U.S. baseball team qualifies for Olympics, capping two-year journey

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A U.S. baseball team of unemployed, years-ago MLB All-Stars, minor leaguers and even a Winter Olympian qualified for the Tokyo Games on Saturday night, completing a wild two-year journey.

The U.S. won a North and South American Olympic qualifying tournament, going 4-0, capped by a 4-2 victory over Venezuela in South Florida.

The field for the first Olympic baseball tournament since 2008 is nearly complete: host Japan, the unlikely story of Israel, Mexico, South Korea and now the Americans.

A last-chance qualifying tournament later this month will determine the sixth and final nation, but it won’t be Cuba, the most successful nation in Olympic baseball’s previous stint as a medal sport from 1992 through 2008. Cuba was eliminated early in the Americas event and didn’t advance to the final, global qualifier.

Baseball and softball were taken off the Olympic program following the 2008 Beijing Games. When IOC members voted baseball out — 54-50 was the tally — one of the strikes against it was a lack of MLB participation.

Baseball is back after a rule change that allowed a host nation to propose additional sports for its Games. Baseball and softball, popular in Japan, were confirmed in 2016 for the Tokyo Olympic program (along with karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing).

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Paris Olympic program, but it could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Active MLB players will not participate this summer, but the U.S. will likely have familiar names. Those on the qualifying roster of 26 are prime candidates for the Olympic team of 24, granted they aren’t called up to or sign with big-league clubs before the Games.

Start with Eddy Alvarez. The 2014 Olympic short track speed skating silver medalist, who last year became the first Winter Olympian to play in the majors (with the Miami Marlins), started three of the five games this week. He could become the sixth person to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Games.

Matt KempTodd FrazierEdwin Jackson and David Robertson made MLB All-Star teams more than five years ago, but are in their late 30s and free agents.

Kemp, the former Los Angeles Dodgers outfield superstar, is the biggest name, but he didn’t play in the U.S.’ last four games. Frazier had a home run among four hits Saturday. Jackson, who pitched for a record 14 MLB teams, got the win; Robertson the save.

Adam Jones, a five-time MLB All-Star for the Baltimore Orioles, is also in the running. Jones wasn’t on the qualifying team because he plays professionally in Japan. Japan’s domestic league is taking a break to allow its players to participate in the Games.

Nobody with prior MLB All-Star experience played for the U.S. at previous Olympics. Two did for other nations — Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

One could say that the U.S.’ crazy journey to Olympic qualification began on Aug. 7, 2019, when Joe Girardi was named its manager.

Girardi stepped down two months later and less than a month before the first Olympic qualifier, taking the Philadelphia Phillies’ job. He was replaced by another New York Yankees World Series champion, Scott Brosius.

Under Brosius, the U.S. was three outs from clinching an Olympic spot at the November 2019 Premier12, a tournament for the world’s top 12 nations. But Mexico, which never previously qualified for an Olympic baseball tournament, scored once in the ninth inning and walked off in the 10th in a winner-to-Tokyo game at the Tokyo Dome.

The Americans thought they would have to wait four months until the next chance to qualify. But the Americas qualifier, originally set for March 2020, was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic 10 days before it was to start.

During the extra year, Brosius was replaced as manager by Mike Scioscia, who won World Series as a player and a manager. Scioscia played catcher in the 1980s for the Los Angeles Dodgers, managed by Tommy Lasorda, who managed the U.S. to its lone Olympic gold medal in 2000. Lasorda died in January at age 93.

Fittingly, Scioscia’s roster for qualifying this week included one player from the 2019 Premier12 event — Brandon Dickson, the pitcher who failed to close out Mexico.

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IOC gives more time to pick 2030 Olympic host, studies rotating Winter Games


The 2030 Winter Olympic host, expected to be Salt Lake City or Sapporo, Japan, is no longer targeted to be decided before next fall, the IOC said in announcing wider discussions into the future of the Winter Games, including the possibility of rotating the Games within a pool of hosts.

The IOC Future Host Commission was granted more time to study factors, including climate change, that could impact which cities and regions host future Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The 2030 Winter Games host is not expected to be decided before or at an IOC session next September or October.

Hosts have traditionally been chosen by IOC members vote seven years before the Games, though recent reforms allow flexibility on the process and timeline. For example, the 2024 and 2028 Games were awarded to Paris and Los Angeles in a historic double award in 2017. The 2032 Summer Games were awarded to Brisbane last year without a traditional bid race.

There are three interested parties for the 2030 Winter Olympics, the IOC said Tuesday without naming them. Previously, Salt Lake City, Sapporo and Vancouver were confirmed as bids. Then in October, the British Columbia government said it would not support a Vancouver bid, a major setback, though organizers did not say that decision ended the bid. All three cities are attractive as past Winter Games hosts with existing venues.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials have said Salt Lake City is a likelier candidate for 2034 than 2030, but could step in for 2030 if asked.

The future host commission outlined proposals for future Winter Olympics, which included rotating hosts within a pool of cities or regions and a requirement that hosts have an average minimum temperature below freezing (32 degrees) for snow competition venues at the time of the Games over a 10-year period.

The IOC Executive Board gave the commission more time to study the proposals and other factors impacting winter sports.

The IOC board also discussed and will continue to explore a potential double awarding of the 2030 and 2034 Winter Olympic hosts.

Also Tuesday, the IOC board said that Afghanistan participation in the 2024 Olympics will depend on making progress in safe access to sports for women and young girls in the country.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch urged the IOC to suspend Afghanistan until women and girls can play sport in the country.

In a press release, the IOC board expressed “serious concern and strongly condemned the latest restrictions imposed by the Afghan authorities on women and young girls in Afghanistan, which prevent them from practicing sport in the country.” It urged Afghanistan authorities to “take immediate action at the highest level to reverse such restrictions and ensure safe access to sport for women and young girls.”

The IOC board also announced that North Korea’s National Olympic Committee will be reinstated when its suspension is up at the end of the year.

In September 2021, the IOC banned the North Korean NOC through the end of 2022, including banning a North Korean delegation from participating in the Beijing Winter Games, after it chose not to participate in the Tokyo Games.

North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was the only one of 206 National Olympic Committees to withdraw from Tokyo. The country made its choice in late March 2021, citing a desire “to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection.”

The IOC said in September 2021 that it “provided reassurances for the holding of safe Games and offered constructive proposals to find an appropriate and tailor-made solution until the very last minute (including the provision of vaccines), which were systematically rejected by the PRK NOC.”

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Olympic champion Justine Dufour-Lapointe leaves moguls for another skiing discipline

Justine Dufour-Lapointe

Justine Dufour-Lapointe, the 2014 Olympic moguls champion, is leaving the event to compete in freeriding, a non-Olympic skiing discipline.

“After three Olympic cycles and 12 years on the World Cup circuit, I felt that I needed to find a new source of motivation and had to push my limits even more so I can reach my full potential as a skier,” the 28-year-old Montreal native said in a social media video, according to a translation from French. “Today, I am starting a new chapter in my career. … I want to perfect myself in another discipline. I want to connect with the mountain differently. Above all, I want to get out of my comfort zone in a way I’ve never done before.”

Dufour-Lapointe said she will compete on the Freeride World Tour, a series of judged competitions described as:

There‘s a start gate at the summit and a finish gate at the bottom. That’s it. Best run down wins. It truly is that simple. Think skiers and snowboarders choosing impossible-looking lines through cornices and cliff-faces and nasty couloirs. Think progressive: big jumps, mach-speed turns and full-on attack. Think entertaining.

Dufour-Lapointe has retired from moguls skiing, according to a Freeride World Tour press release, though she did not explicitly say that in social media posts Tuesday.

At the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Dufour-Lapointe denied American Hannah Kearney‘s bid to become the first freestyle skier to repeat as Olympic champion. Older sister Chloé took silver in a Canadian one-two.

Dufour-Lapointe also won the world title in 2015, then Olympic silver in 2018 behind Frenchwoman Perrine Laffont.

Chloé announced her retirement in September. A third Dufour-Lapointe Olympic moguls skier, Maxime, retired in 2018.

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