How Coco Gauff can qualify for Tokyo Olympics

Coco Gauff
Getty Images

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

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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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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