U.S. women’s rugby team earns first World Series title, Olympic spot

Alev Kelter, Lauren Doyle
USA Rugby
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The U.S. women’s rugby sevens team came into the World Series finale expecting to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. What few could have predicted, in addition, was a first World Series leg title.

The U.S. handed World Series champion New Zealand just its third loss of the season, 26-10 in the final in Biarritz, France, on Sunday. The Americans finished the season ranked second in the world, bettering their previous best of fourth in the inaugural campaign in 2012-13.

“I’ve imagined this moment so many times, and for it to finally come together about five years later, it means the world,” Rio Olympian Lauren Doyle said.

The top four became the first nations to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Four years ago, the U.S. women needed a second-chance, continental qualifier to make it into the field for rugby sevens’ Olympic debut in Rio. They lost to eventual silver medalist New Zealand in the Olympic quarterfinals.

The U.S. also showed in-season progress this winter and spring, particularly against New Zealand. The Kiwis won the first four meetings, but the U.S. took two of the last three.

New coach Chris Brown, a former U.S. men’s assistant, replaced Olympic coach Richie Walker, who resigned in August. Only three of this season’s 12 primary players were on the Rio Olympic team.

“We had to sort our culture out and make sure they wanted to play for each other, and know what it was like to put the team before themselves,” Brown said, according to World Rugby. “We’ve got a good group here, and from there we had to work out how to actually defend and show our character through our defense. That’s what we’ve done all season. We’re still missing a few cogs on the attacking side, but we’re progressing.”

The U.S. men previously qualified for Tokyo by finishing second in their World Series.

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MORE: The world’s best rugby sevens player is an American

Olympic flame to travel by sea for Paris 2024, welcomed by armada

Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
Paris 2024
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The Olympic flame will travel from Athens to Marseille by ship in spring 2024 to begin the France portion of the torch relay that ends in Paris on July 26, 2024.

The torch relay always begins in the ancient Olympic site of Olympia, Greece, where the sun’s rays light the flame. It will be passed by torch until it reaches Athens.

It will then cross the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Belem, a three-masted ship, “reminiscent of a true Homeric epic,” according to Paris 2024. It will arrive at the Old Port of Marseille, welcomed by an armada of boats.

Marseille is a former Greek colony and the oldest city in France. It will host sailing and some soccer matches during the Paris Olympics.

The full 2024 Olympic torch relay route will be unveiled in May.

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Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
Paris 2024

Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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