Sue Bird, Dawn Staley
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Dawn Staley played with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi. Now, she coaches them.

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In her last Olympics as a player in 2004, Dawn Staley called a player meeting. The U.S. women’s basketball team was dispatching group-stage opponents by double digits, but something else was on the starting point guard’s mind.

“G32,” Staley remembered in a recent phone interview.

G32 was the name of the club on the Queen Mary 2, the transatlantic ocean liner that housed the U.S. basketball teams during the 2004 Athens Olympics. Staley believed that her team’s three youngest players — former UConn stars Sue BirdDiana Taurasi and Swin Cash — were enjoying G32 a little too much in between games.

“I let them know that this isn’t playtime,” Staley said. “This is time we need to buckle down and make sure we’re getting our rest and all of that.

“But I don’t think it stopped them. They were just less conspicuous.”

Bird, Taurasi and Cash played fewer than 20 minutes per game. They mostly watched from the bench with head coach Van Chancellor while Staley, Lisa LeslieSheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson led the U.S. to a third straight Olympic title.

“They knew they wouldn’t play a whole lot, and we didn’t practice a whole lot, so I think they did it [G32] out of boredom,” Staley joked of those 20-somethings. “When young people don’t have places to put their energy, they’re going to put it somewhere. They chose to do it at the club.”

Sixteen years later, Staley is preparing for her first Olympics as a head coach. She succeeded Geno Auriemma, who stepped down after the U.S.’ sixth straight title in Rio. In Tokyo, the U.S. women can match the Olympic team sport record for consecutive golds, set by the U.S. men’s basketball team from 1936-1968.

And in Tokyo, the U.S. will likely be guided by Bird and Taurasi in the backcourt, expected to play their fifth and final Olympics. Bird and Taurasi have slightly different memories of the 2004 Athens Games.

Bird remembered Staley testing Chancellor if practices ever ran a little long (likely not often, given Chancellor’s penchant for golf). Staley would look at the 60-year-old coach and tell him that her sneakers had an alarm clock on them.

“After an hour and a half, they just come off,” Staley would say.

Staley had a memorable beginning and end to her third and final Olympics. She was voted U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony.

Two weeks later, in the gold-medal game against Australia, she scored 14 points (all in the second half, the highest single-game total of her Olympic career). The Americans needed it. They trailed in the final minute of the third quarter before pulling away in the fourth to win 74-63. (Later that night, that other G32 basketball team won its bronze-medal game.)

“I got to see firsthand how Dawn, in the gold-medal game in 2004, made two of the biggest baskets to get us a gold medal,” Taurasi said. “I just know the grit and the competitiveness that she has. And that’s carried over to the court [in her] coaching.”

When Staley was named the new national team head coach in March 2017, neither Bird nor Taurasi had publicly committed to a Tokyo Olympic run. In fact, they said leading up to and during the Rio Games that they would likely exit the program along with their former UConn coach Auriemma.

Yet Staley, in an introductory media call, chuckled that her “gut feeling” was they would return to the team. Later that spring, Bird and Taurasi made their first public comments about a fifth Olympics.

“I knew they were coming back,” Staley says now. “They were healthy. Diana turned her life over to being a vegan a while ago just to prolong, to give her options. Sue was another nutrition buff. I think they’re just smart. They made smart decisions throughout their career to prolong it. Given they were healthy and injury-free, they were going to go.”

Soon after Bird and Taurasi rejoined the program under Staley, they tried to pull the alarm-clock sneakers move. Staley wouldn’t have it. Wouldn’t acknowledge that it was one of her originals.

“She was my teammate at one point, so that’s kind of interesting. Like, someone who was my teammate, my equal, now I take orders from,” Bird said.

Neither Bird nor Taurasi plays quite like Staley. Few did.

“Sue didn’t talk that much back then,” in 2004, said Leslie, who has known Staley since they were in high school. “I remember thinking, how she’s going to be a point guard if she doesn’t talk? We were so used to Dawn, who talked all the time. Sue was, no pun intended, a quiet storm in that she led with her actions.

“Diana’s laid back off the court. She’ll cuss you out, though.”

The story goes that a young Staley was hardened growing up in North Philadelphia. She modeled her game after Maurice Cheeks, down to snapping a rubber band circling her right wrist every time she committed a turnover. In 1988, she became the first USA Today National High School Player of the Year shorter than six feet, male or female.

After finishing her University of Virginia playing career in 1992, she plied professionally in Brazil, France, Italy (where her jersey read “STANLEY”) and Spain.

Staley believed she was in line to be the starting point guard on her first Olympic team in Atlanta in 1996. But she was sidelined by injuries, including knee surgery, during the U.S.’ pre-Olympic tour (52 games, 52 wins). Teresa Edwards stepped up. By the Centennial Games, Staley was a healthy reserve in all eight contests. She would again play behind Edwards at the 2000 Sydney Games.

In 2004, Staley went into her last Olympics as a reigning WNBA All-Star, the head coach of a Temple Owls team that made the NCAA Tournament and the leader tasked with passing the baton to Bird.

“I knew I wasn’t coming back. I saw Sue was experiencing her first,” Staley said. “I was just doing what was passed down to me. Teresa Edwards did a great job of passing the leadership role and the point guard role down to me. I was just paying it forward.”

Now Staley counts on Bird and Taurasi, who are in line to become the two oldest U.S. Olympic basketball players in history. Taurasi has a chance to break Leslie’s career U.S. Olympic points record.

“They know more international players than I could ever know,” Staley said. “We lean on them to give us some insight on some players that we just don’t have enough film on. We just let them go and get out of their way.”

MORE: USA Basketball career Olympic points leaders

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Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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