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U.S. women’s soccer team qualifies for Olympics; tough decisions ahead

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The U.S. women’s soccer team beat Mexico 4-0 to earn a place in the Tokyo Olympics on Friday night, keeping its record intact of qualifying for every major tournament.

Sam Mewis scored twice. Rose Lavelle and Christen Press added goals. Alyssa Naeher got the shutout in Carson, Calif.

The world champion U.S. was a heavy favorite against world No. 26 Mexico. The Americans are now 37-1-1 all-time against the neighbors to the south.

They’re 19-0 all-time in Olympic qualifying with a goal differential of 110-1 (not counting matches played after the U.S. already clinched Olympic berths).

The next tasks should be more difficult. First, forming an 18-player Olympic roster (versus 23 at the 2019 World Cup and 20 in Olympic qualifying). Second, becoming the first nation to follow a World Cup title with an Olympic title the next year.

Past U.S. teams faltered in 2000 and 2016.

In Rio, the U.S. was stunned by Sweden in a quarterfinal shootout. The Americans failed to reach an Olympic final for the first time. After, goalie Hope Solo (no longer with the national team) called the Swedes “a bunch of cowards” for their defensive style.

“I remember not leaving the field for a long time,” Crystal Dunn said last fall. “The tears couldn’t come out of my eyes because I didn’t even want to believe that we were knocked out of the tournament. We had to bring it in for a huddle. And I can’t even remember the words that were said in the huddle because nobody was probably listening. Everybody was like, there’s nothing that could be said that’s going to make this moment feel any better than it is right now. We know the pain that we felt in that moment. And since then we have worked so hard to never have that feeling ever again.”

Julie Ertz, the U.S. Soccer Player of the Year after last summer’s World Cup triumph, agreed.

“If it wasn’t for 2016,” she said, “I don’t know if I’d be on the podium in 2019.”

At least five players from that 2019 World Cup podium will not be on the roster in Tokyo. New U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski and his staff left off the Olympic qualifying roster the two youngest World Cup players — Mallory Pugh and Tierna Davidson — though they could play their way back into Olympic selection.

The most intriguing name for the next few months is Alex Morgan. The star forward also wasn’t on the Olympic qualifying team because she’s due in April with her first child. Morgan said she wants to be considered for the Olympic roster.

Joy FawcettChristie RamponeCarla Overbeck and Kate Markgraf previously made Olympic teams as moms, all doing so at least one year after childbirths.

Carli Lloyd, who turns 38 a week before the Tokyo Games, is bidding to become the oldest U.S. Olympic soccer player in history, breaking Rampone’s record. Lloyd and Tobin Heath are trying to tie Rampone’s U.S. record of playing in four Olympic tournaments.

Lloyd, a substitute in all four 2019 World Cup knockout-round matches, was captain in this week’s tournament and started at center forward against Mexico.

Come the Olympics, the U.S. may have to go through the host nation en route to the gold. Japan beat the U.S. in the 2011 World Cup final, then lost to the Americans in finals at the 2012 Olympics and 2015 World Cup.

Rio Olympic champion Germany failed to qualify to defend its title.

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Joey Mantia extends U.S. medal streak at speed skating worlds; Dutch dominance returns

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Joey Mantia ensured the host U.S. finished with a medal at the world single distances championships. Ireen WüstKjeld Nuis and Jorrit Bergsma ensured the Netherlands finished atop the medal standings.

Mantia joined Shani Davis as the only U.S. men to earn individual medals at three different editions of the championships, taking bronze in the 1500m on the last day of the speed skating meet at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Mantia won the mass start at the last two worlds in 2017 and 2019 (and finished fifth on Sunday, after the 1500m bronze).

Mantia clocked a personal best 1:42.16 in the fifth of 12 pairs of the 1500m. It held up until Nuis (1:41.66) and countryman Thomas Krol (1:41.73) in the last two pairs.

“Was starting to think that I’m so old that I can’t time trial anymore,” Mantia, a 34-year-old whose last 1500m personal best came in 2015, told media in Utah. “Maybe there’s a little bit of hope left.”

Mantia’s medal extended the U.S. streak of making the podium at every world championships this millennium — 16 straight. The single bronze is the smallest medal output since 2000.

Full results are here.

Wüst and Nuis gave the Dutch a sweep of the men’s and women’s 1500m titles, two years after they did the same at the PyeongChang Olympics. Bergsma, an Olympic and world 10,000m champion, earned his first global medal of any color — gold — in the 16-lap mass start.

The Netherlands failed to earn any golds on the first two days of the four-day competition. The dominant Dutch, who topped the medal standings at every Olympics and worlds dating to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, entered Sunday trailing Russia.

But Wüst began the day by clocking 1:50.92 to win the 1500m by .21 over Russian Yevgenia Lalenkova. American medal hope Brittany Bowe, the 2015 World champion who took bronze last year, finished 14th a day after taking eighth in her world-record 1000m distance.

Nuis and Krol went one-two in the men’s 1500m to tie Russia’s medal total. Then Irene Schouten took bronze in the women’s mass start to put the Netherlands ahead for good, followed by Bergsma’s capper.

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Netherlands on the board; more world records at speed skating worlds

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It took four world records from other countries before the Netherlands won its first title in an Olympic program event at the world single distances speed skating championships.

Jutta Leerdam got the dominant skating nation on the board on the third day of the four-day competition and in the ninth Olympic program event. Leerdam scored an upset over defending champion and world-record holder Brittany Bowe, the American who ended up eighth.

Leerdam, 21, prevailed despite having zero World Cup podiums to her name. She clocked 1:11.84, just .23 slower than Bowe’s world record set on the same Utah Olympic Oval last year. Bowe, who recently had her yearlong win streak snapped in the 1000m, finished in 1:12.92.

“It’s a nightmare,” Bowe said, according to media on site.

Later, the Netherlands won the men’s team pursuit in a world record 3:34.68, the fifth world record in Olympic events the last two days on the world’s fastest ice at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Full results are here.

The world championships conclude Sunday, highlighted by American Joey Mantia defending his world title in the mass start.

In other Saturday events, both the men’s 1000m and women’s 5000m world records fell. On Friday, world records were lowered in the men’s 10,000m and women’s team pursuit.

Pavel Kulizhnikov followed his Friday world 500m title with the 1000m crown, repeating his double gold from 2016. Kulizhnikov was one of the Russians banned from the PyeongChang Olympics after he served a prior doping ban.

On Saturday, Kulizhnikov clocked 1:05.69 to take .49 off Dutchman Kjeld Nuis‘ record from last March, also set at Salt Lake City. Nuis, the Olympic 1000m and 1500m champion, took silver, 1.03 seconds behind.

Russian Natalya Voronina and Czech Martina Sablikova both went under Sablikova’s world record in the 5000m. Voronina came out on top in 6:39.02, 2.99 seconds faster than Sablikova’s record from a year ago and 2.16 seconds faster than Sablikova on Saturday.

Voronina’s time would have been the men’s world record as recently as 1993. Sablikova won the previous 10 world titles in the event dating to 2007.

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