Hannah Halvorsen makes U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing team, 2 years after brain injury

FIS World Cup Cross-Country Lillehammer - Individual Sprint
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The U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing team is set, and it includes a remarkable comeback story.

Hannah Halvorsen, a 23-year-old native of California who lives in Alaska, is headed to her first Winter Games, two years after crossing a street in downtown Anchorage and getting hit by a Jeep. Police estimated the car was traveling 25 miles per hour, she said, confirming previous reports from the Anchorage Daily News and FasterSkier.com.

She landed on the hood, stayed there for 200 yards, then flew off it when the driver braked. She fell onto the road, hitting her head and suffering a traumatic brain injury.

She had a skull fracture and bleeding and bruising in her brain from the Nov. 1, 2019 accident. She broke a tibia and tore her left MCL and PCL completely off the bone.

“I was a hair away from being paralyzed, blind or dead,” Halvorsen said in December 2019, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I’ve realized what matters, doing what you love, with people you love, and that is skiing.”

MORE: Team USA athlete roster for 2022 Winter Olympics

Halvorsen still has no memory of the accident — the details came from an eyewitness — or the 10 days following it. She couldn’t smell or taste for two months afterward, and those senses still aren’t all the way back to normal.

Halvorsen, who has also been open about disordered eating in high school, needed 11 months before she could ski again. She returned to international competition 13 months after the accident in December 2020.

She scored her first career World Cup points (finishing in the top 30) in her second race back. This season, she made a convincing case for an Olympic spot on Dec. 18 by recording her first top-10, a seventh place in a freestyle sprint in Dresden, Germany, one spot above Olympic team sprint champion Jessie Diggins.

Technically, the race didn’t count toward Olympic consideration, but it was impossible to ignore.

Halvorsen’s best race is the freestyle sprint. The event switches every Olympics between the freestyle and classic technique. Fortunately for Halvorsen, it’s freestyle next month in Beijing.

Dresden also marked Halvorsen’s last individual race before the Beijing Games. She ceded a spot in the Tour de Ski in late December due to a cold and concussion-like symptoms — headaches, dizziness — that still pop up, residual effects from the accident.

“I seem to be able to fully recover. As long as I can get back in my routine, get rest, I am kind of at 100 percent,” she said. “I can’t handle the non-stop going. But I can clearly race to my full potential when all pistons are firing.”

So Halvorsen waited, through the holidays and into the new year. The Olympic team would not be finalized by a selection committee until mid-January. She said she played mind games with herself. Some days, she thought she was a shoo-in for the eight-woman team. Others, she felt she had no chance.

Finally, last Monday, Halvorsen was home in Anchorage, about 20 minutes from that street crossing, when she received a phone call that she won’t forget. It came from U.S. Ski Team cross-country program director Chris Groves.

You’re in. We picked you, Groves told her. Halvorsen laughed. She cried. She couldn’t control her body because it was so momentous. It’s still hitting her in waves.

“As soon as I got the news, I immediately thought about how, two years ago, at this very time of year, I was relearning how to walk,” she said. “I can remember how I felt when I was relearning how to walk. Full of doubt. There’s so far I have to go, but at the same time, deep inside me, I would feel like I’m going to do this.”

It never crossed Halvorsen’s mind that her Olympic dream, which she harbored since age 12, might not come to fruition.

“That wasn’t really an option because my identity wasn’t being an Olympian. My identity was chasing the Olympics,” she said. “And that was so deeply rooted in me that it couldn’t really be taken away. What was in my head, once I started to wake up and be more present after the accident, was how am I going to prove to everyone else that I’m still in the game?”

Years ago, Halvorsen was part of an up-and-coming group of U.S. cross-country skiers that earned the nation’s first women’s medals in world junior championships history. Halvorsen, Julia Kern, Katharine Ogden and Hailey Swirbul finished third in the relay.

“We don’t perceive ourselves as underdogs that have potential,” Halvorsen said, noting the foundation laid by Jessie Diggins, Kikkan Randall, Liz Stephen and Sadie Bjornsen, among others. “We see ourselves as just as good as anybody.”

Now, Kern, Swirbul and Halvorsen are going to their first Olympics.

“Hannah is one of the toughest people I know, and the strength she has shown through all of this is truly inspiring,” Kern said in December 2019, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I am always amazed by how Hannah always seems to find the positive side of things and I always seem to find her with a smile on her face, regardless of the situation.”

Diggins, a 2018 Olympic team sprint gold medalist with now-retired Kikkan Randall, leads the Olympic cross-country team. The rest of the roster: Rosie Brennan, Halvorsen, Kern, Sophia Laukli, Novie McCabe. Caitlin Patterson, Swirbul, Kevin Bolger, Ben Ogden, Luke Jager, Scott Patterson, JC Schoonmaker and Gus Schumacher.

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Iga Swiatek sweeps into French Open final, where she faces a surprise


Iga Swiatek marched into the French Open final without dropping a set in six matches. All that stands between her and a third Roland Garros title is an unseeded foe.

Swiatek, the top-ranked Pole, swept 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-2, 7-6 (7) in Thursday’s semifinal in her toughest test all tournament. Haddad Maia squandered three break points at 4-all in the second set.

Swiatek dropped just 23 games thus far, matching her total en route to her first French Open final in 2020 (which she won for her first WTA Tour title of any kind). After her semifinal, she signed a courtside camera with the hashtag #stepbystep.

“For sure I feel like I’m a better player,” than in 2020, she said. “Mentally, tactically, physically, just having the experience, everything. So, yeah, my whole life basically.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

In Saturday’s final, Swiatek gets 43rd-ranked Czech Karolina Muchova, who upset No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to reach her first major final.

Muchova, a 26-year-old into the second week of the French Open for the first time, became the first player to take a set off the powerful Belarusian this tournament, then rallied from down 5-2 in the third set to prevail 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5.

Sabalenka, who overcame previous erratic serving to win the Australian Open in January, had back-to-back double faults in her last service game.

“Lost my rhythm,” she said. “I wasn’t there.”

Muchova broke up what many expected would be a Sabalenka-Swiatek final, which would have been the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 match at the French Open since Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova in the 2013 final.

Muchova is unseeded, but was considered dangerous going into the tournament.

In 2021, she beat then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make the Australian Open semifinals, then reached a career-high ranking of 19. She dropped out of the top 200 last year while struggling through injuries.

“Some doctors told me maybe you’ll not do sport anymore,” Muchova said. “It’s up and downs in life all the time. Now I’m enjoying that I’m on the upper part now.”

Muchova has won all five of her matches against players ranked in the top three. She also beat Swiatek in their lone head-to-head, but that was back in 2019 when both players were unaccomplished young pros. They have since practiced together many times.

“I really like her game, honestly,” Swiatek said. “I really respect her, and she’s I feel like a player who can do anything. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game. She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements. And she has a great technique. So I watched her matches, and I feel like I know her game pretty well.”

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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone’s defining race; Paris Diamond League TV, live stream info

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, what happens in her first outdoor race of 2023 on Friday could dictate the rest of her season. It may impact her 2024 Olympic plans, too.

McLaughlin-Levrone strays from the 400m hurdles — where she is the reigning Olympic and world champion and four times broke the world record — to race her first flat 400m in two years at a Diamond League meet in Paris.

Peacock streams it live from 3-5 p.m. ET. CNBC airs coverage Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

What we know is this: On Friday, McLaughlin-Levrone will race against the Olympic and world silver medalist in the 400m (Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic) and the 2019 World champion (Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain).

Next month, McLaughlin-Levrone will race the flat 400m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, the qualifying meet for August’s world championships. She is racing that flat 400m at USATF Outdoors at least in part because she already has a bye into the 400m hurdles at worlds as defending champion.

What we don’t know: which race McLaughlin-Levrone will enter at worlds. Her coach, Bobby Kersee, said last month that she will choose between the 400m and 400m hurdles for worlds, should she finish top three in the 400m at USATF Outdoors to qualify in that second event. She will not try a 400m-400m hurdles double at worlds.

McLaughlin-Levrone was asked Thursday which event she would pick if given the choice.

“Is it bad to say I don’t know?” she said in a press conference. “Honestly, ask me after tomorrow. I don’t know. I’ve got to run this one first and see how it feels.”

McLaughlin-Levrone also doesn’t know what she will try to race at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Next year, the 400m-400m hurdles double is more feasible given one could do both events without ever racing more than once per day.

“We’re still focused on 2023,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “One step at a time, literally. Obviously that’s something as the season comes to an end we’ll kind of start to look and figure out what our plan is for next year.”

Here are the Paris entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

12:57 p.m. ET — Women’s Shot Put
1:35 — Women’s High Jump
2:15 — Women’s Discus
2:20 — Women’s Pole Vault
3:04 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
3:15 — Women’s 800m
3:19 — Men’s Long Jump
3:24 — Women’s 5000m
3:42 — Women’s Javelin
3:52 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
4:02 — Women’s 400m
4:12 — Men’s 100m
4:22 — Women’s 200m
4:32 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
4:51 — Men’s 800m

Here are six events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 2:20 p.m. ET
Olympic and world champion Katie Moon won the first two Diamond League meets and again faces some of her biggest domestic and international challengers in Paris. That includes fellow American Sandi Morris, who won the first three Diamond League meets last year, then took silver behind Moon at worlds on count back. Plus 34-year-old Slovenian Tina Sutej, who ranks second in the world this season.

Women’s 5000m — 3:24 p.m. ET
Includes the world record holders at 1500m (Kenyan Faith Kipyegon in her first 5000m since 2015), 3000m steeplechase (Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech) and the 5000m and 10,000m (Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey). Plus new American 10,000m record holder Alicia Monson, who is third on the U.S. all-time 5000m list at 14:31.11. Shelby Houlihan has the American record of 14:23.92.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 3:52 p.m. ET
The three members of the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo — Grant HollowayDevon Allen and Daniel Roberts — could face off for the first time in nearly a year. Holloway, who has a bye into worlds as defending champion, overcame a rare defeat in the Diamond League opener in Rabat to win his last two races. He is the fastest man in the world this year at 13.01 seconds. Allen isn’t far behind at 13.12, while Roberts has yet to race the hurdles this outdoor season.

Women’s 400m — 4:02 p.m. ET
Could very well determine the favorite for worlds. Reigning Olympic and world champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas is on maternity leave. Paulino is the only other woman to break 49 seconds since the start of the pandemic, and she’s done it each of the last two years. Naser is the only other active woman to have broken 49 seconds, doing so in winning the 2019 World title (before she was banned for two years, through the Tokyo Olympics, for missing drug tests). McLaughlin-Levrone’s personal best from 2018 is 50.07 seconds, but she was just 18 years old then and focusing on the hurdles. Still, that time would have won the 2022 U.S. title. Last month, University of Arkansas junior Britton Wilson ran the fastest time by an American since 2009 — 49.13 — but she might bypass the flat 400m to focus on the hurdles this summer.

Men’s 100m — 4:12 p.m. ET
Could be a meeting between the reigning Olympic men’s 100m champion (Marcell Jacobs of Italy) and world men’s 200m champion (American Noah Lyles), which hasn’t happened since the 2009 World Championships 100m final, where Usain Bolt lowered the world record to 9.58 seconds and American Tyson Gay was second in a then-American record 9.71. Later in that meet, Bolt won his first world 200m title, a crown he held concurrently with his Olympic 100m titles through his 2017 retirement. But Jacobs, citing nerve pain, scratched out of the last two Diamond League meets, which were to be showdowns with world 100m champion Fred Kerley. Jacobs did show up for Thursday’s press conference. Lyles has a bye onto the world team in the 200m, but also wants to make the four-man U.S. team in the 100m. He ranks fifth among Americans by best time this season — 9.95.

Men’s 800m — 4:51 p.m. ET
The top five from the world championships are entered, led by Olympic and world champion Emmanuel Korir of Kenya. This event was in an international doldrums for much of the time since Kenyan David Rudisha repeated as Olympic champion in 2016, then faded away from competition. But the emergence of 18-year-old Kenyan Emmanuel Wanyonyi has injected excitement this season. Wanyonyi is the world’s fastest man this year. The second-fastest, Kenyan Wycliffe Kinyamal, is also in this field.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the TV window for the meet broadcast. The CNBC broadcast begins at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, not 3.

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