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Huston, Zeuner, Schaar head first U.S. skateboarding team

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VISTA, Calif. — There’s always been a rebelliousness and a bit of an attitude to skateboarding, and now there’s credibility.

That’s what being added to the Olympics will do for a sport, and that was the vibe when USA Skateboarding announced its first-ever national team of eight men and eight women, including stars Nyjah Huston, Brighton Zeuner and Tom Schaar.

“I think that skateboarding is fully legitimate,” Josh Friedberg, CEO of USA Skateboarding said Tuesday, when the national team was introduced at the CA Training Facility, which has a street course on the ground floor and a park course on the second floor of a warehouse in an industrial park in this northern San Diego County city. “Skateboarding grew up outside of the Olympic structure. It’s a lifestyle, it’s a culture, it’s about finding freedom of expression. All these things are why the IOC wanted skateboarding in the Olympic Games in the first place.

“Olympic inclusion is a historic moment for any sport,” Friedberg added. “The U.S. is where skateboarding came from. The chance to name the first USA skateboarding national team today and share that with the world and celebrate these skaters for their abilities and help them along their path to qualifying for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, we couldn’t be more excited. It’s an incredible, historic moment in the history of skateboarding.”

The 16 skaters qualified for the national team based on their performances in international-level events during the previous year and will receive support from USA Skateboarding while they attempt to qualify for the 2020 Games. Skaters will have the opportunity to qualify for the Olympics based on their three best results in World Skate sanctioned events during the 2019 qualifying season, combined with their six best results during the 2020 qualifying season. A maximum of 12 American athletes can qualify for the Olympics. Skaters not on the national team can qualify on their own merit.

The disciplines are street and park.

Huston, of Laguna Beach, who has dominated Street League Skateboarding, is joined by fellow street skaters Chris Joslin of Hawaiian Gardens, Jagger Eaton of Mesa, Arizona, and Louie Lopez of Hawthorne. Schaar, of Encinitas, the first skater to land a 1080, is joined by fellow park skaters Alex Sorgente of Lake Worth, Florida, Tristan Rennie of Rialto and Zion Wright of Jupiter, Florida.

Huston, 24, was the first skater to win $1 million in contest prize money, and has won a lot more since then.

“I’m obviously happy it’s in here at this time and I’m like honored to be able to have a chance to skate the first one, but if it was me, I would have thought it would have been in at least one or two Olympics ago, just because there are so many kids out there skating such a diverse sport, all around the world kids are doing it,” Huston said. “But at least it’s in there now.”

Huston likes his chance to make the Olympic team, which will be announced in May 2020.

“I feel like I’m in a good place and I’m definitely confident to be there supporting my country,” he said. “Obviously there’s only one goal, and that’s to win. No matter if it’s the Olympics or any other contest I’m normally skating, I’m always there to do my best to win.”

Zeuner, 14, of Encinitas, is the youngest gold medalist in X Games history. She skates park, along with Bryce Wettstein of Encinitas, Jordyn Barratt of Haleiwa, Hawaii, and Nicole Hause of Stillwater, Minnesota. The women’s street skaters are Alexis Sablone of Old Saybrook, Connecticut; Jenn Soto of Jersey City, New Jersey; Lacey Baker of Covina and Mariah Duran of Albuquerque.

“Now it’s like perfect timing for everyone to be a part of the whole Olympic thing,” Zeuner said. “We used to compete in little contests so I think it’s great experience and opportunity to be part of it.

Snowboarding superstar Shaun White, a three-time Olympic halfpipe gold medalist, has expressed interest in skating in the Summer Games.

“Shaun’s a real interesting case,” Friedberg said. “He’s an amazing skateboarder; obviously he’s an even more amazing snowboarder. He’s expressed interest to compete in skateboarding in Tokyo. I know he’s been practicing and skating a lot more on that mission right now,” said Friedberg. “The park discipline doesn’t necessarily line up with his strength in skateboarding, which is vert skating, but you never count a person like Shaun White out. He is the ultimate competitor. So if there’s anybody who could get it together and qualify for the Olympics, Shaun could potentially do that.”

Park is a set of combined concrete bowls that have different featured obstacles, such as banks and rails, and some elements of vert.

“Park is relatively new to contests,” Schaar said. “It’s different than street. It’s a lot more transition, you’re going a lot faster and you have to kind of flow and connect your tricks together pretty well. But I think it’s a lot of fun. You can be really creative and do a lot of different things with it.”

Schaar, 19, said the road to the Olympics is “going to be a challenge but I’m up for it and it should be a fun adventure.”

Street courses include obstacles that can be found in any urban environment, such as stairs, rails, benches, ledges and banks. Park is a set of combined concrete bowls that have different obstacles.

Amy Cragg to withdraw from U.S. Olympic marathon trials

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Defending champion Amy Cragg will miss the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic marathon trials with an illness, according to her social media.

“The Trials are the reason I have shown up every day for the last four years, so this has been an extremely difficult decision,” was posted on her social media. Cragg later said she had Epstein-Barr virus, according to multiple reports.

Cragg, 36, was among the favorites to grab three Olympic spots at trials in Atlanta, despite not having competed over 26.2 miles since the February 2018 Tokyo Marathon.

She withdrew from the 2018 Chicago Marathon with a hamstring injury and also scratched a month before the 2019 Chicago Marathon, citing signs pointing to needing more time after the previous year’s injury.

Cragg, fourth at the 2012 Olympic trials, relegated Des Linden and Shalane Flanagan to second and third at the 2016 trials. Linden and Flanagan went on to win the Boston and New York City Marathons, respectively, ending long U.S. women’s victory droughts.

Cragg went on to finish ninth in Rio and earn a 2017 World bronze medal, the first world championships marathon podium finish for an American woman since the first worlds in 1983.

Cragg could still make the Tokyo Olympic team in the 10,000m if she races at track trials in June. She won the 2012 Olympic trials 10,000m but hasn’t raced the distance on the track since May 2017.

“Right now my only goal is to get healthy so that I can train at the level needed to be competitive,” Cragg said in an emailed message from her agent. “That being said, the reason I am still in this sport is because of the Olympic Trials and Olympics. It is what excites me more than anything, so it is something I would still love to do.”

With Cragg absent and Flanagan retired, Linden is the only woman in next week’s field with Olympic marathon experience.

Other favorites include Olympic 10,000m runner Molly Huddle, world championships 10,000m runner Emily Sisson and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history.

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Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Galen Rupp
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As Galen Rupp bids for a fourth Olympics, and perhaps become the first man or woman to win the Olympic marathon trials twice outright, he found some rare familiarity these days on the roads Feb. 8.

“Feeling like my old self again,” Rupp said Wednesday of winning a low-key half marathon in Mesa, Ariz., his first completed race in 16 months and since parting from now-banned, career-long coach Alberto Salazar. “It’s obviously been a long year and a half.”

Rupp clocked 61 minutes, 19 seconds on a downhill course. It’s faster than any half marathon by an American recorded by World Athletics since the start of 2019. Granted the downhill, but Rupp also said he was instructed by new coach Mike Smith to make it a controlled effort.

“He didn’t want me to run all-out, didn’t want me to really push and put myself in a big hole,” Rupp said, noting he was still in heavy training. “You don’t want to break that [training] up and put yourself in a deficit by having a massive effort.”

Mesa answered questions about Rupp’s readiness for the Olympic trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (NBC, 12-3 p.m. ET). Even to the two-time Olympic medalist himself. Rupp said he started the half marathon with a little bit of doubt — given recent left ankle and calf injuries — but felt early on that everything would be fine.

“It really put my mind at ease,” he said. “I’m going to be good for the marathon.”

His last two marathons did not go well.

At the 2018 Chicago Marathon, Rupp dropped from the leaders around mile 19 and finished fifth in a title defense. An Achilles injury flared up near the end. He underwent surgery later that month for two tears. Doctors said the ankle had been “a ticking time bomb.”

“They said I was really lucky to have as good of health as I had and manage it as I did,” Rupp said.

He went a full year before racing again, at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 12 days after Salazar’s ban was announced. Even that was a rushed comeback, Rupp said after dropping out around mile 23 with a calf injury.

“I’m not going to say it was a wake-up call,” Rupp said, “but I think I was a little bit stubborn before Chicago.”

Rupp said he ran through pain in training to get to the start line four months ago. He had trouble walking for several days after the abbreviated race and focused on physical therapy for about two months. He resumed normal, pain-free training in December.

By early January, Runner’s World reported that Oregon-based Rupp found a new Flagstaff-based coach in Smith, who leads a Northern Arizona University program that won the last three NCAA men’s cross-country titles.

“The biggest thing to me was Mike’s philosophy in coaching was very similar to the program that I was under for so many years,” said Rupp, who was for more than a decade part of the Nike Oregon Project, which was shut down last fall after Salazar’s ban for doping violations (which he appealed). Rupp wasn’t implicated by USADA and has a clean drug-testing record. “What I love most about it was Mike’s honesty and how forthright he was about everything. You could tell he wasn’t just saying what I wanted to hear or say, ‘We’re just going to do whatever you’ve been doing and try and replicate that.’ You’ve got to keep evolving and trying new things.”

Smith declined an interview request through NAU until after trials. He agreed to coach Rupp after about a month of communication and hard questions, according to Runner’s World.

“Because of its timing and the headlines I was reading like everyone else at the time, this was not a road I wanted to go down,” Smith said, according to the report. “To be honest, it was just easiest to turn it down. I’m actually — as crazy as this sounds — really proud I did not.

“What I found out by getting to know Galen was that there was much more going on than the picture portrayed of him, and I wish the world knew that. I have never seen someone more all-in in my life.”

Rupp, asked his toughest moment of the last two years, said he moves forward.

“Throughout any hardships and setbacks, I felt a lot of gratitude that I had as good of a run as I did with my health and everything going well for as long as I did,” he said. “It can be easy to get angry and get down, like why me, but I do believe that things always work out. There’s a reason behind all this stuff.”

Which brings Rupp to Atlanta next week for the first time in his life, aside from airport layovers. The race is unlike any other he has contested. The course is unusually hilly. The format — Americans only, top three make the Olympic team — makes for different tactics than the World Marathon Majors that Rupp is used to.

In 2016, Rupp entered as a favorite but without any marathon experience. He won convincingly, pulling away from now-retired Meb Keflezighi by 68 seconds.

The field is deeper this year. Seven Americans broke 2:11 in 2019. Only one did in 2015. But Rupp, at his best, is in his own class.

His personal best 2:06:07, from his last healthy marathon in 2018, is 1:49 faster than the second-fastest in the trials field in this Olympic cycle (Leonard Korir). The next-fastest, Scott Fauble, is more than three minutes behind by personal bests.

“I can confidently go in and say that I’ve put in the work for this, just like I know that I put in the work in 2016,” Rupp said. “Of course, you want to go in and have good races, feeling confident and being on a roll like I was several years ago. But I think that’s why that race in Mesa was so important to show, more to myself, that hey, you’re ready to go. You can still run well. You haven’t lost everything. Surgery didn’t wipe you out.”

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