Woman Crush(ing It) Wednesday: April Ross

It's about time we got some volleyball going on here! And with the beach volleyball world tour finals happening as we speak, there's no time like the present to appreciate the best player in the world. (Yeah, I said it. Big words.)

+ April began her volleyball career as an indoor player, as a good amount of beach players tend to. In high school she was the top recruit in her graduating class, won the National Gatorade Player of the Year award when she was a senior, and played on the U.S. Junior National Team. Then she took her talents to USC, where she won just about everything (including back-to-back NCAA championships). She still holds USC's record for points and points per game, like, a decade after she graduated.

+ She began her pro beach career in 2006 and was named AVP Most Improved Player that season. She partnered with Jennifer Kessy before the start of the 2007 season and things immediately took off for the pair, as April was named the FIVB Top Rookie and they upset Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings at an AVP tournament. Their roll continued into 2008, but they just missed qualifying for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games -- they were ranked 7th in the world, but there were two other U.S. teams ranked ahead of them, and each country can only send two teams per gender. So April and Jen missed out by a hair... but then they stormed back to win the 2009 world championships. That season she was named the FIVB's Best Hitter and Best Offensive Player.

+ April and Jen kept killin' it for the next couple of years -- April was named the FIVB Best Hitter and Best Server in 2011 -- and finally got their Olympic berth at London 2012. They went 6-0 before the finals, only dropping three sets in total, before winning silver behind Misty and Kerri. Not too shabby! April was also named the FIVB's Best Server again (and you should be noticing a pattern by now).

+ The 2013 season was April's last playing with Jen as she was stepping away from the sport, and they won all sorts of medals right up until the end. As Jen finished up in the middle of the season, April ended up playing with three other partners to finish out the year: Kerri Walsh Jennings, Jen Fopma and Whitney Pavlik. She and Kerri won two tournaments together (wasting no time!), and at the world championships, she and Whitney finished fourth. (Fourth in the world with someone who wasn't her regular partner. Casual.) April also led the AVP tour in hitting percentage, was second in aces and fourth in kills per game.

+ April began her partnership full-time with Kerri in 2014, when they won all seven AVP events and four FIVB events (out of the 10 they competed in), tying for the most of any pair. Not to sound like a broken record, but she led the AVP tour in service aces and kills per game, and was second in hitting percentage. 2015 was a strange season, as Kerri got injured and April had to split her time among a slue of other partners. But, as in the past, she just keeps doing great things with everyone. She played in an AVP event with Lauren Fendrick -- their first time playing together, ever -- and they won. She's with Lauren again right now, for the FIVB world tour finals, and they just beat the best team in the world. She played with Kerri while Kerri was dealing with her shoulder injury (and unable to serve overhand or attack effectively), and April literally kept their team afloat. She's been incomparably dominant this season.

Now, due to how the Olympic qualification system works, every international tournament this year matters in the rankings. So April's heroics could have very, very important implications for Rio.

Long story short, April is the bomb dot com and don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

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An Open Letter To The New York Mets

Hey Mets. Hey. How're we doing? (Dumb question. You clinched the NL East for the first time since 2006 this weekend. We're all doing pretty fantastic.)

It's probably pretty dumb to be writing a letter thanking you for this 2015 season before the playoffs have even started -- because, knowing you, you could bomb and lose the first three games of the NLDS and that'll be it -- but it's been a long road to this point. A very long road. So I'm going to take advantage of the positivity right now and just go for it.

I've been a fan of yours for the vast majority of my life and, for the vast majority of that time, I've regretted it. There were playoff berths in 1999, 2000 and 2006 (and a trip to the World Series in 2000!)... but that's it. I was so young in '99 and '00 that all I remember is Roger Clemens throwing a splintered bat at Mike Piazza (I still hate him for that).

It's like my brother and I already knew what the future held for our respective teams.

And any good memories from 2006 were completely wiped away by the agony of 2007 and 2008. Remember that, guys?

As a kid, I was fairly content to root for a bad team. I wasn't all that invested. But in 2007 and 2008, I was old enough to be invested and, quite frankly, horrified. I was embarrassed to call myself a Mets fan. That embarrassment endured for years. I have an extensive collection of shirseys from the players of my childhood, but stopped collecting them as my discontent grew. Digging into that pile of t-shirts is like opening a weird time capsule.

A small sample.

When people asked me which baseball team I root for, I answered with, "the Mets, unfortunately." When I moved away from New York to go to college, games were no longer easily accessible and I happily grew more detached. The only thing that kept me invested, honestly, was RA Dickey. But I despised the way the organization treated him, even when he won the Cy Young Award in 2012, and very nearly called it quits when he was traded after that season. (I cried. And I'll always harbor a touch of bitterness about that trade. Sorry.)

I tried to abandon ship. I really did. I hated everything about the Mets franchise and wanted out. I was tired of suffering with no payout, and I went so far as to say "I'm done being a Mets fan." That didn't last, though, and I still found myself getting angry at boneheaded organizational moves, disappointed at losing seasons and attached to the all too likable players taking the field every night. And, yeah, I was bummed when most of them got traded too.

But then 2015 happened. Jacob deGrom was the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year and Juan Lagares was a 2014 Gold Glove winner, and spring training left me with some unprecedented optimism. And that 11-game winning streak at the beginning of the season! Wow! The Mets were the best team in baseball! But this was a .500 team by the All Star break, and things weren't looking much better all through July. Everyone was injured, David Wright with a back condition that many athletes never come back from, and I was fully expecting the Mets to pull a Mets. I'd thrown in the towel and expected absolutely nothing from this season.

But suddenly, the team that was notorious for never making moves... actually made some moves! The roster needed some big bats, so some big bats were acquired. Guys recovered from their injuries and returned to the lineup. Promising prospects were brought up. And the most mind-blowing thing? Everyone was doing what was expected of them. Hitters were hitting. Pitchers were throwing gems. And I had absolutely no idea how to handle the idea that games were suddenly meaningful because the playoffs were an actual possibility. I downloaded the ESPN app just so I could get game updates sent directly to my phone and found myself checking it obsessively. I low-key started keeping an eye on the magic number when it was in the 40s, and started an actual countdown when it reached 10.

It was so great going into work yesterday and getting to cross off 3, 2 and 1. SO GREAT.

It doesn't hurt that the 2015 team is obnoxiously likable, y'know. I mean, just the pitching staff would've been enough to have me hook, line and sinker. The Dark Knight? Thor? deGnome? Bartolo? Check please. I love all of them. But there does not seem to be a bad human being on this team. How did you do that?! How did you do any of this?! How did that bungled Wilmer Flores situation leave us with a folk hero? Where did the rally parakeet come from (and, pray tell, how did it match Yoenis Cespedes's sleeve)? How has this team swept the Nationals TWICE this season, the second time with three late-inning come-from-behind wins? How have Mets fans turned every ballpark around the country into a home ballpark? (Seriously, where did all these fans come from? Was everyone just hibernating because they were as embarrassed as I was?)

I got to be one of those "away" Mets fans when they came to Denver to play the Rockies!

So, even if this season does amount to nothing, I just want to say thanks. Thanks for giving us diehards this beautiful, shining season that feels like lightning in a bottle. It has been more fun than I can even put into words. Who knew that stressing over games with playoff implications was so enjoyable?! Thanks for giving me a team full of wonderful men, and wonderful baseball players, who could win and do it with complete class. Thanks for giving me a team I can be proud of.

Now I don't root for "the Mets, unfortunately." I root for the Mets.

The east is ours. Ya gotta believe. Amazin' again 2015.

Let's keep it rolling.

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Woman Crush(ing It) Wednesday: Gwen Jorgensen

Guys. Guys. This one's a good one. In track and field, you know how Usain Bolt never loses? How he always manages to pull out an amazing performance and blow the rest of the field away? Okay, well, Gwen Jorgensen is the Usain Bolt of triathlon. She just. doesn't. lose.

+ Gwen is still a relative newcomer to triathlon. In college, she swam and ran for the University of Wisconsin. She earned a master's degree in accounting, passed the CPA exam and got a job at Ernst & Young as a tax accountant. It wasn't until 2010 that USA Triathlon approached her (as they were recruiting former collegiate swimmers and runners) and invited her to try the sport.

+ Also in 2010, Gwen was named USA Triathlon's rookie of the year. So, wasting no time! That season she had seven finishes in the top 10 (and only one outside it, a 13th place), and put together another killer season in 2011 to earn her place on the London 2012 Olympic team. (Um, after two seasons competing in triathlon, she was an Olympian... I wonder what it's like to be that good at something!) Unfortunately, London didn't go her way, as she got a flat tire during the bike leg of the race and she finished 38th.

+ Not one to let disappointment get to her, Gwen immediately set her sights on Rio and immediately started dominating the world. She had a handful of first-place finishes in 2013, and in 2014 it simply became no contest. She was lights out. She finished third in a World Triathlon Series race on April 26, 2014... and she hasn't lost a race since. GUYS. Gwen has literally been undefeated for a year and a half. She's won 12 consecutive WTS races and two consecutive world championships. She's the first American woman to win back-to-back world titles, and is the first woman ever to win a world title after a flawless season.


+ The funny thing is that winning everything wasn't even Gwen's goal this season: she just wanted to qualify for the Olympic team. There are still 11 months before Rio 2016, but don't worry, Gwen's been on the team for over a month now. And her opponents are tired of essentially racing for second place, so they're literally just hoping this season was a flash in the pan. I mean, you know you've made it when your opponents are specifically figuring out how to beat you, right? And that's what's happening with Gwen. She's such a great runner that she doesn't have to finish in the lead pack after the swim and/or bike. As long as she's within a few minutes of the leader, she can catch up. That is nuts. She is untouchable.

I'm telling you. Look up "crushing it" in the dictionary and you'll find Gwen's picture. Keep an eye on this one, folks, because some big things might be happening next summer!

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The Shirsey Struggle Of The Female Sports Fan

"And I can't get a Sidney Crosby shirsey, because..."

I'll bet that any female sports fan can fill in the end of that sentence.

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day; we're both relatively new NHL fans, and we're both trying to figure out which players' shirsey we want to get. My friend is a Penguins fan, and she was debating the merits of various players, whose she was considering getting, and who she'd ruled out. She said she can't get an Evgeni Malkin shirsey because he reminds her too much of her dad, and she can't get a Sidney Crosby shirsey because...

I answered for her.

"Because it's Sidney Crosby."

Because it's easy to be a Sidney Crosby fan. Because he's the team captain so he's well-known and accessible. Because he's generally thought of as being attractive. Because a girl wearing a Sidney Crosby shirsey won't get any respect or credibility as a hockey fan.

I've been having the exact same dilemma. I'm a Colorado Avalanche fan, and I'd love to get a Gabriel Landeskog shirsey. The only problem? This is Gabriel Landeskog:

Are you kidding me? If I have this dude's name on my back, I go from "hockey fan" to "oh, she only likes him because he's pretty." It doesn't matter that he's a phenomenal hockey player and a great person and a lovable goofball. He's an attractive face with a C on the front of his jersey, so there's no way I could like him for any other reason, right?

I can't get a Gabriel Landeskog shirsey because it's TOO EASY.

It's weird how deeply ingrained this desire to prove myself as a sports fan is. Of all the player-specific merchandise I've gotten in my adult life (only three things, to be fair), two of those athletes are long retired (one of them played for a team that's now defunct, and one of them is literally known for avoiding publicity). The other, R.A. Dickey, was the gem of the Mets' starting rotation when I got his shirsey, but he was never typical "star" material; he's older, nerdy, scruffy. And he's not even on the Mets anymore. So whenever I wear any of them, they all subtly say, "I know more than you do. Try telling me I'm not a real fan."

(I also want a Jacob deGrom Mets shirsey, but I've suffered through an entire lifetime of Mets fandom. I'm allowed to like the cute, lovable sweetheart with flowing hair and a nasty arm, right? I deserve some "easy.")

I guess I'm lucky that it's in my nature to ferret out the under-appreciated athletes and throw my energy into supporting them. I have a crazy strong underdog complex, so it's rare that my favorite players are universally popular. But what about when they are? Why am I going to get crap for liking a fan favorite? I mean, they're fan favorites for a reason, right? But because I'm a girl, I'm only a "real fan" if I know their brother's best friend's middle name and can rattle off all of their career stats. That, quite frankly, is bull. I might not know Gabe's life story but I can certainly appreciate him as a human and as a hockey player. (And I'd be more than happy to discuss at length some other blonde hockey players. Like this one. Or this one. Or this one. )

I don't totally know where I'm going with this. Maybe I'll hold off on my Avalanche shirsey-buying until I inevitably discover some under-the-radar defenseman that becomes my favorite. Or maybe I'll say the hell with it and try to stop caring and buy whoever's shirsey I damn well please. Or I could say the hell with it and get a shirt that's not player-specific. All are tempting.

To any female sports fans that are reading this... you feel me? Do you have the same compulsive desire to have your merch prove your worth as a fan?

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Woman Crush(ing It) Wednesday: Laura Zeng

We started last week with some real talk, and that's how we're kicking things off again today. Real talk: if you'd told me a few weeks ago that I'd be talking about rhythmic gymnastics on my blog, I would've laughed in your face. But in the last few days I've come to realize just how much skill goes into that sport, and I might be turning into a fan. And most of my appreciation is due to one glittery little peanut in particular.

(Also, I love that we're jumping from wrestling to rhythmic gymnastics. I don't think you could find sports that are more polar opposite than these two. LOVE IT.)

+ Laura was born in 1999 (which certainly makes me feel like a grandma) and has been competing in gymnastics since she was seven. Before that, her hobby was Chinese folk dance, and she credits that background to influencing some of her style in her routines. UM, awesome. And speaking of awesome, she began her career in 2007 and was winning competitions in 2008. Casual.

+ As a junior, Laura won... uh, just about everything. But most noteworthy was her bronze medal at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games, as it was the first medal for an American rhythmic gymnast at any Olympic competition. For real: rhythmic gymnastics has been on the Olympic program since 1984, and the highest an American athlete has placed is 11th, in 1984. But those '84 Games were boycotted by the Soviet bloc, and Eastern European countries are the powerhouses of the sport... so if you think about it, that 11th place almost doesn't even count. Laura, however, earned a very real bronze medal behind a Belarusian and a Russian. The girl is legit.

+ 2015 is Laura's first season as a senior. And she's, y'know, still winning all the things domestically. Despite there being more experienced gymnasts on the team, Laura is unquestionably the star. Remember the Pan American Games I keep talking about? Well, Laura won five gold medals there. FIVE. She swept the individual events; all-around, clubs, ball, hoop and ribbon. This made her not only the winningest American athlete at the Games, but the winningest athlete period. Across all nations and all sports, she was the only five-time gold medalist.

+ The rhythmic gymnastics world championships were last week, and were Laura's first on the senior level. If you hadn't picked up on it already, the U.S. is traditionally not particularly good at rhythmic gymnastics. Our athletes generally aren't much of a factor internationally, and we only had a representative at London 2012 because every continent needs to be represented in Olympic competition, so the top-ranked athlete that hadn't yet qualified was given the North America wildcard spot (and she happened to be American). You know at the Winter Olympics how there are alpine skiers from countries in Africa and the Caribbean that are really just there for representation and a feel-good story? Well, that is the United States in rhythmic gymnastics. Olympic quota spots are earned with a top-15 finish at world championships and, because our gymnasts usually don't even advance to the final, have been entirely out of reach. BUT along comes Laura Zeng, at her very first senior-level world championships, who not only makes the final, but finishes eighth. GUYS, she earned the U.S. an Olympic quota spot! She HANDILY earned the U.S. an Olympic quota spot! That. is. amazing.

Laura hasn't officially been named to the Olympic team (yet) -- trials aren't until next year -- but you can be certain that I'll be watching rhythmic during Rio!

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Woman Crush(ing It) Wednesday: Adeline Gray

Okay, real talk for a second: I don't really follow wrestling. I know about Jordan Burroughs and that's pretty much the extent of it. However, I recently had the opportunity to hear Adeline Gray speak, and LET ME TELL YOU, I now have my wrestling ride-or-die. She is phenomenal.

+ Adeline started wrestling when she was six years old when her dad, the father of four girls and not really sure what to do with them, decided to get them into an activity he understood. Adeline took to the sport like a fish to water and was successful almost immediately. In high school, she made the (boys) varsity wrestling team when she was just a freshman, made her first Junior National Team in 2008 and has been competing for the U.S. ever since.

+ With world championships starting this week, Adeline is on her sixth worlds team in six years. In her last four trips to worlds, she's won two gold medals and two bronze medals (and is the current defending champion). But I personally think the coolest thing about Adeline's competitive history is that she's competed in three different weight brackets; 63 kg., 67 kg. and 75 kg. There's a competitive edge to cutting weight and wrestling in a lower weight bracket, as she'd be one of the bigger girls and have the advantage of height and weight. But Adeline hated cutting weight and found it more detrimental than anything else. So she decided to move up weight classes so she could stop focusing on losing weight and instead put all her energy into, y'know, being fit and strong and hydrated and healthy. And her most recent world title came in the 75 kg. bracket, where she was one of the smaller athletes. So basically, this girl is badass AND brilliant!

+ Speaking of badass and brilliant, let's add a third B to that list: beautiful. When asked what the most difficult question she's gotten in response to her being a wrestler, she said, "'You are too pretty to be a wrestler.' There is a stigma in women’s wrestling and many women in sports should not be feminine. I work hard and I have muscles and skill because I dedicate my life to a sport that allows me to travel the world and compete on an elite level and I look like a girl. Males do not have to worry about being told they are to good looking to be doing a sport; it is sad that people believe you cannot have both." Yep, she looks like a girl and could beat the snot out of you and then speak eloquently about it. Amazing.

+ No U.S. woman has ever won gold in wrestling at the Olympics. Adeline's goal is to become the first. Terry Steiner, the head coach of the U.S. women's wrestling program, said: "She's become the face of our program. I think it's very important for her to be the face of this program forever, and being the first Olympic gold medalist would do that. She'd be etched in stone forever." And Adeline herself has said, " “I have so many young girls who look up to me that it brings tears to my eyes. I love seeing them have that (Olympic) dream. There are a lot of young boys who look up to football and baseball players who make a lot of money. Women really don’t have those people. I really want this sport to give girls something to believe in and something to dream for … and that it’s a much bigger world than just going to school or just getting a job." #YAAASSSSS

+ Adeline won gold at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games this summer, which was the topic she spoke about when I got to see her. Not only was she herself a great speaker, but she brought someone up on stage to help her act out her Pan Ams experience, which was creative and downright hilarious. So all of that was endearing enough, but what really made me love her was when she spoke from the heart. She was on stage in front of a crowd of USOC employees, and she thanked us so genuinely for supporting her and all other athletes. Working during the Pan Ams was (as I've mentioned before) incredibly difficult for me, but hearing how grateful she was made me feel so much more positive about my own experience. She said that we work to support her, and she goes out there and competes for us: "You may be the team behind the team, but yours are the faces that I see." GUYS. I frickin' love her.

So, I realize that all I really did here was directly quote things that Adeline has said. But who needs editorial license when she says such great things?! In short: keep an eye on this girl, because I'm pretty sure she's about to take over the world.

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Life Lately

  • I had this post ready for yesterday, but I haven't posted anything but Miracle Mondays on my blog on Mondays in well over a year and I just... couldn't do it. Sometimes I think I'm too sentimental for my own good! :P
  • I'm still trying to get back into the swing of things when it comes to planning out my blog posts. Fellow bloggers, do you ever feel too fickle to have an editorial calendar? I'll plan to write a fun post, but then life will happen and I'll be too moody/tired/distracted to want to spout rainbows from my keyboard. Anyone have any advice?
  • Things seem to have returned to some semblance of normalcy after my nutso spring/summer. But right as I was getting comfortable, a few nights ago I had a dream that my teeth were falling out. And not just one tooth, mind you. No, my entire top row of teeth were loose and moving around like they were dentures (ewww). And earlier in the week I had a dream that I was crossing a bridge that was big and solid and sturdy when I started across it, but by the time I got to the other end it was a rickety, crumbling rope bridge. I haven't looked that one up, but I was an English minor in college. I know me some symbolism. I can put two and two together. Do we think I'm extremely anxious about my life? (Say it with me: YES. Always, yes.)
  • After spending the entirety of July shut up in my cubicle, in the last two weeks I went to two Colorado Rockies games and a barbecue. So hey, I'm finally squeezing in some summer before fall! 
  • Also in the last two weeks, I met two of my friends' parents. (Does that sentence make sense? Two friends, two sets of parents.) It seems to be pretty rare to know your friends' parents after high school because most of the people I'm friends with are living pretty far away from home (including myself), so it's been really cool to meet people's families! 
  • The new intern class started at work this past week, and I realized that this is the EIGHTH intern class I've been out here for. That is crazy. When did I become a grizzled veteran?!
  • Speaking of the new interns, when I found out that ours was going to get a "welcome to the USOC" gift, I was a little offended -- I mean, I've had three first days at the USOC and not one of them has come with a gift! And that's how I ended picking out my "welcome to the USOC" gift a year and a half after my first first day. ;) I chose a super trendy cowl-neck hooded sweatshirt that I love but am still trying to figure out.
  • I bought myself my first candle recently. I know, how #basic of me. But I'm starting to understand why so many people are so obsessed with candles. I mean, I'm still a very long way from having a candle-hoarding problem like many people seem to, but there's something very lovely about firelight and the scent of mulled cider. I'm diggin' it.
  • Anyone with a crockpot and an aversion to putting in effort in the kitchen needs to make this chicken. It might actually be the easiest recipe on the Internet, and it's delicious!
  • I just scrolled through Facebook for about 30 seconds and saw posts from five different people about getting engaged, engagement photo shoots, or weddings. Please send help.
  • Miami Hurricanes football is back and the Mets are in first place in the NL East (in September!!!!!) and NHL preseason starts this month. I'm feeling pretty good about all the sports things at the moment (...but it's the Mets. And the Canes. So let's see how long this lasts).
Well, that's about where I'm at these days! How's everybody else doing?

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Woman Crush(ing It) Wednesday: Allyson Felix

Hey there, and welcome to the first installment of Woman Crush(ing It) Wednesday! I'm super excited to finally get this series off the ground, and I've gotten some positive feedback already so hopefully it lives up to expectations! :)

We're kicking things off at the track, as IAAF World Championships wrapped up this past weekend so I've got track on the brain. Pretty soon I'm sure I'll be taken over by hockey and figure skating and bobsledding and speed skating... I'm a little bit excited about the start of winter sports season. Can you tell?

+ If you had to take a guess, who would you think is the most successful U.S. track and field athlete at world championships? Someone like Carl Lewis or Michael Johnson, right? WELL, that was true until last week. As of the 2015 world championships, the most decorated American athlete is none other than Allyson Felix, with NINE gold medals and 13 overall. And she's not even tied with anyone; she stands alone at the top. Step aside, fellas! (She also was the second woman ever to win three gold medals at a single world championship, which she did in 2007, and is the first woman to win three world championship titles in the 200m.)

+ Allyson is a three-time Olympian and medaled at least once at each of her three Games; silver in the 200m in 2004, silver in the 200m and gold in the 4x400m relay in 2008, and gold in the 200m and both relays in 2012. In other words: she's only getting better.

+ Do you want to hear something crazy? At this year's worlds, Allyson didn't even run the 200m (her bread-and-butter event). She ran the 400m instead, just to challenge herself and see how well she could do... and she won gold. Y'know, casually. In an ideal world she would've ran the 200m-400m double, but the timing didn't work out and she had to pick one. That's how it's looking for Rio 2016 as well, but she hasn't been shy about expressing her hope that the schedule gets changed. So if you see Allyson running the double next summer, know that it's because she's important enough that the schedulers literally rearranged things for her.

+ Allyson was only 18 at her first Olympics so, even though Rio 2016 will be her fourth Games, she's still only 29. Her silver medal-winning time in 2004 was good enough to set a World Junior record and at the 2005 world championships, she became the youngest-ever gold medalist in the women's 200m. Ummmmmm, child prodigy? (Yes, child prodigy. She didn't start running track until her freshman year of high school, so she made her first Olympic team, what, four years later?)

+ When she was in high school, her teammates nicknamed her Chicken Legs because she was so skinny. Yet she could still deadlift 270 pounds. (As a fellow chicken-legged individual myself, I'm so here for this.)

BASICALLY, Allyson Felix is the biggest BAMF on the track and don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise!

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