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Triathletes chase direct Olympic qualification berths in Tokyo test event

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Top-ranked Katie Zaferes and other U.S. triathletes can clinch berths in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on Thursday morning local time (6:30 p.m. Wednesday Eastern Time).

Zaferes, who won four of the first five World Series races this year and placed second in the other, is part of a strong U.S. team that includes two two-time podium finishers this season in Taylor Spivey and Summer Rappaport, along with Under-23 world champion Taylor Knibb and 2016 mixed relay world champion Kirsten Kasper.

Zaferes, Rappaport and Spivey swept the medals in earlier this year in Yokohama, Japan.

Unless the U.S. takes a dramatic tumble in the world country rankings, U.S. athletes can clinch up to two spots in the Tokyo race. The scenarios are:

  • Two or more U.S. athletes on podium: Top two qualify
  • One athlete on podium, at least one more in top eight: Medalist and next-highest finisher qualify
  • No athlete on podium, at least one in top eight: Highest finisher qualifies (only one spot)

The men’s race follows Friday morning Tokyo time (Thursday evening in the U.S.). U.S. men aren’t rated as highly as the women — Eli Hemming leads the way with the 21st seed after picking up his first World Cup win last month. Other U.S. competitors have had occasional successes — Matt McElroy became the first U.S. man to medal in a World Triathlon Series event since 2009 with his silver medal in June, Tony Smoragiewicz won his first World Cup medal in February, Kevin McDowell has five World Cup medals, and former University of Colorado runner Morgan Pearson took a World Cup silver in June after just three years in the sport.

Paratriathletes will compete the next day to gain points toward qualification, but they cannot qualify directly for the 2020 Paralympics.

The final day features the mixed relay, a new Olympic event in which two men and two women each swim 300 meters, bike 7.4 kilometers and run 2 kilometers, considerably shorter than the individual races’ distances of 1.5 kilometers, 40 kilometers and 10 kilometers.

Mixed relays will be especially important because the top seven countries in the ITU Olympic ranking will automatically qualify two athletes per gender, which may be crucial for the U.S. men. The U.S. currently ranks third.

The next opportunity for individuals to qualify directly for the 2020 Games will be next year in Yokohama.

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Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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