This year’s USA Basketball team hasn’t been especially successful to date. They have faced an amusing series of drawings and lost in a scrimmage to a Jeff Van Gundy-coached mishmash of fringe NBA players.
It would still be astonishing if they fall short, given the
star power remaining on the team and the depth of starting-level NBA players.
But the team is noticeably weak. With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics almost a year
away, USA Basketball will hope some superstars commit to playing.
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Here’s an interesting theoretical for next year, If every eligible American basketball player is healthy and willing to play in Tokyo 2020.
So, let’s make an Olympic 2020 version of the Dream Team. There is one crucial difference between now and 1992, Some of the league’s best players now aren’t from the United States, so we have no Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, or Joel Embiid to choose from, among other players. I’m still confident this team would beat the ‘92 team handly because that’s the way things go.
Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving. I’m carrying three-point
guards because I couldn’t bring myself to leave any of these guys off. Steph
will start for this team, and both Lillard and Kyrie will get minutes off the
bench because a Curry-Harden backcourt is weak defensively.
Walker and Russell Westbrook are the two notable snubs here,
but I don’t feel too bad about leaving them off because it’s clear that Curry,
Lillard, and Irving are the class of the position. Maybe Trae Young will break
out with an All-NBA season and throw a wrench into this discussion.
James Harden, Klay Thompson. It is far from a guarantee that
Thompson will make an appearance in Tokyo 2020. He may want to avoid putting
too much strain on his torn ACL after a possible late-season return to the
Warriors, and he already has a gold medal in his trophy case.
But in an ideal world, Klay is here because he is the
perfect shooter and low-key personality to have around on a team like this.
Harden can also shoot, obviously, and is probably the best scorer in the world
now that Kevin Durant is rehabbing a long-term injury. There is no way that
Harden is not the starting shooting guard on this 2020 team.
If I had to replace one of these two, Bradley Beal, Victor
Oladipo, Devin Booker, Middleton, CJ McCollum, and Mitchell would be in the
LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George. This is a fun and
versatile group. If we wanted, we could play these guys all over the place,
even all together at the same time. Imagine facing a team with all three of
LeBron, Kawhi, and George. You’re not scoring, and you’re not going to have
enough defenders to keep up with them.
The starting lineup will have to be configured so that LeBron and Kawhi can both start. But as with the original Dream Team, the starting lineup doesn’t matter too much. They’re just fun thought exercises.
Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green. An important caveat: I’m going to want AD to play center a good bit because we already have 11 players and thus can only afford one more. Davis at the 5 unlocks a number of combinations that include as well as one or two of the above trio. Draymond can play the five too, in smaller lineups, so we have some nice versatility.
I imagine Draymond as the Charles Barkley of this team: an
undersized, outgoing power forward who commands attention. Draymond will score
less than Sir Charles but make a huge impact on the defensive end.
Among the forwards, Jimmy Butler was the toughest omission. He was close and would’ve made it as another forward if we didn’t have three-point guards that I didn’t want to leave off. I could have included Al Horford and Blake Griffin, too, and you never know if Zion Williamson forces his way here.
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Melvin Obinna Ejim is a Nigerian-Canadian professional
basketball player for Unicaja of the Liga ACB and EuroCup. He played college
basketball for Iowa State University before playing professionally in Italy and
Russia, as well as the NBA Development League.
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Melvin Obinna Ejim High school career
Ejim attended St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown,
Maryland, where he made the 2007 Provincial team before transferring to
Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. In 2008–09, he averaged 12.3 points and 4.6
rebounds per game for Brewster. In his final year in 2009–10, he averaged 13.1
points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists per game, leading Brewster to
a 34–4 record and a National Prep School championship.
Melvin Obinna Ejim College career
Ejim started 30 games out of 32 in his freshman campaign for Iowa State, averaging 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, shooting 48.6 percent from the field (121-249 FG) and tallied 39 steals, second-best total on the team. He became one of just 13 Iowa State freshmen in school history to average double figures in scoring, and his 214 rebounds were the third-best rookie total in school history.
One of Iowa State’s top post players, Ejim started 29 games out of 34 in 2011–12, averaging 9.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He earned Big 12 Honorable Mention accolades and was a first-team Academic All-Big 12 selection.
One of the best forwards in the Big 12 in 2012–13, Ejim earned All-Big 12 third-team honors and was an NABC All-District 8 second-team selection; he was also privileged as the initial Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award winner and was a Capital One Academic All-District 6 selection. Ejim became the first Cyclone to lead the Big 12 in recovering (9.3 RPG) since Jackson Vroman and was just the third player in Big 12 antiquity to lead the league in rebounding at 6’6” or shorter.
As a senior in 2013–14, Ejim had one of the best seasons in school history, earning Big 12 Player of the Year honors and All-America honors from five organizations. Ejim was a finalist for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, became the fifth Academic All-American in school history, earned Capital One first-team Academic All-America honors and was named the Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year for the second time. He became just the fourth player in league history to record 1,500 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career, finishing his career with the most wins of any Cyclone men’s basketball player at 88 wins. He also finished 12th in scoring (1,643), second in rebounding (1,051), tied for 10th in steals (146) and 15th in blocks (59); he also broke the school record for games played (135) and games started (126).
2014 on February 8, Ejim scored a Big 12-record 48 points
against the TCU Horned Frogs in the Hilton Coliseum, surpassing Michael Beasley
and Denis Clemente who had 44 points in 2008 and 2009 respective.
After going undrafted in the 2014 NBA draft, Ejim played for
the San Antonio Spurs during the Las Vegas Summer League. He then moved to
Italy for the 2014–15 season, signing with Virtus Roma. In 29 league games for
Virtus, he averaged 7.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He also averaged 8.1
points and 4.3 rebounds in 18 EuroCup games.
After initially signing with German team Medi Bayreuth for the 2015–16 season, an impressive stint with the Orlando Magic during the 2015 NBA Summer League led to a training camp contract. He was waived by the Magic on October 21 after appearing in four preseason games, and subsequently joined the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League. He was waived by Erie on March 16, 2016. In 39 games, he averaged 14.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Days later, he signed with Italian team Reyer Venezia Mestre for the rest of the season. In 16 games for Reyer Venezia, he averaged 9.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.
On June 17, 2016, Ejim re-signed with Reyer Venezia Mestre for the 2016–17 season. In June 2017, he helped Reyer Venezia win the Italian League championship while earning the Finals MVP. In 46 league games, he averaged 10.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He also averaged 10.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.4 steals in 22 BCL games.
On July 12, 2017, Ejim signed with Russian club UNICS for the 2017–18 season. In 30 league games, he averaged 9.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. He also averaged 9.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.2 steals in 19 EuroCup games.
In June 2018, Ejim re-signed with UNICS for the 2018–19
season. In 23 league games, he averaged 8.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.5
assists per game. He also averaged 7.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists in
14 EuroCup games.
On July 25, 2019, Ejim signed a 1+1 deal with Spanish club
Melvin Obinna Ejim National team career
In June of 2012, he played for his motherland Nigerian
national team on their tour of China. In July 2013, he played for the Canadian
national team at the World University Games, where he averaged eight points and
four rebounds per game. In July 2015, he was named on the Canadian national
team roster for the Pan American Games. He also played at the Tuto Marchand Cup
and FIBA Americas Championship in 2015. In 2016, he represented Canada at the
FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
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A total of 10 teams and 22 duets will be aiming to gain
qualification for next year’s Olympic Games at three events during the next 12
months. One team place and two duet spots will be up for grabs at the LEN Cup,
taking place in St Petersburg, Russia.
Duet of Great Britain’s Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe will be a command to seal an Olympic sport at the first available opportunity – although the standard of the competition is likely to be ‘exceptionally high.
The team that wins the LEN Cup, and therefore books their
place at the Olympics, will also have their duet automatically entered.
One further duet place can be secured by the winning pair or the next best-ranked duo at the LEN Cup if the gold medallist’s country had also won the team event.
Should Great Britain’s team or duet not qualify in the first instance, five more team spaces will be available at the FINA World Championships in Korea, in August, and the Olympic Games Qualification Tournament, in Tokyo, next April. Seven duet spots can also be worn at the Olympic Games Qualification Tournament.
Shortman and Thorpe will be competing in Tokyo between 27-29
April in the fourth leg of the FINA Artistic Swimming World Series.
The duet impressed during the first leg of the competition in Paris when they set a new personal best score for their karate-themed routine.
They will then team up with Victoria Usher, Daniella Lloyd,
Millicent Costello, Greta Hampson, Ilaria Brandimarte, Cerys Larsen, Cerys
Hughes, Laura Turnerville and Isobel Blinkhorn for the LEN Cup.
The team’s confidence will be boosted by the silver
medal they won at the FINA Artistic Swimming World Series in Paris in the
free combination final.
Russia will be the first time this season that the Great
Britain squad will compete in the technical, free and combo team events.
Karen Thorpe, Swim England Artistic manager, said: “We are
expecting the standard in Russia to be exceptionally high as we’re a year out
from the Olympic Games.
“The duet hopes to place and score well as a stepping stone towards the World Championships in July and we are hoping to be as close to 80 points in all the team events.
“It’s going to be a busy few weeks but all the athletes have been working hard on a camp in Bristol and are relishing the opportunity to perform on these big stages.”
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Artistic Swimmers, Jacqueline Simoneau, and Claudia Holzner established a pre-swimming regular routine to calm their nerves when they joined forces as an artistic tandem. It involves a declaration of trust and a reference to a Disney character.
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Simoneau, of Chambly, and Calgary’s Holzner combined to defend
Canada’s artistic swimming duet title Wednesday at the Pan American Games and
earned Canada a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the process.
The Canadian duet finished first with a total score of
180.0343 points. And Mexico was second with 174.3661 points scores, and the United
States was third with 170.6698 points scores.
“It was such a superior moment,” Holzner said. “Before we swam our coach was like, ‘Jackie, go for a second Olympics,’ and ‘Claudia, become an Olympian.'”
Simoneau and Holzner payback to the pool later Wednesday as part of Canada’s nine-swimmer team in the competition, with another Olympic berth on the line, and took the top of the platform for the second time with 179.6731 points. Mexico took the second position with 175.1243 points and the U.S. scored 170.8114 points.
Simoneau and Holzner, who were both followers of Canada’s gold-medal winning team entry at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, started swimming together as a duet in 2017. Simoneau said she and Holzner came up with a unique pre-swim routine the moment of their partnership was fashioned.
“We hold each other’s hands and we look each other in the eye and we say, ‘I trust you.’ And then there’s a secret word that we say right before we go.”
“We came up with this the moment we started swimming together. It’s a ridiculous word, but for us, it just means having calm confidence. It’s Perry. Perry the platypus. It’s a TV character on the Disney show “Phineas and Ferb.”
Canada swept artistic swimming events at the Toronto Games, with
Simoneau and Karine Thomas gained duet gold to go with the team victory.
Simoneau and Thomas went on to place seventh at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Later Wednesday, gymnast Ellie Black of Halifax added to her
record Pan Am medal haul with a silver medal in the women’s beam event, her
fifth medal this year. Black won 10 medals from the last two Tournaments to
become Canada’s most adorned Pan Am gymnast.
Black had a chance at an 11th medal but finished fourth in the floor competition. There was extra good news for Canada, though, with Brooklyn Moors of Cambridge, Ont., winning gold.
“It’s unbelievable to come away with one more medal,” Black said. “It’s great for this team that we’ve done so well.”
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Mexico – After three wins to open the COPABE Women’s
Baseball World qualifier, the Canadian Women’s National Team dropped its first
game of the tournament in a 21-4 lopsided loss to Team USA on Wednesday.
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The squad from north of the border notched eight hits in the matchup, the offense led by multi-hit games from 16-year-old Ellie Jespersen and 21-year-old Kelsey Lalor, but couldn’t solve the American pitching any further. Team Canada’s staff was undone by eight-run frames from the USA in both the fourth and seventh to dig into a hole too deep to climb out of.
“It’s a wakeup call,” Canadian manager Aaron Myette said. “We were chatting before the game about how we came out flat yesterday, and then we came out a little flat today, lacking intensity. As a group, what we can take away from that is that we need to be on point for every game.
“We’ve got to be prepared and not just come in and hope that we get things started later in the game. We’ve got to start from the minute we show up to the park, be mentally prepared and focused on each game.”
The Americans scored 21 runs on 23 hits, also capitalizing
on five walks and four errors from the Canadian national team to earn their
fourth straight victory of the qualifier, while Canada moves to 3-1 in the
“They’re a fantastic team,” Myette said of the USA. “They have a ton of good arms and a very strong lineup. The runs and hits speak for themselves. They hit balls hard today, and you have to give them credit for hitting pitches hard. We made a lot of mistakes and got away from our strengths and our game plan, and pitched into their strength and their game plan. That’s an adjustment we have to make.”
Amanda Asay got the start for the Canadian squad and the 14-year national team veteran allowed four runs (three earned) on four hits with three strikeouts, before making way for two relievers.
The leader on a team with 10 different players from last year’s bronze-medal winning World Cup squad and eight players facing international competition for the first time, Asay hopes the young team can learn from Wednesday’s game to help it as it moves forward in the event.
“Luckily, this came in the middle of the tournament,” Asay said. “It may be a devastating loss because of the score, but not so devastating in the standings, which is nice. It’s not the worst thing that we got to experience a loss before we came to the end of this tournament because it will be good to build from here and to have something to come away from and refocus us a little bit. Our game against Cuba didn’t go as smoothly as we would have liked, so this is a wakeup call that we can all take away from.”
Heading into Thursday’s matchup against Venezuela, before
Team Canada takes on Puerto Rico and Mexico ahead of Sunday’s medal games, the
squad’s skipper hopes his players can learn from the loss and quickly look
ahead to what’s next.
“I’d like them to individually look at their performances and self-assess where they could have been more focused – that’s the first step,” Myette said. “As a group, they’ve got to understand they’re not going to go through their whole lives undefeated, but it’s about what we do now. We got our butts kicked, but it’s baseball.
“We have another game, we have another day, and we’re not out of this. We’re going to look at what we could have done better, make adjustments and come out stronger, more aggressive and more focused. The feeling we had today sucks, so we’re going to come to the park with the mentality that we’re not letting that happen again.”
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Lithuanian team won the last EuroBasket tournaments previous to World War II, in 1937 and 1939. The 1939 team was running by Frank Lubin, who helped TO promote basketball in the country and was named the “grandfather of Lithuanian basketball”.
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Later the refurbishment of Lithuanian independence in 1990,
the national Lithuanian Basketball team was revived. Lithuania gained bronze
medals in the first three Olympics to include NBA players
– 1992, 1996, and 2000 – in addition to finishing fourth
in 2004 and 2008, and in eighth place at the London 2012 Olympics.
The Lithuanian team gained the FIBA EuroBasket for the 3rd time in 2003,
and also won a bronze medal in the 2010 FIBA World Championship.
Lithuanian Basketball Rosters
Kalnietis has a lot of intriguing aspects as a point guard: he has good size for the position at 6’5”, has the speed to allow him to stay on the floor regardless of the matchup, and has a wealth of experience in the program.
He’s been the lead playmaker for Lithuania for the past fourteen years and while he’ll be well into his 30s by the time the Olympics take place, the experience is always going to be the most valuable commodity in international basketball.
Sure, he has a skinny frame and he’ll never be a go-to scoring option for a team, but he’s the scrappy defender and consistent playmaker that Lithuania will be looking to have to lead the office in two years’ time.
If I had to describe Mačiulis’ game in a single word, it’d be “scrappy.” Maciulis plays like the middle-aged guy in every pickup game that knows that every game might be his last: he’s throwing elbows, scrambling for every loose ball, and dodging picks like Neo from The Matrix.
His effort and willingness to leave it all on the court is definitely his calling card, but Mačiulis can also spread the floor and can score pretty well in the paint, especially when he’s crashing the offensive boards. Basically, he’s an ideal “jack of all trades, master of none” type of guy.
As a son of Basketball Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis,
Sabonis has already had more exposure to the game at just 22 years old than
most people have in their entire career. Sabonis began his professional career
at 16 before heading to Gonzaga to compete in the NCAA for two seasons,
eventually getting drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft.
Heading into Tokyo in a couple years, Sabonis will likely be the most talented player on the Lithuanian roster, if he isn’t already. In his sophomore season with the Pacers last year, Sabonis has a fairly pedestrian year in terms of statistics, but his game had clearly evolved and grown from the year prior.
He was in better shape, extended his range, started to work on using his right hand, and was a much stronger presence on the interior. Despite his youth, this steady development is promising and is a big reason why I think he’ll be starting for Lithuania in 2020.
Having two Jonas’ in the same starting lineup is a bold move and one I always recommend against for the sake of confusion, but it’s impossible to keep the face of Lithuanian basketball off the starting lineup.
Valanciunas became the face of the Lithuanian program not simply because his beard makes him look like he just strolled out of the mountains of Juozapinė Hill, but because he’s poured years into the program to help bring it to the height that it’s reached today.
Heading into his seventh season in the NBA and with 10 years of experience under his belt with the national team, Valanciunas will be entering Tokyo as one of the most experienced and matured players the roster has to offer.
In terms of on-court production, Valanciunas will be the best interior defender on the team, a valuable scorer from the post and the midrange, a reliable pick-and-roll option, and the owner of the most inexplicably effective pump-fake the world has ever seen.
In two years’, time, Valanciunas is just going to be entering his prime and will be poised to add the toughness and experience needed in the international game.
Seibutis will be 35 by the time the 2020 Olympics roll around, but a combination of maturity, size, and improved shooting ability should warrant him a starting role at the shooting guard position.
His NBA career isn’t anything to write home about, but Seibutis’ experience bouncing around the EuroLeague and his career with the national team has given us more than enough of a sample size.
His game resembles that of a less-athletic Brent Barry, which actually amounts to a pretty versatile player. He certainly doesn’t have the speed that made him a standout in Lithuania years ago and his defense has gone downhill over the years, but he’s still able to slash to the basket and his long-range shooting has become more consistent with age.
He’s not the scorer he used to be, but his combination of skills, including good playmaking ability, will give the Lithuanian offense the versatility it craves.
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At the age of 13 years old, Mokgopo built his first bike inside a shipping container. Three years later, he was hurtling down the dirt roads of Africa in serious mountain bike competitions. In 2020, he hopes to ride for gold in Tokyo.
William Mokgopo started out riding his uncle’s bike on the
rugged streets of Diep loot, a township 40 kilometers north of Johannesburg. Everything
changed when a 13-year-old Mokgopo came across a shipping container.
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“My uncle had this old road bike, it was so big, extra-large, and I was so little I would get into the frame and try to peddle on the side.”
At 13 years old, he built his first bike inside a shipping
container. Three years later, he was hurtling down the dirt roads of Africa in
serious mountain bike competitions. In 2020, he hopes to ride for gold in
“MTB is growing massively. In the future, I think it could be a major sport. It’s coming to schools now and the schools’ series this year had about 10,000 riders. Even if you look at the black communities, it’s growing. Yesterday we went for an 11-hour ride around Johannesburg and there were about 30 black riders.”
They call him the Skinny Hulk. The name fits like a glove.
Mokgopo, the South African mountain biker, is tall, thin and pumped up with
gutsy determination. At the age of 24, he is already the 12th-ranked mountain
biker in South Africa; part of a new generation of cyclists from the streets to
race for gold at the UCI MTB World Championships, the African Continental MTB
Championships, and the UCI MTB World Cup.
“I think it’s a bit premature to think I will qualify for this year’s Olympics. But the qualifiers are due in May. Even if I make third or second, I still might make it.”
On this early summer morning, Mokgopo, in riding gear,
greets with a warm smile outside Number 3080, on a bumpy street in Diep loot.
It’s not easy for cars in this street, but an ideal challenge for training on a
Mokgopo lives in a Reconstruction and Development Program house
that the government started building for its citizens after the 1994 elections.
“Everyone here used to live in extension one; in shacks. When the houses were allocated, they chose a block of shacks and said those living in shacks from here to here are getting RDP houses. We were given a number and told this was our house. We signed a form, and that was it. I was still at primary school at that time. Before it was the six of us living in the house.”
“The first year that I started getting paid, I extended these other two houses and one in the back here. It was actually just to have a bit of space. It was difficult living together; trying to bath here and trying to do a whole lot of stuff,” he says.
“It was just up the road from my house. You will see the fencing on the main road. It started with a project called Earn-A-Bike. You would go and choose a bike, then they would strip it down and then you would teach yourself how to build it. Then, when you graduated, that bike that you built would be your own bike,” he says.
Here, Mokgopo came across Simon Nash, Founder of the Diep
loot Mountain Bike Academy, and began to race.
“People didn’t take it seriously. When you are riding a bike in Diep loot, it looks like you are just doing it for leisure. You are a grown-up still riding a bike, for my neighbors it was stupid. Soccer is the main sport here, so when you are on a bike people are like what are you doing?”
For Mokgopo it was uphill all the way. His school friends
tied strings across the road to bring down his bike. Outside a corner store, a
group of men would sit on crates and laugh at him as he rode by.
“It would be very tough getting out the township in your riding gear. I would have to take shorts and the minute I got out of town then take them off and go ride my bike. There were guys who would stop me and ask me stupid questions, like what is this what? What are these pads on your pants; are they for a woman? But now those people who were laughing at me are actually my friends.”
“The other day, I was sitting on the floor at the corner shop and one of the guys came up and said why is The Celebrity, cause that what they call me now, sitting here? One guy said I think even if William has a million and he will still come and sit here. I always want to show that I still want to be at the level they are.”
One reason for Mokgopo’s smile on this day is a new $4,750 bike,
tucked away in his room. Along with competing professionally on the Kargo Pro
MTB Team, the first UCI-registered MTB Team in South Africa, Mokgopo is a
sports sciences student at the University of Pretoria.
“The tricky thing about MTB is getting the points and staying in front. When you do cross country, you need to look at the course. When you are racing it’s a completely different course. Someone might push you off course or the rock you thought you would be jumping from might have moved. It’s always the thought of what’s coming next,” says Mokgopo.
“From our side, William is a one-of-a-kind athlete, he is so complete on and off the bike and many pro athletes can learn from him. The Olympics is very much a reality for William in 2020 and beyond. He is showing improvement every season and also deals with setbacks very well which is a very important aspect for a pro athlete striving to be the best. Making small adjustments to his training regime over the coming seasons will see William gain that consistency that is needed a week in, week out for Olympic level racing,” says Shaun Peschl, Team Manager of Kargo MTB.
Cycling isn’t cheap. Mokgopo says it can cost around $34,000
a year to race as a professional for travel alone. His team is fortunate to get
their bikes and supplements for free. The latest equipment can make all the
“When I started racing, I had a poorly conditioned bike. I remember the academy got me a carbon bike; I could finish second. It just shows from that little change in equipment it can set you moving into that winning stage. It can put you on the podium. The expenses can push people away from the sport. But it depends on the person you are,” Mokgopo says.
“I will sit with my eyes open and listen to music. People think I am listening, but I am seeing the course and riding it all the time. It’s getting the feel of the race before even getting to the starting line. I see everything how I want it to be in the race. This is where I have to jump. This is where I need to speed up,” says Mokgopo.
He once spent three weeks in bed with a broken shoulder,
after he clipped a motorbike while training on a dirt track.
“I couldn’t even control my fingers. I rode one-handed to home in Diepsloot. Overnight it got worse and we had to go to the hospital the next day. But when I went back everything had completely changed. I started coming second and third and ended up winning a race and that was it. I went to bigger races and was introduced to cross country. When you get your first victory that is when the love gets that bit bigger,” he says.
“When you fall, the blood looks super cool, My mom was skeptical; with all the bruises and stitches I have when I come home. She didn’t want me to do it. She doesn’t say much, but you can see she’s very proud. My dad always says he’s very proud of me,” says Mokgopo.
Mokgopo’s dream of a spot in Rio was ruined when he injured his knee at the Cape Epic in March. It took two months to get back on the bike again.
The injury forced Mokgopo to build a new dream; his plan is
now to be the South African champion in 2017, go to the Commonwealth Games in
2018 and to be an Olympic athlete in Tokyo in 2020.
Bumps, bruises, a bike built in a shipping container and
friends who used to laugh at him. Mokgopo comes from humble beginnings and
hopes to ride his luck all the way to Japan in 2020.
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The top two countries not already qualified, China and Ukraine, punched their ticket to Tokyo, using combined scores from technical and free events. Moreover, the Oceania continental spot went to Australia, while Egypt qualified for Africa’s quota. The duos also get an automatic quota as a result.
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China and Ukraine are indeed the next two major nations to join the Olympic field alongside Russia and Japan in the team events.
The Chinese scored 96.0333 in the free team final with their
“Ode to the Heroines”, for a combined score of 191.1876 that earned them a spot
to Tokyo. They have been working on this routine for a while now and wanted to
highlight the Chinese culture throughout. Guo Li admitted the hardest part for
them is at the very beginning of the routine where they perform three acrobatic
movements in a row.
The Chinese have also been working with Anna Tarrès for the
last month in an effort to improve their artistic side. Tarrès, former coach of
the Spanish national team for nearly 20 years, has collaborated with Ukraine
and Israel in the last few years as well.
“I am just making some revisions,” Tarrès said. “I gave them some ideas to try to develop new movements, try to clean up what they were doing before, and try to make the routine more organic so that it could flow a little more. Mainly, it has been more to give them tools to develop the theme and to develop their own potential. The goal was trying to make them realize that they could go one step forward, and to look for new movement and for a new way of swimming.”
By defending their bronze medal from 2017 and once again placing third with a score of 94.3667, leading to a combined score of 187.8181, the Ukrainians qualified a team to the Olympics for the second time in the country’s history.
Russia was, of course, the heavy favorite coming into this event, and won the gold medal with a score of 98.0000. The Russians performed their ‘Shamans’ routine for the last time as it was already the third season with this program, and we can be certain head coach Tatyana Pokrovskaya will create something new for the Olympics.
These world championships also marked the return of Alla Shishkina, a two-time Olympic champion, to the Russian team after a break of two years following the 2016 Olympic Games.
“When I stand on the podium in Rio, I think about my comeback,” Shishkina said. “At that moment, I think that I would rest for only one year. But after one year, I think more. I said to Tatiana Pokvroskaya, ‘Can I rest one more year, and these two years is my only rest?’ After these two years, I understand that I love synchronized swimming very much, with all my heart. My comeback is for the love of this sport.”
It will be extremely interesting to see how Pokrovksaya
figures out who her top eight swimmers will be for Tokyo as both Svetlana
Kolesnichenko and Svetlana Romashina will have to be included in the team once
Varvara Subbotina, the youngest of the Russian team at 18
years old and competing at her first senior world championships, explained how
intense the internal competition is within the team.
“There are many girls in the reserve,” Subbotina said. “Six or seven girls stayed behind in Moscow. Everyone tries to show their best, to prove the coaches that they have this right to be in the team. Some come to the gym earlier than anyone else, some work harder on some elements in the water or in the gym. This is a normal process; we are used to it. The rivalry in the team is very high, so we know we have to work hard to be on the team.”
Unfortunately, Japan fell short of a team medal
once again by scoring 93.3667 for fourth place. The Japanese had changed free
team choreographies from last season, and have performed their new “Japanese
Festival” routine at a few world series competitions this year. It will be
interesting to see how Japan and Ukraine fare against one another at the
Olympics next year, especially with them being on home turf for the Japanese
team, but with a dominant Ukrainian team that cannot be denied.
Spain had finally managed to move ahead
of Italy during the preliminaries, as the latter had been ahead since
the 2016 European Championships in all major international competitions.
However, the Italians managed to take the lead again in the final with their
new routine “War of Two Worlds” despite falling on a lift, with a 91.6000 to
This Spanish team, led by Mayuko Fujiki for the last two
years, is still quite young but has shown tremendous improvement since her
arrival. Last season, Fujiki’s team had finished only 0.1333 points behind
Italy in the free event at the European Championships, and she continued
pushing them this season by creating a brand new routine for them in this
event, and moving away from the ‘Life in a Factory’ routine to work on this
‘Discovery of an Island’ theme.
“For me, the routine was for them to be able to learn how to swim sharp and strong,” Fujiki said. “It wasn’t really the best artistic side that I could give them. But because this is a young team, they learned something last year swimming the other routine. Now I really wanted to do something else, imagining that they were swimming qualifications in Tokyo, that the people in Tokyo would relate to and enjoy. But at the same time, I wanted something similar to Japan and Spain, and I was thinking, thinking, thinking, and then, ‘Ah! Islands!’ We are both countries with the ocean, we both have a lot of islands, with different cultures, and that gave me a little story to start with.”
Fujiki has also included Ona Carbonell in the free team routine again and brought in 17-year-old, up-and-coming swimmer Iris Tio from the junior ranks to build the best possible team heading into the Olympic year. She has indeed played around with her roster throughout the six competitions her team was at this year, but she has clearly found something that works. If they continue on this path, the Spanish team is certainly in great shape to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
Canada finished in sixth place with a score of 90.1000, its highest of the year with its new routine to the ‘Spectrum of Time,’ which was choreographed by Anastasia Ermakova just like its technical routine. Greece obtained 88.3333 for its ‘Africa’ routine, the same as last year, and for an eighth-place finish. France placed ninth with a score of 87.4667 for its ‘Emotions’ routine that we had seen in the last few seasons. The French faced some difficulties at these championships as Laura Augé had to be replaced in both technical and free team events at the last-minute as she suffered a back injury during training.
The Mexican team wasn’t far behind with a score of
87.0333 for its ‘Space Discovery’ routine. The routine features a strong
opening sequence that will probably give you goosebumps, and all in all
showcases a fantastic first lap with a unique throw where Jessica Sobrino, the
flier of the team, jumps straight above the base in a straddle split and
quickly moves into a horizontal position only to be caught directly by the base
The Mexicans had a complicated season, and were originally
supposed to compete in a lot more world series meets, including the Hellas
Beetles Cup and the Japan Open, but ended up withdrawing from those at the last
“It was a very tough season,” Regina Alferez said. “It wasn’t that we were just not competing for the program, but we got sick a lot in the season so it was very hard to train and to get to this point of the year. We never felt like this before. In the past years, we were competing, at not just competitions but also exhibitions. It was a very tough year.”
The U.S. finished 11th with a score of 84.4000 but received a one-point penalty because the walk on deck was too long by 0.04 seconds. The Robot-themed routine was popular with the crowd, and the choreography itself truly is a gem in terms of artistic impression, musicality, and attention to detail.
The U.S athletes have been excited about this routine right from the start and were thrilled to finally swim it on the world stage. They have welcomed with open arms the many changes their new coaching staff of Andrea Fuentes and Reem Abdalazem has brought on.
“I think they are the best thing that could have ever happened to us as a team,” Nicole Goot said. “We have grown individually and together so much, it’s incomparable to year’s prior. Our attitude towards everything changed. They brought a new perspective on how we train, how we compete, and our mindsets. We are a lot hungrier, more motivated, more innovative, thinking outside the box a lot more, and really supportive of each other a lot more.”
Australia and Egypt also earned their spots
to the 2020 Olympics. The Egyptians finished 17th with a free score of 77.8333
and a combined score of 153.6684 to fill in the African continent quota. The
Australians placed 22nd and scored 74.5333 in free, resulting in a combined
score of 147.9783 to become the team for the Oceania quota, with a free routine
choreographed by Giovanna Burlando, former synchronized swimmer and current
technical director for Italy.
“We are really happy with how it went today,” Emily Rogers from Australia said. “We had a lot of pressure, so we are excited. We wanted our best swim. We wanted our score to beat New Zealand because then we would get our spot to represent Oceania in the Olympics.”
Notable, Brazil received a two points penalty in the prelims because it had too many acrobatics movements in its routine. Once again, it has been a difficult championship for the Brazilians as they had to scratch their duo from the competition and to replace Maria Clara Lobo Coutinho in all the team routines.
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A college basketball
commentator, a health care entrepreneur, and a podcast producer are officially
the men’s 3×3 basketball champions of the world. Led by former Purdue star
Robbie Hummel, Team USA won the 3×3 World Cup in Amsterdam last Sunday, taking
down Latvia 18-14, putting them in the driver’s seat to win a gold medal in the
inaugural 3×3 tournament at next year’s Olympics.
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Hummel was drafted 58th overall by the Timberwolves in 2012 and finished 12th on the team in total minutes in 2014 and 11th in 2015. I was pretty sure he’d retired from professional basketball since I’d seen him announcing college games on the Big Ten Network. Sure enough, he had retired. But he’d been recruited to join a 3×3 team featuring Damon Huffman and Kareem Maddox.
I was bewildered when I Googled “Kareem Maddox” and found a podcast producer. Surely, there were two people named Kareem Maddox—one the former Princeton player who helped nearly upset Kentucky in the 2011 NCAA tournament and was now playing in the 3×3 world championships and another who produced a podcast.
Producer Kareem Maddox competed in the FIBA 3×3 Basketball World Cup with Team USA last week – and they won!!! We’ve got some multitalented people over here.
The Ringer employs several podcast producers, and I used to be proud to call all of them my colleagues. Several of our podcast producers take part in the site’s weekly pickup games, and I have been scored on easily by literally all of them, but none of them has ever won a world championship. The closest person we have on-staff is Mark Titus, who has demonstrated neither the desire nor ability to compete for Olympic gold in any sport. Is the Ringer really going to go out like this? I can barely muster the energy to go to the office in the morning knowing our podcast team would get simmered and sautéed on the court by Gimlet Media.
Back to the very real world of 3×3 Basketball world championships. Maddox and Huffman played for a team that had won back-to-back national championships but hadn’t won gold internationally until this year. That’s when they were joined by Hummel and Canyon Barry, the son of Hall of Famer Rick, who played for Florida and the College of Charleston and is now with the Iowa Wolves in the G League. The result was complete domination. Team USA was the only undefeated team in the whole World Cup, outscoring their opponents by an average of 9.1 points per game—pretty impressive in games that end as soon as a team scores 21 or more points. in tournament history, their point differential of 64 was the best.
Perhaps the part-time nature of the champions seems fitting for 3×3 Basketball, a game primarily played when you don’t have enough people for a full game, and there’s a guy shouting on the other end of the court and you don’t want to ask him to move. But over the past few years, FIBA—think FIFA, but with a B for “basketball” instead—has been set on creating a formalized version of 3×3 for international tournaments. It’s the same thing that once happened with beach volleyball. Once played exclusively by regular people in casual pickup games, the international governing body of volleyball realized that the outdoor two-on-two version could be marketed as a fresh, sexy version of their sport and began sanctioning international events. They eventually got the sport into the Olympics.
3×3—think “3×3” but with an X for “extreme” instead—is
FIBA’s pet project. Without a signature event to generate cash—you’re probably
not going to watch the FIBA World Cup in September—FIBA is all in on 3×3,
holding events across the globe as part of its 3×3 World Tour. The branding
seems like a 20-years-too-late attempt to cash in on the And1 Mixtape Tour. V3irtually
every FIBA press release about the game makes sure to call it “urban,” and the
games feature an announcer spouting colorful nicknames. But it’s tough to seem
street when Canyon Barry is shooting underhand free throws.
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Philadelphia 76ers point forward Simmons announced
that he will not participate in his home country’s 2019 FIBA World Cup big this
summer. Simmons, the former Rookie of the Year for the Sixers, however, does
expect to play for Australia in 2020 for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
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Simmons also thanked those who congratulated him on his
extension. The almost-23-year-old signed a max extension with the club this
offseason—totaling $170 million over five years. Simmons can earn a bonus if he
makes an All-NBA team at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season.
Simmons, the first overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft out of
LSU, was born in Melbourne, Australia, and grew up in Newcastle, New South
Wales. He was sidelined for one year following his draft selection but made his
debut for the Sixers in 2017-18, eventually winning Rookie of the Year and
guiding the team to its first postseason berth in six years. He earned his
first All-Star appearance this past season.
Simmons participated in the 2012 FIBA Under-17 World
Championship for Australia at 15 years old, where the junior team lost to the
USA in the finals. He would appear on the senior team in the gold-medalling run
for the Aussies in the 2013 FIBA Oceanic Championship.
Ever the triple-double threat, Simmons averaged
16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game in 79 appearances last
season for the Sixers, shooting 56.3% from the field.
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