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What to know about Brittney Griner’s 294 days in Russian detainment

Brittney Griner stands in a defendants’ cage in Russian court hearing during her trial. (Evgenia Novozhenina/AFP via Getty Images)

Brittney Griner returned to the United States on Friday after 294 days in custody in Russia.

The WNBA star was freed in exchange for the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The swap brought an end to Griner’s imprisonment, which began nearly 10 months ago when Griner was arrested in a Moscow airport for alleged possession of hashish oil.

Just Women’s Sports kept a a timeline of all the updates in Griner’s case, and here we break down everything you need to know about her detainment and her release.

When was Griner detained?

Griner was arrested Feb. 17, although that did not become public knowledge until March 5. The Phoenix Mercury center had been traveling to rejoin her Russian club, UMMC Ekaterinburg, during the WNBA offseason.

Why was Griner traveling to Russia?

As Just Women’s Sports’ Eden Lasse writes, WNBA players often head overseas in the offseason. They attempt to make up for the U.S. league’s low salaries and short season by playing for European clubs.

In Russia, players have the opportunity to earn high salaries, which for top players could reach seven figures. Stars such as Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi have spent time with UMMC Ekaterinburg in past seasons.

During Griner’s trial in August, her club advocated for her release. Both players and club officials testified on her behalf, calling her contribution to Russian basketball “invaluable.”

Why was Griner detained?

The 32-year-old was accused of possessing less than a gram of cannabis oil, which she said in her trial she did not intend to bring with her into the country.

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 was subject to a criminal trial, one which U.S. officials derided as a sham.

She was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony. The guilty verdict was expected, as more than 99 percent of Russian court cases result in a conviction.

Why did it take so long for the U.S. to negotiate for her release?

The negotiations for Griner’s freedom hinged on the fraught diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Before and during her trial, Russia issued many warnings to the United States about the high-profile case, saying that they wanted a potential prisoner exchange to happen “without fanfare.”

The Russian government refused to negotiate with the U.S. government until Griner was convicted. Her trial started in June, with the verdict coming on Aug. 4.

After that, Russia said it was “ready to discuss” a swap. In response, the State Department urged the Russian government to accept a proposal the U.S. had offered in July.

In October, the State Department said there were “active discussions” about a swap. Still, officials did not expect to get a deal done ahead of the U.S. general election in November, as many believed Russia did not want to give U.S. President Joe Biden a perceived political win.

Following the election, talks seemed to have stalled. Griner was moved to a penal colony in early November, with her location unknown for several weeks. The Russian government later revealed that she had been moved to one of Russia’s harshest penal colonies.

On Nov. 18, Russian officials made comments indicating their willingness to make a deal, the State Department said Russia still would not “seriously negotiate.”

Within the last few weeks, Russia finally made their own offer: a one-for-one swap of Griner and Bout. While U.S. officials initially had hoped to include former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who also is detained in Russia, in the exchange, President Biden opted last week to make the deal.

Griner was moved to a Moscow jail Monday, her legal team said. After that, there was “complete silence” until word came Thursday morning that Griner was on her way to an airport, ESPN reported. Griner was flown to Abu Dhabi, where she was placed in the custody of U.S. officials.

What happens now?

Griner landed in the United States early Friday morning in San Antonio, Texas.

There, she’ll undergo a routine evaluation at Brooke Army Medical Center. The medical center, located on an army base, has long been somewhere the U.S. government sends people who need to be debriefed or require sensitive medical care. Both civilians and military personnel who have survived torture or other trauma undergo treatment at the hospital.

Whenever she is ready to leave the hospital, Griner will get to decide what happens next.

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.

USA Basketball Bounces Back in Final Olympic Tune-Up

Team USA celebrates their exhibition win over Germany on Tuesday
Team USA will meet Germany again in the Olympic group stage.(Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Team USA definitively bounced back from their WNBA All-Star Game defeat on Tuesday, routing Germany 84-57 at the USA Basketball Showcase in London.

A'ja Wilson put up 19 points and 14 rebounds in the win, leading the team ahead of Breanna Stewart's 15 points. Wilson is now averaging 16.5 points per game for the US, tying Team WNBA All-Star coach Cheryl Miller for the highest in team history.

Napheesa Collier of Team USA at the USA vs. Germany basketball showcase in London
Napheesa Collier returned to the court for Team USA on Tuesday. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Team USA raises their game

Team USA is still building chemistry after spending a little more than one week as a unit, shoring up vulnerabilities highlighted in their weekend loss to Team WNBA.

The team looked more cohesive in London, with Napheesa Collier returning to the starting lineup after missing a number of weeks with a plantar fascia injury. They also saw quality performances off the bench, with Jewell Loyd scoring in double digits and both Alyssa Thomas and Jackie Young keeping head coach Cheryl Reeve's rotations steady.

Returning to Europe for the first time since her 2022 wrongful detainment in Russia, Brittney Griner did not feature for the US due to load management.

For Germany, Dallas Wings star Satou Sabally took the court for the first time since the team's February Olympic qualifier, playing 26 minutes as Germany prepares for their Olympic debut in Paris.

"It was a breath of fresh air to get out of All-Star and come here," Sabrina Ionescu told reporters after the London Showcase. "There's one goal and it's to win." 

Breanna Stewart lays up the ball in Team USA's win over Germany on Tuesday
Breanna Stewart and Team USA begin their Olympic campaign against Japan on July 29th. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

All eyes are on gold

USA Basketball seems to be improving by the day, but the short runway to Paris could present a challenge for Reeve and her staff as the team looks to grow throughout the tournament — and hopefully hit their stride in time for the medal rounds.

"It's a tune-up game," Stewart said on Tuesday. "We don't want to peak too soon."

What's next for Team USA?

The US will start their Olympic group stage campaign with a game against Japan on July 29th, before playing a blockbuster August 1st matchup against a strong Belgium side. They'll later face Germany once again in their August 4th Olympic group stage finale.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: What Has Emily Sonnett Learned From Past USWNTs?

Emily Sonnett chats with her former USWNT teammate Kelley O'Hara
Emily Sonnett joins host Kelley O'Hara for a conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics in the latest episode of '1v1.' (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, Gotham FC and USWNT defender Emily Sonnett 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 Sonnett about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her international competition journey so far, and what advice from past USWNT players she's planning to take into the 2024 Summer Games.

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

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