Nneka Ogwumike, ’16 WNBA MVP left off U.S. Olympic team, eyes Nigeria team for Tokyo

Nneka Ogwumike
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Nneka Ogwumike, the 2016 WNBA MVP who was left off the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball roster, wants to play for her parents’ birth nation of Nigeria at the Tokyo Games.

Nigeria’s basketball federation tweeted on Tuesday that Ogwumike, who reportedly has dual citizenship, is among 15 finalists for the 12-woman roster, along with sisters Chiney and Erica.

Ogwumike is not yet eligible to play for Nigeria but is hoping for clearance from FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, this week.

“I just wanted to bet on myself and also be a part of an organization that prioritizes me,” Ogwumike said Tuesday, according to ESPN.com. “My perspective was like, ‘If it’s not impossible, I’m going to go for it.’ Because I believe I have Olympic status and I plan on being an Olympian.”

USA Basketball confirmed Tuesday that it was informed after its Olympic team was selected last month that Ogwumike “was going to explore the option of competing for Nigeria.”

USA Basketball had to approve a potential nationality switch under international rules and supported her, a spokesperson said.

“However, the ultimate approval comes from FIBA,” the spokesperson said.

FIBA has not responded to a message sent Tuesday afternoon seeking more information.

The U.S. and Nigeria play each other in their first game at the Tokyo Olympics on July 27. They also play an exhibition game in Las Vegas on July 18 at 5:30 p.m. ET on Olympic Channel.

Ogwumike, a 31-year-old who was on the U.S.’ last two world championship teams in 2014 and 2018, has been sidelined by a knee injury since her last game for the Los Angeles Sparks on June 1. The U.S. Olympic team was announced June 21.

“It breaks me. It really breaks my heart that Nneka is not on this team, and it has everything to do with having to make a decision today,” U.S. head coach Dawn Staley, who is not on the USA Basketball selection committee, said after the team was named. “If we had to make a decision a month from now, I’m sure she would be healthy. But it does break my heart, because I know this is one of the things that she wanted to do. She came to every training camp. She’s a been a great voice in our training camps, in our practices, and we’re definitely going to miss Nneka.”

Ogwumike started three of six games at the 2018 FIBA World Cup and was the most-used player from that tournament not to make the Tokyo Olympic roster.

She was also the most-used player at the 2014 FIBA World Cup not to make the 2016 Olympic team (where two-time Olympic champion Candace Parker was the most high-profile player left off, later saying she will not play for USA Basketball again).

Ogwumike’s chances of making the Olympic team were boosted not only by Parker’s decision, but also more recently to injuries that ruled out Rio Olympians Elena Delle Donne and Angel McCoughtry, the retirement of triple Olympic champion Seimone Augustus and two-time gold medalist Maya Moore‘s indefinite leave from competitive basketball.

“It was more of a hurt than a shock, because I had experienced it before,” Nneka said of not making the Olympic team for Tokyo, according to ESPN. “But there are decisions made in this life that you can’t control. I allowed myself to feel the hurt, but moving on, I decided, ‘I’m going to try to put matters in my own hands.'”

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)

There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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