Olympic champion, once expected to miss Tokyo, gets new chance in 2021

Chloe Esposito
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Chloe Esposito announced in late January that a “wonderful, unexpected surprise” had occurred and that she wouldn’t be able to defend her modern pentathlon title at the Tokyo Olympics.

“My husband, Matt Cooper, and I are bringing a mini Cooper into this world in August,” Esposito said on social media. “True to form, nothing ever works out the way we plan it. Defending my title will have to wait another four years. Can’t wait to be a mum.”

Less than two months later, on March 24 to be exact, Esposito and thousands of other Olympic athletes learned that the Tokyo Games would be postponed by a year until July 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. While for some it meant more time to recover from injuries, or a decision to put off retirement for another year, Esposito realized it might give her a second chance to be in Tokyo next year.

One good thing — for this Australian athlete, at least — to come out of the worldwide sadness and madness.

“I actually don’t remember where I was when the news about the postponement came out,” Esposito said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from her home in western Sydney. “I think I was teaching some kids swimming. But I do remember thinking that this will actually work in my favor.”

Esposito’s son, Ted, was born on July 29, and she proudly posted on Instagram a photo of her and husband Matt’s addition to the family the following day.

So how’s it been since?

“I love it so much,” the 29-year-old Esposito said of her life as a mother. “I’m back into training, but only started running a week ago. Also some Pilates, gym and swimming. I’m slowly building up.”

Still, she’s still uncertain about Tokyo, even with the delay.

“My plan was to come back only if I was 100% fit,” Esposito says. “Maybe I am more looking toward 2024 (in Paris). They haven’t announced any qualifying events for next year, and I have to qualify.”

Part of the problem in her return has been the distance she has to travel in Sydney to get to suitable training venues. The modern pentathlon has five disciplines — swimming, fencing, equestrian (show jumping) and a combined shooting and cross-country running finale.

Her equestrian training is 40 minutes away and fencing about the same.

That’s a lot different from her previous training base in Budapest, Hungary, where she spent two years in advance of her Rio Olympic gold and about two years following.

“It’s the best place for training . . . modern pentathlon is so big there,” Esposito said. “I credit Budapest and Hungary with helping me get gold in 2016.”

It certainly was a big win in Rio four years ago after Esposito finished seventh in the same event at the London Olympics.

She went into the last event — the running and shooting discipline — at Rio in seventh place and overcame a 45-second handicap at the start to win the gold medal, setting an Olympic record of 1,372 points. She missed only one target in the four series of five shots and her final combined time of 12 minutes, 10.19 seconds earned her the gold.

On hand to see her win was her father and coach, Daniel Esposito, who competed in modern pentathlon for Australia at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and her 23-year-old brother, Max, who made his Olympic debut in the same sport. Max Esposito has been slowed by injuries and may not be ready for Tokyo, but Chloe says he hopes to be in Paris in 2024.

“It would be great to have us both in Paris, and with Ted watching us,” Esposito said.

In the meantime, Esposito continues to practice when she can, and take the time to experience some scenic Sydney beach walks with Ted in his stroller.

And taking a pragmatic approach about next year in Tokyo.

“I’m slowly getting back into it,” she told AP. “I’m still not too sure, At times I feel like a little bubble girl. So we’ll see.”

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U.S., China set for FIBA Women’s World Cup gold-medal game

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SYDNEY — Breanna Stewart and the United States used a dominant defensive effort to beat Canada and reach the gold-medal game of the FIBA Women’s World Cup for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Stewart scored 17 points and the Americans raced out to an early lead to put away Canada 83-43 on Friday, reaching a Saturday gold-medal game with China. The 43 points was the fewest scored in a semifinal game in World Cup history.

“Canada has been playing really well all tournament and the goal was just to come out there and really limit them,” said U.S. forward Alyssa Thomas. “We were really locked in from the jump with our game plan.”

China edged host Australia 61-59 in the later semifinal to reach its first global championship game since the 1994 Worlds, the last time it won a medal of any color. The U.S. beat China 77-63 in group play last Saturday, the Americans’ closest game of the tournament.

“Our goal was to to win a gold medal and we’re in position to do that,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The U.S. (7-0), which is on a record pace for points and margin of victory in the tournament, took control of the game early scoring the first 15 points. The Americans contested every shot on the defensive end as the Canadians missed their first nine attempts from the field. On the offensive end, Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Thomas basically got any shot they wanted.

“I think after that punch, it really took the air out of them,” Thomas said. “They didn’t know what to do with their offense anymore after that.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

Laeticia Amihere, who plays at South Carolina for former U.S. coach Dawn Staley, finally got Canada on the board nearly 5 minutes into the game making a driving layup.

By the end of the quarter the U.S. led 27-7. Canada had committed four turnovers — the same number the team had against Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals which was the lowest total in a game in 30 years.

The Americans were up 45-21 at the half and the lead kept expanding in the final 20 minutes. The win was the biggest margin for the U.S. in the medal round topping the 36-point victory over Spain in the 2010 World Cup.

Canada (5-2) advanced to the medal round for the first time since 1986 and has a chance to win its first medal since taking the bronze that year.

“We didn’t get it done today, but what we’re going to do is take this with what we learned today and how we can turn it up tomorrow,” Canada captain Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s still a game for a medal and it’s just as important for us.”

The U.S. has won seven of the eight meetings with Canada in the World Cup, although the last one came in 2010. The lone victory for Canada came in 1975.

The victory was the 29th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86. This is only the second time in the Americans’ storied history they’ve reached four consecutive gold-medal contests. They also did it from 1979-90, winning three times.

This U.S. team, which has so many new faces on it, is on pace to break many of the team’s records that include scoring margin and points per game. The Americans also continued to dominate the paint even without 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 55-24.

Amihere led Canada with eight points.

RECORD BREAKING

The low point total broke the mark of 53 that South Korea scored against Russia in 2002.

“We’re starting to build that identity,” Wilson said of the defensive effort. “We’re quick and scrappy and I think that’s our identity.”

The U.S. is averaging 101 points a game. The team’s best mark ever coming into the tournament was 99.1 set in 1994.

STILL RECOVERING

Kahleah Copper sat out after injuring her left hip in the win over Serbia in the quarterfinals. Copper landed hard on her hip driving to the basket and had to be helped off the court. She hopes to play on Saturday. Betnijah Laney, who also got hurt in the Serbia game, did play against Canada.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia vs. Canada Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA vs. China Gold-Medal Game