Gwen Jorgensen
Talbot Cox

Gwen Jorgensen, Olympic triathlon champion, to focus on track trials

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Gwen Jorgensen isn’t letting go of her marathon goals. Her timeline is just changing.

Heel surgery forced Jorgensen, who converted to distance running after winning the Rio Olympic triathlon, to pass up the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and focus on the track and field trials in June in the 10,000m and, probably, the 5000m.

She made the decision after recent talks with her coach, Jerry Schumacher, following a difficult recovery from late May surgery to correct Haglund’s deformity.

“The decision was basically coming to the conclusion with Jerry that, if I went to the marathon trials, I would just be hoping to qualify instead of confident in my abilities,” said Jorgensen, who returned to workouts four weeks ago and is up to 70 to 80 miles a week in training, but not the 100-plus necessary ahead of a 12-week marathon build-up. “I talked to Jerry, and I said, look, I still want to do the marathon. That’s where my heart is, but I also don’t want to do it if we don’t think I’m going to be ready. He thinks that I’ll be ready for the track trials.

“I believe I will make the team on the track.”

Jorgensen was arguably the most dominant triathlete in history in the Rio Olympic cycle, winning a record 13 straight top-level events — going undefeated for nearly two years — en route to becoming the first U.S. gold medalist in the event.

Then in 2017, she had baby Stanley and, having accomplished every triathlon goal, announced a sport switch with a goal to win the Olympic marathon.

She moved from Minnesota to Oregon. She ran one marathon, placing 11th in 2:36:23 in Chicago in October 2018 after a weeklong fever. Then she began feeling heel pain. She tried to train through it but hasn’t raced since.

“I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent recovered, but I walk around and I no longer have a limp,” said the 33-year-old Jorgensen, who still hopes to win a World Marathon Major or an Olympic marathon, but now in the Paris Olympic cycle. “I have a lot more good days than bad days.”

Meanwhile, U.S. female marathoning boomed the last few years. Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon (and since retired). Des Linden won the Boston Marathon (and hasn’t committed to racing trials).

Jordan Hasay, Sara Hall, Emily Sisson and Kellyn Taylor, all bidding for their first Olympic team, broke into the top nine on the U.S. all-time marathon list.

Jorgensen has never focused on the track as a professional athlete, but there is more of an opening for an Olympic spot than on the roads.

The U.S.’ two fastest 10,000m runners in this Olympic cycle, Sisson and Molly Huddle, are both expected to race the marathon trials. Generally, runners who make the Olympic marathon team pass on the track trials. But stars who don’t finish in the top three at marathon trials often turn to the 10,000m, and there are several accomplished women who will not make the marathon team of three.

Jorgensen is optimistic. Largely because Schumacher, who leads the successful Bowerman Track Club, believes in her. Also because of her seventh-place finish at the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships 10,000m, which she entered as a complement to her marathon work, coming off an altitude stint that she called the worst training of her life and having been affected by recently stopping breast feeding.

“I remember going into that thinking, I’m not prepared, I shouldn’t do this race,” Jorgensen said. “I was actually kind of happy how that race went.”

Jorgensen said Schumacher has not told her when she will return to racing. She will have altitude training in early January, which usually means a meet in mid-February.

One thing Jorgensen is sure of: she will not return to the sport that she dominated as recently as three years ago.

She said she never considered it in the difficult last year. Not once when she did swim and bike workouts because her heel would not allow her to run. Not when asked by her husband, Patrick Lemieux. Nor when asked by other family members.

“The answer is always, I’ve never thought I wanted to go back to triathlon,” she said. “Which is good. It means I made the right decision in wanting to do this.

“In triathlon, I reached my potential, I achieved all my goals, and in running I haven’t.”

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MORE: 2019 U.S., world marathon rankings

40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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MORE: Japanese athlete’s bid to become oldest Olympian in history still alive

With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

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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