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

World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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