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U.S. women meet challenge, reach world championship semifinals

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PLYMOUTH, Mich. (AP) — In their final game before the start of single-elimination play, Hannah Brandt and her American teammates faced a stern challenge at the women’s hockey world championship.

Finland had tied the score in the third period, and goalie Noora Raty had been holding the U.S. at bay.

“We want close games. We want to have to battle,” Brandt said. “We’re going to need that going into the semis and hopefully the finals.”

Brandt scored with 7:35 remaining in the game, and the United States beat Finland 5-3 on Monday night to secure the top seed for the knockout round of the tournament.

Hilary Knight scored twice for the Americans, who won all three of their games in group play and will advance straight to Thursday’s semifinals, where they’ll face the winner of a quarterfinal between Russia and Germany.

“I thought that was a great test for our team,” Brandt said.

Canada received the other bye into the semis and will take on the winner of a Finland-Sweden quarterfinal. The quarterfinals are Tuesday.

“It will be a rivalry (Tuesday),” Finland captain Jenni Hiirikoski said. “There’s a lot of friends in that team, and it’s nice to play against them.”

Finland upset Canada 4-3 on Saturday, and the Finns would have received one of the two byes if they’d been able to earn a point against the U.S.

They rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie the game at 3 in the third period, but Brandt put the Americans back ahead, redirecting a nice pass from Gigi Marvin. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson added an empty-net goal for the U.S.

Raty, who had 35 saves against Canada, had 35 against the Americans as well, keeping the game close until the very end.

Shortly after Brandt’s goal put the U.S. ahead, the Americans had to kill off 95 seconds of a 5-on-3 disadvantage. They were able to do it.

“We knew Finland was going to come to play,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. “They’re a great team. We saw what they did against Canada the other night.”

After a dispute with USA Hockey that had players threatening to boycott this tournament, the women’s national team reached an agreement to end the wage dispute shortly before the event started. Then the Americans began the competition with a 2-0 win over rival Canada.

They followed that up with a 7-0 victory over Russia, but Finland become the first team to score on the U.S., taking a 1-0 lead on a wrist shot by Susanna Tapani past Alex Rigsby.

Knight tied it later in the first period when she was able to stuff home a loose puck while the Americans had a 5-on-3 advantage.

Kendall Coyne put the U.S. ahead with a goal 3:33 into the second, and Knight made it a two-goal lead. Finland pulled within one when Hiirikoski scored in the final minute of the period, and Michelle Karvinen tied it with 10:56 left in the third.

The first three goals by the U.S. came on the power play. Finland was whistled for five penalties in the second period alone.

“Special teams — you love ’em, you hate ’em sometimes. They can screw up the flow of the game,” Duggan said.

“You’ve got to capitalize on special teams, obviously, so I think we’ve had a few power-play goals through the tournament, so I’m really happy with that. We’ve got a lot of players that are playing in a ton of different roles.”

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Erin Hamlin to run New York City Marathon

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Erin Hamlin, the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist and Team USA flag bearer at the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony, will run the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4.

Hamlin, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist who retired after her fourth Olympics in PyeongChang at age 31, is running to fundraise for the Women’s Sports Foundation. So is Marlen Esparza, who in 2012 became the first U.S. Olympic women’s boxing medalist (flyweight bronze).

Hamlin has no marathon experience, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“Being challenged in sport is something I am very familiar with,” Hamlin said in a mass email Wednesday, according to TeamUSA.org. “Long distance running is something I most certainly am not!! It will be difficult, mentally and physically daunting, but a way to test my abilities in a sport so far out of my comfort zone.”

Many Olympians in non-running sports have raced the New York City Marathon.

Bill Demong, the 2010 U.S. Olympic Closing Ceremony flag bearer and only U.S. Olympic Nordic combined champion, ran the 2014 NYC Marathon in 2:33:05, crushing eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno‘s 3:25:14 from 2011.

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Softball set to return to Olympics as first event on Tokyo 2020 schedule

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Softball, returning to the Olympics after a 12-year absence, is scheduled to kick off the 2020 Tokyo Games, two days before the Opening Ceremony.

The preliminary master schedule for the Tokyo Olympics was published Wednesday, with the first softball game scheduled for 10 a.m. local time on the Wednesday before the Opening Ceremony.

The first game is scheduled to be held in Fukushima, the site of 2011 nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami 155 miles north of Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizers have been eager to use the Games as a symbol of recovery from the 2011 disaster

Traditionally, soccer has been the first sport to have action at a Summer Olympics, one or two days before the Opening Ceremony. While soccer is again scheduled to have matches that same Wednesday, they start later than 10 a.m.

The Tokyo 2020 schedule is subject to change and certainly not a final version — swimming, diving and synchronized swimming schedules are still to be determined, but those sports do not typically start before the Opening Ceremony.

Softball was added in 1991 to the Olympic program to debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won the first three gold medals before softball and baseball were narrowly voted off the Olympic program in 2005/06 (a 52-52 IOC vote for softball, with a majority needed to stay in the Olympics), with the 2008 Beijing Games being the last edition. Japan won the last Olympic softball gold medal 10 years ago.

Then on Aug. 3, 2016, baseball and softball were among five sports added for the 2020 Tokyo Games only, at the request of Tokyo Olympic organizers. Baseball and softball are not guaranteed to remain on the Olympic program in Paris in 2024.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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