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14 Olympic silver medalists with best chances for gold in Rio

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The difference between winning and losing can be minuscule. Olympic gold could have easily been silver if not for an inch here or another second there.

While some athletes can seemingly win gold every time they step into competition, other Olympians are left collecting silver. They’re still remarkable athletes, but gold eludes them.

Some of the world’s best have another shot (for some, their last) at claiming the cherished Olympic gold medal over the next few weeks in Rio. Here are 14 such athletes to watch, in no particular order:

Tony Azevedo, United States, water polo
He’ll become the first five-time Olympian in U.S. water polo history, and he was born in and resides in Rio. It’d be a great place for Azevedo to win his first Olympic gold medal. The U.S. won silver in 2008 before a disappointing eighth-place result four years ago. The American men aren’t favored for gold like their female counterparts, but after taking second in the 2016 FINA World League, they’ve got a shot. Maybe Azevedo’s last shot.

Jordan Larson, United States, volleyball
The third-leading scorer for the U.S. women in 2012 as they fell to Brazil in the second consecutive Olympic gold-medal match, Larson will be just one of four women in Rio from that silver-medal squad. They’re favored to win the first Olympic gold for U.S. women’s indoor volleyball, being the top-ranked team in the world and reigning world champions. But to get that gold, Larson and the U.S. will likely need to take down Brazil in front of their raucous home crowd.

April Ross, United States, beach volleyball
She took silver at the London Games with partner Jen Kessy, losing to compatriots Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings in the final. But Ross is now teamed up with Walsh Jennings, who’s looking for her fourth straight Olympic gold medal. They’ll be the No. 3 seed in Rio –behind two Brazilian teams who, again, will have a boisterous crowd on their side.

Sarah Hammer, United States, cycling
She left London four years ago with two silver medals, but heads to Rio with two chances to grab gold. Hammer placed second the omnium and was on the women’s team pursuit unit that placed runner-up to Great Britain. But Hammer and three new teammates are the reigning team pursuit world champions. She also took bronze at the 2016 Worlds in omnium, so gold in that event in Rio wouldn’t be out of the question either.

Neymar, Brazil, soccer
He was supposed to get his gold in London, but the star-studded Brazilian side was shocked by Mexico, 2-1, in the final. So Neymar is back, competing as one of his team’s three over-23 players, seeking Brazil’s first Olympic gold in soccer (men or women). He was second on the squad with three goals in London; more in Rio would help his nation end the drought.

Marta, Brazil, soccer
A five-time FIFA World Player of the Year, Marta is a two-time Olympic silver medalist. She helped Brazil to runner-up status in 2004 and ’08, before struggling to sixth in 2012. The U.S. won each of those gold medals, as well as the 2015 World Cup (where Brazil was eliminated in the round of 16), leaving it as the decided favorite for Rio. But Brazil seeks its first Olympic soccer gold medal, playing the country’s most popular sport in front of the world’s most passionate fans, so Marta and Brazil certainly have a shot.

Alison Cerutti, Brazil, beach volleyball
He nearly had gold in London with beach legend Emmanuel Rego, but the Brazilians fell in the third set in the final to a German pair. Now, Alison has Bruno Oscar Schmidt by his side and the reigning world champions will be the No. 1 men’s seed on home sand at Copacabana Beach.

Yohan Blake, Jamaica, track and field
The runner-up to compatriot Usain Bolt in both the 100m and 200m four years ago, Blake did win a gold medal with Bolt on his team in the 4x100m relay. But he’s never won individual Olympic gold. He owns world championship gold, as Blake took the 100m at the 2011 Worlds after Bolt was disqualified for a false start. But Bolt may be at his most vulnerable in his Olympic career, so Blake, three years younger, hopes to capitalize.

Anita Włodarczyk, Poland, track and field
She’s the world record holder in hammer throw and favored for gold as the reigning world champion, especially considering the defending Olympic champion is Russian and won’t be present in Rio. Tatyana Lysenko won gold in London after defeating Wlodarczyk by .58 of a meter, but her country’s doping scandal will keep her home.

Caster Semenya, South Africa, track and field
Known for a gender-testing controversy that has followed her since 2009, Semenya is the favorite in the women’s 800m, and she could race the 400m too. She took silver in the 800m at the London Games, finishing behind Russian Mariya Savinova and ahead of Russian Ekaterina Poistogova. Neither of those women will be in Rio due to Russia’s doping scandal. Semenya owns three of the four fastest 800m times this year.

Laszlo Cseh, Hungary, swimming
Were it not for a guy named Michael Phelps, Cseh would’ve won three gold medals at the 2008 Games. Instead, he owns five career Olympic medals (three silver, two bronze) all in races won by Phelps. But Phelps enters his final Olympics not nearly as intense as in years past. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, but Cseh has a shot at knocking off Phelps in the 100m and 200m butterfly. Phelps holds the best time in the 100m since 2013 (50.45) while Cseh is third (50.86); Cseh owns the best time in the 200m since 2013 (1:52.91) while Phelps is second (1:52.94).

Qiu Bo, China, diving
Of the eight diving events at the Olympics, China won gold in six at the 2012 Games and claimed silver in the other two. Qiu Bo was one of the two to take second, as he was edged by American David Boudia in the 10m platform. Qiu has since earned gold at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds, relegating Boudia to silver both times. The two should do battle again in Rio.

Pau Gasol, Spain, basketball
Gasol’s chances of obtaining gold are slim considering the U.S. men’s dominance in international hoops, but Spain’s chances of cracking Team USA are better than anyone else’s. Spain has met the U.S. in the past two Olympic finals and actually stayed with the Americans until the fourth quarter both times. The 2016 U.S. team is thought to be its weakest since 2004, though it’s still heavily favored.

Lee Chong Wei, Malaysia, badminton
Lee owns two silver medals after losing in the 2008 and ’12 Olympic finals. He also holds three silver medals from world championships, falling in the final at the past three such competitions (2011, ’13 and ’15). Lee was knocked off by China’s Lin Dan in four of those events, including both Olympics, and by China’s Chen Long at the 2015 Worlds. But his hope for Olympic breakthrough comes from these rivals’ most recent meeting at the 2016 Asian Championships – Lee took out Lin in the semis and defeated Chen in the final. Lee will be the No. 1 seed in Rio.

MORE: Rio Olympics schedule highlights, daily events to watch

Olympic super-G champion Anna Veith wins first World Cup race in two years

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VAL D’ISERE, France (AP) — Olympic champion Anna Veith won a World Cup super-G race on Sunday, more than two years after her last win.

The 28-year-old Austrian has been battling back from injury. She went to hospital in March to have the patellar tendon in her left knee surgically repaired. She had returned in December 2016, after more than one year out after heavily damaging her right knee in a training crash.

“It was a pretty emotional day for me. When I stopped in the finish I didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “It’s important for me to know I can do it in a race, trust myself. I didn’t race so much the last two years.”

She profited from an early bib number to clock 1 minute, 5.77 seconds on the Oreiller-Killy course.

It was her 15th World Cup win and first podium since third place in super-G at the Italian resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo in January. Her previous win came in giant slalom at the French resort of Meribel in March 2015.

Victory came as a huge psychological relief to Veith who, before injury, was one of the world’s best. She won the overall World Cup title in 2014 and 2015 and also took silver in giant slalom at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“After my surgery I knew that the most important thing was to be in good shape and get my strength back,” Veith said. “My injury was a very tough injury. All the girls know it’s pretty hard to get over it.”

Tina Weirather of Lichtenstein was second in 1:06.25 — her 35th World Cup podium — with Italian Sofia Goggia third in 1:06.28.

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Remarkably, Weirather raced despite fearing she has broken her left hand.

“Yesterday, when i crashed I went with my hand in the snow and it hurt my hand and my shoulder,” she said. “I haven’t been to the doctor yet. I’m not sure what it is right now, but for sure not very good because it’s black and blue.”

She also knows a thing or two about courage.

“I could have just have thought “I can’t do it and given up” but I really wanted to do well today,” Weirather said. “In the warmup it hurt really badly. I thought that with the adrenalin I’d forget about it.”

One race is enough, though, and she won’t be taking part in Tuesday’s giant slalom in nearby Courchevel.

“I can’t, because I can’t hold my pole and I have to get an X-ray on my hand,” she said. “I’m not sure if it’s broken or not.”

Goggia, second in Saturday’s super-G behind Lindsey Vonn, has 15 World Cup podiums.

But only two wins.

Goggia knows what she must do to improve her conversion rate.

“Do most of the turning in the correct way. Sometimes I make mistakes in my performance,” she said. “I have to put that off and just ski right and I think it will come.”

Vonn pulled out of Sunday’s race because of soreness in her knee. Having done the morning’s inspection, the 33-year-old American decided against racing as a precautionary measure. The four-time World Cup winner is flying home.

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Lindsey Vonn pulls out of World Cup super-G race because of sore knee

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VAL D’ISERE, France (AP) — Lindsey Vonn pulled out of a World Cup super-G race on Sunday because of a sore knee.

The 33-year-old American did not say which knee hurts, but has injured both before.

She took part in Sunday’s early-morning inspection at the French Alpine resort, but then decided against racing as a precautionary measure and flew home.

Vonn secured her first win of the season and record-extending 78th in Saturday’s super-G on the same Oreiller-Killy course.

“Knee is a bit sore from yesterday so to be on the safe side I’m going to give my body some rest,” Vonn tweeted. “My focus is on the Olympics so no need to risk anything now.”

Vonn did not say when she plans to return. There are only slalom and giant slalom races to follow — not her specialty — until the next speed events in January. They begin with a downhill and super-G at the Austrian resort of Bad Kleinkirchheim from Jan. 13-14.

Last weekend, Vonn jarred her back in another super-G race at St. Moritz in Switzerland.

Her mind is fully on the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea from Feb. 9-25. She won gold in downhill and bronze in super-G at the 2010 Games.

Vonn has battled with injury during her illustrious career.

She sustained a hairline fracture to her left knee in a super-G race in February 2016.

At the 2013 world championships, Vonn crashed in the super-G and tore ligaments in her right knee. She was unable to defend her Olympic title at the 2014 Games.

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