Jessica Long is back after her biggest break in 20 years

Jessica Long
Getty
0 Comments

Someone was missing from this past summer’s World Para Swimming Championships. Jessica Long, the second-most-decorated U.S. Paralympian in history, was absent from a global championship meet for the first time in 20 years.

Long made the team for June’s worlds in Portugal, but she dropped out before the meet, citing burnout and a post-Games blues after an enjoyable fifth Paralympics in Tokyo, where she won three golds, two silvers and a bronze.

“It felt too soon to go and race,” at worlds, she said. “It’s really hard when you’re expected to constantly win and perform. I want to go and present my absolute best. Mentally, I was feeling a little negative. I don’t feel my best. I think it’s better if I just pull out.”

Long returned at the national championships in Charlotte earlier this month. It came at the end of a year devoid of the intense training that helped her win 29 Paralympic medals between 2004 (at age 12) and 2021.

She took a sisters trip to Cabo this year. She saw the vice president. If she didn’t feel like swimming on a certain day, she didn’t get into the pool.

She also took antidepressants for the first time, though she is off them now.

“It’s never really been about the medals; my identity is not in swimming, but it was wild to come back [from Tokyo] and feel like, why do I feel so weird? It was almost like no joy, like nothing satisfied me,” she said. “Swimming has always given me that confidence to take on the world as an amputee. So this past year [without swimming], I think it’s more of just such a funk. I’m slowly getting out of it since September.”

Long, 30, credited her success in Tokyo largely to moving a year before the Games from Baltimore, where she lived with her husband (married in 2019), to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. She stayed in the same dorm room where she spent four years in her late teens and early 20s.

She moved back to Baltimore after the Paralympics and is working with her childhood coach, Andrew Barranco.

Long plans to return to worlds next summer in Manchester, England, and hopes to compete in two more Paralympics, making the 2028 Los Angeles Games her farewell.

There is little that hasn’t been accomplished in the pool, though she wants to break 2:40 again in the 200m individual medley, which she won at the last four Paralympics. A back condition — Long learned before the Tokyo Games that she has an extra vertebra — affects her breaststroke.

Outside of races and times, Long’s sights are set. She just finished the cover for the children’s book she’s worked on with her dad — “The Mermaid with No Tail” — that will come out closer to the 2024 Paralympics. She hopes that her birth mom, who is Russian, can watch her compete for the first time at those Paris Games.

Back home in Baltimore, Long has 28 of her 29 medals. Most of them are locked away in a closet. One is above the fridge, should she need to grab it quickly for a public appearance or to show a guest.

“It’s dirty and gross from being dropped and chipped,” she said.

One more medal, from her Paralympic debut at age 12 in 2004, is somewhere else in storage after spending time in a museum.

As Long said, the medals are not the focus. And after the last year, her goal for the Paris Games at the moment is just to get there. The competition ramp up begins at a World Series meet in Indianapolis in April.

“That’s going to set the tone,” Long said. “I definitely know, as an athlete, what I need to do. It’s more coming to terms of starting to make those sacrifices that come with it. I think I’m ready. But, yeah, that was just a hard year.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

Scotty James
Getty
0 Comments

Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin on grief, loss, finding motivation

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Isabeau Levito wins U.S. figure skating title at age 15, followed by comeback stories

0 Comments

Isabeau Levito won her first U.S. figure skating title at age 15, cementing her status as the new leading American woman to open the new Olympic cycle.

Levito, the world junior champion, tallied 223.33 points between two strong programs in San Jose, California. She distanced two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022 and scored 213.12.

Tennell was just two hundredths behind Levito after Thursday’s short but had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito followed her as last to go in the free and nailed the most pressure-packed performance of her young career, including the hardest jump combination done of the entire field. She didn’t receive a single negative mark from a judge for her 19 technical elements in her two programs.

Moments later, she was in tears backstage.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so proud of myself for staying so calm and staying so focused, doing exactly what I aimed to do,” Levito, who hasn’t finished off the podium in more than 20 events dating to November 2016, said on NBC. “I’m ready to start bouncing off the walls.”

Amber Glenn, 23, placed third and will likely become the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to make her world championships debut in at least 45 years. Glenn botched her 11th attempt to join the list of U.S. women to land a clean triple Axel (tally according to Skatingscores.com) but still moved up from fourth after the short program, passing Starr Andrews.

Last year, Glenn entered nationals as the fourth-ranked U.S. woman and a hopeful for the three-woman Olympic team. She placed 14th in the short program, competing unknowingly with COVID-19, then tested positive and withdrew before the free skate.

In 2021, Glenn was the U.S. silver medalist, yet passed over for a spot on the two-woman world team in favor of the more experienced Karen Chen, who finished 35 hundredths behind Glenn at those nationals.

Levito, Tennell and Glenn are expected to make up the team for March’s world championships, decided by a committee.

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fifth after the short program, popped a pair of planned triple Lutzes and dropped to eighth.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians competed. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired. Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return.

Nationals continue Saturday with the free dance and pairs’ free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!