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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

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

MORE: NHL players vote on world’s best female hockey player

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