Fiji set for breakout (record-breaking?) Rio 2016 Olympics

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Fiji has already qualified at least 30 athletes into the Rio 2016 Olympics, with at least 13 more looking very likely to join the delegation, which sets the Pacific Ocean archipelago for its largest Olympic team ever.

Fiji could also send the largest number of Olympians to a single Games for a nation of fewer than one million people. It could also be favored to earn its first Olympic medal in Rio.

Fiji, perhaps best known at the London 2012 Games for marching in the Parade of Nations while a Bee Gees song played at Olympic Stadium, appears likely to make noise in competition in Rio.

It is arguably the favorite to win the first Olympic men’s rugby tournament since 1924, having topped this past season’s Sevens World Series standings.

Its women’s rugby sevens team will likely qualify for Rio, too (the men already qualified).

Its men’s soccer team qualified for the Rio Games on Sunday, beating Vanuatu in an Oceania qualifier after favored New Zealand was disqualified before a potential final matchup with Fiji (New Zealand is appealing the DQ).

Three-time major champion golfer Vijay Singh, at 52, could be the oldest man in the first Olympic men’s golf tournament since 1904. He is ranked No. 207 and will likely be safely into the Rio Olympics if he’s still in the top 300 on the ranking cutoff date of July 11, 2016.

All that sets up Fiji’s first time qualifying rugby players, soccer players and a golfer into an Olympics — at least 43 Olympians in all (12 rugby players per team, 18 soccer players and Singh).

In 2012, Fiji, with a population of 890,000, had nine Olympians. Its highest-ever team size at a single Games was 23 at Seoul 1988, according to sports-reference.com.

If Fiji qualifies the aforementioned 43 plus the same number of athletes in sports other than golf, rugby and soccer in 2016 as it did in 2012, it will have 52 Olympians in Rio.

Luxembourg is the only nation with fewer than 1,000,000 people to have 40 or more competitors at a single Olympics, according to OlympStats.com, which reported Luxembourg’s high was 52 in 1960.

In 2012, Fiji tied for 107th among 205 nations for number of Olympians with nine, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon. Three nations with 52 athletes in 2012 (Azerbaijan, Iran, North Korea) tied for 50th among 205 nations.

If Fiji jumps some 50 spots in Olympic delegation size in one Olympiad, that would also be a breakout accomplishment.

Who’s in, who’s out: Olympic golf qualifying picture at halfway point

Who qualifies for figure skating’s Grand Prix Final?

Yevgenia Medvedeva
NBC Sports Gold
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A look at the qualifying scenarios for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating event, with the sixth and last qualifier happening this week at Internationaux de France, headlined by Nathan Chen and streaming live on NBC Sports Gold … 

Men
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 24 points (qualified)
5. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Nathan Chen (USA) — 15 points, Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 9 points, Jin Boyang (CHN) and Dmitry Aliyev (RUS) — 7 points, Jason Brown (USA) — 5 points.

Outlook: Chen qualifies with a fifth or better this week. If he wins as expected, it would mean the favorites swept the six men’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers (Hanyu, Uno and Chen with two wins each). That trio last faced off at the Olympics, where Hanyu repeated as champion, Uno took silver and Chen rebounded from a 17th-place short program with the top free skate to place fifth overall. Hanyu, though, is uncertain for the Final after injuring his right ankle in practice before his free skate at Rostelecom Cup on Saturday. Samarin is the only man in this week’s field who would get into the Final by placing second to Chen.

Women
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 28 points (qualified)
3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
6. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 17 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Rika Kihira (JPN) — 15 points, Stanislava Konstantinova (RUS) — 13 points, Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 11 points, Mai Mihara (JPN), Bradie Tennell (USA) and Alexia Paganini (SUI) — 9 points, Laurine Lecavelier (FRA) — 7 points.

Outlook: It’s a near-lock that the Grand Prix Final will be an all-Russian and Japanese affair. The biggest question across all disciplines this week is whether the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Medvedeva can earn one of the three available spots. She is definitely in with a win. If she’s second, it likely comes down to a tiebreak among at least Medvedeva, Sakamoto and Samodurova, looking at who had the highest total points between their two Grand Prix starts. If she’s third, she’s almost definitely out of the Final. The U.S. champion Tennell is one of six women who qualify automatically with a win this week.

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
5. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Alisa Efimova/Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 15 points, Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 9 points, Ryom Tae-Ok/Kim Ju-Sik (PRK), Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea (USA) and Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 7 points.

Outlook: With none of the Olympic medalists competing this fall, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers from PyeongChang have been the most impressive thus far — Tarasova and Morozov and James and Cipres. The French make it to the Final by finishing fifth this week. For either the North Koreans or the Americans to make the Final, they almost definitely have to win. That’s a very tall order against the French in Grenoble.

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Tiffany Zahorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 15 points, Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 13 points, Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) and Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 11 points, Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 9 points, Olivia Smart/Adrián Díaz (ESP) — 7 points, Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevičius (LTU) — 5 points.

Outlook: This week’s favorites have no chance at the Final. That’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who missed their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury. The anticipated showdown between the three-time world champions and Olympic silver medalists from France and world silver medalists Hubbell and Donohue must wait until the world championships in March. Their absence could open the door for multiple U.S. dance couples to qualify for the Final for a fifth straight year, despite the absence this fall of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (indefinite break) and Madison Chock and Evan Bates (injury). Hawayek and Baker are into the Final with a fourth or better this week.

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Michael Johnson took Olympic mindset in stroke recovery

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Michael Johnson‘s first walk, reportedly three days after suffering a stroke in the summer, was 200 meters down a hospital corridor.

“It took about 15 minutes,” Johnson said in a BBC video, detailing his full recovery in recent interviews.

Johnson, who at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics swept the 200m (in a world-record 19.32 seconds) and the 400m, suffered what he called “a mini stroke” after a home workout in late August.

Johnson felt not pain but tingling leaving his home gym and underwent a 20-minute MRI. The 50-year-old, who worked out regularly and was in otherwise great physical shape, almost fell rising out of the machine.

“Couldn’t put any weight on left side, no longer could really move my left leg,” Johnson said in the BBC interview. “The numbness of my left arm, which was sort of mild at the beginning and up to that point, was really intense at that point. I couldn’t feel a lot of my arm. You immediately start to think about, what’s my life going to be like going forward?”

There was no immediate answer.

“You start to think about loved ones — is my wife going to have to take care of me for the rest of my life?” Johnson said, according to the Telegraph. “Am I going to be able to walk again? Am I going to be in a wheelchair? Am I going to be able to stand in the shower or go to the restroom alone? You’re forced to think about what your life might be like if that worse-case scenario is reality.”

He began physical therapy early the next week. After that first walk, the distance equivalent of a half-lap of the track that he owned in the 1990s, he told his wife, “I will make a full recovery, and I will make a full recovery faster than anyone has ever done it before,” according to the Telegraph.

Within two weeks, Johnson was backing that up. He tweeted a photo of himself on Sept. 13, his 51st birthday, grimacing while lifting a square-shaped weight with each hand. “Almost back to normal. No days off! Even today. My birthday!” the caption read.

On Sept. 27, Johnson tweeted that it had been grueling, but he relearned to walk and made a full recovery.

“Once I knew that I will make a full recovery, and once I started to believe that, it’s very similar to the type of situation that I experienced as an athlete training for the Olympic Games, then all of a sudden suffering a pulled hamstring,” said Johnson, who fell to the track in the 2000 Olympic Trials 200m final with an upper left leg injury, then won the 400m at his last Games in Sydney. “The reward, in this particular situation, was going to be even greater, was going to be able to walk again, regaining my mobility, regaining my independence.”

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