Hannah Roberts, Olympic gold medal favorite in new BMX event, wins third world title

Lima 2019 Pan Am Games - Day 16
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BMX freestyle star Hannah Roberts reminded the world she is still the Olympic gold medal favorite for her event’s debut this summer by winning the world title at the 2021 UCI Urban Cycling World Championships on Monday.

Roberts picked up right where she left off in her first international competition in 19 months. Due to the pandemic, the last competition was the 2019 World Championships, which she also won. Roberts now holds three of the event’s four UCI world titles to be awarded; she took bronze in 2018.

“I wanted to come out and put down a solid run, and I’m glad that I did that,” she said in a video posted to the UCI BMX Freestyle Twitter. “I’m glad it got me the rainbow jersey back. I’m definitely excited heading into this year as the world champion. Hopefully there’s more events, and I’m super stoked.”

Roberts’ journey to BMX fame began after she saw the discipline on TV at 8 years old. She then fractured her T4 vertebra at age 10 from a fall off a 6-foot ramp. In a back brace for a month, she was unsure if her love for the sport would return.

“Once back on the bike I knew this was where I wanted to be,” she told USA Cycling in a 2018 Q&A.

The Buchanan, Michigan, native qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in February 2020 before the Tokyo Olympics were postponed. She could become the first teenage woman from any country to earn an Olympic cycling title in August; Roberts will turn 20 two days after the Closing Ceremony.

Roberts posted a score of 91.9 in her first of two runs in the world championship final in Montpellier, France. Nikita Ducarroz of Switzerland was second with 90.3 for her first world medal, while Great Britain’s Charlotte Worthington took bronze, just as she had in 2019, with a second-run score of 88.9.

Three more Americans immediately followed with Perris Benegas in fourth (85.8), Chelsea Wolfe in fifth (80) and Angie Marino sixth (78.1).

Benegas, who turns 26 the day before the Opening Ceremony, has also qualified for Tokyo and could put two U.S. women on the Olympic podium. She has consistently been a top performer the past few seasons, winning the 2018 World title and medaling at all three World Cups held in 2019.

Later in the day, Daniel Sandoval claimed the men’s silver medal with 92.96 points in his first run.

Logan Martin‘s 94.7 points returned the Australian standout to the top of the podium; he won the inaugural 2017 World Championships and took silver in 2019. Bronze went to Croatia’s Marin Rantes who scored 90.9 points on his second run.

Americans Justin Dowell, the 2018 World champion, and Nick Bruce, the 2019 bronze medalist, were fourth and fifth with 89.56 and 89.42 points, respectively.

With his finish, Dowell secured his spot on the Olympic team. He will be joined by Bruce if the U.S. is atop the UCI Olympic qualification ranking once it is complete.

Nine men and nine women will compete in the inaugural Olympic BMX freestyle contest, with the U.S. as the only nation sending two women. Riders compete for points in difficulty, originality, execution and overall flow on ramps and obstacles in the same venue as skateboarders.

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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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