“An inch to the right and we would have won the gold”

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SOCHI, Russia – Kelli Stack knew it as she watched the puck beeline 115 feet toward the empty net.

“I could kind of tell it was going to hit the post,” Stack said.

Clang.

The U.S. came that close to winning its first Olympic hockey gold medal since 1998.

The Americans were up 2-1 on Canada, about 90 seconds from victory at the Bolshoy Ice Dome when Stack swatted at a loose puck from inside her own blue line. It took maybe three seconds to reach the open goal. It smacked the middle of the right red post, ricocheted and trickled outside the edge of the crease. The crowd of about 10,000 let out gasps.

Canada had pulled goalie Shannon Szabados. An empty-netter would have given the U.S. a two-goal lead, surely insurmountable.

VIDEO: Watch the shot that hit the post

“An inch to the right and we would have won the gold medal,” Stack said.

Americans didn’t think much of the play at the time, since they still had the lead. They were on the verge of winning the first Olympic gold medals for the entire 23-woman team.

“It didn’t really matter at that point,” Stack said.

What did the Canadians think?

“Relief,” Hayley Wickenheiser said. “We’ve got another life.”

VIDEO: Recapping how game got to OT

They made it count. Gold-medal game starlet Marie-Philip Poulin scored the first of her two goals with 54.6 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.

“After they tied it up it was kind of like, well, that would have been nice if that went in,” Stack said. “An inch to the right, it would have bounced in off the post. It wasn’t meant to be.”

Not quite the quarter of an inch Gordon Bombay agonized over in the “Might Ducks” movies, but still quite remarkable and an addition to an epic U.S.-Canada rivalry. It has seen crazy happenings over the last 24 years of major championships – mythic flag stomping, head shots and a Molson, Zamboni and cigar celebration among them.

This was a first.

“If it hits a chip of ice halfway down, it goes the other way,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. “That’s what they call puck luck. Sometimes it goes in your favor. Sometimes it doesn’t.”

VIDEO: Meghan Duggan explains where it went wrong for U.S.

Canadian Caroline Ouellette had forgotten about the play after receiving her gold medal. So much took place on the ice in the minutes following Stack’s post shot, including Poulin’s overtime winner.

Reminded of it, Ouellette took a two-sided view, saying Canadian defenseman Catherine Ward was interfered with by a referee, allowing Stack to swoop in with her swat.

“It was in a way the unluckiest play because our player got tangled; and then on the other side the luckiest play,” said Ouellette, who became the first Winter Olympian to enter at least four career events and win them all. “It hit the post and came out. It allowed us to keep playing and come back.”

She smiled.

“There is a God,” Ouellette said.

VIDEO: Watch the game-tying goal

Two-time Olympian Stack is 26, an avid retweeter and back from a Dec. 1, 2012 torn ACL. She hopes the next four years pass as quickly as that puck did, and that she gets another chance to win gold.

“It will probably bother me for a while,” Stack said, “but there’s no use in letting that pain set in.”

Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned 4 years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)