Olympic medalists, Lolo Jones not on bobsled team for last race before Olympic team named

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U.S. bobsled coaches did not choose their most experienced push athletes — Olympic silver medalist Lauren Gibbs, Olympic bronze medalist Aja Evans and Summer and Winter Olympian Lolo Jones — to compete in the last World Cup before the Olympic team is named.

None have raced in 2022. It’s possible none will be on the Olympic team.

Kaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor, who are expected to be the two Olympic drivers, are paired with Sylvia Hoffman and Kaysha Love, respectively, for a World Cup in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend, U.S. head coach Mike Kohn said. A broadcast schedule is here.

Those were also the pairings at the most recent World Cup last weekend, where Humphries and Meyers Taylor finished third and fourth behind a pair of German sleds on a German track.

“We had good results there,” Kohn said. “Coaches decided we give that another look.”

The federation is expected to announce the Olympic team, likely two drivers and two push athletes, plus a traveling alternate, soon after this weekend’s competition. The federation chooses push athletes via discretionary criteria, including looking at this season’s results.

World Cup starters and the Olympic team are chosen by separate groups using different criteria. Kohn is the only person who is in both of the groups.

“Long story short, [Olympic selection] involves a lot more than current season results,” Kohn said. That criteria is here, including international experience over the last four years and preseason combine results.

Hoffman and Love, trying for their first Olympics, have competed five and four times on the World Cup this season, respectively. Gibbs, Jones and Lake Kwaza and Evans competed once.

In Kohn’s opinion, Hoffman and Love have been the most impressive U.S. push athletes this season.

“I think the coaching staff feels the same way,” he said. “Will they be able to sustain that and perform this weekend and be ready for the Games? I don’t know. That’s a selection committee decision.”

Last week, all six push athletes each took one run with either Meyers Taylor or Humphries in training. Five out of the six push times were within .02 of a second of each other. Hoffman, pushing with Humphries, had the fastest push time and top velocity. Love, also with Humphries, had the second-best velocity and one of the fastest push times, Kohn said.

Gibbs, a 2018 Olympic silver medalist pushing for Meyers Taylor, raced in one World Cup on Dec. 19.

On Monday, Gibbs shared on Instagram that she was not chosen to compete in St. Moritz, then listed her career accomplishments and wrote, “And all I can say is… I did the dam thing!”

Evans, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist when she pushed for the now-retired Jamie Greubel Poser, competed internationally once since placing fifth with Greubel Poser in PyeongChang. She returned to the national team last year, but was set back by a Dec. 3 training accident that put her in a hospital with facial lacerations.

Evans was scheduled to compete on the World Cup that weekend until the injury happened.

“I’ve gone over a hundred different ways this could’ve ended me,” was posted on Evans’ social media Monday. “But, I’m STILL HERE. Life is about how you handle the uncertainty, the obstacles, and the difficulties that come along the way.”

Jones, who won a world championship pushing for Humphries last season, dealt with a torn adductor before the season and competed once internationally this season on Nov. 28. In that race, she and Humphries finished 10th with the 10th- and 11th-fastest start times, the worst result for a U.S. sled this season.

“It just did not go well, and we didn’t expect it to be that way,” Kohn said. “I don’t know what happened.”

Jones shared on social media that her father died right before the holidays in December, and she chose to stay in Europe with the team, Kohn said.

If selected for the Olympics, Jones will likely be the oldest U.S. female athlete across all sports in Beijing at age 39.

Jones has been hoping to potentially cap her Olympic career in the city where it started, Beijing, where she hit the penultimate hurdle while leading the 2008 Olympic 100m hurdles final and ended up seventh. That race was held in the Bird’s Nest, where the Opening Ceremony will be on Feb. 4.

“The selection committee has got a tough job,” Kohn said. “I’ve had an incredible journey with them, and I hate to see it come to an end. I wish I could take every one of them to the Olympic Games.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Evans has not competed this season, based on erroneous International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation official results. 

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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