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Biles, Felix, Rapinoe and Shiffrin nominated for World Sportswoman of the Year

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Gymnast Simone Biles, sprinter Allyson Felix and Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, each staking a claim as the best ever in their sports, have been nominated for the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year award. The winner will be announced Feb. 17 in Berlin.

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe is also nominated, giving the U.S. four of the six nominees for the award. The other nominees are Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Naomi Osaka.

The U.S. women’s soccer team is also nominated for World Team of the Year, alongside two other World Cup champions — South Africa (men’s rugby) and Spain (men’s basketball). The NBA champion Toronto Raptors are also nominated, along with European and world champion Liverpool FC and perennial Formula 1 champion Mercedes AMG Petronas.

Tiger Woods, who won The Masters after several years with no major championships, is nominated for Sportsman of the Year. Argentine soccer great Lionel Messi (Barcelona FC) is also nominated, along with tennis player Rafael Nadal, two-hour marathon barrier breaker Eliud Kipchoge, and motorsports stars Lewis Hamilton (Formula 1) and Marc Márquez (MotoGP).

Two tennis players, Coco Gauff and Bianca Andreescu, are nominated for Breakthrough of the Year, along with U.S. swimmer Regan Smith, Colombian Tour de France champion Egan Bernal, Japan’s men’s rugby team and boxer Andy Ruiz Jr.

U.S. swimmer Nathan Adrian, who won his 15th and 16th world championships after a bout with testicular cancer, is nominated for World Comeback of the Year, along with Liverpool FC, tennis player Andy Murray, NBA champion Kawhi Leonard, German Formula 3 driver Sophia Flörsch and Australian rugby star Christian Lealiifano.

Skier/cyclist Oksana Masters is nominated for Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability, along with Dutch wheelchair tennis player Diede de Groot, Cuban sprinter Omara Durand, Dutch cyclist/triathlete Jetze Plat, Swiss track and field star Manuela Schär and British swimmer Alice Tai.

U.S. athletes Nyjah Huston (skateboard), Chloe Kim (snowboarding) and Carissa Moore (surfing) are up for Action Sportsperson of the Year, along with 11-year-old Brazilian skateboarder Rayssa Leal, Brazilian surfer Italo Ferreira and Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris.

Biles has already won this award twice, in 2017 and 2019. She’s nominated this time after taking five of a possible six gold medals in the world championships, running her career totals to 19 golds and 25 medals.

WORLDS: Biles breaks career record

Felix broke Usain Bolt’s record for world championship gold medals, winning two relays for her first two gold medals as a mom.

2020: Felix has everything on the table

Rapinoe won the Golden Ball and Golden Boot as the U.S. women won their second straight World Cup, and she was consistently in the spotlight for her outspoken views on LGBTQ rights and equal pay.

AWARD: Rapinoe takes Ballon d’Or

Shiffrin also had a record-setting year, winning 17 World Cup races to take her third straight overall title along with the season titles in slalom, giant slalom and super-G.

RECORD: Shiffrin wraps up fourth globe of 2019

Woods won The Masters, his first major victory in more than a decade. He won the Sportsman of the Year award in 2000 and 2001, along with the Comeback of the Year award last year.

2020: Woods contending for Olympic berth

Gauff became the youngest winner of a WTA Tour event since 2004, taking the Linz Open title at age 15, and defeated Venus Williams on her way to the fourth round at Wimbledon. Smith set a 200m backstroke world record in the world championship semifinals and went on to win the title, along with a medley relay gold, at age 17.

In his first world championship since undergoing surgery for testicular cancer, Adrian took gold in two relays, including a thrilling anchor leg in the 4x100m freestyle.

Masters won five gold medals in the cross-country skiing world championships and two silver medals in the cycling worlds. She won the U.S. Paralympic Athlete of the Year award in November.

Huston three-peated as world champion in the street skateboarding event. Kim swept the world championship and X Games halfpipe events before beginning her studies at Princeton. Moore won her fourth world title.

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Tiger Woods back in contention for Olympic golf qualification

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Tiger Woods moved to No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) with his record-tying 82nd PGA Tour title, but he must still climb to get into the 2020 Olympic golf field.

Woods, by winning the Zozo Championship in the Olympic host nation of Japan on Monday, moved from 13th in U.S. Olympic qualifying standings to fifth, according to golf rankings guru Nosferatu on Twitter.

The top four Americans in the top 15 of the OWGR on June 22 will qualify for the Tokyo Games. If Woods was from any other nation, he would be in the provisional Olympic golf field. But the U.S. will be the toughest team to make, and he is one spot off the bubble at the moment.

Woods is now the No. 4 American in the OWGR, but those rankings are different from the Olympic qualifying standings. The current OWGR includes points from a number of tournaments that will not be part of the June 22 ranking.

The OWGR is made up of a two-year, rolling window of results, giving the most weight to the most recent results and the strongest fields.

So, even though Woods picked up a bevy of points for his 2018 Tour Championship and 2019 Masters titles, the points from both of those wins will decrease sharply as June 22 approaches. He must continue racking up points in the first half of 2020.

Woods, due largely to his injury history, plays the fewest events of the U.S. Olympic hopefuls, minimizing his opportunities to pick up crucial ranking points. He underwent a fifth left knee surgery in August. Zozo was his first official tournament in two months and his 13th for 2019.

In U.S. Olympic qualifying, he trails Brooks KoepkaJustin ThomasPatrick Cantlay and Dustin Johnson, according to Nosferatu. Those four golfers have each played at least 18 events in 2019.

Woods has more 2019 wins than Cantlay, but Cantlay has more top-12 finishes in the last year than Woods has total starts. Likewise, neither Thomas nor Johnson won a major in 2019, but both racked up top-10s in events that Woods did not enter.

“Getting there and making the team is going to be the tough part,” Woods said in May, when he was in Olympic qualifying position via the Masters win. “How many events — how many events do I play, do I add a couple more to get in? These are all questions that will be answered going forward. I just know that if I play well in the big events like I did this year, things will take care of itself.”

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MORE: Michael Phelps details Masters experience

Hideki Matsuyama, Japan’s top golfer, finds ties to Tokyo Olympics beyond the obvious

Hideki Matsuyama
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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Should Hideki Matsuyama return to Kasumigaseki Country Club for the Tokyo Olympic golf tournament next year, he will be in familiar surroundings.

Matsuyama will go to the Games as one of Japan’s most recognizable Olympians, even if he may not be its most recognizable golfer. He will go to Kasumigaseki and be reminded of where it began.

In 2010, an 18-year-old Matsuyama won the Asian Amateur Championship at Kasumigaseki.

“Now I’m in the Masters,” Matsuyama, then a rising Tohoku Fukushi University sophomore, said that day, noting having watched Phil Mickelson win his third Masters earlier that year. “So that’s very exciting.”

Matsuyama, who became the first Japanese amateur to qualify for the Masters with that victory, went on to match Mickelson in 27th place at Augusta National the following April. That meant he joined Mickelson in Butler Cabin afterward as the low amateur for the tournament.

The first question to Matsuyama that evening, in his first live interview on major-network U.S. television, was about recent earthquakes in Japan. That included one off the Tohoku coast, the largest in the nation’s history, that killed more than 15,000 people. (The Tokyo 2020 torch relay will start in Fukushima, an area affected by that 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The first event of the Games next year will also be held in Fukushima.)

“There’s some hard times right now in Japan,” Matsuyama said then through translator Allen Turner, who is part of an American father-son combination that has managed Japan sports icons. “Hopefully, my play was able to bring some encouragement to those who are in need.”

Matsuyama was at a training camp in Australia at the time of the earthquake.

He returned to find his dorm room ravaged — his college hometown of Sendai “devastated beyond imagination” — and struggled to find food. He debated whether to play the Masters, a tournament he dreamed of since his first golf memories — watching replays of Tiger Woods‘ win in 1997.

“I have decided to play because so many people have pushed me; the people at my university who have suffered, and my teammates and my parents, who made me start to play the sport of golf,” he said before the tournament, later noting he planned to volunteer in recovery efforts upon returning home after the event.

Matsuyama won the Asian Amateur again in 2011, played the Masters again in 2012 and turned pro in 2013 while still a Tohoku student. In two weeks, he will mark six straight years as Japan’s top-ranked golfer, reaching as high as No. 2 in the world after his 2017 U.S. Open runner-up.

He’s expected to easily qualify as one of Japan’s two male golfers for the Tokyo Games. He’s been ranked in the top 30 since 2013, and no other countryman is in the current top 70.

It would be Matsuyama’s Olympic debut. He joined the horde of male golfers who skipped the Rio Games while citing Zika virus concerns. It was especially concerning for those who might start families, and Matsuyama’s wife gave birth in July 2017.

But he simply cannot pass up next summer’s opportunity. Matsuyama, who counts sponsors Lexus, Srixon, ANA, Oakley and Nomura Securities, must wear a baseball cap and keep his head down in Japanese airports, said his manager, Bob Turner (the other half of that father-son duo).

“I don’t know the numbers on how well-known an athlete, but he can’t walk down the street or go shopping or anything like that,” said Turner, who formerly worked with Ichiro Suzuki and Matsuyama’s Japanese predecessors on the PGA Tour.

A spring 2018 survey published by Central Research Services in Japan showed that Matsuyama was Japan’s fifth-most popular active athlete, trailing baseball players Shohei Ohtani and Ichiro, figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu and tennis player Kei Nishikori. Not that he cares about such things.

“We don’t know much about him, quite frankly,” said Reiko Takekawa, who covers golf for Kyodo News and is one of more than a dozen Japanese media members following him at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. “As far as I know, he’s a funny guy. Basically, he doesn’t talk much, even in Japanese.”

“The Mysterious Matsuyama,” a Golf.com headline read in 2017, leading with his love of sake, which became Matsuyama’s refrain when asked his interests outside golf. Takekawa said that Ryo Ishikawa, nicknamed the Bashful Prince and often compared to Rickie Fowler for his style, is more familiar to the average Japanese despite having a career-high rank of 29 and a current one of 253.

“The women like [Ishikawa],” Takekawa said, noting that Ishikawa has played more on Japan’s domestic tour than Matsuyama. “Hideki is really favored by the golf fans because he’s good. If you really don’t know the golf, somebody may not know him.”

Matsuyama respects the Olympics. He remembers Naoko Takahashi winning the marathon in Sydney in 2000. He’ll never forget when Japan captured the men’s gymnastics team title at the 2004 Athens Games, its first since a dynastic reign from 1960-76.

“The NHK TV announcer, his words still resonate with me,” Matsuyama said through his interpreter.

Matsuyama recalls when Tokyo was awarded the Games in an IOC vote over Madrid and Istanbul on Sept. 8, 2013. He earned his third tournament title as a professional later that day.

Matsuyama acknowledges that if he’s playing poorly next summer, the pressure come the Games will be heavy. But he also knows that most other Olympians are in a different place. He didn’t grow up dreaming of an Olympic gold medal, because golf wasn’t re-added to the Games until 2016.

“We have four majors every year that we try to peak for. The Olympic athletes, it’s once every four years, so I just can’t imagine the preparation, the training, all they put in for that one chance to win the gold medal,” he said. “I respect what they do very much.”

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