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Kassidy Cook Talks Olympics Postponement, Quarantine Training

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 13: Kassidy Cook of the United States competes in the Women’s 3M Springboard semi final on Day 8 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on August 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Kassidy Cook is an American diver who placed 13th in the women’s 3 metre springboard at the 2016 Rio Olympics. A graduate of Stanford University, Cook competes in both the individual 3m springboard and the synchronized 3m springboard. As with countless athletes across the world, Cook’s training has been forced indoors due to the spread of the coronavirus. Below, she talked with Just Women’s Sports about how she’s handling quarantine, what the Olympics’ postponement means to her, why she walked away from the sport, and what brought her back. 

Where were you when sporting events started getting canceled due to COVID-19?

In February, I was in Madrid and then Rostock, Germany for a competition called the Grand Prinx. And then that’s when all this kind of started. We heard about all the cases in China and we noticed that a lot of the Chinese divers were absent from the competition because, at the time, they weren’t allowed to leave their country. Even then, I don’t think anyone knew the virus would turn into what it has become.

What were the following weeks like? 

I went home to Texas toward the end of February to train, and that’s when the pandemic situation started escalating. Sports left and right were getting canceled or postponed, and I started wondering what was going to happen to diving. At the time, we had the World Cup coming up, which was supposed to be the Olympic qualifying event, and then obviously the Olympics this summer. But as the days went by, more cases just kept popping up, and there was a lot of uncertainty. It was a strange time because Olympic hopefuls like me were still training and practicing, but it was hard not to think about the virus. It was definitely distracting and worrisome. Then our pool shut down, and there wasn’t a place for me to train, and they still hadn’t announced whether the World Cup or the Olympics were going to be cancelled or postponed. So I had nowhere to train and no idea if I was still going to go to my competition, and it still wasn’t clear what this virus was going to become.

What was your reaction when the Olympics were officially postponed? 

It was obviously the right move given the severity of the virus, but at first, I was definitely upset. I had quit my job and moved back home to Texas from San Francisco to train for the Olympics, so to hear that they weren’t going to happen this year was really hard. But a couple days after I gave it some real thought, I realized that the postponement actually was a good thing. The world is in such a hectic state right now. No athlete has anywhere to train. A lot of people are mentally and physically unhealthy. And you have to put it in perspective — the health of the citizens of the world, the citizens of our country, come above sport. And the silver lining is that I now have an additional year to train and get as good as I can for the Olympics.

Where is your head at now? 

Well, you have to make sacrifices for the Olympics regardless. So for me, making the sacrifice of another year is not a big deal, in the grand scheme of things. There is no question that I am going to keep training. People were feeling bad for me when they first heard about the postponement, telling me how it must suck to be an athlete right now. And I’m just like, it sucks for everyone, the whole entire world, athlete or not. Things are getting canceled, people are losing their jobs, family and friends are getting sick and dying. So I should be the last person to feel sorry for. I’m hanging in there and at the end of the day, it’s just a sport. The health of my family and community will always come above that.

How much of an impact will taking a few months off have on your future performances?

It’s tough for divers, because it’s not like we can just go for a run outside and call it a day. Diving requires very specific training, and it’s hard to stimulate the jumping movements at home. But regardless, you can still keep up with your physical fitness by doing bodyweight exercises and you can stay mentally focused by doing a lot of visualization. Diving is a big mental sport. People always say that if you could turn off your brain, you would be a better diver because your muscle memory would take over. So if you can practice visualizing what you would do off the board and model it on the ground, I think it can help with the mental aspect of the sport. At the same time, since a lot of diving is muscle memory, I’m not too worried about getting some time off.

What kind of workouts have you been able to do while under quarantine? 

My team has also been doing daily workouts on Zoom to stay on schedule. We meet at the same time every single day, and our coaches run us through the workout. It’s nice to be able to see everyone even if it’s not in person. It helps this hectic time feel a little more normal. In terms of workouts, it’s all bodyweight, plyometrics, core and stretching. These are things you can do anywhere. And it’s been fun to switch it up, plus it’s good to put your body in a state of confusion sometimes. It’ll get stronger in places where you didn’t know you were weak.

Overall, I’m trying to mirror my usual schedule as much as I can, just to keep my own sanity. I’m waking up at the same time as I would if I had practice, doing a workout in the morning when I would be having morning practice and then one in the afternoon. I want to do as much as I can during this time, because if others aren’t, it will give me a competitive edge. And on the other hand, I don’t want my competition to have an edge on me because I decided to slack off.

How does Olympic qualifying for diving work? You mentioned the World Cup — was there a specific result you needed to achieve there? 

For diving, they don’t grant every country a spot at the Olympics. You have to earn your spot by placing well in competitions. And the World Cup, which was supposed to be in April, was the last chance for countries to qualify for the Olympics. So my first job was to go to the World Cup to earn the United States a spot. Not my personal spot, but a spot for our country. It’s a lot of pressure, because if you do poorly, you’re letting your whole country down by not giving anyone a shot to make the Olympics. I was put in the same shoes in 2016, when there were no spots for the United States going into the World Cup, but thankfully I performed well enough at the event to earn my country a trip to Rio.

This year, if I had performed well enough at the World Cup to get the US a spot in Tokyo, then we would have had the US Olympic trials in June, and that’s where I would have competed to get my own personal spot. I compete in two events: synchro and individual, so at the trials I would have had to win the synchro event and then get first or second in the individual event to qualify for the Olympics.

How do you handle that pressure of having to compete for the whole team during the World Cup? 

I like having that pressure because I trust myself to deal with it. I’m a veteran, I’m experienced. And I hate to say it, but I don’t want to put my trust in somebody else getting the spot. I want to be the one up on the board.

Can you talk about the difference between the two events you compete in? 

So I compete individually in the three-meter springboard. That’s the event I did in the 2016 Olympics. But this time around, I am also doing that event in synchro. That’s when two divers are diving at the same time. It’s so much fun because it has aspects of a team sport within an individual sport. My partner, Sarah Bacon, and I have known each other since we were young and are really good friends. We’re having a lot of fun doing synchro, and our timing is super natural, which doesn’t happen for a lot to divers. We’ve only been paired together for a few months, whereas some partners have been together for years. But because we have similar styles of diving, similar body types, and similar strengths, the hard parts about synchro come easy to us, which just makes it even more fun.

Have you two won any competitions together?

In the time we’ve been partners, we’ve won all of the competitions that we’ve competed in, and we’ve been told by international judges we have a really good chance of medaling at the Olympics. So it’s been refreshing to have that confidence from the judges and also to just be having so much fun with it. I think it’s made me a better individual diver because I’m just having a lot of fun at practice. I don’t have to internalize all these pressures anymore, because there’s somebody I can share the experience with.

How did your experience at the 2016 games motivate you during this current cycle?

The 2016 Olympics were a great experience, even though I didn’t compete as well as I wanted to. At the time, I was only about 20 years old. I was super young, and I think I let the outside pressures get to me. I definitely didn’t have the confidence I have now. I wasn’t heading into the Olympics that year thinking I could medal, I was just ecstatic that I was even there. But this next time around, I think my focus and maturity will really come in handy and will hopefully give me an edge that I didn’t have in 2016. But I mean, in Rio I had the time of my life and I came in 13th in the world. That’s not so bad.

You took some time off after the 2016 Olympics. How come? 

So after I graduated from Stanford, I retired for a year. I had just been injured so many times and I wanted to be able to support myself with what I thought was a more legitimate job. I mean, you don’t make money from diving in the US, which is ultimately a driving force for a lot of athletes who retire after college because they need to make living. And for me personally, training would have meant moving back home, and to be completely honest, I was just embarrassed to do that.

But after working and living in San Francisco for a little bit, I started to really miss diving. I realized there would be other jobs waiting for me for the rest of my life, and that most of the negative energy I had about diving was all in my head. No one was actually going to care if I moved back home to train. And even if that was the case, I didn’t want to give up something I was passionate about just to please others.

Obviously your focus is day to day at the moment because of all the chaos. But looking past the 2021 Olympics, do you see yourself retiring again or continuing with the sport?

I think I’m going to keep competing for a while. I’m having a lot of fun with it, and as long as my body stays healthy and as long as I’m still enjoying what I’m doing, I would like to keep on going until at least the 2024 Olympics. But obviously, it’s day by day. Anything could happen. But now that I’ve started up again, I would love to keep it going.

“You have to understand that there’s something about you that makes you special” Haley Jones on her WNBA journey.

COLLEGE PARK, GEORGIA - JUNE 23: Haley Jones #13 of the Atlanta Dream dribbles against the New York Liberty during the first half at Gateway Center Arena on June 23, 2023 in College Park, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

No one understands what Caitlin Clark and the 2024 WNBA draft class has ahead of them better than Atlanta Dream guard Haley Jones.

Jones is a product of her own vaunted draft class, selected sixth overall in 2023 upon finishing a college career at Stanford that produced a 2021 national championship. Since joining the WNBA, Jones had steady output as a rookie, playing in all 40 of the team's games in her first season.

The transition wasn't always easy. Jones had to balance finishing her Stanford degree with the early months of her first professional season, competing against seasoned veterans while closing a chapter of her life as a student.

"In college, it's a job-ish. But now it's really your life, right? And not only are you competing for yourself, but the women that you're going against, this is their lives. They have kids to provide for, families, so it's a different mindset when you come in," she tells Just Women's Sports at the 2024 Final Four in Cleveland. "They're so smart, they're so efficient. And so you'd be doing the same things, but they get there quicker."

Only one year removed from her own college career, watching the upcoming 2024 draft class maneuver the same schedule has been somewhat surreal for Jones. She says she remains close with many of the players still competing for Stanford, including incoming WNBA rookie Cameron Brink, and with the NCAA tournament now behind them she knows just how quickly their lives are going to change.

"The whirlwind that it is when your season ends, you get like three days if you're going to declare for the draft or not," she says. "Then you figure it out, boom, the draft is next Monday. So no time, it's quick. And then they're gonna [have the] draft on the 15th, training camp starts the 26th or 27th, so you have 11 days to move your life to wherever you're going, figure out the new city, get your car there, do all these different little things that come along with it."

Once players arrive in training camp, their spots in the league are anything but guaranteed. With expansion still on future horizons, this year's draft class will be competing with established veterans (including, now, Jones) for limited roster spots. It's not unheard of for even WNBA lottery picks to struggle in establishing a foothold in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.

"A lot of us get to the point of being in the W, you get there because you're hypercritical," Jones says. "That's why you've been able to be so good, your work ethic is insane. So you're watching everything that you do, you're correcting yourself, you're watching film, you're doing all these things."

"I think my biggest advice is really just like the present and understand that you're there for a reason. I think that there's impostor syndrome sometimes when you get to the league. But you have to understand that there's something about you that makes you special, to be where you are."

The rookie wall is real, Jones says, and her own hypercritical nature got the best of her at times during her first year in the WNBA. But she also feels that a player can find the balance beyond imposter syndrome and a busy schedule to get into a sense of rhythm, there's a simplicity to the life of a professional athlete that allows players to further expand their horizons.

Misconceptions about NIL opportunities continuing beyond women's college basketball careers have abounded in recent months, with current WNBA players having to correct the record. Jones is a product of the NIL era, and has only seen her professional opportunities expand since leaving Stanford. "Most of the deals I had in NIL I'm still with now," she says. "because those contracts [extended] or they just renewed now that you're in the W."

"Then you take what you were making [in college] and then you add in your W salary, so — thank you. Now I have my 401k system. I have health care, all these different things — so you kind of honestly add on when you get to the W, on top of better competition, all these different things."

Removing schoolwork from her daily schedule has also given Jones more time to pursue other projects, like her podcast "Sometimes I Hoop", in partnership with The Players' Tribune. As the WNBA continues to build its own ability to market and promote its players, Jones has relished the opportunity to not only meet players she admires through the podcast, but add to an increasingly vibrant media landscape following women's sports.

"There's a lot of men's basketball podcasts out there, a lot of player led ones," she says. "There's not a lot of women's basketball. There's some women's basketball focused pods, but not a lot of player-led ones."

"I think it's great for me to be able to give back to women’s basketball in my own way."

Jones's experience with the podcast has also given her a unique perspective on what possibly comes next for the WNBA, as the league looks to capitalize on a wave of popular young talent while still serving the players already on team rosters.

"Everybody in the league, they were All-Americans at one point in time. They were national champions, like we all have that resume," she says. "I think it's just the W expanding on their storytelling. I think doing a better job with that will do a lot, also like buying into what the players are doing." She notes the impressive personal brands that players like Clark, Brink, and Angel Reese have built on their own.

"The W has a fan base, but then each individual player has a fan base," she continues. "So by locking into those and making them not only Angel Reese fans, Caitlin Clark fans, Cam Brink fans, making them W fans as well will be big."

As Jones grows into her second year as a professional, her perspective of her own college career has also shifted with time. Winning a national championship is difficult, and Stanford's ability to come out on top in 2021 is an achievement she's appreciated even more in the years since winning the title.

"You don't really realize it until later on," she says. "As I look at it now, I realize how big of an accomplishment that that was."

"Talking to my parents, they're like hey, how many people can actually say they won one?" she continues. "How many people become college athletes? DI athletes? Win a natty? One team a year."

The ambitions for Jones in 2024 are even bigger, with the Dream looking to improve upon their fifth-place finish last season. But she also believes the key to growing the game of basketball can be found in connecting with the community, following in the footsteps of college titans like Dawn Staley at South Carolina.

"People buying into these programs because you see them in the community is huge. I feel like for the W to be continuing to do that, continue with community initiatives, all these different things that we're doing. I think that you'll get a lot bigger fan bases."

Chelsea reaches deal with Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor to succeed Emma Hayes

Sonia Bompastor. (Photo by Christian Hofer – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Chelsea is closing in on Emma Hayes’ replacement, reportedly having reached an agreement with Sonia Bompastor to succeed their longtime coach.

According to the Telegraph, Chelsea and Olympique Lyonnais have agreed on a deal for Bompastor, who will take over Chelsea upon the conclusion of the season.

Personal terms with Bompastor had already been agreed to, but compensation between the two teams still had to be figured out in order to release the coach from her contract a year early. 

Following Bompastor will be assistant coach Camille Abily. Bompastor takes over having won two Champions League titles as a player at Lyon, and one as coach during the 2021-22 campaign. The club also has won two straight league titles under Bompastor. 

The French coach has reportedly been Chelsea’s number one target when looking to replace Hayes. Hayes will depart Chelsea at the end of the season to take the helm of the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT). 

Hayes leaves big shoes to fill. Since taking charge in 2012, she’s led the team to six WSL titles and five FA Cups. The only trophy that eludes Hayes is the Champions League – which she still has hopes to win this year. 

They face Barcelona in the semifinals of the Champions League beginning on April 20. Should they advance, they could face Bompastor and Lyon in the final. 

Christen Press’ soccer comeback ‘is coming along’

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 15: Christen Press #23 of Angel City FC waves to fans following a game between the Portland Thorns and Angel City FC at BMO Stadium on October 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

Angel City's Christen Press has given an update on her continued rehabilitation from an ACL tear. 

On Wednesday, Press posted pictures of her training alongside the caption, “The comeback is coming along. The only promise I'll make to you is that I'll try. And what a beautiful, giving thing it is to try.”

Earlier this week, Angel City coach Becki Tweed gave an update on Press, noting that “rehab is going well.”

“She’s progressing along,” she said in an update given on Press as well as M.A. Vignola and Gisele Thompson. “No real timelines on any of them, but they’re all progressing with their rehab and getting what they need right now.”

Press has not played since June of 2022, when she tore her ACL in a match with Angel City. Since then, she’s had four separate surgeries to repair the tear, setting back her recovery. 

A couple of weeks ago, Tweed said that Press is back training with the team “full time” while continuing to work at her rehab. 

“I have a bit of relentless optimism,” she told The Athletic in February. “I never, ever doubted that I would make it back on any of the timelines I’ve been on."

Indiana Fever to be most-televised team in WNBA this season

(Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

The Indiana Fever will be the most-televised team in the WNBA this season, which comes as the team is expected to draft Iowa star Caitlin Clark with the No. 1 pick during the 2024 WNBA Draft.

A total of 36 of the team’s 40 games will be featured nationally – up from just one last year.

The reigning WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces will be on national television 35 times, while the runner-up New York Liberty will be featured 31 times. 

With Clark entering the league, it’s expected that a large portion of her following will join her. The NCAA tournament championship between Iowa and South Carolina was the most-watched women’s basketball game ever with 18.9 million average viewers, and it outdrew the men’s championship for the first time. 

In total, Iowa had a hand in a number of record-breaking viewerships across the NCAA tournament, including the two most-watched games prior to the championship.

The announcement comes as teams around the league have been preemptively using Clark as a way to market to fans. The Phoenix Mercury advertised their June 30 matchup against Indiana as "The GOAT vs. The Rook," while the Minnesota Lynx are set to retire Maya Moore's jersey the same night they face Indiana in August. 

Resale tickets for some Fever home games are already 50x their original price, while other teams are seeing a bump for their games when Clark comes to town.

On Wednesday, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke about Clark's impact on the league as it continues to grow. She also shouted out Cameron Brink and Kamilla Cardoso in what she described as a "really strong rookie class."

"I just think [Clark's] style of play resonates with the big basketball fan, the big game fan," she said. "Because with sports you need household names, rivalries and games of consequence. Obviously March Madness had all of that, and we're hoping to replicate it."

In Indiana, Clark will team up with Aliyah Boston, with the duo hoping to help the Fever to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. In Christie Sides’ first year coaching the team last season, they finished 13-27. 

In the past, the WNBA has notoriously struggled to capitalize on the star power of big-time college players. It's often been said that the best college players "disappear" when they first get to the league.

“The WNBA, I don't think, has done a great enough job of marketing their individual stars,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said during March Madness. 

South Carolina’s Dawn Staley has echoed his sentiments, saying, "We have to bridge the gap between college and the WNBA."

There is hope that this year’s rookie class – headlined by Clark – can begin to do so. 

"With the energy and excitement already generated by what we anticipate will be a star-studded rookie class, and on the heels of a 2023 season that featured one of the greatest MVP races in WNBA history and our most-watched regular season in over two decades," commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, "the WNBA's broadcast and streaming partners are offering a huge national platform that will showcase the league's superstars, rising stars, and rivalries."

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