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Eden Hazard eyes Olympics with Belgium, but obstacles ahead

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Eden Hazard is about to leave Chelsea for Real Madrid, but he also eyes another new squad: the Belgium Olympic team.

The star forward told a Belgian coach that he wants to play at the Tokyo Olympics, but significant obstacles are in the way for him to be an overage exception next year.

“Hazard has already asked me if he could come to Tokyo if we qualify,” Belgian Under-21 coach Johan Walem reportedly said last week, according to a Marca translation. “If we qualify, I will stick with the group that played at the [U21 European Championship]. But I already know that picking a squad for an Olympics will be difficult.”

Inherently difficult. Olympic men’s soccer teams are typically under-23 affairs, but each nation is allowed to pick three overage players. These exceptions included Neymar and Ryan Giggs at the last two Olympics.

But adding an overage star typically comes at the expense of a player who helped a nation qualify for the Olympics, such as at the European U21 Championship later this month. The top four at that event will be Europe’s representatives at Tokyo 2020.

Belgium must get out of a tough group at Euro U21s, one that includes Spain and Italy.

But if Belgium’s junior players get out of the group and qualify for the Olympics (for just the second time since 1928), Hazard would have a strong argument to be added for the Olympics. He won the Silver Ball as the second-best player at the 2018 World Cup, where Belgium placed third, its best finish ever.

“Right now, I have more than 30 players and reducing this to 23 for the Euros was a hellish task, and reducing it to 18 [for the Olympics] would be impossible,” Walem said, according to the report.

Hazard’s situation is complicated by the fact he would be a centerpiece of Belgium’s team at the 2020 European Championship, which end 11 days before the start of the Olympic soccer tournament.

In past Olympics, clubs have been under no obligation to release players for the Games. In summer 2016, Neymar did not play Copa America Centenario and in exchange was allowed to play at the Rio Olympics.

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Diana Taurasi’s near-best scoring day leads U.S. into FIBA World Cup final

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Diana Taurasi had her highest scoring day in a major tournament in 12 years, leading the U.S. into the FIBA World Cup final in a 93-77 semifinal win over Belgium on Saturday.

Taurasi, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, scored 26 points, her second-highest total in 61 career games between the Olympics and worlds (28 in the 2006 World bronze-medal game). Breanna Stewart added 20. A full box score is here.

Taurasi’s barrage came a day after she scored two points against Nigeria, her lowest total since her fourth game for the U.S. at the 2004 Olympics, when she was 22 years old and the youngest U.S. Olympic women’s player in 16 years. Taurasi played 12 minutes against the African champion, picking up four fouls with a technical.

Her 350 career World Cup points rank third among Americans all time behind Lisa Leslie (393) and Teresa Edwards (371). Leslie’s record appears safe with one game left in Taurasi’s likely last worlds.

The U.S. gets Australia in Sunday’s final with a third straight world title and the first Olympic qualifying berth at stake.

The Aussies, led by WNBA scoring leader Liz Cambage, beat Spain 72-66 in the later semifinal. Cambage had 33 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks.

“Probably Australia has been the best team in this tournament,” Taurasi said, according to USA Basketball.

Australia is 0-17 against the U.S. at the Olympics and worlds. This is the first gold-medal game between the rivals since the 2008 Olympics.

The U.S. started slowly for a second straight game in its semi, one day after trailing Nigeria for most of the first half.

Belgium led 26-21 after the first quarter and trailed by one at the half. The Americans took control with a 33-18 third quarter.

This American team is without stalwarts from its previous decade of undefeated play at the Olympics and worlds. Tamika Catchings and Lindsay Whalen retired after Rio. Candace Parker said she will not play for Team USA again after being left off the 2016 Olympic team.

Minnesota Lynx stars Seimone AugustusSylvia Fowles and Maya Moore, as well as Angel McCoughtry, are reportedly either resting or recuperating from injuries following the WNBA season.

Belgium, which will play for bronze, has been the revelation of the World Cup, its first appearance at a global championship. The Cats had zero world ranking points before it took bronze at 2017 EuroBasket, jumping from outside the top 77 in the world to No. 28 going into the World Cup.

The Belgians won their World Cup group, knocking off host Spain by nine points. Spain is ranked second in the world, the 2014 World and 2016 Olympic silver medalist. They routed France by 21 points in the quarterfinals. France is ranked third in the world.

The team is led by 6-foot-4 center Emma Meesseman, a 2015 WNBA All-Star with the Washington Mystics who skipped the 2018 WNBA season to focus on the national team. Guards Kim Mestdagh (fourth on Colorado State’s career points list and a daughter of Belgium’s head coach) and Julie Allemand (2016 Indiana Fever third-round draft pick, but no WNBA experience) are also threats.

Ann Wauters, a 37-year-old reserve center, spent nine years in the WNBA, making the 2005 All-Star Game.

MORE: U.S. volleyball’s ‘Slugger’ goes from coaching to MVP

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Bobsled crashes, makes final 8 turns upside down (video)

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Belgian bobsledders An Vannieuwehnhuyse and Sophie Vercruyssen spent nearly 30 seconds sliding upside down, making the final eight turns on the track, after crashing in a World Cup race in Whistler, B.C., on Friday night.

They finally slowed to a stop after crossing the finish line nine seconds behind the fastest sleds in the first of two runs.

The athletes quickly emerged from the sled and gingerly walked off the track on their own power. They did not qualify for a second run later that night.

The Whistler track has been known for its difficulty since it opened one year before hosting the 2010 Olympics.

In the first four-man training session in 2009, four of eight sleds crashed on curve 13, which led the late Steven Holcomb to nickname it “Curve 50/50.”

VIDEO: Bobsledder ejected in World Cup crash

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The Story of Holcy's 50/50 It was a nasty afternoon of sliding in January 2009, just over a year until the 2010 #Olympics. Tour had been on the track in #Whistler for a few days when eight sleds decided to move from 2-man to 4-man. It was the first day international 4-man sleds would go off the top of the track. Four sleds made it through curve 13 and four sleds did not… they met the entrance of curve 14 on their heads, definitely worse for wear. That night Steve Holcomb, @justinbolsen, @ctomasevicz & I headed down to the garage to prep our backup sled for our first 4-man training the next day. We didn’t dare take the Night Train down the track, with a 50% chance of making it through. So we started to joke as we prepped our lightening bolt sled, that there was a fifty percent chance people were making it down on all four runners. That quickly turned into Holcy saying there was a fifty/fifty chance and we joked about it the rest of sled prep – which was trying to fit in the sled properly (since it wasn’t our normal sled), getting runners on, and everything else ready. We headed up to the rooms, still laughing about it and ordered delivery sushi. After we were done eating, Justin, Holcy, Emily Azevedo & I decided we were going to rip open the bag and make a sign for Holcy to duct tape to the roof on his track walk the next morning; if we were going to go down the track, we might as well have some fun with it, we thought! Within days, when the track announcer called the Germans “sliding 50/50”, the four of us couldn’t stop giggling! From then on, we always found it amazing that the name of the curve stuck and even on the @nbcolympics broadcast, curve 13 was forever enshrined as Curve 50/50. Today I learned that corner was renamed. For now and forever it'll be called “Holcy’s 50/50” – a loving memory of our fallen teammate, who never did crash our 4-man in that corner. A little more than a year after ripping that sushi bag, Holcy, Olsen, Curt, and I crossed the line to make history. I wish I could be in Whistler this weekend to hear the call of sliding "Holcy's 50/50"… Miss you my friend and brother. @ibsfsliding @teamusa @martinhaven @elanameyerstaylor

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