How the World Cup sets the stage for men’s soccer at the 2024 Paris Olympics

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A day after an epic men’s World Cup final, French superstar Kylian Mbappé shared a brief statement on social media.

We’ll be back.

For France’s men’s program, and probably Mbappé as well, after losing the final to Lionel Messi‘s Argentina in a penalty shootout, the next chance for a bit of global redemption will be the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

In a storyline similar to eight years ago, a world famous attacker could follow World Cup heartbreak with a once-in-a-career opportunity: to deliver Olympic soccer gold in front of a home crowd.

Two Olympic cycles ago, Neymar buried the penalty shootout decider in the Olympic final at the Maracanã, two years after Brazil’s devastating defeat to Germany in the World Cup semifinals.

Mbappé, who already has a World Cup title from 2018, may face the same conundrum that Neymar navigated in 2016. If FIFA rules remain the same, his club team, which is already forced to allow Mbappé to play a senior continental tournament in early summer 2024, has the ultimate say as to whether Mbappé can play in the Olympics (not designated a senior tournament) later that summer.

For Mbappé, that club is currently Paris Saint-Germain, which may be inclined to let him play in the Games given its ties to the Olympic host city. In October 2021, Mbappé called the Olympics “the DNA of sport” and “the best opportunity for an athlete to live their dream.”

Mbappé already said in May that PSG is on board with him playing at the Olympics. He may have to give up the chance to play in the European Championship earlier that summer, as Neymar did for the 2016 Copa América Centenario in a deal with his club at the time, FC Barcelona.

Most stars do not compete in two major tournaments in one summer for their countries. Clubs prefer they rest ahead of their league seasons. Time will tell.

Then there’s Messi. The prevailing notion during the World Cup was that it would mark the 35-year-old’s farewell with the national team. At 6,029 days since his World Cup debut, he had not only the longest wait for a men’s title in history, but also the longest men’s World Cup career in history.

But Messi reportedly said after Sunday’s triumph that he plans to continue with La Albiceleste at least a bit longer. Still, it appears unlikely that Messi will be at the Olympics, which is largely a tournament for players age 23 and younger.

He already got his experience at the 2008 Beijing Games, winning gold (he and teammate Ángel Di María are the only men since World War II to own both an Olympic gold medal and a World Cup title). Plus, an Argentina team of U-23 players must qualify without him, and there are only two South American spots available.

Olympic men’s soccer teams are allowed up to three “over-age players,” (in Paris 2024’s case, players born before Jan. 1, 2001). Argentina has never used an over-age spot on a man older than 31.

But it has used them on big names. Defender Roberto Ayala captained Argentina at Copa América in 2004, then played the Olympics later that summer. In 2008, the Olympic team included midfielders Juan Riquelme and Javier Mascherano, who started every match at the 2006 World Cup. Note there was no Copa América in 2008, clearing the path for South American stars to take part in the Olympics. There is expected to be a Copa América in 2024, site TBA, and Argentina is defending champion.

How U.S. Soccer approaches the 2024 Olympics will be intriguing. It qualified a men’s team for the first time since 2008. It is expected to receive an automatic 2026 World Cup spot as co-host, so it would not have to play in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The downside to that is that the U.S. must find other ways to schedule meaningful matches ahead of 2026.

The Olympics can provide that to an extent. The age restrictions mean that although the stakes are high, the event will be very different than a World Cup. The U.S. may also be invited to 2024 Copa América, perhaps even to host it, which would provide competition closer to a World Cup level and make it problematic to send its best players to the Olympics in the same summer.

Every U.S. Olympic men’s soccer team in the last 30 years included at least one player from the previous World Cup. Three players from this year’s World Cup team are young enough that they could be on the Olympic team without using an over-age exception (Yunus Musah, Gio Reyna, Joe Scally).

So, the U.S. Olympic team could include six World Cup players total, but that’s if they’re not held back for other senior national team matches that summer and given releases by their club teams. And if they want to play at all.

Olympic soccer can lure some players more than others. Messi said in 2017 that he valued his Olympic title above all of his other victories, though that was before he won Copa América, let alone the World Cup.

“World Cup is great,” he said in May 2016, according to an ESPN translation of an interview in Spanish, “but Olympics are something special.”

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Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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