What to know about the men’s curling gold medal game

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Team USA upset Canada on Thursday morning to earn a spot in the Olympic men’s curling championship game, where they will face Sweden.

Here’s everything you need to know heading into Saturday’s matchup (live stream here at 1:35 a.m. ET / 10:35 p.m. PT).

How the U.S. reached the title game

The United States had finished back-to-back Olympic tournaments completely out of medal contention with a 2-7 record. They appeared to be heading for a similar result in PyeongChang.

Team USA began tournament competition with a win against South Korea but followed with losses in four of their next five games, dropping their record to 2-4.

But, the United States rebounded when skip John Shuster delivered a perfect final shot to give his team a 9-7 victory over pre-tournament favorite Canada.

“It was fun to go out there and be the team and the player that got us here and that we’ve worked so hard to be,” Shuster said after that game.

The United States followed with wins over Switzerland and Great Britain to advance to the Olympic semifinals for the first time since 2006.

“It’s a little surreal right now still, just coming off of where we were to where we are now,” U.S. vice skip Tyler George said after his team clinched a playoff spot. “It feels like two different tournaments. One’s a dream and one’s a reality. Fortunately for us the winning streak is the reality, but we’re trying not to get too excited.”

The third-seeded United States faced second-seeded Canada in the semifinal round and captured another upset win. Shuster again delivered a game-winning shot, this time to move the United States into the gold medal game.

“We always want more,” U.S. team member John Landsteiner said about the championship game. “We’re going to play our hearts out.”

How Sweden reached the title game

Sweden, skipped by Niklas Edin, proved it was one of the top teams in the Olympic field early in round robin play.

Edin’s team opened competition with six straight wins, including victories over Great Britain and Canada, before falling to Switzerland.

“If we play at our best, I know we can beat every team in here,” Edin said after an 11-4 win over Japan moved his team’s record to 6-0. “We have been lucky in a couple of games, played terrifically well in a couple of the games… We are collecting facts and making sure of every shot before we play it. It’s made for a solid performance so far”

Sweden earned the playoff’s top seed after finishing round robin play with a win over Italy and a loss to Norway.

Sweden then cruised to a 9-3 win over Switzerland in the semifinals.

“Being in the Olympic final is the chance of a lifetime and we’re going to try to grab it,” Edin said to reporters following the victory.

Last time the teams met

Sweden registered a convincing 10-4 win over Team USA in round robin play.

In that game, the Swedish team scored four times in the first end and added a pair of points in two others, forcing the United States to concede following the eighth frame.

“We played really, really focused from the start,” Edin said after the win. “We made pretty much all our shots from the beginning, and the (U.S.) had a rough start…We just talked about focusing really hard on making the shots and not looking at the scoreboard too much, and trying to keep that lead.”

Numbers to know

Edin will earn his second Olympic medal regardless of the championship game’s outcome. He captured a bronze in Sochi after just missing the podium in 2010.

Shuster will become the first American to win multiple Olympic curling medals Saturday. He was a lead on the U.S. team that won bronze in 2010.

Shuster had struggled throughout the Olympics but made a game-clinching shot to lead the U.S. to an upset victory over Canada.
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Canada had won the last three Olympic gold medals entering PyeongChang and had played in the championship game at every winter games since 1998.

Sweden has scored 25 more points than its opponents in Olympic play, tops in the field. The United States has outscored opponents by six.

The United States registered an 80 percent shot success rate in round robin competition. Sweden finished at 87 percent in that category.

IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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