Mallory Pugh
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Mallory Pugh could become second-youngest U.S. Olympic women’s soccer player ever

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HOUSTON (AP) — For a moment, Mallory Pugh‘s eyes widened.

The U.S. national team had just qualified for the Olympics, and the 17-year-old player now faced cameras and questions. But Pugh, still months away from college, seems an old hand in many ways when it comes to poise.

The Americans assured their spot for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Games on Friday night with a 5-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. Pugh started and assisted on Tobin Heath‘s goal in the 12th minute.

“I think it’s a really cool and awesome opportunity,” Pugh said. “I mean, not everyone gets it. And I think making the most of it when it comes is really cool.”

She is the youngest in a youth movement and could become the second-youngest U.S. Olympic soccer player since 1904, according to sports-reference.com. She would be just younger than Cindy Parlow was at the first Olympics with women’s soccer in 1996.

The average age of the qualifying team is 25, down from the 29.5-year average of the team that won the World Cup in Canada last summer.

Eight of the players on the 20-player roster for this tournament had fewer than nine appearances with the senior national team. Other newcomers include Lindsey Horan, 21; Crystal Dunn, 23; and Emily Sonnett, 22.

Several veterans, including Abby Wambach and Lauren Holiday, have retired from the team that beat Japan 5-2 last summer in Canada for the World Cup title. Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez are expecting and won’t be available for the Olympics. Megan Rapinoe is recovering from knee surgery.

Pugh first came to the attention of U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who also serves as U.S. Soccer’s development director, when she was 14. Pugh played on the under-17 and under-20 national teams, turning heads when she captained the team that won the CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship last year, earning the Golden Boot award for most goals with seven.

She made her debut at the senior level in the team’s opening game of this year, scoring her first goal in a 5-0 win over Ireland in San Diego.

Pugh is the youngest player named to a U.S. qualifying roster. The Colorado native made two starts in the tournament, which wraps up Sunday when the Americans face Canada in the final. Canada earned the region’s other Olympic berth with a 3-1 victory over Costa Rica in the semifinals.

With her speed on the left flank, Pugh held her own Friday night. Ellis decided to sit Dunn, who had five goals in the Americans’ previous game, a 10-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

“I knew (Pugh) was ready, so it was looking more at what we wanted and what we wanted to see,” Ellis said. “I think part of it is, in a tournament like this, being able to utilize your depth. And we have depth in those positions.”

Carli Lloyd likes what she’ sees from Pugh.

“I think she’s got a lot of talent, she’s really fast, she’s got good pace, very smart on the ball. I think she’s got to keep grinding away, and be able to continue to keep that level for an entire game. But great tournament for her so far, and she’s got a lot of good years ahead of her.”

Pugh will continue to play for the U-20 national team – the World Cup for that level of soccer is in November. She will also keep fit for a possible spot on the final Olympic roster by training with a boys’ team back home in Colorado. Ellis can take only 18 players to Brazil.

And she’ll also get ready for her freshman year at UCLA in the fall.

“Mallory Pugh, being on the field, it was so cool,” goalkeeper Hope Solo said following the victory. “I was so proud for her to start. To be honest, she didn’t seem nervous. She just seemed excited and happy. It was good energy.”

MORE: Carli Lloyd ranks Olympic final-winning goals, World Cup hat trick

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

MORE: World’s top skater leaves famed coach

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Respectfully, Donavan Brazier believes he has a chance at legendary record

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On the night of the biggest race of his life, Donavan Brazier met the man whom he is trying to succeed and, perhaps, supplant.

David Rudisha, the two-time Olympic 800m champion and world-record holder, told Brazier before the Oct. 1 world championships 800m final that he believed in the 22-year-old American more than any other man in that night’s event.

Later that evening in Doha, Brazier proved the sidelined Kenyan prophetic, winning in a national record 1:42.34 and becoming the first American to win a world title in the event.

Brazier, in his first global championship final, also ran the fastest time by somebody that young since Rudisha’s 2012 Olympic title and world-record epic pulled that field to personal bests.

Rudisha’s mark of 1:40.91 — from a race Brazier has watched dozens of times — is still significantly faster. That hasn’t stopped followers from wondering if Rudisha’s days as world-record holder may be numbered.

Sounds like Brazier may be wondering, too.

“I think I definitely have the opportunity,” Brazier told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey in a watchback of his 2019 Diamond League and world titles. “If we’re looking at guys that are currently racing right now, I think I might have the best opportunity to do it.”

Brazier exercised caution. He was by no means predicting such a feat.

“David Rudisha, when he first broke it, he was a once-in-a-century athlete,” Brazier said. “For someone to break it so quick and just to say it so nonchalantly, I think it’s not really giving David Rudisha the respect that he deserves. A 1:40.91 is a really dangerous record to break.”

Brazier, who took up running in middle school in Michigan rather than football because he was “terribly skinny,” quickly became a dangerous prospect. In 2016, he went into the Olympic Trials ranked third in the world as a Texas A&M freshman.

Then came the obstacles. Brazier was eliminated in the first round of trials, three weeks after winning the NCAA title on the same Oregon track. In 2017, he won the U.S. title but failed to make the world final. He didn’t race at all outdoors in 2018 due to a foot injury.

Brazier looked at 2019 as a redemption year. He hit a series of successes: an American indoor 800m record, the world’s fastest indoor 600m in history, his first Diamond League win, a repeat national title and the Diamond League Final title.

Brazier said that last victory in Zurich took him from “not a well known guy, maybe a medal contender, maybe not,” to the world championships favorite. Rudisha hasn’t raced since 2017 due to injuries.

Brazier, after meeting Rudisha and former world-record holder Seb Coe, capped the season with his biggest title yet in Doha. The feeling was more relief than happiness. Brazier, after getting knocked down repeatedly in his first two seasons as a pro, noted that Muhammad Ali also won his first world title at age 22.

Brazier mouthed “thank you” after crossing the finish line, a salute to everybody who helped him reach that point.

“I’m thanking myself, too, because I’m the one who put in all the hard work to do it,” Brazier said. “I’m not saying that this is the end of my career, but it was definitely the peak of my career and the pinnacle of it. I never accomplished anything on a stage like that.”

MORE: Dalilah Muhammad rewatches 2019 world records

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