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

Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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MORE: J.R. Celski explains decision to retire

Maia, Alex Shibutani extend break from ice dance competition

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Brother-sister ice dance duo Maia and Alex Shibutani will not compete next season, the Olympic bronze medalists announced via U.S. Figure Skating on Friday.

“We’re healthier and stronger than we were after the Olympics, and we’re continuing to push ourselves,” Maia Shibutani said in a press release.

“We’ve continued to skate a lot, and we feel like we’ve benefited from some time away to create in different environments and focus on experiences that can help us grow,” Alex said.

The “Shib Sibs” won the U.S. title in 2016 and 2017. They won their first world medal in 2011 (bronze) before reaching the world podium again in 2016 and 2017 with silver and bronze, respectively.

They most recently competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where they earned bronze both individually and in the team event.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are now the second ice dance medalists from PyeongChang to announce they’ll sit out at least part of next season. Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will tour instead this fall and are not expected to return to competition.

The siblings haven’t stayed away from the ice entirely in their break from the sport, though — they’ve also been touring and performing in shows.

The Shibutanis became the second set of siblings to earn Olympic ice dance medals after France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay in 1992.

MORE: How Gracie Gold landed in Philadelphia, thoughts competitive return

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