Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi on fifth Olympic basketball team as U.S. squad named for Tokyo

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Ready for a run at a seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal, the 12 U.S. women who will don the USA Basketball jersey in Tokyo were announced Monday morning on the “TODAY” show.

Led by soon-to-be five-time Olympians Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team is an even mix of six veterans and six athletes headed to their first Olympic Games.

Sylvia Fowles returns for a fourth Olympic team, only the seventh U.S. basketball player to do so, while Tina Charles will play on her third. Both Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart were on the 2016 squad in Rio.

Jewell Loyd and A’ja Wilson will step onto an Olympic court for the first time this summer, but were on the winning FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in 2018. Ariel AtkinsNapheesa CollierSkylar Diggins-Smith and Chelsea Gray will play five-on-five for the first time in a senior-level event. Collier won the Youth Olympic gold medal in 3×3 basketball in 2014.

The team is coached by Dawn Staley, a three-time Olympic and two-time World champion herself, who was named head coach in 2017 after Geno Auriemma led the U.S. women to victory in London and Rio.

She is joined by assistant coaches Dan Hughes, Cheryl Reeve and Jennifer Rizzotti.

“USA Basketball has never been in a better place,” Staley said in a release. “I’m honored to be the coach of such an amazing collection of talented women, both those named to the team and those who gave their all the last few years but won’t be with us in Tokyo. The fact that some of the players who won’t suit up this summer would start for any other country is a testament to their talent and to what USA Basketball has done to build a program that lifts up our female athletes every single day.  I’m so proud to be the coach of Team USA and like all of the coaches, support staff, and our players, I can’t wait to make America proud this summer.”

Notably absent from the roster are 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike, who was on the last two World Cup teams. Delle Donne, who played in Rio, is still recovering from two back surgeries and has not yet done any five-on-five work in her return, according to Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault.

The 12 women combine for a career international record of 749-37.

RELATED: Meet the U.S. women’s basketball roster for Tokyo

The team ranges in age from 24 (Atkins, Collier, Wilson — though Atkins and Wilson turn 25 during the Olympics) to 40 (Bird), and even includes two mothers. Taurasi’s wife Penny gave birth to son Leo in 2018, while Diggins-Smith gave birth to her son in April 2019.

Having also won the last three World Cups (and eight of the last 11), the Americans remain ranked No. 1 in the world. They are expected to face their stiffest competition from world No. 2 Australia, the 2018 World Cup runner-up, and No. 3 Spain, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist.

Bird and Taurasi, 39, have been competing for the U.S. for more than two decades and will set or tie numerous records next month.

Only six other basketball athletes from any nation have played at five Olympics, including just one other American in five-time medalist Teresa Edwards (four golds, one bronze). No basketball player has won five gold medals.

Only one Olympic basketball player, Puerto Rico’s Jose Rafael Ortiz, has competed at an age older than Bird will be in Tokyo (by a matter of 20-plus days).

Their former teammate, Tamika Catchings, held the title of oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player at 37 years old in Rio five years ago; Bird will become both the oldest American and the oldest woman to play at 40 years, 284 days on the day of their first game.

Finally, Bird and Taurasi hold a Guinness World Record for most consecutive gold medals in a team Olympic event at four. Currently tied with fellow basketball great Lisa Leslie and Chinese diver Wu Minxia, they could build on that record.

The team itself has won every Olympic title since the 1996 Games in Atlanta and with a seventh straight one would tie the U.S. men’s basketball team (1936-1968) for most consecutive Olympic gold medals in a team sport.

The U.S. women begin play on July 27 against Nigeria. They continue Group B play against host nation Japan on July 30 and world No. 5 France on Aug. 2.

The U.S. also qualified a women’s team for the Olympic debut of 3×3 basketball; the four players are expected to be named later this week.

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Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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