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For Venus Williams, Tokyo Olympics an incentive

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Venus Williams sounds more and more definitive about trying to become the oldest Olympic singles tennis player in the modern era.

“I have no plans of stopping anytime soon,” the 37-year-old Williams said, according to an Entrepreneur magazine article published this week. “It seems somehow that 2020 Tokyo is on the horizon. Isn’t that wild? I’m trying to stick around for that.”

If anything is to stop her from qualifying for Tokyo in singles in 2 1/2 years, it’s the depth of American women’s tennis.

A nation can send no more than four players per event to the Olympics. Williams would easily make it based on recent form. She finished the 2017 season ranked No. 5 in the world, her highest placement since January 2011.

But none of her results from this spectacular season — including Australian Open and Wimbledon runners-up and a U.S. Open semifinal — will play into 2020 Olympic qualification.

In the coming years, Williams must keep her game at a high level, assuming sister Serena Williams, U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys and CoCo Vandeweghe, who made two Grand Slam semifinals in 2017, do as well.

Williams could also make the 2020 Olympic team in doubles only if she’s not one of the top four U.S. singles players.

Williams, a five-time Olympic medalist, teased trying for a sixth Olympics both at the Rio Games and later in 2016.

“I am targeting that to see if it’s possible to play there,” Williams said on a TV program that aired last November. “While you’re out there playing, I love that challenge, I love the pressure, it’s all a privilege. If I can be out there, I will be.”

In Rio, Williams won silver in mixed doubles with Rajeev Ram, becoming the most decorated tennis player in Olympic history.

She also became the second-oldest singles player since the sport returned to the Olympic program following a 64-year break in 1988. If she is back for Tokyo, she will break Jonas Bjorkman’s record as the oldest singles player in this era.

“God willing, I imagine if I really wanted to be there, I could,” Williams said Aug. 14, 2016. “So Tokyo is about if I want to be there. If I want to continue to work as hard. It’s a lot of hard work. I have to want to do the work. So we’ll see.”

One American has competed in more than six Olympics — equestrian J. Michael Plumb.

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‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ primetime special covers social justice, combating inequality

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Athletes, including Olympians, discussed social justice, locker room conversations about race and ways that sports can help combat inequality in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations,” airing Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

NBC Sports’ Damon Hack hosted roundtables with active and retired athletes at the American Century Championship Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, last week.

Panelists, including Olympians James Blake and Charles Barkley and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Stephen Curry, also reflected on personal experiences.

Barkley, an Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996, said coaches recently reached out to him to speak to their teams.

“First of all, relax and breathe,” Barkley said. “This crap started 400 years ago. We can’t do nothing about that. We can’t do anything about systematic racism. What I challenge every Black person, every white person to do: What can I do today going forward?

“You have to ask yourself, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Blake, a retired former top-five tennis player and 2008 Olympian, was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a plainclothes New York City police officer in 2015 in a case of mistaken identity caught on video. The police officer’s punishment was a loss of five vacation days.

“The first thing I said when I got tackled was, I’m complying 100 percent,” Blake said. “And that shouldn’t have to be your response the first time you interact with a police officer. And because that’s the way my dad taught me is stay alive. Do whatever you can to stay alive. Sort it out later with lawyers or however you want to do it, and stay alive in that moment. The fact you have to have those rules in 2020 means maybe we have to do something drastic to change the way police interact with the African-American community and the way the community interacts with the police.”

Curry said his daughters, 7-year-old Riley and 5-year-old Ryan, asked questions about the images they recently saw. He’s not shielding them, but rather being honest about society, going back centuries.

“We have to continue to double down and double down and keep people accountable in all walks of life, all industries, all forms of leadership, the judicial system, all those type of things,” Curry said. “And hopefully for my kids’ generation, their kids, we will see change. I’m hopeful and optimistic about, but I understand how much work will need to go into that.”

The full list of athletes who participated in the “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” roundtables:

• Charles Barkley – 1992 and 1996 Olympic basketball champion
• James Blake – 10-time ATP tennis champion, 2008 Olympian
• Stephen Curry – two-time NBA MVP, two-time FIBA world champion
• Troy Mullins – World Long Drive competitor
• Anthony Lynn – Los Angeles Chargers head coach
• Jimmy Rollins – World Series champion shortstop
• Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings tight end
• Ozzie Smith – Major League Baseball Hall of Famer

Additionally, Hack was joined by Super Bowl champion running back Jerome Bettis for an extended interview that will be published on NBC Sports’ digital and podcast platforms.

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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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