Jordan Spieth
Getty Images

Jordan Spieth: Olympic decision ‘probably hardest in my life,’ eyes Tokyo 2020

2 Comments

TROON, Scotland (AP) — Jordan Spieth said pulling out of the Olympics was the hardest decision he’s ever made, and that it likely will haunt him as he’s watching golfers compete for a gold medal in Rio de Janeiro for the first time in 112 years.

Spieth cited “health concerns” as his reason for withdrawing, though he said the Zika virus was only part of it. Asked what kept him out of the Olympics, the 22-year-old Texan would only say that it was personal and anyone in his shoes would have made the same choice.

“Why was it so hard? Because I’m a huge believer in Olympic golf,” Spieth said Tuesday during a news conference that touched only briefly on his bid for the third leg of the career Grand Slam at the British Open.

“This year I just had to try and weigh a risk that doesn’t present itself every year,” he said. “And just at the time that I had to make the decision, I just felt this was the right move for me. Not everybody’s going to understand. Nobody’s going to understand what it’s like in my shoes. … Mine came down to just a very personal decision that, again, I don’t expect anybody to understand, but trust that I believe I’m making the right decision for myself, for my future and for those around me.”

Spieth’s stock has risen sharply in the last year after he won the Masters and U.S. Open and made a spirited run at the Grand Slam. With 18 other players having withdrawn, he was looked upon as someone whose commitment might ease the backlash against golf for its perceived indifference about the sport returning to the Olympics.

That didn’t stop him from following his instincts.

Spieth said he didn’t make up his mind until Monday morning, and the decision was his alone.

“Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion,” Spieth said. “I’m not worrying about anybody else except myself, and again, I don’t expect people to fully understand it. They don’t know what I know about myself and my future and my goals. Therefore, there’s nothing I can do about it except go on and try to again focus on this week.”

Spieth’s decision means none of the top four in the world ranking — they have won six of the last eight majors — will be in Rio when golf is part of the Olympic program for the first time since St. Louis in 1904.

Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy previously pulled out, all citing Zika and their plans to start a family or have more children. The mosquito-borne Zika virus has been linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological disorders in adults. International Golf Federation President Peter Dawson said Monday he thought there was an overreaction to Zika and that none of the workers on the new golf course have been affected.

Spieth is staying with Rickie Fowler this week in Troon, and he said he was standing next to him when Fowler tweeted Sunday night that he would be playing. Spieth had planned to room with Fowler in Rio, and he said he texted Fowler after informing the IGF that he wasn’t going to play.

“He said, ‘No worries. I know you had to make it just for you. You’re just going to be jealous when I get that gold,'” Spieth said. “That’s what he said. So that’s how it went.”

Either way, Spieth said he would be watching.

He is the defending champion at the John Deere Classic, which was moved to the week of the Olympics when the PGA Tour adjusted its schedule for the Rio Games. Even though he’s out of the Olympics, Spieth said he won’t go to the John Deere.

“I don’t think it would be an appropriate move to play that week, so I will not be playing that week,” he said. “I don’t think it would be appropriate given our decision on the Olympics. … We’ve won two out of the last three years. So I will be going back there, I just don’t think it’s appropriate this year.”

Spieth joked after an introduction to his close call at St. Andrews last year that it would be the easiest question he received. And when it was over, as he pushed back from the table, he said quietly with a smile, “Do we have a tournament this week?”

He was ready to move on from Olympics to a claret jug. But even Spieth knows that won’t happen. He said he would carry the decision with him through the Olympics and for a while.

“It will loom over me throughout the Olympic games, for sure,” he said. “I will be, I’m sure, at times pretty upset that I’m not down there. I thought about all this ahead of time. When I watch the opening ceremonies, that’s going to be a big bummer. Then when I watch these guys competing on the golf course. I’ll be texting with Rickie, obviously, throughout as a good friend of mine. I thought about all of this ahead of time and still made the decision I did because it was the right move for me.”

MORE: Tennis stars, unlike golfers, not deterred by Zika

Kyle Dake repeats as world wrestling champ; next challenge: Jordan Burroughs

Leave a comment

Kyle Dake recovered from an unspecified freak accident that required surgery, and not wrestling in a meet for eight months, to repeat as world champion at 79kg, a non-Olympic weight class, on Sunday.

The next six months will bring another challenge — beating Jordan Burroughs for an Olympic spot.

“Every year I have a goal of being the best guy in the world. Last year, I proved it. This year, I proved it,” Dake told Trackwrestling.com. “I’ve got my work cut out for me, coming up.”

Dake, a four-time NCAA champion at Cornell who considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year, is now in his freestyle prime. He backed up going unscored on at worlds last year by beating his four opponents in Kazakhstan this week by a combined 27-4, capped by topping Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov 4-2 in a final rematch.

Kid Dynamite is unquestionably one of the world’s best pound-for-pound wrestlers.

That was not the case four years ago. Then, an internationally inexperienced Dake moved out of the 74kg division, and up to 86kg for the Olympic year, to avoid facing Burroughs because Burroughs had a bye into the Olympic trials final as the reigning world champion. Dake ended up losing the 86kg trials final to J’den Cox, who on Saturday repeated as world champion himself.

The four-year difference would seem to favor Dake over Burroughs at April’s trials, where Dake has a bye into the semifinals and Burroughs into the final.

Burroughs, at 31 years old, is on the back end of his career. He just missed the finals of back-to-back world championships for the first time, though he came back for bronze medals. Burroughs has made every U.S. world or Olympic team at 74kg dating to 2011 and earned a medal every time, save his tearful Rio Olympic exit.

Dake, reluctant four years ago to detail his decision to move out of 74kg, determined before this week’s worlds that he would choose 74kg over 86kg (where Cox likely waits again).

“74 seems like a good spot for me,” Dake told Trackwrestling last month.

The number of weight classes drops from 10 at worlds to six at the Olympics, ensuring that at least two of these Americans will not make the Tokyo team:

Burroughs — 5x Olympic/world champion
Dake — 2x world champion
David Taylor — 2018 World champion (missed 2019 while injured)
Cox — 2x world champion
Kyle Snyder — 2x Olympic/world champion

Later Sunday, Snyder rallied from being upset in the 97kg semifinals on Saturday to snag a bronze medal with a 5-0 win over Georgian Elizbar Odikadze. A potential third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev was the most anticipated match of the championships, but Snyder was beaten one match early by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov.

Sadulayev, meanwhile, blanked Sharifov 4-0 to complete a 30-3 romp through his four matches to repeat as world champ.

“The hardest part about it I would say is just the fact that I didn’t get to wrestle Sadulayev again,” said Snyder, a Rio Olympic champion and a 2015 and 2017 World champion who shared bus and elevator rides with Sadulayev on Saturday and Sunday. “I felt prepared for him.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Jordan Burroughs: Time is running out

Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

Margo Sugarman
Leave a comment

Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18. Joey Wagman, its starting pitcher for its first and last games this week, plies his trade for the independent-league Milwaukee Milkmen.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: USA Baseball taps longtime catcher to be Olympic qualifying manager