Marlen Esparza
AP

Marlen Esparza, first U.S. Olympic women’s boxing medalist, will miss Rio 2016

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields and surprising flyweight Virginia Fuchs won their weight divisions at the U.S. Olympic women’s boxing trials Saturday night.

Lightweight Jajaira Gonzalez beat Mikaela Mayer by unanimous decision in a rematch to force a decisive third bout between the fighters Sunday for the trials championship.

Shields beat rival Tika Hemingway by unanimous decision, while Fuchs eliminated Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza from contention for her second Olympic trip.

Esparza, the first U.S. Olympic women’s boxing medalist and a 2014 World champ, was in the Nike “Snow Day” commercial published Thursday with sports stars including Rob Gronkowski and Carli Lloyd.

The three U.S. trials winners will compete in international Olympic qualifiers next year to earn a berth in the Rio de Janeiro Games.

Shields remained firmly on course for her second Olympic berth, using her international experience and brute punching power to take down her fellow middleweight and greatest personal rival.

The hard-hitting Shields was the only American boxing gold medalist in the London Games at just 17 years old, and she has only solidified her international reign atop the division by going undefeated in the last three years.

“I landed the cleanest and the hardest shots every round, so I knew it was unanimous,” Shields said. “I knew it wasn’t split. … I know from my international experience, as long as I’m landing the cleaner shots, leaning on the ropes doesn’t matter.”

Shields improved to 66-1 in her international amateur career with 40 consecutive victories, including titles at the 2014 world championships and at the Pan-Am Games earlier this year.

“I can’t believe I’m [going to be] a two-time Olympian,” Shields said. “It’s just crazy to think about it. It’s definitely different, and I feel like I was little bit scared going into 2012. I had just had my first loss. This time, I haven’t lost in three years, and I feel like there’s nothing that can stop me at the 2016 Olympics this time around.”

Fuchs edged Esparza for the second time this week, winning both bouts by split decision and completing the most unlikely result of the week with the rematch victory.

“I look forward to the Olympics now,” Fuchs said. “I haven’t made it yet, so when I get home, that’s on my schedule to train for.”

Esparza and Shields were the only Americans to win boxing medals in London, and Esparza has become a popular mainstream athlete with a Cover Girl endorsement deal and commercial appearances for McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Esparza also has a boxing boot made specifically for her by Nike.

But Fuchs upset Esparza’s Rio plan with a gritty performance in the trials against her fellow Houston-area fighter.

“She’s a great fighter, so I knew it was going to be close,” Fuchs said. “It was a little closer than I wanted. … Every fight we’ve had has been real close, so I knew I would have to dig deep and she would have to dig deep to win this. I wanted it more, obviously, because I got the win, but I’ve got to give her credit.”

The 18-year-old Gonzalez rebounded from a split-decision loss to Mayer earlier in the week with a 3-0 decision in the rematch, applying constant pressure and her trademark high-volume punching for a tidy win over her taller opponent.

Gonzalez said she still felt “the first fight (with Mayer) should have been 3-0” in her favor.

“This one, I put it in my head that I had to go non-stop,” Gonzalez added. “Not let her breathe, not let her try to catch her breath. I think my aggression really helped today. I felt stronger.”

The Los Angeles-area natives will meet in a rubber match Sunday.

Gonzalez is a decorated junior fighter with multiple world titles to her credit, but is fighting for a senior division title for the first time.

“I’ve got to do a little better,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve got to do a lot better, actually.”

MORE BOXING: Claressa Shields says she would fight Ronda Rousey

Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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