Finland’s Noora Raty sets sights on gold (and possibly Olympic hockey stardom)

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SOCHI, Russia — From Jim Craig in 1980 to Dominik Hasek in 1998, the Winter Olympics has seen its share of hockey goaltending heroics. Saturday in Sochi, the United States women will kick off their tournament against a Finland team that features as good a candidate as any to become the next netminding legend.

Noora Raty has already beaten the Americans once, in November, when she made an incredible 58 saves on 59 shots, helping the Finns to a stunning 3-1 upset at the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid. Some called it the Finland women’s very own Miracle On Ice – even more appropriate given where it took place.

“I was seeing the puck really well,” Raty said Wednesday. “We were able to keep them outside from the best scoring areas. … That’s huge against the USA.”

Making life a bit more difficult for the 24-year-old former Golden Gopher should be the game plan for the Americans on Saturday.

“She definitely competes hard, positionally she does very well and I think she does a great job of keeping them in every game,” U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter said. “We will have to work hard, move the puck around and create deflections to score on her.”

While most of the talk ahead of the women’s tournament has focused on the rivalry between the two powerhouses, the Americans and the Canadians, U.S. coach Katey Stone has maintained all week that her team’s attention is on the Finns.

“The last game we didn’t win was against Finland in the Four Nations Cup,” said Stone, “and there’s not a player in that locker room that doesn’t remember that.”

After Finland on Saturday, the U.S. women have two more preliminary-round games, Monday versus Switzerland and Wednesday versus Canada.

Olympic champion, Tour de France runner-up tests positive

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Samuel Sanchez, a 2008 Olympic champion and 2010 Tour de France runner-up, was provisionally suspended after testing positive for a banned growth hormone on Aug. 9.

Sanchez, a 39-year-old Spaniard, was due to race the Vuelta a España starting Saturday but is now out indefinitely until the conclusion of his case. That may include the testing of his B sample.

Sanchez denied wrongdoing, saying the failed test was a surprise, according to Spanish news agency EFE.

Sanchez won the road race on the first day of the Beijing Games in a five-man sprint that also included Swiss Fabian Cancellara, who would win the time trial in 2008 and 2016, and Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck.

Two years later, Sanchez finished fourth in the Tour de France but was upgraded to second behind Schleck due to doping bans for original winner Alberto Contador and third-place Denis Menchov.

Sanchez also took the polka-dot jersey for best climber at the 2011 Tour and finished second and third at the Vuelta in 2009 and 2007, respectively.

Sanchez rode in the 2010 Tour wearing a special helmet honoring his Olympic title. He also got a tattoo behind his right shoulder commemorating the Beijing gold on Aug. 9, 2008.

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Victoria Azarenka may miss U.S. Open due to custody battle

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Olympic and Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka says her participation in the U.S. Open is in doubt because she might not be able to bring her son with her to New York as a result of her separation from the baby’s father.

Azarenka is “faced with a difficult situation which may not allow me to return to work right away,” according to a post on the former top-ranked player’s social media accounts Thursday. “No parent should have to decide between their child or their career.”

The 28-year-old from Belarus gave birth to Leo, her first child, in December, then returned to the tour in June.

Azarenka’s post said that shortly after Wimbledon — where Azarenka lost to Simona Halep in the fourth round on July 10 — she separated from her son’s father.

“As we work to resolve some of the legal processes, the way things stand now is that the only way I can play in the U.S. Open this year is if I leave Leo behind in California,” was posted on Azarenka’s social media, “which I’m not willing to do.”

The U.S. Open starts Aug. 28.

“I remain optimistic that in the coming days Leo’s father and I can put aside any differences and take steps in the right direction to more effectively work as a team and agree on an arrangement for all three of us to travel and for me to compete,” was posted, “but, more importantly, to ensure that Leo has a consistent presence from both of his parents.”

Azarenka was the runner-up in New York in 2012 and 2013, losing in the final each year to Serena Williams.

Those were also the years that Azarenka won her two Grand Slam singles titles in Australia.

Wimbledon was Azarenka’s first major tournament in more than a year. She currently is ranked 204th.

“Balancing child care and a career is not easy for any parent, but it is a challenge I am willing to face and embrace. I want to support men and women everywhere who know it is OK to be a working mother — or father. No one should ever have to decide between a child and their career, we are strong enough to do both,” was posted on Azarenka’s social media. “I am incredibly grateful for all of the support I have received from women and men around the world who recognize the importance of supporting working moms and our right to be with our children. I look forward to hopefully having positive developments soon so that this difficult situation can be resolved and I can get back to competing.”

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