Once-homeless sisters mingle with track stars at nationals

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The three once-homeless sisters recited all the athletes they met at nationals and the souvenirs they received as they slurped shaved ice.

Nine-year-old Brooke Sheppard got pointers from high jumper Vashti Cunningham. Rainn, 11, showed off the shirt she picked out at the merchandise tent. And 12-year-old Tai, well, her family’s story moved Justin Gatlin so much that he gave her the first-place medal he won in the 100 meters at the U.S. track and field championships.

The siblings from New York City were guests of USA track and field after their rise to prominence in the sport, with their exploits bringing them medals, TV appearances and a magazine cover. It also helped get them something more – a home. They and their mom moved out of a homeless shelter and into a two-bedroom apartment in April.

“A whole different world,” Brooke said, referring to all the paths that have opened up through track.

For a few days at nationals, they were treated like royalty. The sisters were accompanied by their coach Jean Bell, their “track mom,” since their actual mother, Tonia Handy, couldn’t make the trip because of work.

“Their lives have changed so much,” said Bell, who helped develop the talent of the sisters through the Jeuness Track Club in Brooklyn. “Track keeps them focused and positive. They’re good at it. They’re really good at it.”

The trio earned medals at the AAU Junior Olympics in Houston last summer, with Rainn winning the 3,000 meters, Tai finishing runner-up in the 80-meter hurdles and Brooke taking second in the high jump. In December, the sisters appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated Kids.

Gatlin was touched by all they’ve gone through.

“I wanted them to take the medal as a symbol of believing in yourself,” Gatlin said. “People are going to say that you can’t or you’re too young or you don’t have the will to do so, but I wanted them to know they can do it. If they believe in themselves, they can do it. That’s what that medal meant to me.”

With wide eyes, they went behind-the-scenes at nationals. They even presented medals – Brooke to the women’s high jumpers, Rainn to the women’s 1,500 winners and Tai to the 100-meter hurdlers.

They socialized with 800-meter runner Ajee Wilson, along with sprinters Tori Bowie and Allyson Felix. They talked to Hall of Famer John Carlos and received gift bags containing Team USA running apparel and Nike shoes. Brooke also came away with a new appreciation for the high jump after chatting with Cunningham.

“She’s really tall and kind and talented,” Brooke said. “She jumped 6 feet, 6 inches.”

“One day, I’ll jump 6-6, too.”

Many athletes stopped to pose for pictures with the sisters, including Olympic shot put gold medalist Michelle Carter and decathlete Trey Hardee, who showed them a picture of his new baby wearing the first-place medal he captured at nationals.

“It’s been so fun,” Rainn said. “I learned new tips on how to think in my mind when I run.”

They got into track around January 2015 when their baby sitter signed them up for a track meet that did not require any entry fees. Bell happened to be there looking for new talent. She had given her business cards to each of the girls separately with the instructions to have their mother call her or just show up to practice.

“They came to practice together and I’m like, `You three are sisters?”‘ Bell recounted. “That was a bonus, because I had three good athletes, from one family. That’s easy to hold on to. They just took off from there.”

According to Bell, the Sheppard family had been homeless for around two years. They made an appearance on ABC’s “The View” in November, when co-host Whoopi Goldberg presented the family with $10,000, along with $40,000 to their track club.

Handy took a job working in the financial department of a hospital in February, with the goal of going back to school in September.

They moved into their new place on April 1. At first, the family had no furniture, so they slept on air mattresses.

Entertainer Tyler Perry saw their story and pledged to help out. Bell said Perry had the family’s apartment redecorated, with the family surprised by the remodel on a recent episode of “The View.”

Being invited to nationals meant quite a bit to them. The sisters hope to come back again – as participants.

“They’re there (in a few years) and they’re on the podium,” Bell said. “They have the talent. They have everything it takes.”

Yevgenia Medvedeva’s long shot is Rostelecom Cup; TV, live stream schedule

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Yevgenia Medvedeva‘s situation going into this week’s Rostelecom Cup: fend off her ex-coach’s newest young teenage jumper, or miss qualifying for the most exclusive competition in figure skating for a second straight year.

Medvedeva, who at this stage in the last Olympic cycle began her senior-level dominance, again searches for consistency at this week’s Grand Prix stop in Moscow, streaming live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers.

The 19-year-old last won a top-level international competition two years ago, her final victory of a two-year win streak that included two world titles. An Olympic silver medal followed, then a messy breakup with coach Eteri Tutberidze and a move to Toronto to train under Brian Orser.

Medvedeva failed to qualify for last season’s six-skater Grand Prix Final in her new environment. She rebounded to place third at the world championships, but the start of this Grand Prix season brought more short-program struggles.

She stumbled out of a double Axel landing, then fell and slid into the boards on a triple Lutz at Skate Canada three weeks ago. She ended up fifth overall, making her a long shot for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest competition of the year after March’s world championships.

To get to the six-skater Final, Medvedeva must win this week and get some help in the standings from other skaters either in Moscow or at next week’s NHK Trophy.

It’s a difficult task given the Rostelecom field includes the world’s top-ranked skater: Alexandra Trusova, a 15-year-old who is part of the Tutberidze group that also includes the other two Grand Prix winners this fall.

Trusova outscored Medvedeva by 31.4 points at Skate Canada, soaring to the title in her senior Grand Prix debut on the power of three quadruple jumps. She became the youngest Grand Prix winner in eight years and an early favorite to become the youngest world champion since Tara Lipinski in 1997.

Medvedeva racked up dominant wins in the last cycle by putting all of her triple jumps in the second half of programs (new rules since took away this bonus). But in the last year, skaters arrived on the senior scene armed with quads and triple Axels that neither Medvedeva nor Olympic champion Alina Zagitova have landed in competition.

Other notables in this week’s field include U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell, who will have a chance at the Grand Prix Final if she can make a second straight Grand Prix podium. And Japanese Satoko Miyahara, a two-time world medalist who was second at Cup of China last week.

The men’s field is wide open given headliner Shoma Uno, the Olympic silver medalist, is coming off an eighth-place finish at his last event. Russia has the top-ranked pairs’ and dance entries in Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy and Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.

Rostelecom Cup Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 6 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
8 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
10:30 a.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
12:30 p.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Saturday 5:30 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
7:30 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
9:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
11:45 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Sunday 12-1:30 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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U.S. beats Japan in Olympic baseball qualifier, may still need help

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The U.S. handed Japan its first loss in the Premier12 global Olympic baseball qualifier, at the Tokyo Dome no less, but now the Americans must root for the host nation.

The Americans, with a roster mostly of Double-A and Triple-A players, won 4-3 over a Japanese team that includes some of its domestic league’s biggest stars like two-time Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru and veteran shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.

Outfielder Jo Adell, MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect on the U.S. team, starred by reaching base four times with a home run.

Japan is already qualified for baseball’s Olympic return as the host nation.

The U.S., meanwhile, has a sense of urgency at Premier12, the first of a possible three tournaments in which it could clinch an Olympic spot.

At Premier12, the top-ranked nation from North and South America qualifies for the Olympics. The tournament is at the super-round stage of the final six teams, and two are from the Americas: the U.S. and Mexico.

The top four nations after each has played five games advance to gold- and bronze-medal games.

Mexico already beat the U.S. and ran its super-round record to 3-0 on Tuesday, clinching a spot in the medal round.

The U.S. moved to 1-2 in the super round on Tuesday and must at least get into the same medal-round game as Mexico to keep its hope of finishing as the top team from the Americas.

Japan could help, since it plays Mexico on Wednesday. If Mexico beats Japan, the Mexicans clinch a spot in the gold-medal game, which would put more pressure on the U.S. to win its last two games (vs. Australia on Wednesday and Chinese Taipei on Friday). Even then, South Korea would get into the gold-medal game if it wins out.

If the U.S. is not the top team from the Americas at Premier12, it can still earn an Olympic berth in March. But then it faces trying to come up with a roster at the end of MLB’s spring training rather than during the offseason. MLB teams may be less inclined to release minor leaguers.

“That’ll be a delicate dance,” U.S. general manager Eric Campbell said before Premier12.

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