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For these Olympians, a gold medal in Tokyo carries special weight

Ed Sloane/World Surf League via Getty Images

An Olympic gold medal is always a big deal, but some are the culmination of extra special journeys. 

The gold medal quests of Cat Osterman, Stephanie Gilmore, and Dawn Staley are three such cases. The best pitcher of all-time is coming out of retirement for Olympic redemption. A seven-time world surf champion will have a chance to win the first ever gold medal in her sport. And for the very first time, a Black woman will serve as the head coach of the USA Women’s Basketball team. 

The six grams of gold plating on pure silver might be the physical constitution of a gold medal. But it’s the unique story of human pursuit of excellence that we truly value. And these are three of the best stories heading into Tokyo.

Cat Osterman, Softball 

Cat Osterman has a solid claim to being the greatest softball pitcher of all time. She won a gold medal as the youngest player on Team USA in 2004, leading the team in strikeouts. She graduated from The University of Texas in 2006 as a three-time National Player of the Year, four-time All-American, and two-time ESPY Award winner. She still holds the NCAA record for highest career strike-out-per-seven-inning ratio at 14.34, as well as UT records for total victories, ERA, shut-outs, and no-hitters. 

When she retired from the National Pro Fastpitch league in 2015, she was a three-time Pitcher of the Year, four-time champion, and six-time All-NPF Team selection. Last summer, playing in the inaugural Athletes Unlimited softball season, Osterman won the league’s individual title after accumulating the most player points over the course of the season. 

Osterman officially retired once from softball — in 2015. She was back on the mound for Athletes Unlimited because the southpaw pitcher has some serious unfinished Olympic business to attend to.

Ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the IOC announced it would be removing baseball and softball from the Olympics after Beijing. Osterman was gutted. She was by far the best up-and-coming softball pitcher in the country, if not the world. Her counterpart on the baseball side likely had a decade-long, multimillion-dollar MLB career to look forward to, but Olympic glory once every four years was the highest stage Osterman could hope to play on. 

In the gold medal match in Beijing, Osterman came out after five innings with the U.S. trailing 2-1. Twice, the U.S. couldn’t capitalize on a one-out, bases loaded opportunity, and a wild throw home allowed Japan to score a third run in the top of the seventh. The U.S. went scoreless to finish the inning and Japan erupted into the exuberant elation of having won Olympic gold while handing the U.S. their first Olympic loss in eight years and their first non-gold medal in Olympic softball since 1996. 

For Osterman, it was the only two runs and only loss she’d allowed on the Olympic stage. The salt in the wound was knowing there would be no chance for redemption.

But when she found out a decade later that softball would be reinstated for 2020, Osterman shook off the dust, got back on the mound, and quickly proved that even in her late 30s, even as the oldest player on the roster for Tokyo, she is still one of the very best. Thirteen years later, we now have the chance to watch the sport’s greatest pitcher complete a 13-year redemption story. 

Stephanie Gilmore, Surfing

In 2007, at 19 years of age, Stephanie Gilmore won surfing’s World Title in her debut season on the World Surfing League tour. No man or woman had ever won the championship in their rookie season, and Gilmore went on to add three more consecutive World Titles, making it four in a row for the young superstar. 

Over the last decade, she has added three more to her trophy case, tying her with legend Layne Beachley for the most women’s World Titles in history. 

When speaking to Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sport podcast last winter, she said the most rewarding title of her career was the fifth, which she won in 2012. The reason? It was the first title she won after being physically assaulted by a stranger outside her home. 

Gilmore had been walking back to her apartment after plans to see a movie with a friend fell through. As she approached the stairs to her building, a stranger ran up behind her and hit her twice with a metal bar. The first blow was to her head, and she immediately saw blood everywhere. The second broke the wrist of the arm she had raised to shield herself.

While the physical injuries healed quickly, the emotional trauma was much harder to recover from, and her performance showed it when she finished 11th in 2011. After spending the first years of her career known on tour as “Happy Gilmore,” she had to discover a grittier, angrier drive to win after her confidence was so deeply rattled. Once she tapped into this more primal, competitive instinct, she got back to winning and earned her fifth and most hard-fought championship in 2012.

Ed Sloane/World Surf League via Getty Images

Now heading into Tokyo to compete in surfing’s Olympic debut, that fighter mentality will serve her well. Countries are limited to sending two men and two women to compete in Tokyo, but Australia currently has five surfers ranked in the top ten on the women’s side. The unavoidable shuffle in rankings since qualification ended in 2019 has led some critics to question whether she deserves the spot. Winning surfing’s inaugural gold medal this summer would not only add a historic achievement to a hall of fame career, it would also silence the doubters like nothing else could.

Dawn Staley, Basketball

Dawn Staley has been head coach of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team since 2018, when she led the squad on an undefeated path to the gold medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup, qualifying for Tokyo 2020. But her winning record with USA Basketball isn’t the most useful barometer of what she brings to the table, given the team has a 114-3 record at the World Cup and Olympic-level since 1990. 

The absolute domination of the U.S. women in international basketball is something we’ve come to lazily expect while offering little congrats in return. But Staley is still in a league of her own. She’s the first person to ever be both USA Basketball’s Player of the Year (1994, 2000) and  Coach of the Year (2018). Scrolling further down her resume are two Naismith College Player of the Year Awards, six WNBA All-Star Awards, AP National Coach of the Year (2020), Naismith Coach of the Year (2020), and an NCAA DI Championship with her South Caroline Gamecocks in 2017. 

Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Simply put, Dawn Staley is a boss. But championships and accolades aside, Staley’s tenure at the helm of this team holds deeper significance: she is the first Black person to hold this role, and it’s not something she takes lightly.

“Nowadays, we’re hearing a lot of ‘firsts,’” she told Gamecocks Online. “Whether it’s two black coaches at a NCAA Final Four, or two black coaches competing at a SEC Championship. Now, a black coach being the head coach of an Olympic team. I know some people are like, if you can coach, you can coach. That’s true, but when it’s a first, and when it’s history-making, I think it’s something to be proud of. It also allows other doors to be opened and opportunities for black coaches to hold these positions.”

For Staley, the importance lies in what her identity signifies to her athletes. About 50% of all NCAA Division I women’s basketball student-athletes are Black (which has been the case for at least a decade). On the professional level, about 70% of WNBA players are Black. 

“There just weren’t a lot of options for me to play for someone who looked like me. Who fundamentally understood me,” she wrote in The Players Tribune in 2018. “I do think young black women have to understand how to navigate through life as a black woman. A lot of the girls playing basketball now — their paths to success are probably similar to mine.” 

If Coach Staley can lead Team USA to their seventh Olympics title in a row in Tokyo, the impact her visibility could have on the next generation could be worth more than any gold medal. 

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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