Fiji Rugby Sevens

First nations qualify for rugby sevens’ Olympic debut

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Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa became the first three nations to qualify for the debut of Olympic rugby sevens.

The three nations earned their spots through the Sevens World Series, which stopped in Glasgow, Scotland, over the weekend for the eighth of nine legs this season.

The top four nations in this season’s Sevens World Series earn spots in the first Olympic rugby sevens tournament in Rio de Janeiro next year. Rugby returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1924, but for the first time as a sevens version.

In Glasgow, Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa earned enough points to ensure they will finish the season in the top four following the final leg in London this weekend. Brazil received an automatic spot in the Olympic men’s and women’s rugby tournaments as host nation.

Fiji in particular could be an interesting story in Rio. The nation has never won an Olympic medal but leads this season’s World Series and finished in the top three the previous three seasons.

Another famous Fijian, golfer Vijay Singh, could make his Olympic debut at age 53 in Rio with his sport’s return to the Games, and perhaps be golf’s oldest competitor next year.

Another nation will qualify for the Olympic men’s rugby tournament this weekend. It will likely be Great Britain, which is represented by England in the World Series for Olympic qualifying purposes.

The U.S. men, who are sixth in this season’s World Series, hope to earn their spot in the 12-team Olympic rugby tournament by winning a North American and Caribbean nations qualifying tournament in Cary, N.C., in June. If they don’t, they can still get into the Olympics by winning a later last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament.

The U.S. women are tied for fifth with 48 points in their World Series with two legs to go. Like the men, the top four nations in the women’s World Series earn Rio berths. The women’s next leg is in London this weekend.

If the U.S. women fail to finish in the top four in the World Series, they can also earn their spot in the 12-team Olympic rugby tournament by winning a North American and Caribbean nations qualifying tournament in Cary, N.C., in June or a later last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament.

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Federica Brignone passes Mikaela Shiffrin for World Cup overall lead

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Italian Federica Brignone passed an absent Mikaela Shiffrin for the World Cup overall standings lead by winning a combined in Switzerland on Sunday.

Brignone prevailed by .92 of a second adding times from super-G and slalom runs in Crans-Montana. Full results are here.

Brignone moved 73 points ahead of Shiffrin in the overall through 29 of 40 scheduled races. A race winner receives 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place finisher. The season runs through March 22.

Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup overall champion, has not competed since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Brignone, 29, is having a career season with five wins and 10 podiums across four disciplines.

Brignone’s best previous World Cup overall standings finish was fifth. She earned giant slalom medals at the 2018 Olympics (bronze) and 2011 World Championships (silver).

She could become Italy’s first female World Cup overall champion. The last Italian male winner was Alberto Tomba in 1995.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves to La Thuile, Italy, for a super-G and a combined next Saturday and Sunday.

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Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts win three times on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One gymnast has two wins on vault. A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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