Davis, Richardson win 1000m at speed skating trials; redemption for Garcia

Shani Davis
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Shani Davis left no doubt in the 1000m Sunday, one day after a strange disqualification allowed him to qualify for the Olympics in the 500m.

Jonathan Garcia, whose personal best skate was wiped out because he didn’t wear ankle transponders Saturday, is also likely headed to the Sochi Olympics in the 1000m.

Davis won the 1000m at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials, clinching a berth in Sochi, where he could become the first American man to win a single Winter Olympic event three straight times. Davis took gold in the 1000m at the 2006 and 2010 Games.

Garcia was fourth in the 1000m, an event where the U.S. can send a maximum of four skaters to Sochi. His place on the U.S. Olympic Team is not yet assured, but he’s in a qualifying position. The full Olympic speed skating team is expected to be announced later this week.

Heather Richardson picked up her second win in as many days at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah, capturing the women’s 1000m ahead of Brittany Bowe. They also went one-two in the 500m on Saturday.

The U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials continue, after a day off, with the men’s and women’s 1500m on Tuesday. Davis, Richardson and Bowe are favorites in that distance, too.

Davis won the 1000m in 1 minute, 7.52 seconds. Brian Hansen was second in 1:07.53, followed by Joey Mantia (1:07.88) and Garcia (1:07.95).

Davis has won three of four World Cup 1000m races this season after taking third at the Sochi Olympic venue at the World Single Distance Championships on March 22. He and snowboarders Shaun White and Seth Wescott are vying to be the first American man to win a single Olympic event three times.

“I don’t allow it to weigh on me,” Davis said on NBC. “I simply want to go there, do my best. If I’m the best man that given day, I’ll be more than happy to take home a gold medal and add to my collection. If not, I tried my best, and that’s the best I can do.

“I think I’m skating pretty good. I think the best is still yet to come.”

On Saturday, Davis was fourth in the 500m but would have been outside of Olympic qualifying position if not for Garcia’s disqualification for not wearing ankle timing transponders.

Garcia, who would have originally been fourth, finished sixth in the 500m after his reskate. The U.S. can send a maximum of four men in the 500m and 1000m to the Olympics.

Garcia wore transponders Sunday, evidenced when he waved them in the air after he realized he finished fourth after the final pair crossed.

“I don’t think it’s set in yet,” said Garcia, who joked about his disqualification on NBC. “I didn’t really let it get to me. I was really surprised. Usually, stuff like that shakes me pretty well. But I didn’t really think about. In my mind, I truly believe that I made that [500m] team. I skated fast enough to be on the team. I left here yesterday feeling accomplished. I made it on my own speed. Not having my transponders yesterday didn’t affect my time.”

Hansen, a 2010 Olympian who was third in the 500m on Saturday, could also win a medal in Sochi. He took bronze behind Davis in the first two World Cup races this season.

Mantia, a former inline world champion, is also in the mix but may be better in the 1500m. He shaved .76 off his personal best in the 1000m on Sunday.

In the women’s race, Richardson (1:13.22) and Bowe (1:13.92) were followed by Sugar Todd and Kelly Gunther.

Richardson could take Olympic gold in this event given she’s won three of four World Cup races this year. Bowe took the fourth in a world-record time.

The U.S. has not won a women’s speed skating medal at the Olympics since 2002.

“I think it’s very likely to change,” Richardson said of the drought on NBC. “I think this is the piece to put the whole puzzle together in Sochi.”

Todd, who also qualified third in the 500m on Saturday, skated a personal best 1:15.72.

For fourth, Gunther edged three-time Olympian Elli Ochowicz with a personal best 1:16.43. Ochowicz was .08 slower, finishing fifth for the second straight day in two events where the U.S. can send a maximum of four women to Sochi.

Gunther agonizingly missed the 2010 Olympic team due to another skater’s reskate. One month after the Vancouver Games, she suffered a double compound fracture of a bone just below her left ankle in a skating crash at the Utah Olympic Oval. The cut was so deep, and there was so much blood, that there was concern she could lose her foot.

“I couldn’t even believe it,” Gunther said on NBC. “After everything I’ve been through, fighting back. My dream has always been to go to the Olympics.”

Shiffrin edged in Lienz slalom by record breaker

How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with older veterans — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team.

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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U.S., China set for FIBA Women’s World Cup gold-medal game

FIBA Women's World Cup Basketball
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SYDNEY — Breanna Stewart and the United States used a dominant defensive effort to beat Canada and reach the gold-medal game of the FIBA Women’s World Cup for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Stewart scored 17 points and the Americans raced out to an early lead to put away Canada 83-43 on Friday, reaching a Saturday gold-medal game with China. The 43 points was the fewest scored in a semifinal game in World Cup history.

“Canada has been playing really well all tournament and the goal was just to come out there and really limit them,” said U.S. forward Alyssa Thomas. “We were really locked in from the jump with our game plan.”

China edged host Australia 61-59 in the later semifinal to reach its first global championship game since the 1994 Worlds, the last time it won a medal of any color. The U.S. beat China 77-63 in group play last Saturday, the Americans’ closest game of the tournament.

“Our goal was to to win a gold medal and we’re in position to do that,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The U.S. (7-0), which is on a record pace for points and margin of victory in the tournament, took control of the game early scoring the first 15 points. The Americans contested every shot on the defensive end as the Canadians missed their first nine attempts from the field. On the offensive end, Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Thomas basically got any shot they wanted.

“I think after that punch, it really took the air out of them,” Thomas said. “They didn’t know what to do with their offense anymore after that.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

Laeticia Amihere, who plays at South Carolina for former U.S. coach Dawn Staley, finally got Canada on the board nearly 5 minutes into the game making a driving layup.

By the end of the quarter the U.S. led 27-7. Canada had committed four turnovers — the same number the team had against Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals which was the lowest total in a game in 30 years.

The Americans were up 45-21 at the half and the lead kept expanding in the final 20 minutes. The win was the biggest margin for the U.S. in the medal round topping the 36-point victory over Spain in the 2010 World Cup.

Canada (5-2) advanced to the medal round for the first time since 1986 and has a chance to win its first medal since taking the bronze that year.

“We didn’t get it done today, but what we’re going to do is take this with what we learned today and how we can turn it up tomorrow,” Canada captain Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s still a game for a medal and it’s just as important for us.”

The U.S. has won seven of the eight meetings with Canada in the World Cup, although the last one came in 2010. The lone victory for Canada came in 1975.

The victory was the 29th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86. This is only the second time in the Americans’ storied history they’ve reached four consecutive gold-medal contests. They also did it from 1979-90, winning three times.

This U.S. team, which has so many new faces on it, is on pace to break many of the team’s records that include scoring margin and points per game. The Americans also continued to dominate the paint even without 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 55-24.

Amihere led Canada with eight points.

RECORD BREAKING

The low point total broke the mark of 53 that South Korea scored against Russia in 2002.

“We’re starting to build that identity,” Wilson said of the defensive effort. “We’re quick and scrappy and I think that’s our identity.”

The U.S. is averaging 101 points a game. The team’s best mark ever coming into the tournament was 99.1 set in 1994.

STILL RECOVERING

Kahleah Copper sat out after injuring her left hip in the win over Serbia in the quarterfinals. Copper landed hard on her hip driving to the basket and had to be helped off the court. She hopes to play on Saturday. Betnijah Laney, who also got hurt in the Serbia game, did play against Canada.

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