J’den Cox, Kyle Dake earn first wrestling world titles

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J’den Cox had enough of bronze. Kyle Dake, an NCAA wrestling legend, considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year.

Both Cox and Dake broke through for their first wrestling world titles in Budapest on Monday, giving the U.S. three male world champions in one year for the first time since 1995.

Cox, bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics and 2017 Worlds, dumped Belarusian Ivan Yankouski 4-1 in the 92kg final. A half-hour earlier, Dake completed an unscored upon run through the 79kg division, beating Olympic bronze medalist Jabrayil Hasanov of Azerbaijan 2-0.

Both Cox and Dake won their titles at non-Olympic weights. It’s likely that Cox drops back down to 86kg, where David Taylor just won the world title, for the Tokyo 2020 trials. Dake’s road might be even tougher if he goes down to 74kg, land of five-time Olympic and world champion Jordan Burroughs.

Since Rio, Cox underwent surgery for the torn meniscus that he competed on at the Olympics, won his third NCAA title, mulled and ruled out playing college football for Missouri, moved up from 86kg to 92kg, relocated to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and shaved his head.

“I expected this outcome,” Cox said. “I did the work.”

Dake, 27, reached the pinnacle of international wrestling five years after completing an unrivaled NCAA career at Cornell. Dake, nicknamed “Kid Dynamite,” is the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt.

From 2013-17, Dake was runner-up at Olympic or world championships trials four times. Three times, he ran into Burroughs in world trials finals. He considered retiring after losing in the 2016 Olympic Trials 86kg final to Cox.

Dake made his first world team this year, helped some by the tournament moving from eight weight classes to 10. He didn’t have to face Burroughs or Cox at trials.

“Motivating, having guys like that who are just half a step, quarter of a step, eighth of a step ahead of you, that you need to go catch puts a fire under your belly,” Dake said. “I challenge [Olympic and world 97kg champion] Kyle Snyder [in practice]. I challenge J’den. I challenge those guys. I go down [in weight]. I’ll wrestle Jordan.”

And Dake proved he belonged in Budapest as the first U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in at least 30 years. Helen Maroulis, who wrestles later this week, also notched the feat at the 2015 and 2017 Worlds.

Worlds continue Tuesday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, with the most anticipated match of the tournament — Snyder versus Russian Olympic champ Abdulrashid Sadulaev in the 97kg final, a rematch of the 2017 final dubbed the “Match of the Century” won by Snyder.

Also Monday, 2017 World silver medalist Thomas Gilman dropped his 57kg bronze-medal match 5-4 to Süleyman Atlı of Turkey.

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U.S. Olympic women’s tennis qualifying already looks intense

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Serena Williams is in strong early position to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. For everyone else, including older sister Venus Williams, every set of ranking points could be crucial over the next 10 months, including at the upcoming U.S. Open.

The U.S. has seven women in the world top 36 — not including 52nd-ranked Venus — but only four singles players can go to an Olympics from any one country come the rankings cutoff next June.

Serena Williams leads the way for Americans in second place overall in Olympic qualifying — which counts WTA rankings points starting after the 2019 French Open and running through the 2020 French Open. She has 1,885 points despite playing just two events the last two months, taking runner-up at Wimbledon and the Canadian Open.

Only Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, who has already been named Romania’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer, has more Olympic qualifying points (2,395).

After Serena, three more U.S. women are in the top 10 in Olympic qualifying — Sonya Kenin (No. 5), Madison Keys (No. 8) and Alison Riske (No. 10).

Keys, a quarterfinalist or better at all four Grand Slams in her career, jumped from outside the top 20 among Americans to the No. 3 American by notching her biggest title in Ohio last week.

Notables who must improve their ranking start with Venus Williams, who moved from 18th on the U.S. list to eighth by reaching the Cincinnati quarterfinals. She turns 40 before the Tokyo Games and could become the oldest Olympic singles player since the sport returned to the Olympic program following a 64-year break in 1988. She already owns the modern-era record of five Olympic tennis medals from her five previous Games and could still get to the Olympics in doubles if she doesn’t qualify in singles.

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 12th in U.S. Olympic qualifying, winning a total of three matches among four tournaments in the window.

The veterans Williams sisters, Keys and Stephens, who made up the 2016 U.S. Olympic singles team, must fend off an emerging class.

Kenin, 20, backed up her French Open upset of Serena Williams by winning a lower-level event in June and then beating the world Nos. 1 and 2 the last two weeks.

Riske is playing some of the best tennis of her career at age 29. She beat world then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make her first Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon, a week before her wedding.

Then there are two of the phenoms of the year. Coco Gauff, 15, is ninth in U.S. Olympic qualifying after a run to the Wimbledon fourth round. Gauff was granted a wild card into the U.S. Open, after which she can’t play in more than five senior tournaments (and possibly no more than three) until her 16th birthday in March due to WTA age restrictions to keep young teens from burnout.

Amanda Anisimova, 17, is 13th in U.S. Olympic qualifying. Her best results this year — French Open semifinal, Australian Open fourth round — came before the Olympic qualifying window.

It’s looking like the toughest U.S. Olympic women’s singles team to make outright since 2004. Back then, the U.S. had Nos. 4 (Lindsay Davenport), 7 (Jennifer Capriati), 8 (Venus Williams), 11 (Serena Williams) and 18 (Chanda Rubin). Davenport, Capriati and Serena didn’t play at the Athens Games, opening the door for Lisa Raymond to play singles and doubles in Athens.

In 2000, Serena Williams didn’t make the Olympic singles field despite being ranked eighth in the world. A max of three players per nation were taken to Sydney, and the U.S. had Nos. 2, 3 and 6 in Davenport, Venus Williams and Monica Seles.

An Olympic rule mandating a minimum of Fed Cup appearances could affect Tokyo 2020 eligibility. However, the fine print allows for that to be bypassed in discretionary exceptional circumstances.

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U.S. Olympic Women’s Singles Qualifying Standings (Max. 4 can qualify)
1. Serena Williams — 1,885 points
2. Sonya Kenin — 1,081
3. Madison Keys — 972
4. Alison Riske — 802
5. Jennifer Brady — 356
6. Jessica Pegula — 348
7. Madison Brengle — 344
8. Venus Williams — 302
9. Coco Cauff — 298
10. Bernarda Pera — 280
11. Lauren Davis — 245
12. Sloane Stephens — 238
13. Amanda Anisimova — 230

U.S. athletes qualified for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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The U.S. Olympic team roster for the 2020 Tokyo Games will eventually reach more than 500 athletes. It is currently at seven.

Qualifying competitions and Olympic Trials events dot the schedule from now into early summer 2020.

Athletes qualified so far:

Modern Pentathlon
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Sport Climbing
Brooke Raboutou

Swimming
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Triathlon
Summer Rappaport

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