US women’s soccer team must qualify for Rio Games
Even though it won the World Cup and is three-time defending Olympic champion, the US women's soccer team still will have to qualify for next summer's Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Not that it should be a problem; the Americans blew away five regional rivals by an aggregate 38-0 at the 2012 tournament in Vancouver, beating the hosts, 4-0, in the final. All they have to do is make the final again at the January qualifier and they'll be in, but that's far from automatic.
After the US lost to the Mexicans in Cancun it had to beat Italy in a playoff to make the 2011 Cup field. Germany and France, who finished fourth and fifth this time, both collected Olympic berths as the top eligible European finishers. England, which won the bronze behind Japan (which also has to qualify) is ineligible for the Games because it isn't an Olympic country and because Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom's other three home nations, refuse to form a British team for fear of losing their individual identities as soccer nations. The US males, who've missed two of the last three Games, get their chance to qualify in October in Utah where the two finalists earn tickets. Home turf didn't do them much good last time in Nashville when the Yanks were blanked by Canada, gave up a 94th minute draw to El Salvador, and didn't advance from their group.
Pan Am competition
The Americans, who've topped the medal table at every Pan American Games but the first one in 1951 in Buenos Aires where the Argentines cleaned up, are getting a challenge from their northern neighbors at the ongoing quadrennial event in Toronto. The US, whose all-time gold medal haul going into this edition (1,861) is more than the combined total of Cuba, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina, was second to the hosts after the first few days. Sheer numbers — the roster includes more than 600 athletes including 118 Olympians and 38 medalists — usually does the trick for the Yanks, who are used to competing on foreign soil. The US has staged the Pan Ams only twice — in 1959 in Chicago and 1987 in Indianapolis. Besides the medals, Olympic team qualifying spots are at stake in field hockey and water polo. That's how the US women's field hockey squad got to London in 2012, by shocking perennial titlist Argentina. Since Las Leonas already have qualified for Rio, the Americans can make it back to the Games by finishing second if Argentina wins.
Hungary eyes 2024
Budapest, which is back in the Olympic chase for the first time since 1960, jumped in as the fifth candidate for 2024 because the Agenda 2020 reforms make a candidacy more feasible for small countries, allowing them to employ existing facilities in other cities. Budapest, which also would use venues in Gyor (73 miles away) and Debrecen (139 miles), will be making its sixth bid since 1916. "Our Olympic mathematics is clear: Olympic Agenda 2020 = Budapest 2024," mayor Istvan Tarlos and national Olympic committee chief Zsolt Borkai wrote in their letter to the IOC. Hungary, which is roughly the size of Indiana, also is pushing a first-ever theme: it's the only country among the top 10 all-time medalists never to host the Games . . . The Tokyo organizers went with the usual suspects when they compiled their eight-sport short list for possible additions to the 2020 program — baseball/softball, bowling, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, surfing, and the Chinese martial art of wushu. All but bowling and surfing applied in 2013 when wrestling was retained for 2020. The organizers, who are believed to favor baseball and softball which are Japanese favorites, will submit their recommendation in September to the IOC, which will make its decision at its Olympic session in Rio next year . . . The Brazilians drew a pre-Olympic line in the sand at the recent world beach volleyball championships in the Netherlands, winning five of the six medals as a preview of what the rest of the planet can expect at Copacabana Beach next summer. Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt claimed the men's crown and Barbara Seixas and Agatha Bednarczuk led an unprecedented sweep on the women's side. The US was blanked for the second straight time as Kerri Walsh Jennings, the three-time Olympic champ who was recovering from a dislocated shoulder, and April Ross were ousted by the Chinese in the second round and Nick Lucena and Theo Brunner lost the men's bronze-medal match to Pedro Solberg and Evandro Goncalves.
Aly Raisman and fellow Fierce Fiver Gabrielle Douglas will begin making their pre-Olympic comebacks in earnest at next week's Secret US Classic in Illinois, which will be a serious tuneup for next month's national gymnastics championships in Indianapolis that will help determine the US squad for the October world meet in Glasgow. Also in the mix is last year's entire gold-medal team — all-around titlist Simone Biles, Fierce Fiver Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian, Ashton Locklear, MyKayla Skinner, and Alyssa Baumann . . . Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan got sympathy but no satisfaction from her sitdown with IOC president Thomas Bach, who didn't restore her all-around gold medal from the 2000 Games that was stripped after she tested positive for pseudoephedrine that she said was prescribed by the team doctor. Raducan, who was 16 at the time, still got to keep her team gold and vault silver . . . The Russian women, who once ruled the basketball world, failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time after finishing sixth at the EuroBasket tournament and missing out even on next year's last-chance event. The Russians, who won bronze in 2008, since have deflated, missing last year's world championships as well. Their best player was Epiphanny Prince, the Brooklyn native and Rutgers performer who has dual citizenship. Serbia, which won the tournament, qualified for the Games for the first time as an individual country.
Windy City striders
Joan Benoit Samuelson and Deena Kastor both will be taking the line at the Chicago Marathon in October to celebrate their victorious anniversaries in the Windy City. It'll have been 30 years since Samuelson set the American record of 2 hours, 21 minutes and 21 seconds which stood until Kastor broke it in 2003. Kastor won her first major in Chicago in 2005. Samuelson, who likes to have a story line for her 26-milers, wants to finish within 30 minutes of her 1985 time, which was her personal best. Since she ran 2:54:03 on Boston's tougher course this year, the fastest time in history by a 57-year-old, that goal seems well within reach . . . Gevvie Stone, who picked up her second World Cup rowing medal of the season in Lucerne last weekend, is well-positioned to become the first US women's sculler to make the podium at the world championships since Michelle Guerette in 2007. The Newton native, who took bronze behind former titlist Kim Crow of Australia and Olympic champion Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic, earned silver at last month's event in Italy. Also onboard for the global regatta in France at the end of next month are the double of Meghan O'Leary and Ellen Tomek, the lightweight double of Devery Karz and Michelle Sechser, the pair of Elle Logan and Felice Mueller and the men's lightweight double of Harvard grad Andrew Campbell and Josh Konieczny. The rest of the team will come out of camps and trials this month and next . . . Harvard alumna Emily Cross, who earned a team silver in Beijing, is among the new additions to the USA Fencing Hall of Fame. She'll be joined by Sada Jacobson, a three-time Olympic medalist, and her sister Emily and also by Seth Kelsey, a three-time Games participant.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from Olympic committees, sports federations, interviews, and wire services was used in this report.