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2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups set; U.S. opponents same as 2014

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The U.S. men’s hockey team is grouped with Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia for a second straight Olympics.

Norway, Slovenia and Germany claimed the last spots in the 2018 Olympic men’s hockey field of 12 nations Sunday, while France heartbreakingly failed in its bid to qualify for the first time since 2002 with a goalie who played under Herb Brooks at the 1998 Olympics.

Norway came from behind to beat France 2-1 in their final qualifying game Sunday at an Oslo arena that hosted 1952 Olympic hockey games. France would have qualified for Pyeongchang over Norway with a win. Instead, Norway scored the decider with 2:29 left.

In other winner-take-all games, Slovenia ousted Belarus 3-2 in a shootout in Minsk. Germany edged Latvia 3-2 in Riga.

Two nations from Sochi failed to qualify for Pyeongchang — Austria and Latvia.

Latvia inspired at the 2014 Olympics, where it was tied with Canada in the third period of the quarterfinals but ultimately fell 2-1, a close affair despite a 57-16 shots-on-goal advantage for Canada.

Austria and Latvia are replaced in the 2018 Olympic field by host South Korea, in its first Olympics, and Germany, which had made every Olympics since the fall of the Berlin Wall before being upset by Austria in 2014 Olympic qualifying.

In Sochi, the U.S. crushed Slovakia 7-1, edged Russia 3-2 in the T.J. Oshie shootout and beat Slovenia 5-1. The Americans would lose 1-0 to Canada in the semifinals and 5-0 to Finland in the bronze-medal game.

The 2018 Olympic format will be the same as 2014, with all 12 nations advancing to a playoff bracket, but only group winners and the best second-place team receiving byes into the quarterfinals.

The 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups (world ranking in parentheses):

Group A Group B Group C
Canada (1) Russia (2) Finland (3)
Czech Republic (6) USA (4) Sweden (5)
Switzerland (7) Slovakia (8) Germany (10)
South Korea (23 — host) Slovenia (15) Norway (11)

France’s elimination Sunday quashed what could have been one of the great stories of the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

Cristobal Huet, 41, was France’s goalie in all three qualification games this weekend.

Huet, best known for playing in the NHL from 2003 through 2010 and winning a Stanley Cup that last year, was in line to become the oldest playing goalie at the Olympics in 90 years, according to Olympic historians.

Huet played for France in its last two Olympic appearances, in 1998 and 2002. In the former, his coach was Herb Brooks, best known as the man who guided the U.S. team in the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

In November 1997, Brooks took the French Olympic coaching job as a favor to a friend who happened to be the French team’s general manager, according to reports back then. It was his first Olympic coaching job since Lake Placid, and Brooks reportedly spoke little French.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before the Nagano 1998 Olympics:

Earlier this week, a French reporter asked Brooks if France could pull off a Lake Placid-style miracle.

Brooks gave the man an icy stare.

“You are way off base,” Brooks said. “I mean no disrespect to you, but you have to understand that there will never be another Lake Placid. Never.”

The 1998 Olympic hockey tournament included a preliminary round for lower-ranked nations that first weekend.

France went 1-2, beating Japan but losing to Belarus and Germany, and failed to advance to face medal-contending nations such as the U.S. or Canada. Huet played in two of those preliminary-round games.

Brooks would lead France to an upset of the U.S. at the world championship three months after the Olympics. The American team at those worlds included few NHL players.

The 1998 Winter Games were the first Olympics with NHL participation, which continued for the next four editions. Whether the NHL will send its players to Pyeongchang is to be decided.

Here’s what Brooks said about NHL participation in the 1998 Olympics, according to the Post-Dispatch:

“It will be a tremendous tournament with the NHL players here,” Brooks said. “And this will be great marketing for the NHL. But I’m more of a traditionalist. I’m not a big fan of professionals in the Olympic Games. Maybe I’m sort of a dinosaur along those lines. I still hold out hope that the young players in the United States do not have to be an NHL All-Star to play in the Olympics. I think we’re taking a lot of the hopes and dreams and aspirations out of our young people.”

MORE: NHL decision on 2018 Olympic hockey not expected until after Rio

Transgender track and field athletes now face same standard that has kept out Caster Semenya

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Transgender athletes will have to reduce their testosterone level to the same level applied to Caster Semenya and other athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD), under a new policy enacted by World Athletics (formerly the IAAF).

As with DSD athletes, the threshold for middle-distance runners has been lowered from 10 nanomoles per liter to 5.

“These Regulations have been drafted to align with the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development) and include updates to reflect current medical standards and the legal framework,” World Athletics said in announcing the latest IAAF Council decisions.

The IAAF claimed a similar basis in medical standards last year when it announced its updated policy on DSD athletes: “No female would have serum levels of natural testosterone at 5 nmol/L or above unless they have DSD or a tumour.”

Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion at 800 meters, challenged that limit in the Court of Arbitration for Sport but lost her case in May. Given a brief reprieve by a Swiss court, she ran the fastest 800-meter time of the year (1:54.98), but a higher court overruled her appeal. She did not compete in the recent world championships.

MORE: Semenya laments lack of support

Another athlete affected by the DSD policy, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui, told the Olympic Channel she was struggling to find a new direction after the rule was passed.

“It affected me a lot,” Wambui said. “I didn’t want to train or do anything. …

“Caster has fought for us. She has done her level best. She has tried, but we failed.”

VIDEO: Wambui: “No one chose to be born the way they are”

Transgender athletes have not yet been prominent in international track and field, though controversies have arisen at other levels, particularly in a Connecticut case in which high school athletes filed a Title IX complaint after losing to transgender athletes. The athletes who filed the claim said they were potentially at a disadvantage in terms of earning college scholarships.

The new World Athletics policy insists that its stipulations for transgender athletes are actually generous. “The decision limit also takes into consideration that, for clinical purposes, the Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline for Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons recommends that transgender females should have serum testosterone levels of less than 50 ng/dL (i.e. approximately 1.7 nmol/L).”

But while DSD and transgender athletes face different issues, Semenya and other DSD athletes have set a precedent by withdrawing from competition rather than bring their levels down to the 5 nmol/L standard. In CAS proceedings, Semenya said she experienced regular fevers, night sweats, significant weight gain and constant abdominal pain while taking medication to meet the previous standard of 10 nmol/L.

The International Olympic Committee also put a 10 nmol/L limit in place for both transgender and DSD athletes in 2015. Some athletes have complained that transgender athletes still have an unfair advantage under that policy.

The World Athletics policy also addresses transgender men, granting them permission to take regulated testosterone supplements to bring levels within a typical range for men.

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U.S. men’s volleyball extends medal streak with bronze in World Cup

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With its medal-winning streak in jeopardy, the defending champion U.S. men’s volleyball team beat Egypt 22-25, 25-16, 25-14, 25-13 on Tuesday in Hiroshima, Japan. Poland beat Iran later in the day to slip past the U.S. for silver behind unbeaten Brazil.

The experienced U.S. men have claimed a medal in the last four major international tournaments — gold in the 2015 World Cup, bronze in the 2016 Olympics, bronze in the 2018 world championships and bronze in this year’s World Cup. The men also placed second in the 2019 Nations League and third in the first Nations League in 2018, though the team failed to medal in the last two editions of the World League in 2016 and 2017.

Most importantly for next year, the U.S. men swept their Olympic qualification tournament in August.

Micah Christenson was named best setter of the tournament, as he was in the 2015 tournament and in the 2018 world championships. Middle blocker Max Holt was also named to the tournament “Dream Team.

VIDEO: U.S.-Egypt highlights

The U.S. team’s World Cup started with a five-set loss to Argentina, which went on to finish fifth. The U.S. rebounded to beat Italy, world champion Poland, host Japan, Tunisia and Iran before losing to eventual champion Brazil. Border rival Canada took the U.S. to five sets, but sweeps against Australia and Brazil put the team in position to clinch its medal.

Heading into next year’s Olympics, the U.S. team has several internationally accomplished players. In addition to Christenson’s multiple awards, Matt Anderson was named the best opposite hitter in the world championship and Nations League in 2018, and Aaron Russell was named to the Dream Team in the 2016 Olympics. Russell, playing for Italian team Trentino, also was named MVP of the World Club Championship in December.

The U.S. women’s team also won two medals this year gold in the Nations League, silver in the World Cup and swept its own qualification tournament.

This success comes despite the lack of a professional league in the United States. USA volleyball announced last week it has processed paperwork for 257 women and 82 men to play in foreign leagues for the 2019-20, with more players to follow.

The World Cup is contested every four years, the year before the Olympics. The world championship takes place in even non-Olympic years. Qualification for the World Cup is more difficult — only 12 teams reach the tournament, while 24 teams take part in the world championship. 

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