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Olympian Lucy Davis on Ambition and Burnout

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 17: Lucy Davis of United States rides Barron during the Jumping Team Round 2 during Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Equestrian Centre on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Lucy Davis is a show jumping competitor who, as part of the US Show Jumping Team, took home silver at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Below, she spoke with Just Women’s Sports about the dedication required to compete at the highest level and how she overcame her own post-Olympics burnout.

I know this is a dumb question, but how do you get a rookie horse to jump over its first obstacle? And what does training look like from there?

You just kind of point and shoot. I mean, they’re natural. They’re literally bred to be jumpers like thoroughbreds are bred for speed and lightness. Jumpers are also bred for lightness, but more so in terms of agility. And then each breed has their sort of build, and they start jumping when they’re four or five and then you just continue to refine all of the technical aspects. As a rider, your goal is to be able to go forwards, backwards, left and right, in an instant. So you just have to keep refining what we call a horse’s rideability. Each jump on a course is set in a specific way, so your ability to adjust and to communicate with the horse is paramount. And that comes over years of working with them.

What, in your mind, separates the elite riders from the merely good? Is it preparation, relationship with the horse, ability to adapt?

I think all of the above. What’s beautiful about our sport, and what may be puzzling to outside audiences, is that you have a pretty diverse set of top riders. It’s men and women. At the Olympics, I was the only person on the podium in their twenties. The majority were in their thirties and forties, and some in their fifties. So there’s no kind of body type or age or anything that determines your prime. It’s definitely about experience and the bond between specific horses. And I think what separates the really good riders from the kind of Olympic riders is the mental aspect. You basically have two minutes where you can’t make a mistake. You make a mistake, you have a rail, you’re done, you’re out. But even then, you have to keep fighting to not have more rails because every one counts. But that ability to hyper-focus needs to be refined over time. Some people have more of a natural feel with the horses, and if those people work hard and also have the mental game, they are usually elite.

When did you realize that horses were going to be a big part of your life? 

Before I could walk. My mom would take me to the barn and put me on a horse, and I guess when she would try to make me leave the barn, I would start screaming. So I was definitely a crazy little pony girl from the beginning. It’s all I wanted to do. I tried to convince her to do homeschool and just grind, but thankfully she didn’t let me do that.

What do you think has specifically allowed you to be so successful at such a young age? 

I think I grew up a little bit differently than a lot of young riders, at least in the US. Being in California, we have our own sort of rogue circuit. And I was always a tenacious child competitor. My mom used to have this thing that she made up called the sportsmanship award, and if at the end of the weekend, I was a good sport, she would get me like a pair of cool socks or something else that was pretty random and insignificant. But it was enough where I was like, Oh, I want those socks. I have to be nice even if I don’t win. But I was definitely pretty competitive. And then, I had a series of “right place at the right time” moments, where I got to work with one of the best trainers in the world, Markus Beerbaum. Starting at age 17, I had a wonderful mentorship there. And I got lucky with Barron [Davis’ horse at the 2016 Olympics], who basically took me from being competitive with good horses to having a horse that could actually do the things that I dreamed of doing. That kind of kicked everything into gear for me.

The stars definitely have to align, but there’s a certain point where it’s like everybody has goals. And everybody has setbacks on the way to those goals. I think I just tried to keep a really open mind about those setbacks and get creative about them and use them not as setbacks but as different avenues to get to where I wanted. A lot of people get really hung up on the pressure, but I’m kind of good at hermitting and closing that off. There was a lot of sweat and blood and tears behind the scenes, but that’s another one of those things where every athlete has to make sacrifices. I commuted weekly from Stanford to compete. In the summer, I was living in the middle of nowhere, Germany, biking to the barn in the rain every day. All those moments compiled into something.

What surprised you the most about your experience in Rio?

Um, how many people came to equestrian? [Laughs.] It was awesome, because we’re obviously not as mainstream as other sports, but actually within Brazil, there’s a huge part of Brazilian culture, and particularly within the military, that’s into equestrian. The facility itself was out on the edge of a military base in Rio, so we had all of these families and people that have grown up riding or have done it through military training come out. The crowds were awesome. But so was the whole experience. I always tell people that, I feel like anything you dream about or talk about for four years, once it happens is always kind of a letdown. And this was the only time in my life when the experience totally lived up to and surpassed expectations. There was definitely some fear beforehand that that wouldn’t be the case. Because I’ve been obsessed with going to the Olympics since I was six years old. So there was some panic, like, what if it’s not cool? But there’s this energy everywhere that comes from having so many athletes be in the same boat. There’s a camaraderie, and everybody is so in the zone. It’s inspiring.

You’ve talked elsewhere about experiencing burnout after the games. What was that like? 

Yeah, I had a full on crisis. Like I said, the Olympics had been my dream since I was six years old. They were always my goal. Everything I did was somehow dictated by that. Every morning before class I went to the barn to ride. Every morning I was in Germany I biked to the barn in the rain, even though I could get a ride, because I told myself if I take any shortcuts, I’m not going to get to where I need to go. There were so many small things like that where you beat yourself up. And you never think about what happens after you reach your goal. After the Olympics, I took a month off to celebrate, and then I went straight back to work. I was in Holland. It was November and starting to get cold. I was living in another small town with no family or friends outside of the people I rode with. And it was kind of, well, okay, I reached my goal. So what am I working towards now?

I’m a very goal oriented person, and at that time I just didn’t have a direction. It was the first time I had thoughts about other things I could be doing with my life, especially seeing what other friends were doing after school. And then all my stuff got stolen, which led to everything just hitting all at once. I had a full blown kind of meltdown, which led me to come back to the States. It was a very dark sort of year, honestly, but ultimately, it was one of those things where I thought good, I had that meltdown, I got over it. And as I started competing again I realized that I still had the motivation to ride. I realized that I actually love doing what I’m doing and I desperately want to go to Tokyo. I want to keep building the Pony App and continue to design my life around horses because at the end of the day I can’t give that up. And now we’re here.

Do you think those were realizations you could have come to without the meltdown, or was that a prerequisite for some of these larger insights? 

Oh no, that was definitely a prerequisite. I mean… we don’t have a season. Equestrian is all year round. It’s every weekend in non-coronavirus times. You’re kind of constantly hustling to build new mounts to get to their peak, and then you’re bringing up the other ones. You’re building a kind of portfolio, basically, and it’s sort of nonstop, and you’re traveling around, until one day you wake up and you’ve been, you know, running the rat race.

I think that pause allowed me to appreciate why I got into it in the first place, and why I was going to continue to do it for the time being. It let me focus on, okay, maybe other than Tokyo, I don’t have my next big, life’s-mission goal. But that’s okay. When I was in college, I was so hyper-focused and goal driven, and just kind of irrationally obsessed with making the Olympics. They were like the rings in the Lord of the Rings. They had this power over me where everything I did was focused on that goal. Now there’s this sort of mourning and admiring of my past self, as well as just accepting that I have different and other priorities. I still want some of the same things, like to go to the Olympics, but I know I can go about it differently and not let it consume me.

What does a typical day of training look like now and how will that change as we approach the 2021 Olympics?

Now I ride about five horses a day, right in the morning. And then usually in the afternoon or evening I do some kind of supplement training. Biking, running, various exercises that are riding related. Leading up to the Olympics, it’ll be a lot more preparation for competitions and trials, which involves a lot more jumping and our version of scrimmaging, where you’re doing practice rounds to simulate competition.

Do you think, generally speaking, athletes experience less doubt regarding their life trajectory or that they’re simply better trained to persevere through doubt? 

I’d like to think the latter. What’s nice about this sort of training program, the competition schedule and the goal setting is that you impose a structure on your life that just permeates into other areas, so that when things go wrong, you have a structure and an idea of where you want to go. It’s a lot easier to deal with those setbacks as exciting challenges, rather than thinking like, Oh my God, this is a sign, or some kind of horrible diversion.

At this point in your career, how do you measure improvement? 

Mmm, that’s a hard one. I think with horses we’re lucky because each new horse brings sort of a new adventure and a new challenge. So if I’m working with a younger horse and introducing them into the top level, and they go and have a clear round and I place sixth, I’ll be ecstatic. Whereas if I did the same competition with Barron, that result would be a letdown. I think setting horse-specific tasks allows you to be happy with small wins, because the number of clear rounds, and the number of wins for even the number one rider in the world, is much lower than the number of times you hit a rail or don’t win. So if you’re just focused on winning all the time, you’re really setting yourself up for unhappiness.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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