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

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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