Getty Images

Steele Johnson returns to diving after difficult year out of competition

Leave a comment

When Olympic silver medalist Steele Johnson mounts the 10-meter platform on Tuesday and dives off the equivalent of a three-story building, he will be doing so in competition for the first time in nearly a year and following two foot surgeries.

“I don’t have much expectations for this week,” he said.

Johnson promises not to look at his scores during the U.S. Diving Championships, which will determine the team for July’s world championships. He vows not to watch his competitors.

“I perform best when I have no idea where I’m at,” Johnson said, noting he didn’t know whether he and David Boudia were in medal contention in the Rio Olympic synchronized platform until their last dive. “I perform my worst when I’m really thinking about the scores I need to get to pass someone else, or I’m worrying about what the other divers are going.”

These nationals (TV schedule here) will be familiar and foreign for Johnson, who recently decided to forego his last season at Purdue to turn professional. This week’s meet is in Indianapolis, just an hour’s drive down Interstate 65 from West Lafayette.

But Johnson will not be competing with Boudia in Tuesday’s synchro platform. Boudia, a four-time Olympic medalist, switched to the springboard after a February 2018 concussion. Johnson hopes to reunite with Boudia in synchro springboard for a Tokyo 2020 run, but he’s not ready to add that event yet.

Johnson feels fortunate to be competing at all. In February 2015, a stress fracture was found in his right foot. The pain was manageable, so he put off potential surgery. By September 2018, he would go under the knife, finding a new, more serious stress fracture had developed.

Four months after the surgery, Johnson still couldn’t put any weight on the foot. It had healed completely, but inserted screws were causing inflammation. The screws were removed 15 weeks ago in a follow-up procedure. Johnson was forced to miss all of what would have been his final NCAA campaign.

“It turned out to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Johnson, who at 12 years old ripped his head in half hitting the platform on a reverse three-and-a-half somersault, which led to some memory problems. “I’ve never had something so adverse … just to be able to stand on my feet again.”

He still can’t run on the foot, but he’s been diving his competition list for two weeks and with synchro partner Ben Bramley for a week and a half.

“Not the most time on my feet so far,” Johnson said, “but that being said, back on 10-meter and into competition form a lot quicker than anticipated.”

Johnson believes he can contend for one of two individual platform spots on the world team, decided Friday and Sunday, even though he has less difficult dives than the favorites.

“The Olympics aren’t this year, so my goal was, if I can just compete at this nationals, see where the rest of the field was at, see what I need to work on, that would be good enough for me,” he said.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Relive Greg Louganis diving board accident on 30th anniversary

Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Joe Girardi replaced as U.S. baseball manager by World Series champion

Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!