Michelle Obama, Ibtihaj Muhammad
AP

First Lady Michelle Obama ‘fences’ with Ibtihaj Muhammad

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NEW YORK (AP) — First lady Michelle Obama wrapped up her speech to dozens of U.S. athletes to mark 100 days before the Rio Games and immediately headed over to a temporary court set up in the middle of Times Square.

There she was greeted by Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad, the two women sharing a long embrace. Muhammad then gave Mrs. Obama a quick fencing lesson before the first lady and a young girl practiced their technique with foam foils.

In the meticulously staged photo op Wednesday was plenty of symbolism, and Muhammad, who is set to become the first American to compete in the Olympics while wearing a hijab, feels comfortable as the face of that message.

This Olympic year is also an election year, one in which Republican front-runner Donald Trump has suggested that Muslims be banned from entering the United States. Amid that backdrop, Muhammad, a 30-year-old New Jersey native, finds herself with many opportunities to speak out.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re in this moment, especially during the presidential election, where people feel so comfortable voicing their dislike or the discontent for people of a particular background, a particular race or a particular religion,” she told reporters later. “We as Americans have to fight that, because that goes against the very values that we stand for.

“I feel like I’m in this position and I have to use it, and I want to use it well. I don’t want to waste my time as an athlete; I want to reach as many people as I can – just not with my skills within my sport but also with my voice.”

Muhammad, who qualified for Rio in saber, said she found out only a few hours earlier that she’d be fencing with Mrs. Obama. She had met the president before but not the first lady.

Mrs. Obama later took part in passing drills with kids and members of the U.S. women’s basketball team.

Earlier, with dozens of American athletes from various sports standing behind her, the first lady described herself as a “real, lifelong, die-hard Olympics fan.” She reminisced about growing up on Chicago’s South Side, where the kids would crowd around one neighbor’s TV and “watch for hours.”

“Once the games were over, we would all run outside and set up some makeshift hurdle or some balance beam, and we’d try to imitate our heroes,” Mrs. Obama said in announcing a partnership by the U.S. Olympic Committee, NBC and summer sport national governing bodies called “Gold Map” that will encourage youngsters to take up Olympic sports.

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April Ross, Alix Klineman back atop Olympic beach volleyball qualifying

April Ross, Alix Klineman
FIVB World Tour
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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman moved back on top of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball qualifying standings by winning an event in Itapema, Brazil this week.

Ross, who split from Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2017, and Klineman beat Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 25-23, 18-21, 15-10 in Sunday’s final for their third title in 11 FIVB World Tour tournaments together.

“Every victory is important, but this counts for more,” Klineman said, according to the FIVB. “We want to send a message and we want to be consistently the best.

Ross and Klineman supplanted Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, for the lead in the early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings with still more than a year of events ahead.

1. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events played)
2. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,100 (7 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,000 (4 events)
5. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)
6. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)

Each team’s 12 best results from Sept. 1, 2018, to June 14, 2020, go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. That means Ross and Klineman are comfortably in front, having played two fewer events than Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost in the quarterfinals in Itapema.

The top two U.S. pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Ross, 36, picked up Klineman, 29, after Walsh Jennings didn’t join her in signing a domestic AVP contract in 2017. The 6-foot-5 Klineman primarily played indoor the previous decade, including at Stanford from 2007-10 after being the Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school.

MORE: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Katie Ledecky extends 5-year win streak

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Katie Ledecky extended a five-year domestic win streak by taking the 200m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Swim Series at Bloomington on Saturday.

In her last full meet before July’s world championships, Ledecky clocked 1:55.80 to beat training partner Simone Manuel by 1.44 seconds for her second win in as many days. Ledecky is also entered in Sunday’s 800m free on the last day of the meet.

Ledecky, who also cruised to a 400m free victory on Friday, ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year, behind Australian Ariarne Titmus and Swede Sarah Sjöström (the Olympic silver medalist who is not expected to race the 200m free at worlds).

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, hasn’t lost a 200m, 400m, 800m or 1500m free final at a domestic meet since Allison Schmitt beat her in a 200m free on Jan. 18, 2014 when Ledecky was 16 years old.

BLOOMINGTON: Full Results

But Ledecky lost the two biggest 200m frees of this Olympic cycle so far, at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini handed Ledecky her first individual final defeat at a major international meet at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky dropped to third in the 200m free at Pan Pacs in Tokyo last year, beaten by younger swimmers Taylor Ruck of Canada and Rikako Ikee of Japan.

Ruck, who like Ledecky trains at Stanford, is in Bloomington, but she chose not to swim the 200m free on Saturday. She instead swam the 200m backstroke about 45 minutes after the 200m free and was upset by 17-year-old Regan Smith. Smith won in 2:06.47, moving to No. 3 in the world this year.

In other events Saturday, Ella Eastin captured the 400m individual medley in 4:37.18, taking 1.25 seconds off her personal best and moving to fifth in the world this year. Eastin is not on the world championships team after an untimely bout with mono before qualifying meets last summer.

Blake Pieroni won the men’s 200m free in 1:47.25. No American ranks in the top 20 in the world this year. World silver medalist Townley Haas did not enter Bloomington.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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