Sanya Richards-Ross wants revenge in 2015, history in 2016

Sanya Richards-Ross
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NEW YORK — Sanya Richards-Ross at last won the Olympic 400m in her third try in 2012. Then she required two right big toe surgeries and filmed a reality TV show.

So amid all that in summer 2013, the married woman considered retiring to start a family.

“For one second,” Richards-Ross said at a Midtown Manhattan hotel Thursday, two days before she competes in the Millrose Games (NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra, 6 p.m. ET). “I accomplished my greatest goals in the sport, and I’m happy. And the injury was tough. There were days where, literally, the pain was so intense I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to run on my foot.

“But I think there’s something inside of athletes, this burning desire to always see how much better you can be. I don’t think I’m done yet. I still love it. I still feel like my best is yet to come.”

Richards-Ross, who turns 30 in two weeks, points to the history of her event. Michael Johnson ran his fastest time at age 31. Marie-Jose Perec and Cathy Freeman won Olympic golds in their late 20s.

The motivation is evident when Richards-Ross utters “revenge” in anticipating this summer’s World Championships in Beijing. Not for the 2013 World Championships, which she failed to qualify for due in large part to that toe, but for the 2008 Olympics in the Chinese capital. The favorite, she led off the final turn and fell behind Great Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu and Jamaica’s Shericka Williams in the final 50 meters.

“I want to conquer that track,” Richards-Ross said of the Bird’s Nest.

Richards-Ross returned in 2014 following two straight years cut short by surgeries for hallux rigidus, two bones in her big toe rubbing against each other. She couldn’t run in spikes at the 2013 U.S. Championships final due to the big toe pain.

“I think I have the sneakers record,” she joked of a sixth-place finish, 51.92 seconds.

The second surgery that summer inserted a screw and elevated the big toe permanently — “a little deformity,” Richards-Ross said.

Now, there’s less pressure when Richards-Ross pushes out of the blocks. Though one could argue that’s been the case since she finally won that individual Olympic gold in London.

Richards-Ross was back in form by late June last year, when she ran 49.66 in the U.S. Championships final in Sacramento.

She finished second to Francena McCorory, whose 49.48 was the fastest time from an American woman since Richards-Ross at the 2012 Olympic Trials.

“To be honest, 49.4 is actually a time I’ve run quite a few times, it’s not very threatening to me,” Richards-Ross said. “I think when I’m at my best, I know I can run that time and better, so what I look forward to is for me and Francena continuing to push each other.”

Richards-Ross and McCorory were the only women in the world to break 50 seconds last year and combined for seven of the eight fastest times overall. McCorory has been on Richards-Ross’ radar since 2006, when she broke Richards-Ross’ national high school indoor 400m record on a flat track.

At the London Olympics, McCorory handed the baton to anchor Richards-Ross in the 4x400m relay final.

“I know Francena wants to run sub-49,” Richards-Ross said. “My hope is that I’m in such great shape that we’re battling at 49 low, 48 seconds.”

Richards-Ross also ran the 200m at the London Olympics, finishing fifth. She says it’s “not worth it” to race the 200m anymore because of the pressure and force put on her toe blasting out of the blocks.

That will limit her races against Olympic 200m champion Allyson Felix, though Felix has said she’s more open to making the 400m her complementary event heading toward Rio. Felix (and McCorory) outran Richards-Ross at the 2011 World Championships before dropping the 400m for the 100m for London 2012.

“I welcome the best challengers,” Richards-Ross said, cracking a smile. “If Allyson wants to focus on the four, come get some.”

Richards-Ross will be older in 2016 than any woman who owns an Olympic 400m medal, according to sports-reference.com. One woman has won back-to-back Olympic 400m golds — Perec in 1992 and 1996.

“I can see this being my last Olympics,” Richards-Ross said, “but then there are some times where I’m like, I want to have a kid and come back. I think the closer you get to possibly retiring is the more you want to push that further away, because you love what you do.”

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with 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 more established players — 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. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

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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