An Olympic dynasty encounters the coronavirus

Emily Regan
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Olympic champion rower Emily Regan decided to go public with what she is convinced was a coronavirus infection. Her message: If it can happen to me and my teammates, it can happen to you.

Regan and 11 more U.S. female rowers either tested positive for the virus or were presumed to have it due to symptoms in the spring. Three-time Olympian Megan Kalmoe also posted that she had the virus in March and was sick for two weeks.

All 12 rowers in the Olympic selection pool had trained, before showing symptoms, at the national team center in Princeton, N.J. All 12 recovered, said Matt Imes, U.S. Rowing high performance director.

The Princeton center is best known for producing the greatest American sports dynasty over the previous three Olympic cycles.

The U.S. women’s eight rowing team won all 11 Olympic or world titles between 2006 and 2016, a run that bettered the U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams. The streak finally snapped in 2017. A key storyline over the next year will be whether the Americans can regain the top spot and extend their Olympic streak to four straight titles.

Now, it will also be about a program, which includes the eight and smaller boats, returning from a frightening spring.

Regan and coxswain Katelin Guregian are the only Americans who were in the eight boat for the Rio Olympics and all of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 World Championships.

Regan, in a lengthy Facebook post, wrote that she and teammates between ages 23 and 37 came down with coronavirus symptoms days after a U.S. national team staff member tested positive in late March.

“As most of my teammates started to recover from their acute COVID symptoms, I started noticing a fever on April 1st,” wrote the 32-year-old Regan, a four-time world champion dating to 2011. “That was Day 12 of my quarantine.”

On April 3, Regan woke from a 12-hour sleep with breathing pain and full-body aches.

“Like I had done something really wrong while I was practicing the day before,” wrote Regan, who, like her teammates, had been training on her own since New Jersey’s stay-at-home order on March 21. All 12 rowers began showing symptoms after leaving the Princeton training center due to the stay-at-home order, Imes said.

Regan’s fever intensified, ranging from 100.4 to 101.7.

“I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without needing to sit down and take a nap,” she wrote. “Not only did I sleep for 12 hours that night, but I also took a 3 hour nap. I was too weak to make myself food that entire day until I forced myself to make pancakes that night because I knew I had to eat something.”

After two days of the worst symptoms, it took Regan the rest of April to be able to train normally again.

She went through periods of rowing on a machine at the pace of an average high school girl. She felt like she carried an extra 50 pounds while working out.

“As of today, over 3 months after my symptoms went away, I am working on getting back into the shape I was in in early February and March before all of the setbacks,” she posted on July 7. “I have teammates who were dealing with complications from COVID for over 2 months.”

Regan did not take a coronavirus test, but a later antibody test came back positive.

Imes said Monday that three female rowers tested positive and nine others were presumed positive, confirming a Buffalo News report.

“We had reduced our group size and stopped rowing in team boats,” Imes said, according to the newspaper. “We stopped rowing in eights and fours. We reduced it down to two people or less. We were doing social distancing. We had taken our training outside. We weren’t utilizing the boat houses as much. We were doing what we thought was prudent and following all the guidelines and actually doing more than what was asked of us at the time.”

Regan considered herself a low-risk individual. She can’t remember her last time at a bar or other crowded place. For much of the last decade, she focused on being in the best possible shape to be selected for one of the strongest U.S. Olympic programs.

“If you don’t think the virus is that big of a deal because you are young, healthy, or fit,” she wrote, “please consider my story.”

MORE: Katelin Guregian’s last call in rowing

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Mikaela Shiffrin wins 85th World Cup, can tie overall record Sunday

Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin earned her 85th World Cup win on Saturday and can tie the Alpine skiing World Cup victories record on Sunday.

Shiffrin won the first of back-to-back slaloms in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, site of her World Cup debut in 2011 at age 15, for her 11th victory in 22 starts this season.

She prevailed by six tenths of a second over German Lena Duerr combining times from two runs. Then she celebrated with an uncharacteristic shoulder shimmy before “Simply the Best” by Tina Turner began playing over loudspeakers in the finish area.

It’s not the first time that song has been played after a Shiffrin victory this season.

“I knew it would take some risk,” she said. “There’s a chance I don’t finish at all.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin, having her best season since her record 17-win campaign in 2018-19, is now one victory shy of the Alpine World Cup record held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who won 86 times between slalom and giant slalom in the 1970s and ’80s.

Stenmark has held the record since January 1982.

Shiffrin races in another slalom on Sunday in Spindleruv Mlyn, the last women’s race before February’s world championships. World championships races do not count as World Cups. The World Cup season resumes following worlds in late February.

Shiffrin is on her second winning streak this season and has won nine of her last 14 races dating to Dec. 18. Last Tuesday, she won a giant slalom in Kronplatz, Italy, to break her tie with Lindsey Vonn for the women’s Alpine World Cup wins record. On Wednesday, she won another GS In Kronplatz.

She leads the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, by more than 600 points through 27 of 39 scheduled races. At this rate, she could clinch her fifth overall title before March’s World Cup Finals.

She is currently tied with Vonn for the second-most women’s overall titles behind Austrian Annemarie Moser-Pröll, who won five in the 1970s.

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Aryna Sabalenka wins Australian Open for first Grand Slam singles title

Aryna Sabalenka Australian Open 2023
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title by coming back to beat Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Australian Open women’s final Saturday.

The 24-year-old Sabalenka, who is from Belarus, was appearing in her first major final.

She improved to 11-0 in 2023, and the only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Wimbledon champion Rybakina.

But Sabalenka turned things around with an aggressive style that resulted in 51 winners, 20 more than her opponent. She used 17 aces to overcome seven double-faults. And she managed to break the big-serving Rybakina three times, the last coming for a 4-3 lead in the third set that she never relinquished.

Still, Sabalenka needed to work for the championship while serving in what would be the last game, double-faulting on her initial match point and requiring three more to close things out.

When Rybakina sent a forehand long to cap the final after nearly 2 1/2 hours, Sabalenka dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.

Sabalenka is a powerful player whose most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Long capable of hammering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including more than 20 apiece in some matches.

After much prodding from her team, she finally agreed to undergo an overhaul of her serving mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to stay calm in the most high-pressure moments, is really paying off now.

Sabalenka was 0-3 in Grand Slam semifinals until eliminating Magda Linette in Melbourne. Now Sabalenka has done one better and will rise to No. 2 in the rankings.

As seagulls were squawking loudly while flying overhead at Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka traded booming serves. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 121 mph, Sabalenka’s at 119 mph. They traded zooming groundstrokes from the baseline, often untouchable, resulting in winner after winner.

The key statistic, ultimately, was this: Sabalenka accumulated 13 break points, Rybakina seven. And although Sabalenka converted just a trio of them, that was enough, and the constant pressure she managed to apply during Rybakina’s service games had to take a toll.

Sabalenka had been broken just six times in 55 service games through the course of these two weeks, an average of once per match. It took Rybakina fewer than 10 minutes of action and all of two receiving games to get the measure of things and lead 2-1, helped by getting back one serve that arrived at 117 mph (189 kph).

A few games later, Sabalenka returned the favor, also putting her racket on one of Rybakina’s offerings at that same speed. Then, when Sabalenka grooved a down-the-line backhand passing winner to grab her first break and pull even at 4-all, she looked at her coach and fitness coach in the stands, raised a fist and shouted.

In the next game, though, Sabalenka gave that right back, double-faulting twice — including on break point — to give Rybakina a 5-4 edge. This time, Sabalenka again turned toward her entourage, but with a sigh and an eye roll and arms extended, as if to say, “Can you believe it?”

Soon after, Rybakina held at love to own that set.

Sabalenka changed the momentum right from the get-go in the second set. Aggressively attacking, she broke to go up 3-1, held for 4-1 and eventually served it out, fittingly, with an ace — on a second serve, no less.

Sabalenka acknowledged ahead of time that she expected to be nervous. Which makes perfect sense: This was the most important match of her career to date.

And if those jitters were evident ever-so-briefly early — she double-faulted on the evening’s very first point — and appeared to be resurfacing as the end neared, Sabalenka controlled them well enough to finish the job.

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