Thursday was a busy day for several Minnesota athletes trying to reach the Tokyo Olympics. Alise (Post) Willoughby made her third U.S. Olympic team in BMX racing, former Gopher Sarah Bacon fell just short in 3-meter synchronized diving, and Regan Smith arrived in Omaha for the Olympic trials in swimming.
With only 43 days until the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Summer Games, the selection process for American athletes is kicking into high gear. Over the next few weeks, the Olympic rosters for all sports will be finalized through competition at Olympic trials or by the selection criteria of each sport's governing body. Willoughby became the sixth athlete with Minnesota connections to lock up a U.S. Olympic berth, with more likely to come soon.
The St. Cloud native and silver medalist at the 2016 Rio Games was among 27 cyclists — 18 women and nine men — named Thursday to the U.S. team for Tokyo. Other Minnesotans confirmed for the Games are climber Kyra Condie and sailor Lara Dallman-Weiss of Shoreview, women's volleyball player Jordan Thompson of Edina, freestyle wrestler Gable Steveson of Apple Valley and shooter Patrick Sunderman of Farmington.
Willoughby, 30, has won two world championships since Rio — in 2017 and 2019 — and has five medals in nine world championships appearances. She earned her 10th U.S. title in March, following victories in the first two World Cup races of the season.
A 2009 graduate of St. Cloud Tech, Willoughby finished 12th in her Olympic debut at the 2012 London Games. She married Australian BMX star Sam Willoughby in 2019. Sam Willoughby, who was partially paralyzed in a 2016 training accident, now coaches Alise at their home base in Chula Vista, Calif.
Though Alise Willoughby has lived and trained in California for several years, she still considers St. Cloud's Pineview Park — run by her father, Mark Post — as her home track.
Bacon, a four-time NCAA champion for the Gophers, combined with partner Kassidy Cook to place second Thursday in women's 3-meter synchronized diving at the Olympic trials in Indianapolis. The duo was favored to win but finished 28.32 points behind Alison Gibson and Krysta Palmer. In synchronized diving, only the winners at the Olympic trials make the team.
Cook dropped out of the individual 3-meter competition because of a painful shoulder injury and competed with her right shoulder encased in therapeutic tape. She and Bacon stood 21.45 points behind Gibson and Palmer after the preliminary and semifinal rounds.
In Thursday's finals, they cut the margin to 14.25 points after two dives but dropped back again on the third, when they performed the same dive as Gibson and Palmer and were outscored by 7.20 points. Bacon and Cook finished with 871.50 points to Gibson and Palmer's 899.82.
Bacon will have another shot at an Olympic berth Saturday, when she competes in the finals of the women's individual 3-meter. She stands in fifth place after the preliminaries and semifinals, 87.15 points behind Palmer and 25.90 points behind second-place Hailey Hernandez. The divers with the two highest cumulative scores make the Olympic team.
The Olympic trials for swimming begin Sunday and run for eight days. Smith, of Lakeville, expects to be busy for the first seven. The world record holder in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke will compete in those two events, as well as the 100 and 200 butterfly.
Smith, 19, starts things off with the preliminaries of the 100 fly Sunday morning. The semifinals are Sunday night, and the finals are Monday evening. She enters the trials seeded No. 1 in the 100 and 200 back, No. 2 in the 200 fly and No. 5 in the 100 fly.
Another Minnesota athlete, Isabelle Stadden of Blaine, also is among the top contenders at the swim trials. She is seeded fifth in the 200 backstroke and eighth in the 100 back.