How Coco Gauff can qualify for Tokyo Olympics

Coco Gauff
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After an electric, major-tournament breakout at age 15, Coco Gauff, now as a 17-year-old, strung together solid finishes in places like Lexington, Adelaide, Ostrava and, most recently, Rome, to (relatively quietly) break into the world top 30 for the first time this week.

With it, Gauff became a contender to make the four-woman U.S. Olympic team in singles. She can become the youngest Olympic tennis player since 2000, when 17-year-old Jelena Dokic and 16-year-old Mario Ancic competed in Sydney, according to Olympedia.org.

Sofia Kenin and Serena Williams already locked up the first two spots on the team, which is determined by world rankings after the French Open in four weeks. Jennifer Brady is in strong position for the third.

Gauff, who a year ago had half the qualifying points as the fourth-place American, is now in a four-player battle for that last spot (or spots, if Williams skips Tokyo). She still trails Alison RiskeJessica Pegula and Madison Keys, but the margins are small.

So small that Gauff can pass the three veterans at a low-level tournament this week in Parma, Italy, home of one of her sponsors, Barilla. Riske, Pegula and Keys all chose not to play.

Gauff, the third-highest ranked player in the field, will move into that magic fourth spot in Olympic qualifying if she reaches the final. That may require beating the top seed, Williams, if both advance to the semifinals.

As things stand, it’s likely that the player out of Gauff, Riske, Pegula and Keys who makes the deepest run into the second week at the French Open (round of 16 or better) will snare that fourth and final Olympic spot. Gauff and Pegula performed best this clay season of that quartet.

But if two or more players share the best finish, it will come down to who entered Roland Garros with the most points. That’s what makes the next two weeks important, each with French Open tune-ups that Gauff entered.

Gauff reached this place by doing what she could not in 2019 and early 2020 — playing plenty. When she was 15, Gauff was age-restricted out of competing regularly. Since tennis resumed last summer, she’s played the most tournaments of any American in the Olympic mix.

Yet Gauff did so largely out of the spotlight, at least relative to the 15-year-old who made the fourth round of Wimbledon and beat Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open. The 17-year-old Gauff lost in the first or second round of her three Grand Slams.

But she was busier at less-visible events. Most notably last week in Rome, beating fourth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka en route to the semifinals of the biggest pre-French Open tournament. Gauff was gifted a quarterfinal win due to top-ranked Ash Barty‘s injury (Barty led 6-4, 2-1 upon retirement).

In the semifinals, the young American took nine games off her favored opponent, 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek. That Gauff effort looked better the following day, when Swiatek dropped just 13 points in the final.

Gauff said last week she’s pleased with the progress made since her Wimbledon run nearly two years ago. Before that tournament, she was the 37th-highest-ranked American just starting on a senior-level career.

“During that time people were saying, it’s a fluke, it will never happen again,” Gauff said last week. “I think I’ve proved all those people wrong. I’m going to continue to prove them wrong.”

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Valencia Marathon produces historic times in men’s, women’s races

2022 Valencia Marathon
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Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum and Ethiopian Amane Beriso won the Valencia Marathon and became the third-fastest man and woman in history, respectively.

Kiptum, a 23-year-old in his marathon debut, won the men’s race in 2 hours, 1 minute, 53 seconds. The only men to ever run faster over 26.2 miles are legends: Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09 world record, plus a 2:01:39) and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41).

Kipchoge made his marathon debut at age 28, and Bekele at 31.

Beriso, a 31-year-old whose personal best was 2:20:48 from January 2016, stunned the women’s field Sunday by running 2:14:58. The only women to have run faster: Kenyans Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) and Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18).

Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey finished second in 2:16:49, the fastest-ever time for a woman in her marathon debut. Gidey is the world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m.

Valencia is arguably the top annual marathon outside of the six World Marathon Majors. The next major marathon is Tokyo on March 5.

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

ALPINE SKIING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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