Bria Hartley could have been the next great U.S. point guard. Now she plays for France.

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The U.S. women’s basketball program spent much of the last decade looking for its next point guard — the one to succeed three of its greatest leaders — Teresa Edwards in the 1980s and ’90s, Dawn Staley in the early 2000s and Sue Bird ever since.

Bria Hartley could have been that player. At the University of Connecticut (where Bird also played), Hartley started and won national titles her last two seasons in 2013 and 2014. She made the WNBA All-Rookie Team in 2014.

Also in 2014, Hartley was the second-youngest of the 27 players on the world championship training camp roster. She did not end up making the 12-woman world team. After an injury-affected 2015, she wasn’t among 25 Olympic team finalists named in January 2016.

Hartley considered her options. She knew about an opportunity to play for France, given one of her grandmothers is French. Obtaining a French passport could be valuable for playing in European leagues, where salaries were known for being exponentially higher than the WNBA, but there could be roster limits on American players.

And then there’s the Olympics. The U.S. is the hardest team to make, winner of every Olympic title dating to 1996.

Ultimately, Hartley chose to become the fourth acclaimed American point guard to play for another country in as many Olympic cycles.

Becky Hammon was the most famous, earning a bronze medal for Russia in 2008. She was followed by Lindsey Harding, who left for Belarus in 2015. And Courtney Vandersloot, who became a Hungarian citizen after missing the Rio Olympic team.

Hartley’s case is different because of her family’s French background. Asked why she sought the nationality switch, Hartley stressed that lineage and that she knew about the option years before becoming a pro.

Hartley said she received her French passport in February 2016. She hoped to play for France at the Rio Olympics. She still needed approval from USA Basketball and FIBA, which did not come until 2017 and 2018.

USA Basketball has record of a request from the French federation for Hartley’s transfer in May 2016, the month after the U.S. Olympic team was announced and two months before France’s Olympic team was announced. (France’s national team director wrote in an email that his recollection is that Hartley expressed her desire to play for France to its coach in October 2017.)

USA Basketball did not immediately approve the request for a few reasons. USA Basketball hadn’t had the opportunity to discuss the matter with Hartley. It still considered Hartley a national team-level prospect, and at a need position. The U.S. could play France, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, in the Rio Olympic knockout rounds.

“With Sue and D [Diana Taurasi] getting older, they just weren’t sure what they were going to do at the point guard position,” Hartley said. “I think they were just keeping their options open.”

U.S. national team director Carol Callan spoke with Hartley while attending the 2017 NCAA Women’s Final Four. Hartley confirmed her intent to play for France.

“We want to make sure that they actually want to do it [transfer],” Callan said, “because once you go, you can’t go back.

“In general, we don’t necessarily want to stand in the way of someone being able to play for another country if that’s what they want to do, other than right before the Olympics. Had the request come in even after the Olympics, that would have been easier to deal with.”

The French federation contacted USA Basketball later in 2017 with the follow-up transfer request. Hartley had approval from both national federations.

Then it went to FIBA. Hartley said the international federation rejected the request at first and asked for further proof of her French connection.

“Cases relating to the change of a national status of a player require an in-depth study of the player’s links with the country s/he wishes to represent, which often go beyond the mere presentation of a passport,” a FIBA official wrote in response to questions on Hartley’s case, including a question on the timeline of the transfer request and approval. “This is particularly the case when a player holds two nationalities and is asked to present concrete links with a given country.”

Hartley ended up also missing the 2018 FIBA World Cup during the review.

“If I got my passport when I was younger, started this process when I was younger, it would have been a lot smoother,” said Hartley, who had son Bryson in January 2017.

In October 2018, two weeks after the World Cup ended, the French federation announced that Hartley became eligible for its national team. She played at the 2019 European Championships (EuroBasket) and helped France to a silver medal, ranking second on the team in scoring.

There have been critics. Notably from followers of her new program.

“They’re like, she’s an American playing on the French team,” Hartley said. “She’s not really French and stuff like that, so I know I’ve dealt with that. But, for me, I feel like I have French blood. I just didn’t grow up [in France].”

France is ranked fifth in the world. The Olympic groups haven’t been set yet, but it’s possible Hartley could compete against the U.S. in Tokyo next summer.

She could stare into Bird, the fellow UConn Husky whom she was a candidate to succeed in the U.S. program. Or another point guard who establishes herself over the next year as next in line. Perhaps Sabrina Ionescu.

Hartley said it would be an exciting contest. She feels no different wearing the red, white and blue of another country.

“I always took a lot of pride in my French heritage,” she said. “Especially growing up in New York, light skinned, a lot of people are like, are you Spanish or something like that? I was always like, no, I’m French.”

MORE: How the Olympics, Paralympics intersected over time

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Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
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Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

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