U.S. women’s gymnastics rested, ready for Rio

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RIO DE JANEIRO – The U.S. women’s gymnastics team might just be the biggest gold-medal lock of the Olympics. How do we know?

Martha Karolyi is giving the team a day off. Two days before the competition starts.

“It’s pretty unusual,” Karolyi admitted in a Facebook Live chat Thursday night with 2008 Olympic silver medalist Sam Peszek.

That’s how confident Karolyi is in their preparation; the 73-year-old matriarch did Facebook Live ahead of the biggest meet in four years. Imagine the Russian or Chinese coaches, or even Coach K or Geno Auriemma doing this.

These are Karolyi’s legacy Olympics, her fourth and final Games as the national-team coordinator. The program vaulted into a class of its own in the last five years, winning every Olympic and world championships team and individual all-around title.

This year’s team is her most decorated yet and the biggest favorite for the Olympic women’s team gold in recent memory. The pressure to succeed is overwhelming.

The U.S. women finished their only pre-Olympic training session on the bright-green competition floor at about 7 pm Rio time Thursday night.

MORE: U.S. women start competition on Sunday at 4:30 pm ET

From there, Karolyi would have been expected to pore over scores, analyze routines or discuss Sunday’s qualifying lineup with coaches.

Those were not her immediate plans, though the lineup was a major talking point among the media, and young Laurie Hernandez’s coach. Karolyi deflected questions in her usual gushing-but-not-revealing manner.

Three U.S. women can vie for the all-around in qualifying, and it looks like the 16-year-old Hernandez will sit out in favor of returning Olympians Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman joining Simone Biles, despite beating both of them at the U.S. Olympic Trials last month.

Again, this speaks to how big of a favorite the U.S. is. The closest thing to a controversy is debating the third-most deserving gymnast on the squad.

This is tame compared Karolyi’s previous three Games in charge, when she had to deal with injuries to individual world champions in the lead-up to the team final.

The confidence is clear among the gymnasts, too. They already have the team name chosen to follow-up the Fierce Five moniker of four years ago, but Raisman said they won’t reveal it until after the team final Tuesday night.

Raisman didn’t say anything about “if we win the team final.” One would think a team name announcement after a silver or bronze medal wouldn’t make sense, but this thought doesn’t seem to enter their minds.

Karolyi and the gymnasts marched out of the mixed zone at about 7:30 Thursday night and into a transport. They were shuttled across a largely empty and very dark Olympic Park. The gymnasts went to an interview with Ryan Seacrest. Karolyi did a series of interviews.

Raisman was asked about Karolyi’s unusual move to give the team a free day Friday. The team captain said the Fierce Five did not get such a luxury in London, though they did get one at a pre-Games team camp.

“Usually we give a day off,” Karolyi said, “and they have several half-days off.”

Is this team more prepared than the 2012 team?

“It’s so hard to compare the teams,” Karolyi said. “I feel all the teams were well prepared.

“We reached the good level of training. We thought it would very welcome to give them a little bit of break. It’s not so much from the physical effort, but I think mentally you permanently have to focus so much. You have to keep your very best every single second, every single repetition that it’s very good to give them a day off to loosen up and come back with a lot of refreshment and energy for the competition.”

The gymnasts seemed loose enough even before they were given Friday off.

They met Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps in the athletes’ village on Wednesday.

Raisman said she “acted like a 5-year-old” in front of the Jamaican sprinter. Biles said she had to be the reasonable voice when Raisman and Douglas, the team veterans, were being boisterous in Bolt’s presence.

“I kept it calm, because I know how it feels when people rush over to me,” said the 19-year-old Biles, speaking from her experience of winning three straight world all-around titles. Two years ago, Biles seemed ready to cartwheel across the lobby when she found out her face was on hotel room keys at the P&G Championships. She has matured.

“Aly and Gabby practically flipped the whole dinner table and screamed, ‘Usain!’ and attracted people,” Biles said. “I said you can’t do that, keep it calm.”

In the end, the team noticed how hungry Bolt must have been, since he had two heaping plates of pasta on his table. Hernandez wanted to challenge Bolt to a race, but that will wait.

“Hopefully another time, when he’s not starving, we can have a conversation with him,” Raisman said.

One thing the U.S. women won’t be doing on their day off is marching in the Opening Ceremony and tiring their legs with hours of standing. That would have been even more eyebrow-raising than Karolyi letting them free for the day.

Karolyi said the last time U.S. women’s artistic team members marched in the Opening Ceremony was at the 1988 Seoul Games. And that Karolyi actually marched with them.

That would be a sight to behold, but a quick YouTube query and a Where’s Waldo-esque search through the light-blue tops and long white skirts yielded no definitive proof.

“I, for sure, have been around a very long time,” Karolyi joked, fittingly in the Facebook Live chat.

When her teams perform well, Karolyi rewards herself. At the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio, the U.S. won the team event, swept the all-around podium and took gold and silver in three of four apparatus finals.

Karolyi visited a jewelry store and hopes to return, should the team take care of business. From the looks of it, they already have.

To Karolyi’s liking, they stuck their landings and showed maturity in Thursday’s training session. They’ve also traded pins and scouted boys. The team has mastered time management, too.

“Work hard, play hard,” Biles joked.

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

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The U.S. women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game