U.S. dedicates women’s team pursuit world title to Kelly Catlin

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With “KC” stickers on their bikes, the U.S. women’s team pursuit team took gold at the world track cycling championships. They did it in remembrance of former team member Kelly Catlin, who died by suicide last March.

“This one is super special,” said Chloe Dygert, who earned Rio Olympic silver on a team with Catlin. “This is our first world championships since Kelly. To win here, for her, it means a lot. It’s very emotional. We had her in our hearts this whole time.”

Dygert, Jennifer ValenteEmma White and Lily Williams clocked 4 minutes, 11.235 seconds to defeat Olympic champion Great Britain by nearly two seconds in the final in Berlin.

A new-look U.S. pursuit team is jelling at the right time, five months before the Olympics.

“This is an accomplishment, but we’re going to put it behind us,” said Dygert, knowing the U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s track cycling title. “We have way more to do. This is a stepping stone. Olympics is what matters. This is training, basically.”

The team pursuit is a 4000m event where heats have two teams positioned exactly opposite of each other on the track. Times are determined by a team’s third finisher.

The U.S. — world champion in 2016, 2017 and 2018 — dipped to seventh place in 2019 without key team members Catlin and Dygert.

“We don’t talk about it every day, but if there’s something going and it reminds us of Kelly, we’re not afraid to talk about it,” said Dygert, who missed part of 2019 after a May 2018 road cycling crash that caused a concussion. “Kelly, bring her up, there’s jokes, everything. Kelly’s here. Kelly’s with us all the time.”

The U.S. team that prevailed in Berlin included two newcomers in this Olympic cycle in Williams and White.

“I’m 25, and I’d like to think that I’m still young, yet somehow I’m the oldest on this new team,” said Valente, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Colorado. “Because of all the new faces, people don’t really know what were capable of, and we think that works to our advantage.”

White started riding track in March 2018 after experience in road cycling and cyclo-cross. She made her track worlds debut last year as part of the seventh-place U.S. team. The Americans clocked 4:23.721 in 2019, more than seven seconds slower than in the same round in 2018 and 12 seconds slower than the American record set in Wednesday’s qualifying round.

Williams, this year’s rookie team member, converted from being a mile runner at Vanderbilt.

“We do have great relationships on and off the bike, and that’s huge for this time around,” Dygert said. “I feel like before Rio, this environment wasn’t as healthy as it is now. And that’s definitely a game-changer.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report from Berlin.

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

Jordan Larson
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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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