Rio Olympics six months out: Burning questions


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.

French Open: Sloane Stephens takes out seed Karolina Pliskova

Sloane Stephens

PARIS — Back on her “favorite court in the world,” Sloane Stephens looked sharp in her opening match at the French Open with a 6-0, 6-4 win over two-time major finalist Karolina Pliskova.

While Stephens’ only Grand Slam title came at the 2017 U.S. Open, she’s also had sustained success at Roland Garros, finishing as a runner-up to Simona Halep in 2018 and reaching two quarterfinals on the red clay in Paris — including last year.

“This is my favorite court in the world, so I’m super happy to be back,” Stephens told the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier. “To start a Slam on your favorite court, your favorite surface, is always incredible.”

She helped American women go 4-0 through the first few hours of play on Day 2 of the tournament after a 1-4 start on Sunday, when the only U.S. victory came in a match between two players from the country: Jessica Pegula beat Danielle Collins.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Madison Keys, the runner-up to Stephens in New York six years ago and a semifinalist at Roland Garros in 2018, beat Kaia Kanepi 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 on Monday to improve her career record in the first round of majors to 35-5.

Keys next plays American qualifier Kayla Day, who eliminated French wild-card entry Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-1.

Also, Croatian-born American Bernarda Pera beat former No. 2-ranked Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a finalist in Paris in 2021, breezed past Czech teenager Linda Fruhvirtova 6-2, 6-2; and 22nd-seeded Donna Vekic beat qualifier Dayana Yastremska 6-2, 7-5.

Stephens was down a break in the second set against Pliskova but then won three straight games to close it out.

Stephens had a 19-16 edge in winners and committed only 10 unforced errors to 31 by Pliskova, who lost in the finals of the U.S. Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2021.

“This court is a bit tricky. You have to play on it a lot to understand when the wind is blowing and where it’s coming,” Stephens said. “The more you play on it, the more you understand it. But it’s a very complicated court. But that’s what makes it so amazing.”

Stephens won a small clay-court tournament in Saint Malo, France, at the start of the month and also reached the semifinals of the Morocco Open last week after only playing a total of three matches at bigger clay events in Madrid and Rome.

“Last year, my clay season wasn’t great, but I played amazing at Roland Garros last year,” Stephens said, “and this year, I really wanted to get matches and play a lot and to see where that got me.”

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Canada wins men’s hockey world title; Latvia wins first medal

IIHF Hockey World Championship

TAMPERE, Finland — Samuel Blais scored two goals to rally Canada to a 5-2 victory over Germany in the final of the world men’s hockey championship on Sunday.

It’s a record 28th world title for Canada, and its second in three years. Russia has 27 while Germany has never won the trophy.

Blais netted with a backhand 4:51 into the final period for a 3-2 lead for Canada, which was playing in its fourth straight final.

“It feels really good,” Blais said. “We’ve been in Europe for a month and we’ve all waited for that moment to play for the gold medal game. And we’re lucky enough to have won it.”

Lawson Crouse, Tyler Toffoli and Scott Laughton also scored for Canada, Peyton Krebs had two assists and goaltender Samuel Montembeault stopped 21 shots.

Toffoli stretched the lead to 4-2 from the left circle with 8:09 remaining and Laughton made it 5-2 with an empty net goal.

Adam Fantilli became only the second Canadian player after Jonathan Toews to win gold at the world juniors and world championship the same year.

Canada had to come back twice in the final.

John Peterka wristed a shot past Montembeault from the left circle 7:44 into the game. It was the sixth goal for the Buffalo Sabres forward at the tournament.

Blais was fed by Krebs to beat goaltender Mathias Niederberger and tie it 1-1 at 10:47.

Daniel Fischbuch put the Germans ahead again with a one-timer with 6:13 to go in the middle period.

Crouse equalized on a power play with 2:32 remaining in the frame.

It was the first medal for Germany since 1953 when it was second behind Sweden.

The two previously met just once in the final with Canada winning 6-1 in 1930.


Defenseman Kristian Rubins scored his second goal 1:22 into overtime to lead Latvia to a 4-3 victory over the United States and earn a bronze medal earlier Sunday.

It’s the first top-three finish for Latvia at the tournament. Its previous best was a seventh place it managed three times.

The U.S. lost in the bronze medal game for the second straight year. The U.S. team was cruising through the tournament with eight straight wins until it was defeated by Germany in the semifinal 4-3 in overtime.

Rubins rallied Latvia with his first with 5:39 to go in the final period to tie the game at 3 to force overtime.

Roberts Bukarts and Janis Jaks also scored for Latvia.

Rocco Grimaldi scored twice for the U.S. in the opening period to negate Latvia’s 1-0 and 2-1 leads.

Matt Coronato had put the U.S. 3-2 ahead 6:19 into the final period.

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