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Brittney Griner freed from Russian custody in prisoner swap

(Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Brittney Griner has been freed after nearly 10 months in Russian custody and is on her way home to the United States.

The WNBA star had been detained in Russia since February on drug charges. The 32-year-old was convicted and sentenced in August to nine years in a Russian penal colony in a trial U.S. officials called a sham.

The Biden administration negotiated a prisoner swap, in which Russia released Griner in exchange for the United States’ release of arms dealer Viktor Bout, President Joe Biden announced Thursday from the White House.

“I spoke with Brittney Griner,” Biden said. “She’s safe. She’s on a plane. She’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held in intolerable circumstances.

“Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones — and she should have been there all along.”

Cherelle Griner, who joined Biden in the Oval Office on Thursday morning, described her wife’s imprisonment as “the darkest moments” of her life.

“Today my family is whole,” she said.

The Phoenix Mercury center was arrested on Feb. 17 at a Moscow-area airport while trying to join her Russian club, UMMC Ekaterinburg, during the WNBA offseason. She was accused of possessing less than a gram of cannabis; in Russia, possession of less than six grams of cannabis is supposed to garner no more than a fine or up to 15 days in jail.

Instead, Griner remained in custody for 294 days. She received a constant flow of support from the women’s basketball community in particular, and after what Biden called “painstaking and intense negotiations,” she is expected to reach U.S. soil within 24 hours.

The Biden administration also had sought the release of another American detainee, Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018, but was unable to strike a deal. Biden pledged to continue to fight for his freedom.

“We have not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” Biden said. “Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s.”

Whelan’s brother, David, celebrated Griner’s release, though he called his brother’s continued captivity a blow to his family.

“I am so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home. As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones,” he said in a statement.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: Rose Lavelle is Ready for the Next Step in Paris

uswnt player rose lavelle with retired uswnt star kelley o'hara
Rose Lavelle has a been a USWNT staple since making her debut in 2017. (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, Gotham FC and USWNT star Rose Lavelle joins Olympic gold medalist and retired USWNT star Kelley O'Hara for a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics.

We hear from Lavelle about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her international competition journey so far, and what it's like being one of the veterans on this roster.

Subscribe to Just Women's Sports on YouTube to never miss an episode.

Team USA Goes for Gold in Rugby Sevens Tournament

Team USA rugby player Alev Kelter on the pitch
Alev Kelter starts her third Olympic rugby sevens run with Team USA on Sunday. (Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

Team USA's rugby squad will begin the hunt for their first-ever Olympic medal when the Paris Games’ rugby sevens tournament takes the pitch on Sunday.

This marks just the third time the Olympics have featured rugby sevens after its debut at the 2016 Rio Games.

USA rugby's Kristi Kirshe, Nicole Heavirland, Ilona Maher, Sarah Levy, Alena Olsen, Lauren Doyle, Kayla Canett and Alev Kelter at the paris olympics
Team USA takes aim at their first Olympic medal on Sunday. (Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for USOPC)

How the Olympic rugby sevens tournament works

Unlike traditional rugby’s 15-player teams and 40-minute halves, rugby sevens consists of squads of seven battling it out through two seven-minute halves. Reflecting the sport’s sped-up nature, the Olympic rugby sevens tournament is played over just three consecutive days.

Twelve teams divided into three groups of four will compete in round-robin pool play to earn points — three for a win, two for a draw, and one for a loss — from Sunday, July 28th through the first half of Monday, July 29th.

The two teams with the most points in each group plus the next two overall best teams then advance to Monday afternoon's quarterfinals.

On Tuesday, July 30th, teams knocked out of the playoffs will face off in "placing" matches to achieve an official Olympic rating. These games are played concurrently with the semifinals before the bronze and gold medal contests close out the tournament.

USA rugby's Ilona Maher breaks a tackle in a 2023 game.
Ilona Maher and her US teammates are vying for their first-ever Olympic medal. (MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP via Getty Images)

Veterans lead Team USA's Olympic charge

The US is looking to improve on their fifth- and sixth-place finishes at Rio and Tokyo, respectively, and they’re banking on having the experience to do it.

Seven of Team USA's 12 players are Olympic veterans, with two — 33-year-olds Lauren Doyle and Alev Kelter — having competed in both of the sport’s previous Olympic showcases. Doyle and fellow Tokyo vet Naya Tapper co-captain the squad, which also features US rugby standout and TikTok star Ilona Maher.

However, to ascend their first-ever Olympic podium, the US will have to contend with the sport’s top teams — including Rio gold medalists Australia and Tokyo champs New Zealand. Plus, an especially hungry Team GB will be particularly tough to beat, as the current world No. 1 lookscto avenge their fourth-place finishes in 2016 and 2021.

How to watch the US rugby sevens squad

The US opens pool play against Japan at 10:30 AM ET before facing No. 40 Brazil at 2 PM ET on Sunday, July 28th, with live coverage on NBC platforms.

USWNT Kicks Off 2024 Olympic Tournament Against Zambia

uswnt vs. zambia olympics graphic
The USWNT kicks off their group stage run against Zambia today at 3 PM ET. (Just Women's Sports)

The USWNT begins their 2024 Olympic campaign today, taking on Zambia in their first group stage match.

The team will be looking for a positive first result, before taking on Germany and then Australia in a fast and furious schedule kicking off in Nice before traveling west down the coast to Marseille.

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 13: USWNT coach Emma Hayes stands on the field before a game between Mexico and USWNT
The USWNT is entering a new era under head coach Emma Hayes. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The road to Olympic gold starts now

While eight of the 12 teams competing in the group stage will move on to the August 3rd quarterfinals — including two countries advancing on a third-place tiebreak — first week successes can dictate a path to the medal rounds.

"There's top footballing nations in this tournament. I don't think shocks in the women's game exist anymore — I think we have to reframe our focus a little bit and have respect for the rest of the world," US head coach Emma Hayes told the media this week.

"We've learned a lot and we've grown a lot," added USWNT forward Sophia Smith. "We're just looking at this tournament and not backwards because there's really no point in doing that."

Barbra Banda of Zambia's Olympic soccer team celebrates after scoring at the 2023 World Cup
Zambia star Barbra Banda has extensive experience facing USWNT players. (Hannah Peters - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Sizing up the USWNT's Olympic challengers

Hayes’s words could prove true from the jump. While FIFA world No. 92 Zambia weighs in as Group B's lowest-ranked team, they're definitely capable of setting the USWNT on their heels. This will be the first-ever meeting between the two nations, though Zambia has both Tokyo Olympics and 2023 World Cup experience under their belt.

Case and point? Starting striker Barbra Banda currently leads the NWSL's Golden Boot race, firmly placing herself in the MVP conversation while routinely going head-to-head with USWNT players.

"I know what a threat she can be," US defender Emily Fox said this week. "Their entire team is a threat, especially with their transition. But we're ready for it."

Hayes has emphasized cohesion from her starting group, indicating fans could see this afternoon's starting XI mirror the lineups utilized in the last two tune-up friendlies. The US defeated Mexico 1-0 before drawing Costa Rica 0-0 in their final two games before traveling to training camp in France.

Where to watch USWNT vs. Zambia

Today’s Olympic group stage match between the USWNT and Zambia kicks off at 3 PM ET with live coverage on NBC platforms.

Team Canada’s Olympic Drone Controversy Explained

Team Canada with their flag at the 2024 Concacaf Women's Gold Cup
Team Canada faces repercussions after flying a drone over New Zealand's practice session. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

The 2024 Paris Games haven't even officially begun, yet the Olympic soccer tournament has already been rocked by a controversy spurred by defending gold medalists Canada.

New Zealand lodged a formal complaint to the IOC on Tuesday, alleging that a Team Canada support staff member spied on their training session in Saint-Étienne using drone surveillance. 

In response, the Canadian Olympic Committee immediately confirmed the incident and apologized, promising to conduct an "independent external review."

Local police saw the drone and arrested "Non-accredited analyst" Joseph Lombardi on Monday, charging him with "flying an unmanned aircraft over a prohibited area." He has since pleaded guilty and accepted a suspended eight-month prison sentence in addition to a €45,000 fine.

Team Canada has since dismissed Lombardi, sending him along with his direct supervisor Jasmine Mandor home from the Games and officially removing the pair from the team.

CanWNT head coach Bev Priestman looks up during a match.
Head coach Bev Priestman has removed herself from Canada's Olympic opener against New Zealand. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Canada boss Priestman to miss opening match

Canada head coach Bev Priestman accepted the decision to sit out her squad's Olympic group stage opener against New Zealand on Thursday.

"On behalf of our entire team, I first and foremost want to apologize to the players and staff at New Zealand Football and to the players on Team Canada," Priestman said in a statement.

"I am ultimately responsible for conduct in our program. Accordingly, to emphasize our team’s commitment to integrity, I have decided to voluntarily withdraw from coaching the match on Thursday," Priestman added. "In the spirit of accountability, I do this with the interests of both teams in mind and to ensure everyone feels that the sportsmanship of this game is upheld."

New Zealand has also reportedly asked FIFA that to bar Canada from earning any points in the opening match, regardless of the outcome.

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