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Ronaldo calls Neymar Olympic situation ‘cowardly’

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Brazil legend Ronaldo reportedly said it’s “cowardly” if Neymar is forced to choose between playing for the national team at Copa América Centenario in June and the Rio Olympics in August.

“This situation is very difficult for the player,” Ronaldo said, according to reports Thursday. “I think it’s cowardly that he has to choose what competition he wants to play in.”

Brazil’s soccer federation has Neymar’s rights for Copa América Centenario, a tournament among North and South American nations, but not the Olympics.

Neymar’s club team, FC Barcelona, controls whether Neymar is allowed to play for Brazil at the Olympics in August.

Neither the federation nor Barcelona has said whether Neymar will play in Copa América Centenario, the Olympics or both.

Spanish reports have said Barcelona will allow Neymar to play in one of Copa América Centenario and the Olympics, but not both, so that he’s better rested ahead of the Spanish league season that starts in late summer.

That would mean that if Brazil’s federation chooses Neymar for Copa América Centenario, Barcelona would block Neymar from being available for the Olympics. If Brazil’s federation declines to use Neymar at Copa América Centenario, Barcelona would allow Neymar to be available for Olympic selection.

The Olympics are important for Brazil and for Neymar, since the nation is hosting the Games for the first time and has never won Olympic soccer gold.

“I would opt to play in the Olympics,” Ronaldo said, according to reports. “It would be something unheard of if they could get a gold medal at the Games in Rio.

“I don’t know what the situation is like, but ideally, how wonderful it would be for Neymar to tell that story.”

Neymar led the 2012 Olympic silver-medal winning squad for Brazil.

Ronaldo also earned an Olympic medal, bronze in 1996 while wearing “Ronaldinho” on his jersey because the team had an older Ronaldo.

Ronaldo was the youngest player on that team at 19 years old, two years before his World Cup playing debut. Brazil was shocked in the 1996 Olympic semifinals by a Nigerian golden goal.

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Federica Brignone passes Mikaela Shiffrin for World Cup overall lead

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Italian Federica Brignone passed an absent Mikaela Shiffrin for the World Cup overall standings lead by winning a combined in Switzerland on Sunday.

Brignone prevailed by .92 of a second adding times from super-G and slalom runs in Crans-Montana. Full results are here.

Brignone moved 73 points ahead of Shiffrin in the overall through 29 of 40 scheduled races. A race winner receives 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place finisher. The season runs through March 22.

Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup overall champion, has not competed since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Brignone, 29, is having a career season with five wins and 10 podiums across four disciplines.

Brignone’s best previous World Cup overall standings finish was fifth. She earned giant slalom medals at the 2018 Olympics (bronze) and 2011 World Championships (silver).

She could become Italy’s first female World Cup overall champion. The last Italian male winner was Alberto Tomba in 1995.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves to La Thuile, Italy, for a super-G and a combined next Saturday and Sunday.

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Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts earn maximum points on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One other gymnast can get to the maximum points on vault with one win between the last two stops (and others with two).

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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