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U.S., Mexico face off for Olympic baseball berth

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The U.S. and Mexico will play a winner-goes-to-the-Olympics game at baseball’s Premier12, a global Olympic qualifying tournament, after four straight game results went the U.S.’ way.

The game is Saturday at 10 p.m. ET in Japan.

Two Olympic bids are available at Premier12 — one to the top finishers from the Americas and Asia/Oceania, granted Japan is already in as host nation. Israel previously qualified at an Africa/Europe qualifier. South Korea grabbed the Asia/Oceania spot.

The U.S.-Mexico loser can still qualify for Tokyo at one of two tournaments next March and April.

Mexico, managed by former MLB infielder Juan Castro, beat the U.S. last week and clinched a spot in the medal round days ago. The U.S., which lost its first two games in the six-team super round, rallied to sneak into the bronze-medal game against Mexico.

From Wednesday through Saturday, the U.S. needed to beat Chinese Taipei and have Japan beat Mexico, South Korea beat Mexico and Chinese Taipei beat Australia. They all happened.

Mexico, seeking its first Olympic baseball berth, beat the U.S. 8-2 in Mexico on Nov. 3. Its starting pitcher was 39-year-old Horacio Ramirez, who played with six teams in the majors from 2003-11.

Active MLB players are not on Premier12 rosters and are not expected to be in the Olympics in July. MLB has never stopped its season to send players to the Olympics.

The U.S. team at Premier12 is mostly made up of double-A- and triple-A-caliber players.

If the U.S. loses to Mexico, things get tricky in Olympic qualifying.

It could get as many as two more chances to qualify for the first Olympic baseball tournament since 2008, but the next one is in March during MLB spring training. MLB clubs may be less inclined to release the caliber of minor leaguers that featured on the Premier12 roster.

“That’ll be a delicate dance,” U.S. general manager Eric Campbell said before Premier12.

The U.S. qualified for all but one Olympic baseball tournament when the sport was previously part of the program from 1992 through 2008, earning gold in 2000.

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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1. The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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