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U.S. softball qualifies for Olympics, wins worlds on walk-off

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The U.S. qualified for softball’s return to the Olympics and won the world championship on an extra-inning walk-off Sunday.

Kelsey Stewart drove in the winning run in the 10th as the U.S. beat host Japan 7-6 to repeat as world champs. The Americans rallied from a 6-4 deficit in the last frame against Japanese star pitcher Yukiko Ueno.

“They always find a way to come back,” U.S. coach Ken Eriksen said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t get too wrapped up in what your swings looks like, what your pitch is supposed to do. Just play softball.'”

Softball is back on the Olympic program in Tokyo in 2020 after being cut following the 2008 Beijing Games.

The Americans qualified for the six-team Olympic tournament when Japan eliminated Canada from the world tournament in Japan earlier Sunday.

With Japan already qualified for the Tokyo Games as host nation, the U.S. clinched the lone berth available at worlds.

The U.S. and Japan met in the last seven Olympic and world championship finals dating to 2006, including Japan’s upset of the U.S. in the 2008 Olympic final.

The U.S. went 9-0 for the tournament, including beating Japan in the semifinals, 4-3 in eight innings, on Saturday.

Eriksen paid tribute to Ueno, who pitched a total of 17 innings between two games Sunday in hot and humid weather.

“There are not many pitchers who could do what she did,” he said. “It shows you how great she is. We got fortunate that she ran out of gas at the end, her ball wasn’t moving as much as it was in the last inning.”

Monica Abbott, the fifth U.S. pitcher used, picked up the win despite giving up two runs on one hit over the final two innings. Abbott, 33, is the only player on the U.S. team who played in the Beijing Olympics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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IOC group proposes Olympic ‘host’ can be multiple countries

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International Olympic Committee members will decide next month whether to tweak the definition of an Olympic host to make it clear that it does not necessarily refer to a single city but can also mean multiple cities, regions and even countries, IOC President Thomas Bach said Wednesday.

“It’s not an encouragement to spread the Games out as much as possible,” Bach said in announcing the IOC’s executive board approved the measure. “It may be preferable to have a region as a signatory or an additional signatory of the host city contract rather than just a city, and therefore, we wanted to enjoy this flexibility. This, on the other hand, does not change our vision, our request and our focus on having not only an Olympic Village, but to have an Olympic center.”

It’s one of six proposed changes by a working group chaired by Australian IOC member John Coates to examine the bid process. Another is to make the timing of Olympic host city elections more flexible. Typically, hosts are elected seven years before the Games, though two years ago an exception was made in the double awarding of the 2024 and 2028 Games to Paris and Los Angeles.

Bach repeated that the proposals are “to avoid producing too many losers as we had it in the past candidature procedures.”

The IOC previously said in 2014, in announcing Agenda 2020, that it “will allow events held outside the host city or, in exceptional cases, outside the host country, notably for reasons of geography and sustainability.”

This shift manifests in Stockholm’s 2026 Winter Olympic bid plan to have sliding sports in Sigulda, Latvia, home of the nearest existing track for bobsled, luge and skeleton, rather than building a costly new track in Sweden.

IOC members will vote to choose the 2026 Winter Games host next month. The finalists are Stockholm and a joint Italian bid of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, after five other potential candidates were dropped for various reasons.

There is precedent for events held far from the Olympic host city. In 1956, Melbourne held the Summer Games and had equestrian events in Stockholm due to quarantine laws in Australia. Similarly, equestrian at the 2008 Beijing Games was held in Hong Kong.

Soccer matches are often held in cities across the host country. Recent Winter Olympics have had mountain events in a different city or area than arena events.

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IOC board recommends AIBA suspension, boxing stays in Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee executive board recommended that AIBA has its recognition as boxing’s international federation suspended but that the sport remains on the Olympic program at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

An IOC decision on the recommendation will be made next month. The IOC created a group to organize 2020 Olympic boxing qualifying and competition if AIBA will not be allowed to run it.

“We want to ensure that the athletes can live their dream and participate in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 while drawing the necessary consequences for AIBA,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in a press release. “At the same time, we offer a pathway back to lifting the suspension, but there needs to be further fundamental change.”

The IOC said in October that boxing’s place in the Olympics was “under threat” after being introduced at the 1904 St. Louis Games and held at every Games since except Stockholm 1912.

In November, the IOC ordered an inquiry into AIBA, which has been in financial turmoil, faced claims of fixed bouts at the Rio Games and elected a president linked to organized crime.

That president, Uzbek Gafur Rakhimov, stepped aside in March to let an interim leader take charge but said he was not resigning. Rakhimov is on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list for suspected links to an organized crime group in former Soviet Union republics involved in heroin trafficking. He denies any wrongdoing.

“Serious governance issues remain, including breaches of the Olympic Charter and the IOC Code of Ethics regarding good governance and ethics, leading to serious reputational, legal and financial risks for the IOC, the Olympic Movement and its stakeholders,” the inquiry committee concluded. “AIBA has been unable to demonstrate a sustainable and fair management of refereeing and judging processes and decisions, increasing the lack of confidence that athletes can have in fair competitions.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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