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U.S. Olympic team qualifying, selection races to watch in 2020

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A look at some intriguing races for U.S. Olympic team spots as the final six months of qualifying begin …

Basketball
Men’s Guards

The last four seasons, every guard on every All-NBA team was an American. Thirteen different players combined to take up those spots. All 13 are part of USA Basketball’s national team pool. Maybe five will go to Tokyo. The group to choose from includes those with Olympic experience such as James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook. And those without, like Stephen CurryDamian Lillard and Kemba Walker.

Beach Volleyball
Kerri Walsh Jennings/Brooke Sweat vs. Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil

Two U.S. women’s beach teams will qualify for Tokyo. April Ross and Alix Klineman are comfortably in first place in the standings. The triple Olympic champion Walsh Jennings and new partner Sweat are second in Olympic qualifying more than halfway through, but third-place Claes and Sponcil are within striking distance. The race likely will not be decided before the last stretch of four- and five-star tournaments in late May and early June.

Equestrian
Women’s Jumping

Could this be Jessica Springsteen‘s year? The daughter of rocker Bruce Springsteen recently cracked the top four of the U.S. rider rankings for the first time in at least two and a half years, though she is seventh among Americans in the international rankings. The U.S. Olympic team of three riders (plus an alternate) will be chosen in June. The usual suspects — Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward, all at least 10 years older than the 28-year-old Springsteen — remain at or near the top of the rankings.

Fencing
Men’s Foil

The U.S. boasts four of the world’s top 10 — Race Imboden (2), Gerek Meinhardt (6), Alexander Massialas (7) and Nick Itkin (10) — plus 2012 and 2016 Olympian Miles Chamley-Watson. But only three per nation can compete individually at the Olympics. The top three in national team point standings come April go to Tokyo. The U.S. is looking for its first men’s Olympic fencing title since 1904.

Golf
Tiger Woods vs. Dustin Johnson vs. Justin Thomas vs. Gary Woodland vs. Brooks Koepka vs. Others

The U.S. will qualify the maximum four men’s golfers for Tokyo, but the names are unknown to start 2020. The Official World Golf Ranking after the U.S. Open in June determines the Olympic field. The current OWGR (which includes results that aren’t part of Olympic qualification) has the top four as Koepka, Thomas, Johnson and Woods. But golf rankings guru @VC606’s projection, which excludes results before the Olympic qualifying window, has Woods in fifth place and Johnson in sixth, replaced by Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Every result could be critical this winter and spring, making Woods’ decision to skip this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions (with its limited field and guaranteed ranking points with no cut) even more noteworthy.

Gymnastics
Laurie Hernandez vs. Newcomers

Assuming Simone Biles leads the four-woman U.S. team (plus two women in individual events), there is one other returning Olympian hoping to join her. Hernandez hasn’t competed since taking balance beam silver in Rio but plans to make a late Tokyo run. Four years ago, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas became the first women to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000, but each of them came back a year earlier than Hernandez. Gymnasts in Hernandez’s way include members of the last two world championships teams (like Morgan Hurd and Sunisa Lee) and first-year seniors like Kayla DiCello, looking to repeat Hernandez’s feat in 2016 of making an Olympic team at age 16.

Shooting
Women’s Skeet

Four different U.S. women won the four world titles in this event between 2014-18, including a medals sweep in 2018. Five Americans make up the top 14 in the world right now, and a sixth, 18-year-old Austen Smith, won the first stage of the Olympic trials in September. Two women will qualify for Tokyo by the end of the trials process this spring. The biggest name is 40-year-old Kim Rhode, looking to become the first person to earn a medal at seven straight Olympics in any sport.

Soccer
Women’s Forwards

World Cup rosters are 23 players. Olympic rosters are 18. The U.S. must cut from its world champion team of last summer, putting stalwart goal-scorers at risk. Chief among them is Alex Morgan, who hopes to return from an April due date for a third Olympics. Then there’s Carli Lloyd, who at 37 is trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic soccer player in history. Other thirtysomethings in the mix: Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press, plus Mallory Pugh, who made the Rio Olympics at age 18. The last two Olympic teams each had four forwards.

Swimming
Chase Kalisz vs. Ryan Lochte vs. Carson Foster

Lochte wants to make a fifth Olympic team, at age 35, in his patented 200m individual medley. To do that, he must take down either the 2017 World champion Kalisz or the 18-year-old Foster, who has been breaking Michael Phelps‘ national age-group records since he was 10. Two swimmers per individual event make the Olympic team at June’s trials. There are other potential spoilers in the 200m IM, including 2018 breakout star Michael Andrew and Abrahm Devine, who made the last two world teams. One thing’s for certain: There will be a new Olympic champion with the retirement of Michael Phelps, who won this event in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Tennis
Madison Keys vs. Coco Gauff vs. Venus Williams vs. Sloane Stephens vs. Others

The U.S. gets four singles spots per gender at the Olympics. Qualifying is via ATP and WTA rankings with the cutoff after the French Open. More than halfway through, Serena Williams comfortably leads via Wimbledon and U.S. Open runners-up (3,185 points). She’s followed by Sofia Kenin (1,941), Alison Riske (1,713) and Madison Keys (1,537). Then comes another drop-off to the current alternates, led by Coco Gauff (709). Venus Williams, eyeing a fifth Olympics when she will be 40, is in ninth place (and just withdrew from her 2020 season opener). Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 11th. Any player who doesn’t make singles could still be chosen for doubles, where Venus is an intriguing option.

Track and Field
Women’s Marathon

One of the hardest U.S. Olympic track and field event teams to make will be one of the first to be decided. Six of the nine fastest Americans in history are expected to start the marathon trials on Feb. 29 in Atlanta. Headliners include 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden and American 10,000m record holder Molly Huddle. Only three get to go to Tokyo, while the rest likely crowd the 10,000m field at the track trials four months later in Oregon.

Wrestling
Jordan Burroughs vs. Kyle Dake

Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, and Dake, the 2018 and 2019 World champion at the non-Olympic 79kg weight class, are expected to make up the most intense final of the Olympic wrestling trials from April 4-5 at Penn State. Only one wrestler per weight class qualifies for Tokyo. Burroughs has made every Olympic and world team at 74kg since 2011. But Dake, who avoided Burroughs by moving up in weight in 2016, represents his toughest challenger yet.

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‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ primetime special covers social justice, combating inequality

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Athletes, including Olympians, discussed social justice, locker room conversations about race and ways that sports can help combat inequality in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations,” airing Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

NBC Sports’ Damon Hack hosted roundtables with active and retired athletes at the American Century Championship Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, last week.

Panelists, including Olympians James Blake and Charles Barkley and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Stephen Curry, also reflected on personal experiences.

Barkley, an Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996, said coaches recently reached out to him to speak to their teams.

“First of all, relax and breathe,” Barkley said. “This crap started 400 years ago. We can’t do nothing about that. We can’t do anything about systematic racism. What I challenge every Black person, every white person to do: What can I do today going forward?

“You have to ask yourself, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Blake, a retired former top-five tennis player and 2008 Olympian, was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a plainclothes New York City police officer in 2015 in a case of mistaken identity caught on video. The police officer’s punishment was a loss of five vacation days.

“The first thing I said when I got tackled was, I’m complying 100 percent,” Blake said. “And that shouldn’t have to be your response the first time you interact with a police officer. And because that’s the way my dad taught me is stay alive. Do whatever you can to stay alive. Sort it out later with lawyers or however you want to do it, and stay alive in that moment. The fact you have to have those rules in 2020 means maybe we have to do something drastic to change the way police interact with the African-American community and the way the community interacts with the police.”

Curry said his daughters, 7-year-old Riley and 5-year-old Ryan, asked questions about the images they recently saw. He’s not shielding them, but rather being honest about society, going back centuries.

“We have to continue to double down and double down and keep people accountable in all walks of life, all industries, all forms of leadership, the judicial system, all those type of things,” Curry said. “And hopefully for my kids’ generation, their kids, we will see change. I’m hopeful and optimistic about, but I understand how much work will need to go into that.”

The full list of athletes who participated in the “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” roundtables:

• Charles Barkley – 1992 and 1996 Olympic basketball champion
• James Blake – 10-time ATP tennis champion, 2008 Olympian
• Stephen Curry – two-time NBA MVP, two-time FIBA world champion
• Troy Mullins – World Long Drive competitor
• Anthony Lynn – Los Angeles Chargers head coach
• Jimmy Rollins – World Series champion shortstop
• Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings tight end
• Ozzie Smith – Major League Baseball Hall of Famer

Additionally, Hack was joined by Super Bowl champion running back Jerome Bettis for an extended interview that will be published on NBC Sports’ digital and podcast platforms.

MORE: Elana Meyers Taylor’s claims of racism in bobsled being investigated

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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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