U.S. Olympic bobsled team does not include medal-winning push athletes, Lolo Jones

Pyeongchang 2018 - bobsleigh
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Elana Meyers Taylor and Kaillie Humphries lead the U.S. Olympic bobsled team, looking to drive to more medals in Beijing.

Olympic medalist push athletes Lauren Gibbs and Aja Evans were not selected to race in China. Neither was Lolo Jones, a Winter and Summer Olympian who was bidding for one more Games as a push athlete at age 39.

A U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton federation selection committee instead went with athletes with no Olympic experience — Sylvia Hoffman and Kaysha Love. Evans was named an alternate.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for 2022 Winter Olympics

Hoffman and Love received the most World Cup starts among the U.S. push athletes this season, including at the last two World Cups, a sign that they were preferred by the coaching staff.

The Olympic selection committee is made up of one of those coaches and four other people.

They went with younger athletes over the more decorated Gibbs (2018 Olympic silver medalist with Meyers Taylor), Evans (2014 Olympic bronze medalist, two-time Olympian) and Jones (world champion last season with Humphries).

Meyers Taylor, who on Sunday wrapped up the World Cup season title, eyes her first Olympic gold after bronze in 2010 and silvers in 2014 and 2018. She returned to competition last season after having son Nico on Feb. 22, 2020. Her husband, Nic, was named an alternate push athlete for the men’s team.

Humphries won gold in 2010 and 2014 driving for Canada, then switched to the U.S. after filing harassment and abuse claims against a Canadian program coach Todd Hays, a 2002 Olympic silver medalist for the U.S. She is married to an American and gained citizenship on Dec. 2, becoming eligible for the U.S. Olympic team.

German drivers Laura Nolte, Kim Kalicki and Mariama Jamanka will be tough competition in Beijing.

Nolte led the World Cup with four wins this season and likely would have won the season title if the Germans didn’t skip a stop in Latvia earlier this month. Kalicki was right behind her. Nolte and Jamanka, the surprise 2018 Olympic champion, went one-two in a race at the Yanqing Olympic track in October.

Meyers Taylor and Humphries have been stronger this season in the new Olympic women’s bobsled discipline of monobob. They rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world. Jamanka, though, won the race on the Olympic track in October.

First-time Olympians Hunter Church and Frank Del Duca will drive the U.S. two- and four-man bobsleds that are underdogs for medals.

Church, a 25-year-old, third-generation bobsledder who grew up an hour north of Lake Placid, is the only U.S. male driver to make a World Cup podium in this Olympic cycle, doing so twice in four-man, including on Jan. 9. He was the highest-ranked U.S. men’s driver on the World Cup this season at 10th in four-man.

Del Duca, 30, switched from pushing to driving after missing the 2018 Olympics and earned his spot this year despite not racing World Cup until the last two stops. He gobbled up points with podium finishes in all 16 of his starts on the lower-level North American Cup.

The Olympic men’s push athletes include 2018 Olympians Hakeem Abdul Saboor (a former bodybuilder) and Carlo Valdes (a former UCLA wide receiver). They’re joined by Olympic rookies Kris Horn, Jimmy Reed, Charlie Volker and Josh Williamson.

German Francesco Friedrich is an overwhelming Olympic favorite in both two- and four-man, having won 14 of his 16 World Cup starts this season.

ON HER TURF: Competitive battle for U.S. women’s push athlete spots

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

Thomas Bach

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.

Alyssa Thomas

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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