Al Horford

Al Horford: Canada the team to beat in Olympic qualifying

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At this summer’s FIBA Americas, a nation that has not reached an Olympic men’s basketball tournament in more than a decade will almost surely qualify for Rio 2016.

The two finalists at FIBA Americas in Monterrey, Mexico, will be part of a 12-team 2016 Olympic field.

The U.S. clinched a spot in the Rio Olympics by winning the 2014 World Cup and does not have to play at FIBA Americas.

Brazil, as host nation, is likely to earn automatic entry into the Olympic tournament, too, though that decision hasn’t been made yet.

That leaves Argentina as the only other nation in the Americas to have qualified for either of the last two Olympics. But even if Argentina wins FIBA Americas in September, the other finalist would also go to Rio.

That’s a big opportunity for Puerto Rico (last in the Olympics in 2004), Canada (last in the Olympics in 2000), Mexico (last in the Olympics in 1976) and the Dominican Republic, which has never been to the Games and lost three winner-goes-to-London contests in 2012 Olympic qualifying.

Al Horford led the Dominican Republic to the semifinals of the 2011 FIBA Americas against Brazil, with the winner clinching an Olympic berth. Brazil prevailed, 83-76.

Horford and the Dominican Republic then went to a last-chance global Olympic qualifying tournament in Venezuela, less than a month before the London Games. The top three nations there clinched Olympic berths.

The Dominican Republic, then with John Calipari coaching, lost its semifinal to Lithuania and its third-place game to Nigeria.

“We were close, we won a couple good games there, but we couldn’t get to that next level,” Horford said while in New York for the NBA All-Star Game last week. “It’s a great opportunity, what’s ahead.”

Horford hasn’t yet committed to playing in this year’s FIBA Americas, choosing to focus on his Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks’ season for now. The NBA Finals are in June. FIBA Americas starts Aug. 25 and ends Sept. 6. The Hawks’ preseason training camp began on Sept. 30 last year.

The Dominican Republic has never qualified for an Olympic men’s basketball tournament, but the hopes are high this time around. Not only is the qualifying path easier, but the team may also be stronger.

Without Horford, the Dominican Republic was one of five Americas nations to reach the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup (U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Mexico).

Its World Cup roster included recognizable college basketball names from the previous decade — Francisco Garcia and Edgar Sosa (Louisville) and Eloy Vargas (Kentucky). It did not include NBA veteran Charlie Villanueva, who played at the 2011 FIBA Americas with Horford.

Horford sees Canada as the team to beat at FIBA Americas, though.

“They should definitely be, probably, the favorite, honestly,” Horford said last week.

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 Thompson and Kelly Olynyk.

Three takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships

When Michael Phelps raced Libby Trickett at Duel in the Pool

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At the peak of his career, Michael Phelps was upstaged in a race by a swimmer who went four seconds slower.

Australian Libby Trickett did more than hold her own against Phelps to lead off the opening event of the 2007 Duel in the Pool, a mixed-gender 4x100m freestyle relay.

Trickett, then known as Libby Lenton shortly before she got married, became the first woman to break 53 seconds, while Phelps went 48.72 in a head-to-head at the Sydney 2000 Olympic swimming venue.

“I was trash-talking … asking what he has got and telling him if he is going to bring it tonight. I think deep down he was really scared of me,” Trickett said, joking, according to The Associated Press. “Before the race he said good luck. He is a good competitor to race against, and I will remember that for the rest of my life — that I raced against Michael Phelps.”

Australia went on to win the relay by 2.49 seconds, in large part because Trickett swam .31 faster than the women’s 100m free world record. Normally, relay leadoff swims are eligible to break individual world records.

But FINA later ruled that Trickett’s time was not record eligible because the mixed 4x100m free was not an approved event. (Mixed-gender relays debuted at the world championships in 2015 and will debut at the Olympics in Tokyo next year.)

“I am a little disappointed because I know in my heart what time I swam and that time is faster than the existing world record,” Trickett said in 2007, according to Swimming Australia. “However, having said that, the disappointment can take nothing away from the fact I now know I am capable of swimming under 53 seconds and I will continue to strive to improve every aspect of my swimming.”

Trickett broke the world record officially at the 2008 Australian Olympic Trials, clocking 52.88 to take .42 off German Britta Steffen‘s mark. The world record has since been lowered all the way to 51.71 by Swede Sarah Sjöström at the 2017 World Championships.

Phelps’ time was impressive, his second-fastest 100m free at the point in his career. He raced tired, two days after that year’s world championships finished in Melbourne. Phelps earned seven golds at those worlds, and he has said 2007 was his peak, rather than 2008.

He raced strategically against Trickett, not allowing her to draft off him in the adjacent lane.

“I remember going down the first lap, and she was kind of right at my shins,” Phelps said with a laugh, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is not good.’ I knew she would jump up on the lane line and kind of drag, the smart way to do it. I remember I was going right into the 50 [meter] wall, and I turned and went completely on the other side of the lane.”

Trickett won five golds at the 2007 Worlds and another four medals at the 2008 Olympics, though Steffen edged her for 100m free gold by .04.

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Who is Germany’s greatest Olympian?

Birgit Fischer-Schmidt
Getty Images
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The combined all-time German Olympic medal total (including East Germany and West Germany) trails only the United States and Russia/Unified Team/Soviet Union. Norway owns the most Winter Olympic medals of any single National Olympic Committee, but the Germany/East Germany/West Germany sum is actually greater. A look at five of Germany’s greatest Olympians …

Kathrin Boron
Rowing
Four Olympic Gold Medals

Alternated gold medals between double sculls and quadruple sculls from 1992 through 2004, the last one as a mom, tacking on a bronze in 2008. Boron also earned eight world titles. In 19 total Olympic and world championships starts, she collected 12 golds, five silvers, a bronze and a fourth. An ankle injury kept her out of the 1988 Olympics at age 18, or else she could have been the first woman to take gold at five Olympics.

Birgit Fischer-Schmidt
Canoe-Kayak
Eight Olympic Gold Medals

Considered by some the greatest Olympian in history. Fischer-Schmidt won 12 Olympic medals (in 13 career Olympic events) and 37 world championships medals from 1979-2005, scattered among four retirements, two childbirths and the 1984 East German boycott. Fischer-Schmidt retired after earning her last two world championships bronze medals in 2005 at age 43. Had Fischer-Schmidt extended to one more Olympics in 2008, she could have been on the same team as niece Fanny Fischer, who earned a gold of her own in Beijing.

Georg Hackl
Luge
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only luger with three individual Olympic titles. Hackl was called the “Flying White Sausage” for his build and Bavarian roots, a nickname he opposed. His speed on the sled was not up for debate. Hackl finished second in singles and fourth in doubles in his Olympic debut in 1988. Then he won singles golds in 1992, 1994 and 1998 before bowing out in 2006. He then became a coach for the German team and its next luge great — 2010 and 2014 Olympic champion Felix Loch.

Claudia Pechstein
Speed Skating
Nine Olympic Medals

The only woman to compete in seven Winter Olympics. Pechstein owns Olympic titles in the 3000m, 5000m and team pursuit, the last medal of any color coming in 2006. At 48, she continues to race on the top international level, placing eighth, ninth and 11th at the world single distances championships in February, 28 years after her Olympic debut in Albertville, France. Pechstein served a two-year doping ban from 2009-11 over irregularities in her biological passport. She denied cheating and fought the ban in court for several years after its conclusion.

Isabell Werth
Equestrian
10 Olympic Medals

The most decorated Olympic equestrian with 10 medals and six golds. Werth, nicknamed the “Dressage Queen,” earned her first medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games and now, at 50, currently holds the Nos. 1 and 2 world rankings with two different horses. In 10 career Olympic events, she has never finished worse than second place. No other female Olympian can make that claim.

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