Gregg Popovich, coach of the U.S.men’s basketball team, is looking forweard to the Olympic tournament. “The three Olympic preliminary groups appear well balanced, and there are a good number of teams who have legitimate shots at the gold medal in Tokyo.” Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

 

OLYMPICS

USA Basketball won’t have to wait long for intrigue at the Tokyo Olympics. The U.S. men will open the Olympics against France on July 25, and the U.S. women were placed in the same group as host Japan when the draw for the rescheduled Tokyo Games was held Tuesday. The draw took place in Mies, Switzerland, at FIBA headquarters.

The U.S. men will also face Iran on July 28 and the team that emerges from the qualifying tournament in Victoria, Canada, on July 31 as its other Group A rivals. The last time the Americans played France was in 2019 in the quarterfinals of the Basketball World Cup in China — when France prevailed to end the U.S. medal hopes.

“It’s exciting to learn more about the Olympic schedule and who our preliminary round opponents will be in Tokyo,” said Gregg Popovich, the U.S. men’s coach. “The three Olympic preliminary groups appear well balanced, and there are a good number of teams who have legitimate shots at the gold medal in Tokyo.”

The other men’s pairings saw Australia, Nigeria and the winners of qualifying tournaments in Split, Croatia, and Belgrade, Serbia, in Group B — with Japan, Argentina, Spain and the winner of a qualifying tournament in Kaunas, Lithuania, in Group C. Spain beat Argentina in the Basketball World Cup gold medal game in 2019.

The U.S. men are seeking a fourth consecutive gold medal. The Tokyo Games open July 23, one day after the NBA says is the last possible date for this season’s NBA Finals. USA Basketball’s roster won’t likely be finalized until June at the earliest and will undoubtedly hinge on how deep some players like LeBron James go into the postseason.

The games were rescheduled from last year and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has prompted some to suggest they will not — or should not — happen this summer either.

TENNIS

ROGER FEDERER is aiming to play his first tournament after two knee surgeries and more than one year out in Qatar next month.

Federer told Swiss radio station SRF on Tuesday he has targeted the Doha Open from March 8-13. The 20-time Grand Slam champion said he preferred a smaller tournament where he “wouldn’t be in the spotlight too much and the stress is also a little less.”

Now 39, Federer last played in January 2020 at the Australian Open, losing in the semifinals to Novak Djokovic while clearly struggling with injury.

Federer said he could play one more event after Doha – the following week at his offseason base in Dubai is an option – and then focus on the clay-court season.

His main targets are Wimbledon, the Tokyo Olympics and, after he turns 40, the U.S. Open.

SKIING

WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: Mikaela Shiffrin’s long-awaited return to speed skiing will come at the world championships starting next week.

The American standout announced Tuesday that she plans to enter four events at the worlds in Cortina d’Ampezzo: combined, super-G, giant slalom and slalom. It’s the biggest program that Shiffrin has ever embarked on at a major championship – worlds or Olympics.

Before her father died last year, Shiffrin had expanded from her favored technical disciplines of slalom and giant slalom to also race – and excel in – the speed disciplines of super-G and downhill. So much so that she won the gold medal in the super-G at the last worlds in Are, Sweden, two years ago.

Since her extended break and her return to the World Cup circuit in November, though, Shiffrin has not entered a single speed race. But she has spent several days training super-G this week.

“I feel comfortable on the skis and it’s super fun, so I’m really going into the speed section of world champs with the intention almost trying to take it as an opportunity for training,” Shiffrin said. “Obviously it’s a race and it’s world championships so I’m going to be trying to ski as fast as I can and I think that I’ll be able to have a pretty good result.”

HOCKEY

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: Latvia was picked to stage the men’s world championship alone by the International Ice Hockey Federation on Tuesday after Belarus was removed as co-host last month amid political turmoil there. The tournament in May will be played at two nearby venues in Riga with all 16 teams staying in the same hotel.

If Latvia can manage the coronavirus pandemic, the IIHF said it could begin offering tickets “within three days’ notice of government approval to host fans in the venues.”

Belarus and Latvia were selected as co-hosts in 2017. The IIHF pulled the tournament from Belarus, citing security concerns related to protests against President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election last year and the former Soviet nation’s management of the pandemic.

Opposition leaders called for the tournament to be moved, saying it would amount to a propaganda coup for Lukashenko, who often takes part in exhibition games. Prominent IIHF sponsors said they would not back the tournament unless a new host was found.

SOCCER

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: UEFA set an extended April 2 deadline on Tuesday for Champions League clubs to complete their round of 16 games, with Germany’s limit on travel from England a pending problem. Liverpool’s visit to Leipzig on Feb. 16 for a first-leg game could be affected by federal restrictions on arrivals from England where an aggressive variant of COVID–19 is spreading.

“Currently there is no special arrangement for professional athletes,” the German interior ministry said on Tuesday.

UEFA requires clubs to “cooperate with their national association in order to obtain from the relevant authorities exemptions from existing travel restrictions, such as border closures and quarantine requirements.”

The Champions League last 16 is scheduled to finish on March 17, and quarterfinal first legs are set for April 6-7.

REAL MADRID President Florentino Pérez has tested positive for the coronavirus, the club said Tuesday. Madrid said the 73-year-old Pérez is asymptomatic and tested positive after a routine test. No other details were released.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane tested positive for the coronavirus last month. Spain remains one of the hardest-hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic.


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