One year out: Five showdowns to watch at Rio 2016 Olympics

Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky
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Recent Olympics saw rivalries such as the U.S. and Australia in swimming, the U.S. and China or Russia or Romania in gymnastics and the U.S. in China in the medal standings. None of those are looking likely in Rio, but other duels are on the radar. Here are five showdowns to watch with the Games one year away:

Missy Franklin vs. Katie Ledecky

Franklin won four golds at London 2012 and six golds at the 2013 World Championships. But it’s Ledecky, at 15 the youngest of more than 500 U.S. athletes at the London Olympics, who is perhaps the world’s most impressive swimmer. Franklin and Ledecky’s programs intersect with the 200m freestyle, which Franklin won at the 2013 World Championships and Ledecky won at the biggest meet of 2014, the Pan Pacific Championships.

Ledecky’s talent is so great that it’s not out of the question that she attempts to add the 100m freestyle to the 200m, 400m and 800m, which could create two head-to-heads with Franklin.

Katie Ledecky breaks 1500m freestyle world record again

Usain Bolt vs. Justin Gatlin

Bolt, the six-time Olympic champion and fastest man of all time, is concerned about his legacy. As he should be. Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion who is five years older than Bolt, may prove to be the challenger to finally take down the tall Jamaican at the Olympics.

Gatlin has unquestionably been the world’s best sprinter since the start of 2014 and will signal alarms if he beats Bolt in the 100m and 200m at the World Championships in three weeks. In part because Gatlin is five years removed from a four-year doping ban. In Rio, his stated final Games, Bolt could pull off an unprecedented “triple-triple,” sweeping the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at three straight Olympics.

Bolt: Gatlin won’t break my world record

Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte

This rivalry hit its peak in 2011 and 2012, but Phelps and Lochte remain the two most famous names in men’s swimming to U.S. fans. Even if neither is the world’s best all-around swimmer anymore.

Phelps and Lochte split their two head-to-heads at London 2012. They could race for the final time in Rio, Phelps’ last Olympics, in the 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley.

Phelps: I’ve looked at my 22 medals together once or twice

U.S. Volleyball vs. Brazil Volleyball

Brazil owns more Olympic indoor and beach volleyball medals than any other nation with 20. Second place? The U.S. with 17. In Rio, Brazil and the U.S. could meet in any of the four volleyball gold-medal matches.

In indoor, Brazil’s women beat the U.S. in the last two Olympic finals, but the U.S. upset Brazil in the 2014 World Championships semifinals. In men’s indoor, the U.S. topped Brazil in the 2008 Olympic final, but it fell to No. 5 in the world rankings after missing the final four at the 2014 World Championships. Brazil is world No. 1.

In beach, the U.S. pair of three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross and the Brazil pair of Larissa and Talita each won four FIVB World Tour events in 2014. No other pair won more than two. Brazil is so deep that it swept the podium at the World Championships in July with three pairs other than Larissa and Talita. Americans Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal were the world’s top men’s team last year, but they’ve since split to throw the already crowded men’s field into further disarray. Brazilians Alison and Bruno provided some stability by winning the World Championships in July and following it with two straight World Tour victories.

Kerri Walsh Jennings sets return date from shoulder injury

 

Jordan Burroughs vs. Denis Tsargush

The never-lacking-confidence Burroughs has compared his rivalry with the Russian Tsargush to that of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Burroughs won the 2012 Olympic title and 2011 and 2013 World titles. Tsargush won the 2009, 2010 and 2014 World titles. All in the 74kg freestyle division.

In Rio, Burroughs could become the third U.S. wrestler to win back-to-back Olympic titles and provide more argument that he belongs with (or above) American legends like John Smith. His chances going in of winning gold will be greatly influences by what happens at the World Championships in Las Vegas in December. He will hope to avoid a repeat of 2014, when he fell to Tsargush, this image of defeat stuck in his mind on his smart phone for motivation.

Burroughs on Rio: My chances are better than in London

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game