Getty Images

Ice and dirt: Connor Fields leaves one championship to pursue another

Leave a comment

Connor Fields‘ heart is in Las Vegas. His BMX bike and last remaining goal in the sport are in Azerbaijan.

Fields, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic champion in an event that debuted in 2008, can continue a recent run of American dominance in BMX at the world championships in Baku on Saturday (Olympic Channel, 6 p.m. ET).

“I’ve won every single title possible except for one,” he said. Nationals, Pan American Games, World Cup season title and Olympic gold. But not yet a world title in the elite race that’s on the Olympic program.

“I’d like to take that off and complete the full set,” Fields said.

The timing is a little unfortunate for the 25-year-old who was born in Plano, Texas but has lived in the Las Vegas area since age 4. Fields is so associated with the city that when the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights opened their team store last June, he was the featured athlete in promotions.

“They didn’t have any players yet,” Fields admitted. The expansion draft was a day after the store’s grand opening, which Fields was invited to attend with coach Gerard Gallant.

Last week, Fields made a last-minute (and surely costly) decision to attend Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Golden Knights and Washington Capitals, before flying to Europe ahead of worlds. The Knights won the opener but lost the next three games.

Speaking from France, Fields said he planned to be home in Nevada for Games 6 and 7. It might be moot. The Capitals can lift the Cup with a Game 5 win in Vegas on Thursday (NBC, 8 p.m. ET).

Fields brought Golden Knights gear to France — even to the Palace of Versailles — but his priority is clear.

“World title, easy, not even a question,” Fields said. “I don’t get to take home a trophy or anything if the Golden Knights win.”

Fields would appear an underdog given World Cup results this year — 14th, 15th and 34th — but he won the last World Cup race of 2017 to place second in last season’s overall standings.

He isn’t the only American in medal contention. Rio silver medalist Alise Willoughby and Corben Sharrah swept the 2017 World titles in Rock Hill, S.C., ending an eight-year drought for the U.S. for either gender.

Fields and Willoughby are the only active U.S. cyclists in any discipline (BMX, mountain, road, track) with an individual Olympic medal. Willoughby and Sharrah are two of three active U.S. cyclists in any discipline with an individual world title in an Olympic event (43-year-old Amber Neben, women’s road time trial, 2008 and 2016).

Before BMX made its Olympic debut, a 14-year-old Fields wrote in Sharpie on his parents’ garage wall, “One day I will be national and world champion.”

Then, maybe in two years, an Olympic champion twice.

“I’ve got four years more of experience, four years more to draw from, both good and bad, and mistakes that have been made that I can try not to make it again,” said Fields, who was so overwhelmed at his first Olympics in 2012 that he couldn’t manage a bite of his oatmeal on race day, crashed in the final and finished seventh. “I feel less pressure going in. I’m Olympic champion. I always will be Olympic champion. Nobody can ever take the gold medal away from me. Now I just get the opportunity to get two.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Pollen causes greatest mountain biker in history to retire

Danell Leyva makes incredible save on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

Danell Leyva
NBC
Leave a comment

Danell Leyva, a three-time Olympic gymnastics medalist, put those skills to the test in the “American Ninja Warrior” finals, saving himself from splashing out of the course.

In one obstacle, Leyva slipped and fell off one of four flexible boards positioned above water.

He faceplanted onto the last board, his lower body falling off. But Leyva held on with his arms and pulled himself back onto the apparatus and to the next obstacle.

The full Las Vegas Finals episode airs Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Leyva previously splashed out of the “Leaps of Faith” obstacle in the Los Angeles City Finals episode that aired last month.

Leyva, a 27-year-old who took all-around bronze at the 2012 London Games, retired with parallel bars and high bar silvers in Rio.

Other Olympic gymnasts have tackled ANW, including gold medalists Nastia Liukin and Paul Hamm.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: U.S. gymnast catches high bar with one hand at nationals

Kim Rhode triumphs over theft on road to record-breaking Olympic bid

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kim Rhode arrived at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, missing a few things.

The six-time Olympic shooting medalist had nearly all her equipment stolen prior to her trip earlier this month after her bag was nabbed from her father’s car.

“I lost everything but my vest and my gun,” Rhode said in Lima (noting with a smile she has seen worse: her gun was stolen a few years ago, though it was later returned). This time, “we’re all frantically trying to piece it back together, somewhat. … At the end of the day, you just have to kinda roll with it.”

It would take more than theft to rattle Rhode, who remains one of her sport’s top athletes 23 years after her first Olympic gold medal at the Atlanta Games.

The continental skeet title she won at Pan Ams (new equipment in tow) built upon a string of strong results since the last Olympics, including a world silver medal in 2018. Earlier this year, she became the first woman to win four straight World Cups in shooting.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Rhode could do something unprecedented: win seven medals in as many consecutive Olympics.

Rhode remembered a lot from her first trip to the Games as a 17-year-old carrying a pager. She described the volume of the crowd chanting “U-S-A” at the Opening Ceremony and the hum of the audience watching her compete, “almost like they were helping us to pull the trigger each and every time.” She recalled the athlete bowling alley, where both the balls and shoes were adorned with an Olympic flame symbol.

After winning gold in double trap, Rhode went back to high school life in El Monte, Calif. She couldn’t have known then that five more Olympics would follow. That one day, she’d have an Olympic medal from every continent in which the Games have been contested. That at 40, she’d still be at the top of her sport.

“I don’t think you ever get over the Olympics,” she said. “I don’t think you ever get used to it. It really takes on a life of its own.”

Rhode has been a constant in a sport that continues to evolve and change, and noted the technological advances that pushed it forward in the last several years: “you are seeing a lot more on the technical side of the stocks, more of these specialized grips,” she said, and “more people going with multiple lenses.”

Her competitors changed, too. Rhode described younger teammates showing her how to take a live photo and set up an Instagram account. “I’m kind of archaic in that sense,” she said with a laugh.

Her competitive spirit remains unchanged. While Tokyo would mark a milestone, Rhode has no plans of slowing down.

“I think I still have a few more in me,” she said, noting she’d like to compete in front of a home crowd again when the Olympics return to Los Angeles in 2028. “I definitely don’t see a need to stop. … Some of the shooters tend to be a lot older than most of the other Olympians because we have no shelf life. That’s the great thing about us.”

Rhode competed at the London Olympics not knowing she was pregnant with son Carter.

What followed was what she described as a difficult pregnancy and recovery. Her bones separated during the pregnancy, and she had her gall bladder removed after the birth.

The complications affected her ability to walk and complete endurance-related activities, which she continues to face. These days, Rhode said she still can’t run a mile, but in preparation for Tokyo, she is working with a physical therapist and nutritionist.

After Pan Ams, Rhode planned to add more strength training. “At the end of the day, I’m slowly but surely making small strides to get back to where I’m at,” she said.

Carter, now 6, speaks three languages and sometimes helps Rhode during practice, pulling for her before she shoots and collecting shells. He was on hand when Rhode earned a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, but he isn’t overly impressed (yet) by his mom’s long list of accomplishments.

“I don’t think he grasps the whole picture of what it is that I’m doing,” she said. “I think that’ll come a little bit later.”

She stores Olympic mementos at her parents’ home, a collection of bags from each Games stuffed with clothing, pins and other paraphernalia, and vacuum-sealed.

“My family is running out of room with all the bags,” she said, noting she isn’t sure when she’ll open them up and go through what’s inside.

Maybe after she collects a few more.

“To have had that opportunity so many times is amazing,” she said of her Olympic career so far. “I feel very, very fortunate.”

MORE: Georgian shooter qualifies for 9th Olympics

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!