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Nino Schurter, with 8th world title, pads claim to greatest mountain biker in history

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MONT-SAINTE-ANNE, Quebec – Tack one more title onto Nino Schurter’s already cluttered resume.

The Swiss mountain biker and reigning Olympic gold medalist won his eighth world title and fifth straight Saturday afternoon. His 10th world medal also broke a tie for the career record with recently retired mountain biking great Julien Absalon.

Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel, who likely would have challenged Schurter for the world title, skipped the event amid a busy racing schedule across multiple disciplines.

Schurter called it “an amazing victory” and said, “I worked hard this year towards that goal and it’s important toward next year. I know I’m still [on] top and I can battle for the gold in Tokyo.”

The 33-year-old has an Olympic medal of every color: he won a surprising bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games as a 22-year-old, then a silver in London before completing the collection in 2016 with gold in Rio.

Schurter noted earlier this week that records within reach continue to motivate him. In addition to passing former rival Absalon’s world medals total this week, he’s one World Cup win shy of Absalon’s 33 victories.

If he makes the podium in Tokyo, he’ll become the first mountain biker to win four Olympic medals (Germany’s Sabine Spitz, who plans to retire at the end of the season, also has three).

Still, Schurter said he’s driven primarily by joy.

“I still love to race and compete, and I think that’s the most important thing, that you enjoy what you do,” he said. “On one side, it’s nice to have all those records, but on the other side, every race [is] actually enough.”

Motivation has never been an issue for Schurter. He’s careful to avoid burnout, strategically mapping out a season-long schedule that might mean fewer races than his competitors. He also spends a few weeks without his bike at the end of each season to vacation with family, though he admits his rest time isn’t spent lazily.

“After three or four days, I’m thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll go for a run,’” he said.

He’s also enjoyed passing the sport on to his daughter, Lisa, who turns 4 in October.

Schurter introduced her to cycling by adding a small seat to his bike frame so she could hold the handlebars. Now, she rides on her own and is learning how to climb from an overly qualified instructor: Schurter attaches a rope to the back of his bike to tow her uphill before they ride down together.

While a few records remain on his radar, Schurter is content with what he’s already accomplished. That means less pressure and more time to enjoy the ride.

“All those goals I really wanted to achieve, I actually achieved,” he said. “So what’s coming is now just extra.”

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Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

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Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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J’den Cox repeats as world wrestling champion; Kyle Snyder stunned

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If he wasn’t crowned already, it’s clear U.S. wrestling has a new king.

On a day when Rio Olympic champion Kyle Snyder was upset and London Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs rallied for another bronze medal, J’den Cox repeated as world champion in Kazakhstan.

Cox, the Rio Olympic 86kg bronze medalist, completed a perfect run through the 92kg division — not giving up a point in four matches — by dominating Iranian Alireza Karimi 4-0 in the final. He became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years (joining Kyle Dake from last year).

“I don’t know why, but it feels like a ton better [than 2018],” said Cox, whose tattoos include one that reads in Latin, “If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” “I made more sacrifices … I wanted to do it better.”

Earlier Saturday, Snyder was shocked by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov 5-2 in the 97kg semifinals, denying a third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Tank Abdulrashid Sadulayev. Sharifov, the 2012 Olympic 84kg champ, clinched his first world medal in eight years.

Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20, failed to make an Olympic or world final for the first time in his career. He will wrestle for bronze on Sunday, while Sharifov meets Sadulayev for gold.

Burroughs earned his seventh straight world championships medal and second straight bronze. Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, rebounded from losing to Russian Zaurbeck Sidakov on Friday with a 10-0 technical fall over Japanese Mao Okui.

Burroughs gave up a lead on Sidakov with 1.3 seconds left in the semifinals, a year after Sidakov overtook him as time expired in the quarterfinals.

“A lot of people in 2016 called me a quitter,” said Burroughs, who tearfully missed the medals in Rio, “and I think that after watching the amount of devastation and heartbreak that I’ve taken over the last two years and still being able to come back and take third place is a testament.”

Burroughs, 31, shares third with Adeline Gray on the U.S. list of career world wrestling championships medals, trailing only Bruce Baumgartner and Kristie Davis, who each earned nine.

Burroughs’ bronze ensured he gets a bye into the 74kg final of the Olympic trials in April. But this will be the first time he goes into an Olympic year as anything other than a reigning world champion.

“At this juncture of my career, I feel I’m running out of time,” said Burroughs, who next year will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. “That can be really scary.”

Dake marched to Sunday’s final in defense of his 2018 World title at 79kg (a non-Olympic weight) by going 23-4 over three matches. Dake, who at Cornell became the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt, gets Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov in the final, a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal match.

Next year, Dake must move up to 86kg, where Cox will likely reside, or down to 74kg, where Burroughs has won every U.S. Olympic or world trials dating to 2011. There’s also David Taylor to reckon with. Taylor won the 86kg world title last year but missed this season due to injury.

“We’ve got a guy at 79 kilos that’s going to win a world championship tomorrow,” Burroughs said, smiling, of Dake, “I’m hopefully going to be waiting for [Dake at Olympic trials], healthy and prepared.”

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