Elena Delle Donne
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Elena Delle Donne nervous as Olympic tryout camp opens

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STORRS, Conn. (AP) — It’s not often that Elena Delle Donne is nervous on the basketball court.

Still for one of the rare times in her life, it’s not a sure thing that the reigning WNBA MVP will make a team. Delle Donne is hoping to play in her first Olympics this summer for the U.S. national team in Rio.

“All my family memories and friends were texting me, do your best out there, be confident,” Delle Donne said. “They take the best 12 players that play together. It’s not going to be the best 12 players in the world. That’s the key. Try and make everyone else around me better.”

Delle Donne remembered the last time she had this nervous feeling and that was also in a USA Basketball tryout when she was trying to make the World University games team when she was in college.

She did and that team went on to win a gold medal. While making that roster was tough, making this one for the Olympics will be extremely challenging because of the wealth of talent on the team.

“With no disrespect to the former teams, it’s going to be clearly the most difficult team to come up with,” national team director Carol Callan said. “Typically you look at the top eight or nine and then build out with what you need. It’s going to be hard to say who those are because there are 15 of them.”

Three-time Olympic gold medalists Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings lead the way while Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus each have won two. In all, 10 of the finalists have already won Olympic gold for the U.S. That doesn’t even include Delle Donne or Brittney Griner or UConn senior Breanna Stewart.

“They’ve gone to battle with you,” Callan said. “They’ve sacrificed, come to training camp with you. There’s not a real reason to say that you’re not on the team other than there are so many people to choose from. It’s a lot easier when they are younger and never been there.”

Parker and Fowles as well as Tina Charles were excused from camp as they were playing in the Chinese league playoffs. Charles’ team just eliminated Parker’s team.

The three days will serve as the last chance for the players to impress the selection committee before the team is announced this spring. The U.S. has 41 straight Olympic victories since winning the bronze medal in 1992.

“There were years where you’d say ‘who’s the No. 12 man’,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “Now, maybe there’s six-seven-eight players for two spots if you take all the previous Olympians and they all deserve to be on the team. That’s a good problem to have. A lot of other countries wish they had that problem.”

The three days are a rare opportunity for the U.S. team to train in February because most players are competing overseas in Russia, Turkey or other countries. With FIBA’s recent changes in World Championship qualifying procedures, there are now breaks in European club play so national teams can train and compete in  qualifying system.

The camp also came during the middle of UConn’s season. Auriemma’s team has won 63 consecutive games and plays again on Wednesday. Stewart is doing double-duty the next few days going to both practices.

MORE: Sue Bird looks ahead to ‘likely last Olympics’

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping