Comebacks, foes, timing: Star athletes’ obstacles to Tokyo Olympics

Carli Lloyd, LeBron James, Laurie Hernandez, Ryan Lochte
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Star U.S. athletes who, for various reasons, face a challenge to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 …

Jordan Burroughs
An Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion over the last decade. Burroughs, at 32, appears set for his toughest challenge yet at the Olympic Trials in April. That’s because Kyle Dake, the 2018 and 2019 World champion at the non-Olympic 79kg division, is moving to Burroughs’ 74kg class. Only one U.S. wrestler per weight class qualifies for Tokyo.

Allyson Felix
The nine-time medalist was fit enough to make the national team in 2019 when, eight months post-life threatening childbirth, she was sixth in the USATF Outdoor Championships 400m. Athletes must finish top three at the Olympic Trials in June to qualify in an individual event, but in the 400m, the top six usually go to fill out the relay pool. It’s possible more than six could go to Tokyo with the addition of the mixed-gender 4x400m. But Felix will want to make it in the open 400m and/or the 200m and become the oldest U.S. woman to win an Olympic track and field medal.

Laurie Hernandez
Last competed in Rio, taking team gold and balance beam silver as the youngest U.S. female Olympian across all sports (16). She began a comeback in earnest in 2019, attending a national team camp that November. The extra year gives Hernandez time to get her skills back, but also allows younger gymnasts to enter the picture for one of up to five Olympic spots.

LeBron James
Automatic for the team if he wants to play for Gregg Popovich. But James, who passed on Rio, has not made a public commitment, leaving the possibility he withdraws from roster consideration to rest up after an NBA season that will likely end in July for the Los Angeles Lakers, a week or two, or even days, before the Opening Ceremony. If USA Basketball determines participation in an early July training camp mandatory for Olympic consideration, then it’s likely any player on a team that makes the conference finals will not go to Tokyo.

Carli Lloyd
Lloyd, who turns 39 in July, is older than any previous U.S. Olympic soccer player. A one-year postponement would not seem to benefit older athletes, but Lloyd will get one more year to prove herself to new U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski. Before he took over, Lloyd was primarily a reserve at the 2019 World Cup. After his hiring, she was in the starting XI for the crucial match of Olympic qualifying in January and two of the three matches of the SheBelieves Cup in March. Making the Olympic roster will be more difficult than the World Cup team, given the number of players is reduced from 23 to 18.

Ryan Lochte
The most decorated active athlete with 12 medals is now 36 and bidding to become the oldest U.S. Olympic male swimmer in history. After two suspensions in this Olympic cycle, he ranks fifth in the U.S. in his best event, the 200m individual medley, since the start of 2019. The top two at the Olympic Trials in June qualify for the team.

Kerri Walsh Jennings
The most decorated Olympic beach volleyball player in history (three golds, one bronze) would qualify for a sixth Games if current qualifying standings hold. But Walsh Jennings, 42, and new partner Brooke Sweat, 34, must hold off Kelly Claes, 25, and Sarah Sponcil, 24, once international tournaments resume in 2021 for the second and final U.S. spot in Tokyo behind April Ross and Alix Klineman.

Venus Williams
Four American women will play singles in Tokyo. The 40-year-old Williams is outside the top 10 in U.S. Olympic qualifying. But she has a safety net: doubles. The U.S. can send two more players per gender to the Olympics for doubles only, and they could end up discretionary selections. Venus has a pretty strong resume in that case — the most decorated Olympic tennis player in history with a natural doubles partner, her little sister, who will likely already be on the team in singles.

Tiger Woods
The only person on this list who has zero gold medals (and hasn’t competed at an Olympics). Woods, who is 45 and older than all but three golfers from the Rio Games, entered 2020 ranked fifth in U.S. Olympic qualifying for four spots in Tokyo. He’s since tumbled outside the top 20 after just one top-25 finish in the abbreviated tournament calendar. If this was almost any other nation, Woods would still be in Olympic contention. But, in the deep U.S., he needs a spectacular start to 2021 to get back into the mix.

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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 vs. Serbia Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada vs. Puerto Rico Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China vs. France Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Belgium Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA vs. Canada Semifinals
5:30 a.m. Australia vs. China Semifinals
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final

U.S. into FIBA World Cup semifinals after trailing, triple-double watch

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SYDNEY — Alyssa Thomas and her United States teammates were tested for the first time in the World Cup by a physical Serbia team.

After a slow start, the Americans used a dominant run spanning the half to take control of the game and reach the semifinals again.

Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists to help the U.S. beat Serbia 88-55 in the quarterfinals of the women’s World Cup on Thursday.

“I think you expect every team’s best punch in the first quarter,” Thomas said. “We just had to settle into the game and once we settled in, then we were really able to break away.”

Kelsey Plum scored 17 points and A’ja Wilson added 15 to lead the Americans (6-0) into the semifinals.

“They played super physical, more physical than we’ve seen the entire tournament,” Plum said. “Credit to them. I felt that early-on their pressure bothered us a little bit, but we were able to kind of get under control.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

The Americans had run through pool play, winning by 46.2 points per game and hadn’t faced any kind of challenge. Serbia (3-2) wasn’t afraid though, going right at the U.S. The Serbians scored the first basket of the game — marking the first time the Americans trailed in the tournament.

It was back-and-forth for the first 17 minutes, with the U.S. failing to go on any major run. Then, with 2:59 left in the half and the U.S. up by five, Kahleah Copper drove to the basket and was fouled. She landed hard on her hip and had to be helped off the court by the U.S. training staff. Copper, who has been a sparkplug for the U.S. in her first tournament, didn’t return.

“It’s too early to tell,” Reeve said of the extent of Copper’s injury. “We’re getting her some imaging and we’ll have information later.”

Plum replaced Cooper and hit the two free throws, starting a 12-0 run to close the half as the Americans led 50-33 at the break. Thomas had 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals in the opening 20 minutes.

The U.S. extended its run to 20 straight points in the third quarter before Serbia finally ended a nearly 8 1/2 minutes drought with a 3-pointer by Yvonne Anderson. That cut the deficit to 22 points. Serbia didn’t get much closer after that.

Anderson led Serbia with 14 points.

Betnijah Laney went down hard early in the fourth quarter on a put-back. She left the game and sat on the bench for the rest of the game.

“She took a hard fall,” Reeve said. “She was in the locker room afterwards and I think in her case it was a little more of it took the wind out of her.”

The victory was the 28th 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.

After going unbeaten in pool play again, the U.S. reached at least the semifinals for the 12th consecutive tournament, dating to 1975. That year completed a cycle in which the Americans lost 14 games combined in four tournaments. They’ve only lost five games since.

PICASSO IT WAS NOT

The U.S. had dominated the paint even without Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 60.8-24.4 in pool play. Serbia held a 20-16 advantage at the half and ended up outscoring the Americans 28-26 in the game by constantly having two or three players inside to clog up the middle.

“It’s one of those things you got to live with,” Wilson said. “Hopefully these next couple of games we can get back to owning the paint. Serbia did a great job of locking it down.

TRIPLE-DOUBLE WATCH

Thomas, who had a triple-double in each of the last two games in the WNBA Finals, fell just short again of getting the first one at the World Cup since Erika Dobrovicova in 1994 for the Slovak Republic against Spain. Assists and rebounds weren’t kept before 1994. Thomas had 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the opener against Belgium.

TIP-INS

Jewell Loyd returned to the U.S. starting lineup a game after resting according to the team. She had eight points.

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