads who barnstorm against college teams” by The New York Times. The Whitecaps roster also includes Olympians, such as Jenny Potter, a 38-year-old who played on the first four U.S. Olympic women’s hockey teams in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010.

Rigsby also fills in on a 35-and-over men’s league team for a goalie who is a firefighter. In summers, she trains with NHL players in Madison and runs stadiums at Camp Randall (bleachers, not stairs).

She hopes to play only for the red, white and blue this fall and winter.

Rigsby wears a patriotic goalie mask custom molded to the shape of her head. She received it three days before her 2016 Worlds gold-medal-game shutout of Canada.

The mask features iconic American women on the right — Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe and Lady Liberty. On the left is Uncle Sam and a bald eagle.

The mask gets personal on the back.

A four-leaf clover for her grandfather who was born on St. Patrick’s Day and died when Rigsby was 5.

The initials of Latvian Ulvis Katlaps, the coach who helped make Rigsby a goalie and put the Olympics in her head at age 7. Katlaps died in 2013 at age 45 due to stomach cancer.

And a symbol for breast cancer for her mom, Nancy, who was diagnosed in 2012. It has been in remission for about four years.

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MORE: Minnesota hockey sisters for different nations in PyeongChang

Kelly Slater is trying to qualify for the Olympics at age 51

Kelly Slater
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On Dec. 19, 2019, Kelly Slater missed qualifying for surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo by one spot. It came down to the 11th and final event of the season-long World Surf League Championship Tour in a tight battle with his Hawaiian neighbor John John Florence.

At age 47, it appeared that surfing’s Olympic inclusion came just a bit too late for the greatest surfer in history to take part.

Slater continued to enter the sport’s other premier contests.

He opened the 2021 season with a third-place finish at surfing’s crown jewel, the Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu. But Slater then missed half the season, citing injuries to both ankles and his right hip. It was a reminder that every athlete succumbs to age — even if few have successfully fended it off longer than Slater.

Yet there Slater was last Feb. 5, being carried out of the water, raising his arms in triumph after winning his eighth Pipeline Masters title, six days shy of his 50th birthday and 30 years after his first victory. It was his first title on tour in nearly six years.

That win — which Slater called the best of his record 56 on the Championship Tour — also meant something more. Maybe, just maybe, he has enough left in the tank to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Slater made just one more quarterfinal in his remaining seven events last season. Still, he finished the year ranked 15th in the world and, more importantly for Olympic prospects, third among Americans.

Everybody starts from zero points again as this season opened Wednesday with the first rounds of the Pipeline Masters. The top two Americans per gender in the season-ending standings in September are likely to qualify for the Paris Games.

The U.S. could get a third men’s Olympic spot — which wasn’t available four years ago — if it wins next year’s World Surfing Games team competition (Brazil may be favored). It’s unclear what will determine which surfer fills that potential spot.

If he could only have one, Slater would take a 2024 Olympic spot over another win at Pipeline.

He is trying to become the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing, shooting or art competitions(!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova (who was 47 in 2004), according to Olympedia.org.

“This will be my one chance [at the Olympics],” Slater said Saturday while promoting the upcoming season of “Make or Break” that premieres Feb. 17 on Apple TV+. “The next [Olympics] I’ll be 55 years old. I’m not going to be on tour by then. I did say that at 40, though, when I was talking about being 50.”

Slater, speaking on Wednesday’s opening day Pipeline broadcast, said he messaged Tom Brady after the NFL star announced his retirement (for a second time) earlier in the day.

“I don’t think there would be a player in the league right now that wouldn’t say that Brady can still win a Super Bowl right now, so it’s a hard carrot to dangle in front of yourself and not go for it,” Slater said. “I can relate to that after so long, but I love to surf, and this is the outlet for it, still. I feel that candle kind of burning out for me. That’s been for a while, but I think I’m just going to surf until it’s totally done, and I don’t really care at all about surfing a heat and want to be somewhere else.”

Slater is pumped for the 2024 Olympic venue: Teahupo’o,  a daunting reef break nicknamed “The End of the Road.” It is in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris. It will break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host city.

Slater won there five times on the Championship Tour, the last in 2016.

“It’s one of the truly great challenging waves in the world,” he said. “If I can get on that team, I feel like I have a good shot at potentially winning a medal or gold medal. If that were the case, I will drop the mic and quit right then, but, you know, I got a lot of work to do between now and then.”

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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone appears in ‘This is SportsCenter’ commercial

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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone appears in an ESPN “This is SportsCenter” commercial that was published Friday and debuts on the network on Saturday night, after she races for the first time this year at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on NBC.

In the commercial, ESPN (and former NBC Sports) anchor Hannah Storm asks McLaughlin-Levrone if she has a minute to catch up.

McLaughlin-Levrone replies by saying she has 51.46 seconds right after lunch, 51.41 seconds later in the afternoon or 50.68 seconds right now. The numbers represent the last three times that McLaughlin-Levrone clocked when breaking the 400m hurdles world record.

McLaughlin-Levrone is scheduled to race the 60m at the New Balance meet in Boston, which airs on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock from 4-6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

The commercial first airs during the North Carolina-Duke men’s basketball game that starts at 6:30 on ESPN.

In the last two years, McLaughlin-Levrone lowered the 400m hurdles world record four times, winning the Tokyo Olympics and last July’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon. She brought the record down from countrywoman Dalilah Muhammad‘s 52.16 from 2019 to 50.68 at July’s worlds.

The 23-year-old said after last season that she wants to expand by adding the flat 400m to the 400m hurdles, but she has not yet publicly committed to racing it at the next major outdoor meet, the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Eugene in July.

For the first time, McLaughlin-Levrone has a bye into the 400m hurdles at the world championships in August, meaning she does not have to race it at USATF Outdoors. That could make the flat 400m more appealing.

Past “This is SportsCenter” spots included Olympians Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Kerri Strug,

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