France, Serbia among favorites in last Olympic basketball qualifiers

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Serbia and France are good enough to win men’s basketball medals at the Olympics. First, they have to get there.

The final three places in the 12-team field are on the line in the three Olympic Qualifying Tournaments next week. Serbia and France, who won silver and bronze two years ago in the Basketball World Cup, will be among the favorites to earn berths after falling short last summer.

The new format to fill out the Olympics has 18 countries still in the running for spots in Rio. Six teams will be in each tournament, and the three winners will be Brazil bound.

Some teams still trying to get there are better than a few who have already qualified. Four of the world’s top 10 will be competing, including France (5th), Serbia (6th), Turkey (8th) and Greece (10th).

The Serbs have a powerful team and home-court advantage as they try to lock up a spot that eluded them in last year’s EuroBasket.

“We still need to fine-tune our teamwork but that’s normal at this stage of preparations. We are going through this process together so that we will still be playing until the end of the OQT, and hopefully after that too,” coach Aleksandar Djordjevic told FIBA.com after his team won its three tuneup games.

Serbia hosts one tournament in Belgrade that also includes Angola and Puerto Ricoin Group A. The Czech Republic, Japan and Latvia are in Group B.

In Manila, Philippines, it’s: Turkey, Canada and Senegal in Group A; with France,New Zealand and the hosts in Group B.

The Turin, Italy field: Greece, Mexico and Iran in Group A; Italy, Croatia and Tunisiain Group B.

Each team will play the others in its group, with the top two finishers in each advancing to the semifinals. The tournament champions will then be drawn into the Olympic field, with two slated to end up in a group with the U.S.

A look at some top contenders:

BELGRADE, SERBIA

SERBIA: The hosts swept a home-and-home with France and beat Greece, another top contender, in their warmup play. Serbia has one of Europe’s top point guards in Milos Teodosic and a top young prospect in Denver Nuggets All-Rookie selection Nikola Jokic, but will miss injured Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica and Spurs center Boban Marjanovic, who is a free agent.

PUERTO RICO: Longtime guards J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks and Carlos Arroyo should again provide the strength for the Puerto Ricans.

MANILA, PHILIPPINES

FRANCE: Tony Parker wants to cap his international career with an Olympic medal. The French failed to earn their chance playing on home soil last summer when Spain beat them in the Eurobasket semifinals, but stand a good chance now if they can hold on until the arrival of Nicolas Batum, who is an NBA free agent and won’t be available until after he signs a contract on July 7.

TURKEY: Their tough defense, anchored by NBA center Omer Asik in the middle, always gives the Turks a chance to stay in games. They gave the U.S. its toughest test in the 2014 Basketball World Cup.

CANADA: With Timberwolves star Andrew Wiggins sitting out, the Canadians could regret not locking up a spot when they blew a late lead against Venezuela in last year’s FIBA Americas semifinals.

TURIN, ITALY

GREECE: Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks is a do-everything star and Sacramento’s Kosta Koufos a solid center for a Greek team that scored a pair of victories over Turkey during its pre-tournament schedule.

ITALY: The Italians haven’t reached the Olympics since winning silver in 2004. But they have plenty of shooting behind NBA players Danilo Gallinari and Marco Belinelli and former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani, a top coach in Spurs assistant Ettore Messina, and the backing of a home crowd to get them there this time.

MORE: Analyzing U.S. Olympic men’s basketball roster

Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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