Raven Saunders, her mom’s memory at heart, takes on challenge at USATF Outdoor Champs

Raven Saunders
Getty
0 Comments

Raven Saunders often carries her Olympic shot put silver medal with her. She always wears a locket containing her mother’s ashes.

Saunders is one of many Americans competing this week in their first championship meet since the Tokyo Games. A top-three finish at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon, will qualify her for July’s world championships, also in Eugene, the first to be held in the U.S.

USATF OUTDOORS: TV Schedule | Results

Saunders was one of the breakout stars in Tokyo. She garnered attention not just for becoming the third U.S. woman to win an Olympic shot put medal, but also for her character. Her green and purple hair, her biceps flexing and that green mask fitting her nickname, “Hulk.”

On the medal podium, she crossed her arms above her head to form an “X,” which she said was “to try and bring the world together for all people who have felt left behind, for all people who have wanted to be loved but have been loved less.”

“Gave EVERYTHING for this. If you are BLACK, LGBTQIA+, Or mentally Struggling. This one is for you,” she shared on Instagram.

Saunders told Outsports.com that she first came out to her mom in third grade and by ninth grade was comfortable with who she was. After her Olympic debut in 2016, she struggled with mental health and contemplated suicide.

Last year, few people knew that Saunders tore her right hip early in the season. Even fewer knew she tweaked her Achilles walking into the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo before competing and then winning the silver medal.

Afterward, her mom, Clarissa, told her, “You have a few things in you that I wish that I had in me.” They talked about the house and the food truck that were in their future.

Two days after the final, Saunders received a phone call from the U.S. Clarissa suffered a seizure and was en route to a hospital, a doctor told her. Later, Saunders’ uncle called and told her that Clarissa had passed.

“At that point, I lost it,” Saunders said on the On Her Turf podcast last year. “I think I threw my phone. Literally Hulk smash pummeled the walls. It was just so much built up for me in that moment. It was like, how? Especially because we didn’t have our families there [in Tokyo], and then to lose the No. 1 person that really made a lot of this worthwhile, it hurt.

“Talking about it makes it a lot easier, and it also helps remind me of memories.”

Since returning home from Japan, Saunders moved to Orlando. She had a second hip surgery in the fall (and returned to throwing one week later). She goes through airports and gets stares and the question, “Are you …. ?”

“It’s been a nice, nice change,” she said earlier this month. “It’s definitely taken some getting used to because, at first, I’ll be like, why are you staring at me? After a while, now that I’ve put my energy out there, people kind of see that I’m a real person. It helps.”

The toughest part of the last year has been experiencing it all without her mom. They helped each other through difficult times. She said that, at age 12, she protected Clarissa from a boyfriend who was high on drugs.

Clarissa was a guardian angel, Saunders said. Clarissa regularly called to make sure Saunders took her anxiety and depression medication.

“The greatest thing that I’ve had to overcome was trying to stand on my own and navigate this new space,” she said, adding that continuing therapy sessions and spending time in nature has also helped.

Saunders competes Sunday at the site of career highlights. She qualified for both of her Olympics in Eugene. In 2014, she made her international debut at the world junior championships at Hayward Field and earned a silver medal.

She also competes during Pride Month, which has significance as well.

“It’s kind of funny how, these past few years, [Pride Month] has transitioned to actually being a thing where [before] it was something that was more so celebrated within the community,” Saunders said. “Having people and family members tell you, ‘Happy Pride Month,’ especially for so long feeling that we were invisible or shunned and things like that, it really starts to help the whole self-appreciation and knowing that you’re loved and knowing that people actually truly do care around you.”

Though Saunders was the world’s second-best thrower last year, she ranks sixth among Americans so far in 2022. There are three Americans in the world’s top eight, plus No. 9 Maggie Ewen, who has a bye into worlds as the reigning Diamond League season champion, giving the U.S. four spots at worlds.

Last year, Saunders entered Olympic Trials ranked 10th in the nation for the year. Then she threw a personal best at trials, also in Eugene, to qualify for her second Olympics.

The reason that Saunders carries her Olympic silver medal with her is so that anybody who recognizes her gets a chance to see it. At the same time, it’s a source of motivation as she gazes at it.

“I’ve got to work harder,” she said. “I’ve got to get gold. I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to throw farther.”

ON HER TURF: Allyson Felix sets retirement date, but legacy still evolving

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

Aleksander Aamodt Kilde
Getty
0 Comments

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

ALPINE SKIING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Summer McIntosh, Canadian teen swimmer, caps record year with another historic time

0 Comments

Summer McIntosh swam the fourth-fastest 400m individual medley in history on Friday, capping a year that already included world titles, Commonwealth Games titles and a victory over Katie Ledecky.

McIntosh, a 16-year-old Canadian whose mom swam at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, won the 400m IM in 4 minutes, 28.61 seconds at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C. She prevailed by a Ledecky-like 13.24 seconds, breaking her own national record that was previously the fourth-fastest time in history.

“It’s still pretty early in the season, so I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” she said on Peacock.

The only two women who ever went faster in the event known as the decathlon of swimming are Olympic gold medalists: Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu (world record 4:26.36 and 4:28.58) and China’s Ye Shiwen (4:28.43).

McIntosh has come a long way in a short time. Three years ago, she put all her eggs in the 1500m freestyle basket, thinking it was her best shot to merely qualify for the Tokyo Games in 2020. The one-year Olympic postponement was a blessing.

The rapidly improving McIntosh swam three individual events in Tokyo with a top finish of fourth in the 400m free, just missing becoming the youngest swimming medalist since 1996. She then told her coach she wanted to become an IMer.

At this past June’s world championships, McIntosh won two of the most grueling events — 400m IM and 200m butterfly — to become the youngest individual world champion since 2011. She also took silver to Ledecky in the 400m free, an event in which she later beat Ledecky in a short-course meet (25-meter pool rather than the 50-meter pool used for the Olympics).

A month after worlds, McIntosh swept the IMs at the Commonwealth Games, where she broke more world junior records and again took second in the 400m free (this time to Olympic champ and world record holder Ariarne Titmus of Australia).

McIntosh, who turned professional last year, now trains full-time in Sarasota, Florida, where she rents a house with her mom, Jill Horstead, who was ninth in the 200m fly at the 1984 Olympics (McIntosh, whose passions include the Kardashians and plants from Target, has seen video of her mom winning the B final at those Games). They’re a three-hour drive down Interstate 75 from Ledecky’s base in Gainesville.

Also Friday, Erin Gemmell celebrated her 18th birthday by nearly becoming the first American to beat Ledecky in a 200m freestyle in nearly nine years. Ledecky won by 42 hundredths of a second in 1:56.74 and said she had an off-day while also praising Gemmell, the daughter of her former coach.

NBC airs U.S. Open highlights on Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!