Rio Olympics six months out: Burning questions

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Six burning questions on the six months out date from the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony:

1. U.S. or China?

The U.S. and China are expected to be the top two nations in the medal standings for a third straight Olympics.

The U.S. has won the overall medal count at each of the last five Summer Olympics and the gold-medal count at four of the last five. China earned the most gold medals at Beijing 2008.

But China would top the Rio Olympic medal standings and the U.S. would win its fewest medals in 56 years if the results were based on the most recent World Championships across all Olympic sports, according to Italian Luciano Barra, who projects Olympic medal counts.

2. What about Russia?

Russia placed third behind the U.S and China in the 2012 Olympic medal standings, but its track and field federation has been suspended by the IAAF due to rampant doping and cover-ups. It’s unknown if the ban will be lifted before the Games.

And that’s not the only sport under scrutiny.

American athletes sent a letter to IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency leaders urging an expansion of the investigation into Russian doping to sports beyond track and field.

SIX MONTHS OUT: Burning Questions | Team USA Roster | Rio Schedule Highlights | Key Qualifying, Trials Dates | Records Watch | Brazil’s Preparations

3. Which U.S. stars will be left home?

Every Olympics sees big names fail to qualify or simply be left off U.S. teams. This year will be no different.

The toughest roster decisions could come in basketball. The rise of Stephen CurryPaul GeorgeKyrie IrvingKawhi Leonard and others in the last four years could make for high turnover from the last Olympic team. Nine of the 12 Olympians from 2012 are among 30 finalists for the team.

On the women’s side, the likely additions of first-time Olympians Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne and perhaps Odyssey Sims and Breanna Stewart could squeeze out veteran national team members, as all but two of the 2012 Olympic team players are still in the running for Rio.

The return of golf to the Olympics after a 112-year break has created enormous competition for U.S. spots. The top four U.S. men and women ranked in the top 15 on July 11 will earn berths. Tiger Woods is out of the equation. Michelle Wie is ranked No. 31 with serious ground to make up. Phil Mickelson is No. 32. At this point, Jordan Spieth is the only U.S. golfer who can feel safe.

McKayla Maroney hasn’t competed since 2013, putting her well behind for one of five U.S. women’s gymnastics team spots. That’s if she has any comeback plans at all.

In soccer, nearly half of the 2015 Women’s World Cup team is not on this month’s Olympic qualifying tournament roster. Megan Rapinoe and Christie Rampone will try to make the final 18-player Olympic team in returns from injuries.

If the men’s soccer team qualifies for Rio in March, it has the option of adding three players over the age of 23 to the normal U-23 roster for the Olympics. Could goalie Tim Howard, who didn’t play a minute at his only Olympics in 2000 while the over-age Brad Friedel started, return to Brazil and return to the Games?

Swimming’s maximum of two athletes per nation in individual Olympic events will lead to medal contenders missing the U.S. Olympic team at trials in June and July. Particularly in the women’s 200m freestyle, which includes 2012 Olympic champion Allison Schmitt, 2013 World champion Missy Franklin and 2015 World champion Katie Ledecky.

In track and field, there is more breathing room with the top three per event making the Olympic team. Still, tough luck in the 100m hurdles, where the world’s five fastest women last year were all Americans. And 2013 World champion Brianna Rollins was tied for sixth fastest.

4. Which events will Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky race?

Phelps has long been coy on his Olympic trials schedule, and other swimmers have started to follow suit in the run-up to these Games.

Phelps, following a 20-month competitive retirement and later suspension, was the world’s fastest in the 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley last year. He may also swim the 100m and 200m freestyles at the Olympic trials to show he deserves places on relay teams, which could line him up for at least six Olympic events.

Lochte, who is one year older than Phelps, made the 2015 World Championships team in two individual events — the 200m IM (which he won at a fourth straight Worlds) and the 200m freestyle — his lightest slate at a major international meet in 11 years. Expect Lochte to add events for the Olympic trials. The grueling 400m individual medley is back in the picture for Lochte, who had said immediately after London 2012 that he would focus more on shorter events.

Franklin appears set for the 100m and 200m backstrokes and 200m freestyle. Her fourth event, the 100m freestyle, is not so concrete after she finished seventh at the World Championships on Aug. 7.

Ledecky could try to become the second U.S. woman to make an Olympic team in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles, potentially setting her up for seven events in Rio.

5. Can Usain Bolt be beaten?

Last spring, Bolt’s supremacy was in major peril with the rise of Justin Gatlin and the big Jamaican’s injuries and slow times in early season races.

Though Bolt improved by the World Championships, the truth is that he was not the world’s fastest man on the night of the 100m final. Gatlin was actually faster in the earlier semifinals than Bolt was in the final. And Gatlin’s uncharacteristic loss of form late in the final cost him gold in a defeat by .01 of a second.

This year, Gatlin may not be Bolt’s biggest threat. The American turns 34 on Wednesday. Rather, the co-Worlds bronze medalists Trayvon Bromell and Canadian Andre De Grasse, 20 and 21, have greater room for improvement.

Times in spring races and the U.S. and Jamaican Olympic trials will be great indicators as to if Bolt could lose an Olympic race for the first time since 2004.

6. Who will light the Olympic cauldron?

Brazil has no shortage of sports legends, or other recognizable figures, who could be the final torch bearer on Aug. 5. Obvious choices are soccer heroes Pelé, though he is not an Olympian, and current star Neymar.

Another respected Olympian choice would be Vanderlei de Lima, who led in the late stages of the Athens 2004 Olympic marathon when he was grabbed by a defrocked Irish priest running onto the course. De Lima recovered to earn bronze.

The final torch bearer has actually been multiple people at the last three Olympics, so it will be interesting to see if Rio ends that streak.

2020 Tour de France standings

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2020 Tour de France results for the yellow jersey, green jersey, white jersey and polka-dot jersey …

Overall (Yellow Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 87:20:05
2. Primoz Roglic (SLO) — +:59
3. Richie Porte (AUS) — +3:30
4. Mikel Landa (ESP) — +5:58
5. Enric Mas (ESP) — +6:07
6. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) — +6:47
7. Tom Dumoulin (NED) — +7:48
8. Rigberto Uran (COL) — +8:02
9. Adam Yates (GBR) — +9:25
10. Damiano Caruso (ITA) — +14:03
13. Richard Carapaz (ECU) — +25:53
15. Sepp Kuss (USA) — +42:20
17. Nairo Quintana (COL) — +1:03:07
29. Thibaut Pinot (FRA) — +1:59:54
36. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) — +2:19:11
DNF. Egan Bernal (COL)

Sprinters (Green Jersey)
1. Sam Bennett (IRL) — 380 points
2. Peter Sagan (SVK) — 284
3. Matteo Trentin (ITA) — 260
4. Bryan Coquard (FRA) — 181
5. Wout van Aert (BEL) — 174

Climbers (Polka-Dot Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 82 points
2. Richard Carapaz (ECU) — 74
3. Primoz Roglic (SLO) — 67
4. Marc Hirschi (SUI) — 62
5. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) — 51

Young Rider (White Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 87:20:13
2. Enric Mas (ESP) — +6:07
3. Valentin Madouas (FRA) — +1:42:43
4. Dani Martinez (COL) — +1:55:12
5. Lennard Kamna (GER) — +2:15:39

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TOUR DE FRANCE: TV, Stream Schedule | Stage By Stage | Favorites, Predictions

Tadej Pogacar, Slovenia win Tour de France for the ages

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A Tour de France that almost didn’t happen ended up among the most exciting in the race’s 117-year history.

Tadej Pogacar, a 21-year-old Slovenian, rode into Paris on Sunday as the first man in more than 60 years to pedal in the yellow jersey for the first time on the final day of a Tour.

Let’s get the achievements out of the way: Pogacar is the first Slovenian to win the Tour, finishing with the other overall leaders behind stage winner Sam Bennett on the Champs-Elysees.

“Even if I would come second or last, it wouldn’t matter, it would be still nice to be here,” Pogacar said. “This is just the top of the top. I cannot describe this feeling with the words.”

He is the second-youngest winner in race history, after Henri Cornet in 1904. (Cornet won after the first four finishers were disqualified for unspecified cheating. The 19-year-old Frenchman rode 21 miles with a flat tire during the last stage after spectators reportedly threw nails on the road.)

Pogacar is the first man to win a Tour in his debut since Frenchman Laurent Fignon in 1983.

And he’s part of a historic one-two for Slovenia, a nation with the population of Houston.

Countryman Primoz Roglic, who wore the yellow jersey for nearly two weeks before ceding it after Saturday’s epic time trial, embraced Pogacar after a tearful defeat Saturday and again during Sunday’s stage.

Tasmanian Richie Porte, who moved from fourth place to third on Saturday, made his first Tour podium in his 10th start, a record according to ProCyclingStats.com. The age range on the Paris gloaming podium — more than 13 years — is reportedly the largest in Tour history.

TOUR DE FRANCE: Standings | TV, Stream Schedule | Stage By Stage

Three men on a Tour de France podium in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, each for the first time. Hasn’t been done since 2007, arguably the first Tour of a new era.

This Tour feels similarly guard-changing.

It barely got off, delayed two months by the coronavirus pandemic. Two days before the start, France’s prime minister said the virus was “gaining ground” in the nation and announced new “red zones” in the country, including parts of the Tour route.

Testing protocols meant that if any team had two members (cyclists or staff) test positive before the start or on either rest day, the whole team would be thrown out.

It never came to that. Yet the Tour finishes without 2019 champion, Colombian Egan Bernal, who last year became the first South American winner and, at the time, the youngest in more than 100 years.

Bernal abandoned last Wednesday after struggling in the mountains. His standings plummet signaled the end, at least for now, of the Ineos Grenadiers dynasty after five straight Tour titles dating to Chris Froome and the Team Sky days.

Jumbo-Visma became the new dominant team. The leader Roglic was ushered up climbs by several Jumbo men, including Sepp Kuss, the most promising American male cyclist in several years.

What a story Roglic was shaping up to be. A junior champion ski jumper, he was concussed in a training crash on the eve of what would have been his World Cup debut in 2007. Roglic never made it to the World Cup before quitting and taking up cycling years later.

As Roglic recovered from that spill in Planica, Pogacar had his sights on the Rog Ljubljana cycling club about 60 miles east. Little Tadej wanted to follow older brother Tilen into bike racing, but the club didn’t have a bike small enough.

The following spring, they found one. Pogacar was off and pedaling. In 2018, at age 18, he was offered a contract and then signed with UAE Team Emirates, his first World Tour team. The next year, Pogacar finished third at the Vuelta a Espana won by Roglic, becoming the youngest Grand Tour podium finisher since 1974.

Pogacar was initially slated to support another rider, Fabio Aru, for UAE Emirates at this year’s Tour. But his continued ascent propelled him into a team leader role.

Bernal and Roglic entered the Tour as co-favorites. After that, Pogacar was among a group of podium contenders but perhaps with the highest ceiling.

He stayed with the favorites for much of the Tour, save losing 81 seconds on the seventh stage, caught on the wrong end of a split after a crash in front of him.

“I’m not worried,” Pogacar said that day. “We will try another day.”

The next day, actually. He reeled back half of the lost time, putting him within striking distance of Roglic going into Saturday’s 22-mile time trial, the so-called “race of truth.”

Pogacar put in a performance in the time trial that reminded of Greg LeMond‘s epic finale in 1989. Pogacar won the stage by 81 seconds, greater than the margin separating second place from eighth place. Roglic was a disappointing fifth on the day, but he could have finished second and still lost all of his 57-second lead to Pogacar.

Pogacar turns 22 on Monday, but that might not add much to the celebration.

“Sorry,” he said, “but I’m not really a fan of my birthdays.”

MORE: USA Cycling names Olympic team finalists

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