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U.S. golfers will be in medal contention despite withdrawals

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Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson are out, but the U.S. will still have a good shot at collecting a few medals when golf makes its return to the Olympics next month.

Spieth, the world’s third-ranked golfer, was set to be the highest ranked player to compete in Rio. But on Monday, the last day to withdrawal, he pulled out citing health concerns. He’ll speak to the media Tuesday as he prepares for the British Open in Scotland.

Johnson, No. 2 in the world, became the first American to back out last week.

So now, Bubba Watson, at No. 5 in the world rankings, will be the top-ranked male golfer in Rio. His U.S. teammates will be Rickie Fowler (No. 7), Patrick Reed (No. 13) and Matt Kuchar (No. 15). A country can only send four players to the Olympics if they’re all ranked within the world’s top 15, and Kuchar barely achieved that ranking when he tied for third at the Bridgestone Invitational two weeks ago.

The only other top-10 golfers to commit to Rio are Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (No. 6) and Great Britain’s Danny Willett (No. 9). Jason Day (No. 1), Rory McIlroy (4), Adam Scott (8) and Branden Grace (10) all previously withdrew for various reasons.

That leaves all four Americans within the top 10 as far as the Olympic golf rankings are concerned, and in strong contention for a medal.

Watson will be one of five major winners to compete in Rio; he won the Masters in 2012 and 2014. Ireland’s Padraig Harrington will lead the field with three majors won (2007 British Open, 2008 British Open and PGA Championship), but he’ll be ranked 43rd in Rio. Germany’s Martin Kaymer (17th in Rio) owns two major titles (2010 PGA Championship, 2014 U.S. Open).

Willett and his compatriot, Justin Rose (No. 5 in Rio), both own one major. Willett captured the Masters title in April and Rose won the 2013 U.S. Open.

Nearly as notable are the major winners opting not to compete in Rio:

Rory McIlroy – 4 majors
Vijay Singh – 3
Jordan Spieth – 2
Jason Day – 1
Dustin Johnson – 1
Adam Scott – 1
Graeme McDowell – 1
Charl Schwartzel – 1
Louis Oosthuizen – 1

Then there’s Spain’s Sergio Garcia, probably the best golfer to never win a major. He’s been a runner-up four times in majors, but has yet to break through for a signature victory. He won the Players Championship, which is widely considered golf’s “fifth” major, in 2008, but an Olympic gold could top that. Garcia will be ranked sixth in Rio.

At the other end of the rankings, No. 60 will be Mexico’s Rodolfo Cazaubon, who is No. 344 in the world golf rankings. He was awarded a berth when Angelo Que of the Philippines withdrew Monday due to Zika virus concerns.

The women haven’t had nearly the same spate of withdrawals. Only South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace has pulled out.

The U.S. women’s team will consist of Lexi Thompson (No. 4 in the Olympic rankings), Stacy Lewis (No. 9) and Gerina Piller (No. 13). The top three will be New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, Canada’s Brooke M. Henderson and South Korea’s Inbee Park.

Piller, a former Big Break contestant, didn’t clinch her spot until Sunday. She tied for eighth at the U.S. Women’s Open, which moved her to 15th in the women’s world rankings, allowing the U.S. to send a third woman.

The 60th-ranked female golfer will be New Zealand’s Cathryn Bristow, who is No. 446 in the world.

MORE: Jason Day to skip Olympics due to Zika virus

Swim meet canceled after FINA’s threat to ban athletes

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GENEVA (AP) — Amid growing conflict between swimmers and their world governing body, an international swimming meet was canceled on Thursday after threats to ban athletes who took part seeking better prize money.

The Italian swim federation called off the Dec. 20-21 competition it was organizing in Turin, saying it acted to protect athletes from FINA.

The Turin meet was linked to a proposed International Swimming League, a privately run operation which aims to operate outside FINA’s control and pay higher prize money.

“FINA declared the event ‘non-approved,’ threatening sanctions against the participating athletes,” Italian officials said in a statement.

FINA, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Olympic champions have long criticized FINA, believing swimmers should be better rewarded, have more say in decisions, and could create their own union.

Olympic champion Adam Peaty of Britain wrote on Thursday on Twitter he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellation.

The politics involved will “galvanize swimmers, not break them,” wrote Peaty, who holds 50m and 100m breaststroke world records.

Peaty has previously supported Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu in her public criticism of FINA, and calls to create a swimmers’ union.

Italian organizers said Peaty, Hosszu and other Olympic champions including Chad le Clos of South Africa and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden were due to take part in their 25-meter pool event. It was scheduled days after the short-course world championships being staged in Hangzhou, China.

The clash of events seemed to provoke FINA into finding more prize money for its worlds event in the smaller pool.

On Nov. 6, FINA added to its promised prize fund for China by almost doubling the total to $2.07 million.

FINA wrote to member federations on Oct. 30 warning of bans of up to two years for taking part in Turin.

However, a European Commission decision last year suggests swimmers could successfully challenge any attempt to limit their right to race and earn money.

The European Union’s executive arm ruled the International Staking Union in breach of anti-trust laws by threatening severe bans for speed skaters who wanted to compete in a South Korean-organized event in Dubai.

The ISU’s threats “also serve to protect its own commercial interests,” the European officials said.

MORE: Katie Ledecky on her new suit, challenges for Tokyo 2020

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Simon Ammann believes ski jumping career end is near

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Simon Ammann, the most decorated active ski jumper with four Olympic gold medals, said it is hard to imagine competing beyond this season, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

Ammann, 37, swept the individual Olympic titles in 2002 and 2010 to join retired Finn Matti Nykänen as the only four-time Olympic ski jumping champs.

In PyeongChang, his sixth Olympics, Ammann placed 11th and 13th, one month after making his first World Cup podium in nearly three years. He decided after those Winter Games that he would continue at least one more season, but has no plan to go all the way to a seventh Olympics in 2022, according to Blick.

Ammann has teased retirement since at least 2011 and even said going into the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he was “99 percent sure” they would be his final Games.

The now-father of two first gained crossover celebrity with his surprise Salt Lake City 2002 gold medals, his first wins in top-level international competition. The bespectacled Ammann’s victory screams and resemblance to Harry Potter helped land him on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and one of Europe’s biggest shows, sitting next to Shakira.

Fellow ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan holds the Winter Olympic record of eight appearances. Kasai, 46, has said he plans to go for a ninth participation at Beijing 2022.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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MORE: Finland ski jumping legend retires for third time