Lisa Carrington
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Lisa Carrington may be the world’s most dominant Olympian

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If Simone Biles is the world’s most dominant Olympic sports athlete, what does that make Lisa Carrington?

Carrington, a sprint kayaker from New Zealand, is undefeated in her sport’s splash-and-dash, the K-1 200m, since 2012 (one year longer than Biles’ all-around win streak). In 2014, she shattered a record set by her sport’s icon of icons — by more than one second in a 40-second race. And Carrington is coming off what she believes was the greatest performance of her career at the 2019 World Championships.

“Every six months she’s better than what she was in the preceding six months,” said her longtime coach, Gordon Walker.

Carrington, 30, is a 5-foot-6, 140-pound tower of power, her biceps developed through weighted chin-up sets.

She was born in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand’s North Island with a magnetic relationship to the water. Carrington came to kayak from competitive surf lifesaving in her mid-teens. She first joined team boats at world championships in 2009 and 2010.

In 2011, Carrington made her solo world champs debut. She won. After an early 2012 defeat, she is undefeated in the 200m. That includes two Olympic gold medals and another six world titles.

U.S. Olympian Maggie Hogan, who raced Carrington in the longer 500m event, said the 200m is not only the shortest race in the sport, but it should also be the most fickle. Carrington shatters that thought.

“It’s like running an 800m on a balance beam,” Hogan said. “You’ve got to be pretty skilled on the balance beam before you can apply all that power. What Lisa does very well is she maintains her stroke efficiency even at really high stroke rates.”

Hogan gave plenty of credit to Walker, whom she called “a guru.”

Carrington started her career focusing on the 500m, since the 200m was not on the Olympic program at the time. Walker became her coach at the end of 2010, when she began developing into a 200m sprinter, since the distance would debut at the Olympics in 2012. Walker said that, together, they chopped one second off her time in six months.

“Learning how to produce power,” Carrington said. “How to go fast rather than just slog it out and try to get as fit as possible.”

The improvement continued the rest of the decade with no major setbacks.

“She is five percent better,” than the field, said Walker, who counts strength-to-weight-ratio as a tenet. “So when she’s at the 200m mark, the others are at the 190m mark. It’s actually hard to comprehend the gap she has on the rest of the field.

“At no point in time is there any place in the race where somebody else is as good or better than her.”

Walker highlighted three competitions: Carrington’s defeat in 2012 before the streak began. Last year’s world championships. And the 2014 World Championships in Moscow.

Six years ago, Carrington had the 500m final, followed by the 200m about 90 minutes later. In the 500m, she got stuck at the start, her gate taking an extra half-second to open, Walker said. She passed everybody for the lead before falling back to silver.

“That fired her up,” Walker said.

In the 200m final, Carrington clocked the fastest time in history, taking more than one second off a mark set by German kayak legend Birgit Fischer 20 years earlier. The runner-up also bettered Fischer’s old mark, but was nearly a second behind Carrington.

“We had an amazing tailwind that day,” Carrington said. True, but she had been approaching Fischer’s time leading up to that competition and has since posted other times that would have broken the record.

“Birgit, you can argue she’s the most accomplished Olympian of all time, not just in our sport,” Hogan said of the eight-time gold medalist (all in 500m races) from 1980-2004. “I remember when Michael Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, newscasters talking about it and bringing up Birgit Fischer as an example.”

Fischer had the benefit of teammates within the deep German program, part of Olympic champion two- and four-woman events. Carrington is from a nation with no other female Olympic flatwater medalists.

“What Lisa did is equally as impressive [as Fischer],” Hogan said. “Is her career as long as Birgit? No, but I think what you’re seeing is a totally dominant athlete on the world stage, which is really uncommon these days because the field is extraordinarily deep.”

Carrington has branched out to the only other Olympic women’s distance, 500m. She won her first world title in the 500m in 2015, then took silver or bronze medals at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 and 2018 Worlds.

Then came 2019. Carrington swept the 200m and 500m at worlds, winning each final by more than a second and a half. Her 200m margin — 1.94 seconds and the largest of her global championship career — was six tenths greater than what separated second place and ninth place.

“Historic, all-time events,” Walker said.

No woman has won Olympic gold medals in both the 200m and 500m, given the 200m debuted at the Olympics in 2012. The last man to do it was in 2000. Carrington, if she pulls it off in Tokyo, where she also plans to race the K-4 500m with three other Kiwis, might walk away.

“I kind of figured that I would just see how it would go at the Games,” she said while in lockdown last month, unable to train in the water or see Walker face-to-face. “I was happy to continue, and I was also happy to call it there.”

Carrington has never wanted to be famous. In New Zealand, an athlete can live a fairly normal life if they’re not on the All Black rugby team.

So maybe few know of Carrington’s penchant for do-it-yourself work around the house. She recently painted her whole perimeter fence.

Maybe few know about her Māori heritage from her dad’s side. She regularly wears a pounamu necklace. She has one tattoo — from high school — of a koru, or spiral wave representing continual movement and all of one’s life experiences.

What she doesn’t dwell on is the exact number of 200m races she’s won consecutively.

“It’s probably something I’ll look back on,” she said, guessing the streak is around 40. “Winning medals and doing the best opens a lot of doors, but, for me, being in it for so long, as much as it’s about winning or being the best, there’s a lot more to it.

“It’s not just settling for winning. It’s settling for finding my own best and my own potential.”

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

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