What U.S.’ FIBA World Cup title means for Olympics

Kyrie Irving
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The U.S. became the first nation to qualify for the 2016 Olympic men’s basketball tournament by winning the FIBA World Cup title Sunday, but there are greater ramifications for Rio.

Twelve nations will make up the 2016 Olympic men’s basketball tournament. The U.S. is in. So is Brazil as the host nation, for all intents and purposes (it’s not official yet, as the qualifying procedures lay out).

The U.S.’ win over Serbia on Sunday was really a win for all of North and South America. Here’s why:

The next seven spots in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament will be determined in 2015 with continental qualifying tournaments — the winners of Africa, Asia and Oceania and the two finalists from Europe and the Americas (North and South America are combined into one tournament in basketball qualifying).

The caveat, for the Americas in particular, is that the qualifiers from the 2015 continental tournaments will be the best-placed, not-already-qualified nations.

So that means the two best nations from the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship will make the Olympics, excluding the U.S. and Brazil (again, assuming Brazil is in as the Olympic host nation).

This is the first time under the current qualifying system that the Olympic host nation and the FIBA champions are two countries from the Americas. It will be the first time since Atlanta 1996 that at least four nations from the Americas make the Olympic men’s basketball tournament.

Argentina, which won Olympic gold in 2004 and bronze in 2008, would appear to be a massive favorite to grab one of the two Olympic spots and join the U.S. and Brazil in Rio.

After that, it gets interesting.

Canada, under the tutelage of general manager Steve Nash, could earn its first trip to the Olympics since 2000 (when Nash played).

Canada was sixth at each of the last two FIBA Americas, failing to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but it has a wealth of young talent, including the last two No. 1 picks in the NBA Draft — Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins — as well as 2014 first-round picks Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis and NBA big men Tristan ThompsonKelly OlynykRobert Sacre and Andrew Nicholson.

Other teams in the running include Puerto Rico, the only Americas team other than Argentina, Brazil and the U.S. to qualify for any of the last three Olympics. Puerto Rico beat the U.S. at the 2004 Athens Games. Puerto Ricans include current or former NBA players J.J. BareaCarlos Arroyo and Renaldo Balkman. Puerto Rico failed to reach the round of 16 at the FIBA World Cup.

The Dominican Republic and Mexico were eliminated in the round of 16 at the FIBA World Cup.

The Dominican Republic has never qualified for the Olympics, but it came oh-so close for 2012, finishing third at the 2011 FIBA Americas and fourth at the last-chance 2012 qualifying tournament. One spot higher in either would have earned a trip to London. The Dominican Republic team could include NBA All-Star Al Horford and former University of Louisville players Francisco Garcia and Edgar Sosa.

Mexico hosts the 2015 FIBA Americas, looking to make the Olympics for the first time in 40 years.

Of course, only two of Argentina, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Mexico can qualify for the Olympics through FIBA Americas. But they could all end up making the Olympics, because the third-through-fifth-place nations from the 2011 FIBA Americas earned spots in the aforementioned last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament the following year.

In 2012, the top three teams from the last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament, which included countries from around the world, advanced to the London Olympics.

It’s likely that the nations favored to be top three in the last-chance tournament will be from Europe. The 2015 FIBA Europe Championship will be extremely competitive for its two Olympic spots, with Spain, France, Lithuania, Serbia leading the way.

Photos: Things Mutaz Barshim could jump over

*Correction: The original described Puerto Rico as “a nation,” which it is not.

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record with slopestyle gold

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a four-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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