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World Football (Soccer

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►  Cristiano Ronaldo Bust Strikes Terror Into Internet’s Heart

Famous soccer player and handsome person Cristiano Ronaldo had an airport in his hometown renamed in his honor Wednesday, the Telegraph reports. That’s good. Not so good (or handsome) was the bronze bust unveiled outside the newly minted Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira International Airport in Portugal. The bust, supposedly a likeness of Ronaldo, more closely resembles a “soul-stealing bronze demon,“ as BuzzFeed puts it. Deadspin warns the statue “may be imbued with dark magic.“ And Bleacher Report rounds up the Twitter takes, which range from people editing the bust into scenes from horror movies to pointing out its uncanny resemblance to Sloth from The Goonies. (This isn’t the first questionable statue made of Ronaldo, though in the previous case, no one was looking at his face.)

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►  A look inside some key numbers for Super Bowl matchup

From Tom Brady looking to become the first quarterback to win five Super Bowl titles to Matt Ryan seeking to give Atlanta its first, there are plenty of numbers that will get a lot of attention leading up to the Big Game.

Here’s a look at some others that fans might not be as familiar with:

BEST VS. BEST: This marks the sixth Super Bowl matching the NFL’s highest-scoring team (Atlanta) against the team that allowed the fewest points (New England) during the regular season. The top defense won four of those previous five matchups, including Seattle over Denver three years ago. The only time the top offense came out on top was in the 1989 season when San Francisco topped Denver.

FAST STARTERS: The Falcons have set an NFL record by scoring a touchdown on eight straight opening drives. That figures to be tougher against a Patriots team that was second best in the league this year, allowing just 16 points on opening drives with the only TD coming for Buffalo on October 2. The Patriots have allowed an average of just 19 yards on those drives with half of their opponents failing to generate even a single first down.

FRONT RUNNERS: The Patriots haven’t trailed in a game since November 27 against the Jets. Brady threw a game-winning TD pass to Malcolm Mitchell with 1:56 remaining in a 22-17 victory that day and New England has gone 421:56 without being behind in a game. New England trailed by 10 points at one point in that game, their largest deficit of the season with Brady active. If it’s hard to take a lead against the Patriots, it’s even harder to come back. New England has won 57 of the past 58 games when leading after three quarters with the lone loss coming last season to Brock Osweiler and Denver.

THIRD TO NONE: Forcing an offense into third down is usually a good step for a defense. Doing it against Brady or Ryan isn’t much help. Including the playoffs, Brady leads the NFL with a 132.8 rating on third down, with Ryan next among starters at 120.6. Brady has converted on 51.8 percent of his third-down passes and Ryan is at 49.7 percent. Ryan has been even better of late, with a 141 rating and first downs on 59.3 percent of his throws the past six games.

BETWEEN THE HASHES: Ryan has been nearly unstoppable when targeting the middle of the field in the regular season and playoffs, according to Sportradar. He has completed 86 of 117 passes between the hashes for 1,230 yards, nine TDs and no interceptions and a 132.8 passer rating. Ryan is 13 for 14 for 138 yards throwing down the middle in the playoffs.

GO DEEP: Ryan also was the most efficient deep thrower in the NFL in the regular season and playoffs, according to Sportradar, going 30 for 63 for 1,122 yards, 10 TDs, no interceptions and a league-best 133.4 rating on throws at least 21 yards downfield. The Patriots were the second-best defense against the deep pass, allowing just 28.2 percent to be completed with only three TDs, five interceptions and a 47.5 rating that was the second lowest.

BEAT THE HEAT: Teams blitzing the Patriots and Falcons have had little success this season, with Brady leading the NFL with a 124.3 rating against the blitz, according to Sportradar, and Ryan ranking second at 122.0. The Steelers tried to combat that by rushing three on 19 of Brady’s pass attempts last week, but he completed 13 of those for 137 yards.

WATCH THE FAKE: No team ran play-action as much as Atlanta this season, doing it on 26 percent of offensive plays in the regular season, according to game-charting data from Football Outsiders. The Falcons averaged 10.4 yards per play on play-action, compared to 7.8 on other plays. New England faced the second-lowest percentage of play-action plays at 13 percent, allowing 8 yards per play, compared to 6.1 yards on other plays.

COMEBACK KIDS: Brady has led the Patriots on a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive in all four of his Super Bowl wins, rallying from 10 points down to beat Seattle two years ago, overcoming a one-point deficit against Carolina in 2004 and leading tiebreaking drives against St. Louis (2001) and Philadelphia (2005). Brady came up short in two last-minute desperation drives in both losses to the Giants, but still has a 50-37 career record in game-winning and comeback attempts, according to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders. Brady has the best winning percentage among active players with at least 10 attempts, with Ryan not far behind in fourth place with a 34-37 mark.

SNEAKY TOM: Brady has been one of the best QBs at converting sneaks in his career, getting first downs on 98 of 108 (90.7 percent) runs on third or fourth-and-1 in his career, compared to a league-wide rate of 69.8 percent in that span. After being nearly perfect (66 for 67) from 2004-12, Brady has been more ordinary of late at 21 for 28 the past four years.

BIG-PLAY THREATS: It’s no surprise that Julio Jones is the NFL’s most dangerous big-play receiver. His 31 catches this season of at least 20 yards lead the NFL. But he hasn’t been able to match the far less heralded Chris Hogan in the postseason. Hogan has eight catches of at least 20 yards in New England’s two playoff wins and needs just one more in the Super Bowl to tie Larry Fitzgerald (2008) and Greg Jennings (2010) for the most in a single postseason since 2000.


►  Bolt Loses Gold Medal, Treble Record

Usain Bolt has lost his claim to having won three gold medals at three separate Olympics—through no fault of his own. Bolt will be forced to return his gold medal won in the 400-meter relay in Beijing in 2008 because his Jamaican teammate Nesta Carter tested positive for doping, the IOC said Wednesday, per USA Today. Two samples taken from Carter in Beijing were initially found to contain no “adverse analytical finding,“ per the BBC. However, recent retests using new technology showed the presence of banned substance methylhexaneamine. Bolt previously said it would be “heartbreaking” to be stripped of a medal, but it’s “just one of those things.“

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►  WVU Women’s Soccer Star to Play Professionally in France

Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan has signed with the French club Lyon.

Buchanan, who just wrapped up her college career at West Virginia, joins U.S. forward Alex Morgan, who announced that she was headed for Lyon in late December.

Buchanan has been a standout on the Canadian national team since 2013. She won the Young Player Award in the 2015 Women’s World Cup and was named Canada’s Women’s Player of the Year that season.

She was part of the Canadian team that won the bronze medal at the Olympic Games last summer.

She also played on the West Virginia team that went to the NCAA College Cup final this past season against Southern California. She was awarded the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation’s top female college player last week.

Her contract with Lyon runs through June 30, 2019, the team announced Monday.

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►  Opponent Wants Soccer Team Killed in Crash Made Champion

After Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense lost most of its players in a plane crash Tuesday, the team it was on its way to play for the South American championship has requested Chapecoense be awarded the trophy, the AP reports. According to the Telegraph, Colombia’s Atletico Nacional says naming Chapecoense the champions would be “an honorary award for this great loss and in posthumous homage to the victims of the fatal accident.“ Atletico Nacional concludes its statement: “For our part, and forever, Chapecoense are champions of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana.“ The South American Football Federation is expected to honor the request.

All but six of the 81 people aboard the flight died in the crash, which is being blamed on an electrical failure. The six survivors have been identified as Chapecoense players Alan Ruschel, Helio Zampier, and Jakson Follmann; journalist Rafael Valmorbida; and crew members Ximena Suarez and Erwin Tumiri. All suffered “severe trauma injuries.“ Brazilian President Michel Temer has declared three days of official mourning. Chapecoense was on the verge of wrapping up its best season in decades, if not ever.

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►  76 Dead in Crash of Plane Carrying Soccer Team

A chartered plane with a Brazilian first division soccer team on board crashed in a mountainous area near Medellin while on its way to the finals of a regional tournament, killing 76 people, Colombian officials say. Five people survived, including three players, reports Reuters. Aviation authorities say the British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane, operated by a charter airline named LaMia, declared an emergency at 10pm because of an electrical failure, the AP reports. The aircraft, which had departed from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was transporting the Chapecoense soccer team to Medellin’s Jose Maria Cordova International Airport. The team started the journey in Sao Paulo. A Reuters photographer described the tail section as having been severed from the plane and totally destroyed.

The team, from the small city of Chapeco, was in the middle of a fairy-tale season. It joined Brazil’s first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and made it last week to the Copa Sudamericana finals after defeating two of Argentina’s fiercest squads, San Lorenzo and Independiente, as well as Colombia’s Junior. “What was supposed to be a celebration has turned into a tragedy,“ Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez said from the search-and-rescue command center. “May God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists, and other guests traveling with our delegation,“ the club said in a brief statement on its Facebook page. The Guardian reports Brazilian President Michel Temer has declared three days of mourning.

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►  Embarrassed, U.S. Soccer Boots Coach Klinsmann

Jurgen Klinsmann is out as coach of the US men’s soccer team, the AP reports, ending a contentious five-year love-hate relationship on the job. US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati announced Monday that Klinsmann has been “relieved of his duties” as coach and technical director for US Soccer. The move isn’t exactly surprising, notes the New York Times, following a pair of embarrassing losses that damaged the Americans’ efforts to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The final straw came less than a week ago, as the Times puts it: “Then came the 4-0 thrashing against the Ticos in which Klinsmann’s team looked alternately disorganized, dispirited and—perhaps most damningly—disinterested.“

“While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction,“ said Gulati in a statement. Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011 and led the team to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and the second round of the 2014 World Cup, where the Americans lost to Belgium in extra time. But the US was knocked out in last year’s Gold Cup semifinals, lost to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth and started 0-2 this month in the final round of World Cup qualifying.

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►  Hope Solo’s Name-Calling Leads to a Suspension

Goalkeeper Hope Solo was suspended Wednesday for six months by US Soccer for making disparaging comments about Sweden following the Americans’ early departure from the Rio Olympics. Solo called the Swedes “a bunch of cowards” for focusing on defense rather than attacking the three-time defending champion US team, the AP reports. Sweden ousted the US 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw in a quarterfinal match. US Soccer President Sunil Gulati says Solo’s comments were “unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our National Team players.“

The 35-year-old Solo, who was previously suspended for 30 days early in 2015 for her conduct, will not be eligible for selection to the national team until February. USA Today reports the team has announced two scheduled games, against Thailand and the Netherlands, for September; she’s still free to play in the National Women’s Soccer League. Gulati says that “past incidents” and “private conversations” with Solo were considered in doling out the punishment. The head of the players’ union came down hard, telling Sports Illustrated the suspension is “a violation of Ms. Solo’s First Amendment rights ... We also question whether this action would have ever been taken against a male player or coach, who ... questioned the tactics of the opposing team.“

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►  Rio Olympics Table Tennis Has a Ball Problem

You know what they say: That’s the way the ball bounces. Or maybe that’s the way the ball bounces. And that ball just broke in half instead of bouncing at all. The New York Times reports complaints are flying fast and furious among table tennis players at the Rio Olympics due to balls that break easily or bounce unpredictably. “I think this ball is very bad,“ a player from Qatar said after losing his match. But the complaints aren’t just sour grapes. His victorious German opponent said the ball “makes it almost impossible to compete.“ “The quality is not good,“ adds another player from Austria.

Table tennis players are using a new type of ball this Olympics. Previous balls were made out of celluloid, but those were incredibly flammable and had to be transported by hazmat truck, Inverse reports. While the new non-celluloid balls can be moved by airplane, they also break more easily. By the end of the first day of the Olympics, at least 18 of the new balls had been broken. One player tells the Times they also seem to get softer as the match goes on. “You can never get used to it,“ he says. The new balls are also allowed to be an extra 0.1 millimeter across. Players say that small change results in balls that move slower and spin less. At least they’re not competing in a green pool.


►  Hope Solo Proves Herself a ‘Pure Loser and Lout’

Goalkeeper Hope Solo had some thoughts on the Swedish team that knocked the US women’s soccer team out of the Rio Olympics on Friday. “A bunch of cowards,“ she tweeted. Sally Jenkins at the Washington Post had some thoughts of her own. She calls out Solo for a lack of composure and grace and for her “irradiated blot-out-the-sun ego.“ While Solo looks to place blame for the historic loss elsewhere, Jenkins knows exactly in whose direction to look. She points out Solo gave up three goals in regulation over the past two matches, not to mention the winning penalty kick on Friday, all while “undermining [the team’s] collective equilibrium.“

Jenkins says Solo has a history of bringing “nasty unwanted drama” to Team USA. Winning has made it less of an issue, but no longer. She says it’s fitting that the conservative game plan that so frustrated Solo came from current Sweden coach and former US coach Pia Sundhage, who had to put up with so much from Solo over the years, including Solo lashing out after being benched, testing positive for drugs, and engaging in a very public feud with Team USA legend Brandi Chastain. In defeat Friday, Solo finally exposed herself for the “pure loser and lout” she is, Jenkins says. Read the full piece HERE .


►  Phelps Stunned in Final Solo Race

Michael Phelps is used to being in a league of his own. So it was strange to see him, after what he insists was his final individual race as an Olympian, crowding onto a medal stand with two other swimmers. And it wasn’t even the top step. In a changing of the guard that left him totally at peace, Phelps was beaten Friday by a 21-year-old who grew up idolizing the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. Joseph Schooling of Singapore built a big lead in the 100-meter butterfly and easily held off one of Phelps’ patented comebacks, leaving him at 22 gold medals with one race, a relay, left to go, the AP reports.

And that race will be his final event, Phelps insists. No more comebacks. “I’ve been able to do everything I’ve ever put my mind to in the sport and after 24 years in the sport, I’m happy with how things finished,“ says the 31-year-old, who is a father to 3-month-old Boomer and will soon be marrying his fiancee, Nicole Johnson. But this being Phelps, he had to do something out of the ordinary, even in defeat. He was part of the first three-way tie for silver in Olympic swimming history, joined on the next-highest step by longtime foes Chad le Clos of South Africa and Laszlo Cseh of Hungary. They all touched in 51.14 seconds, which was actually faster than Phelps’ gold medal-winning time in 2012.


►  Katie Ledecky Makes History With 4th Olympic Gold

Katie Ledecky came into the Rio Olympics facing enormous expectations. Some athletes might’ve buckled under the pressure. She seemed to thrive on it. The 19-year-old from suburban Washington capped off one of the greatest performances in Olympic history with her fourth gold medal and second world record, shattering her own mark in the 800-meter freestyle Friday night, the AP reports. Ledecky and Debbie Meyers are now the only female swimmers to sweep the three longest freestyle races. Meyers took the 200, 400, and 800 at Mexico City in 1968.

Ledecky also followed fellow swimmers Amy Van Dyken and Missy Franklin as the only American women to win as many as four golds in a single Olympics. Along with her individual golds, Ledecky also topped the podium with the 4x200 relay. “I’m just proud to be part of that history,“ says Ledecky, who broke down in tears on the medal stand, relishing her accomplishments and surely thinking about all the work she put in to make it there. “The Olympics are the pinnacle of our sport and I have to wait another four years to have that moment and I just wanted to enjoy it,“ she says. “The memories mean more than the medals to me.“


►  1st U.S. Olympian to Compete in Hijab Gets Medal

US fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad came to the Rio Olympics determined to show the world that sports is a place where Muslim-American women can excel. Muhammad will return to New Jersey with proof that she was right. The AP reports Muhammad, who became the first US Olympian to wear a hijab during competition, won a bronze medal Saturday along with her teammates—Monica Aksamit, Dagmara Wozniak, and Mariel Zagunisin—the women’s team sabre event. The US beat Italy 45-30 to clinch third place and the first women’s medal in fencing for the Americans in Rio.

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►  NFL Nixes Dallas Cowboys’ Decal Honoring Slain Cops

Last month, the Dallas Cowboys unveiled a helmet decal meant to show solidarity with the Dallas Police Department after five officers were murdered. But on Wednesday, the NFL rejected the team’s request to wear the decals during the preseason, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. The Cowboys had already been banned from wearing the “Arm in Arm” decals during the regular season, a decision the team’s VP attributes to the league’s strict uniform rules.


►  Worth Every Penny? What A-Rod Cost NY

If a World Series title is worth $317 million, then the New York Yankees probably deserve a pat on the back. If not, well, the team might be regretting its payments to Alex Rodriguez. By the time A-Rod collects his last payment as a player from the Yankees next year, he will have received more than $317 million from team, the AP reports. Luxury tax caused by his deal totaled an additional $132 million through this year, although the Yankees could have spent more money on other players had A-Rod not been on the roster. Was it worth it, given that the Yankees won one World Series title during his years in pinstripes? “One individual is not responsible for winning only one world championship, because that’s part of the team effort,“ general manager Brian Cashman says. “He had a big piece of that success and in most cases more so than most.“

New York acquired Rodriguez from Texas in February 2004. In all, he’ll earn about $448 million as a player, including $119 million from Texas and about $12 million from Seattle. Heading into his last game Friday, the 41-year-old has hit .284 with 351 homers and 1,094 RBIs for the Yankees, helping them win their 27th Series title in 2009 but often failing in other postseasons. He won AL MVP awards in 2005 and 2007, raising his total to three. On December 13, 2007—the same day the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball was released—Rodriguez finalized a $275 million, 10-year contract to remain with the Yankees. He was suspended by Major League Baseball for the entire 2014 season for violations of the sport’s drug agreement and labor contract, and an arbitrator cut his $25 million salary for that season to $2,868,852, taking away 162/183rds of the total.


►  Let’s Ease Up on Demonizing This Swimmer

Americans ought to think twice before joining in the gleeful hazing of Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, writes Sally Jenkins at the Washington Post. In a Cold War-style salvo, US swimmer Lilly King drew cheers at the Rio Olympics when she finger-wagged her Russian rival and called her a drug cheat. Efimova has been banned twice for using banned drugs but, unlike scores of other Russian athletes, was allowed to compete in Rio. After losing the gold medal to King on Monday in the 100-meter breaststroke, the 24-year-old Efimova was in tears at her news conference. But does the Chechnya native deserve the abuse heaped on her? Jenkins cautions that this is “not a moment of perfect American moral clarity.”

For one thing, the Russian has lived in Los Angeles for the past five years. Of the two drug offenses on Efimova’s record, one was for a nutritional supplement she bought at a GNC in LA that contained the banned hormone DHEA. Her English is not up to snuff, and her offense was ruled unintentional; the usual two-year suspension was cut to 16 months. Her second offense was for the heart drug meldonium; it was recently banned, though it’s not clear how long it takes for the drug to clear the system. Her case harkens back to that of American swimmer Jessica Hardy, banned in 2008 over a supplement. She came back to win two medals at the London 2012 Games—and “no one splashed water in Hardy’s face or refused to shake her hand.“ Read the full column HERE .


►  Phelps Takes Another Gold, Busts an Ancient Record

Michael Phelps continued his habit of winning Olympic gold Thursday night by cruising to an easy victory in the 200-meter individual-medley. It’s his fourth gold at the Rio Games and his 22nd gold overall, reports AP. It’s also his 13th gold in an individual event, which breaks a 2,168-year-old Olympic record held by an ancient sprinter named Leonidas of Rhodes. In one disappointment for Team USA, Ryan Lochte failed to medal with his fifth-place finish. Kosuke Hagino of Japan took the silver and Wang Shun of China the bronze. Earlier, American Ryan Murphy completed a sweep of the men’s backstroke events, taking gold in the 200 meters.

Murphy also won the 100 back, becoming the third American man in the last three Olympics to take both races. Aaron Peirsol pulled off the sweep at Athens in 2004 and Lenny Krayzelburg claimed both golds at the 2000 Sydney Games. The 21-year-old Murphy touched in 1 minute, 53.62 seconds. Australia’s Mitch Larkin grabbed the silver in 1:53.96, just ahead of Russia’s Evgeny Rylov with the bronze in 1:53.97. The United States has not lost a men’s backstroke final at the Olympics since 1992.


►  Simone Biles Is Untouchable in Gymnastics Final

Forget the pressure. Forget the hype. Simone Biles is immune to all of it. Dynamic on vault. Effortless on beam. Jaw-dropping on floor. Brilliant all over. And now, finally, an Olympic champion. The AP reports the 19-year-old American soared to the all-around title on Wednesday afternoon, putting the gap between herself and the rest of the world on full display under the Olympic spotlight. Her total of 62.198 was well clear of silver medalist and “Final Five” teammate Aly Raisman and Russian bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina.

Biles became the fourth straight American woman to win the all-around title and fifth overall while cementing her reputation as the greatest gymnast of her generation and perhaps ever. Her victory was never in doubt and she burst into tears when her long journey to this moment ended when her final total was posted.


►  Handshake Refusal Brings Mideast Tensions to Rio

Tensions in the Middle East appear to have spilled over into the Rio Olympics, as an Egyptian athlete refused to shake hands with an Israeli athlete following a judo match Friday, Reuters reports. After winning the match, Israel’s Or Sasson bowed to Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby and went to shake his hand. Instead of shaking hands, El Shehaby quickly backed away from Sasson as the crowd booed. (Video here.) According to Deadspin, El Shehaby is known to have anti-Israel views and had considered not even fighting. Muslim athletes have refused to compete with Israeli athletes in the past. Neither El Shehaby nor Sasson commented on the incident after the match.


►  Sweden Pulls Huge Upset, Defeats U.S. Women’s Soccer

The US women’s soccer team was eliminated by Sweden in the quarterfinal at the Rio Olympic Games on Friday, the AP reports. The match was a stunning loss for the US team, which has played in the final every year since women’s soccer became an Olympic sport in 1996, winning gold four times. The match went to penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw following extra time. It was the first Olympic women’s match to go to penalties.

After a scoreless first half, Stina Blackstenius scored in the 61st minute to give Sweden a 1-0 lead that for a time threatened to send the Americans home early from Brazil. Alex Morgan scored the equalizer in the 78th minute and the match went to overtime. Carli Lloyd was called offside on a header in the 115th minute and a minute later Lotta Schelin was offside on her attempt against Solo—although replay appeared to show otherwise.


►  Like Phelps, This Ad Is One of the Greatest Ever

Under Armour’s ad featuring Michael Phelps has been viewed 7.7 million times on YouTube and is now the fifth most shared Olympic ad of all time. Why? It’s not simply because Phelps is insanely impressive, as is his training routine. As data from Unruly reported by Adweek demonstrates, millennials aged 18 to 34—and male millennials in particular—usually resonate with an ad if they find it inspiring. Some 47% of viewers and 68% of millennial men said they felt inspired watching Phelps’ ad from agency Droga5. Phelps probably did, too, since he teared up when he saw it for the first time.

The ad itself is fairly dark in color, which is parlayed into the proclamation at the end that “It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light.“ (Cue the goosebumps.) “I think people connect with this film because it paints hard work and sacrifice with beautiful strokes, but does so in a way that is raw and real about what it takes to win,“ says a Droga5 rep. It depicts some intense-looking exercises, a lot of sweat, and “extraordinarily painful-looking sessions of cupping therapy,“ notes Adweek, backed by an emotive track from The Kills. Michelle McGahan at Bustle agrees: It “[reminds] us all that training for the Olympics is no joke.“

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►  As divided U.S. views conventions, NBC promotes Olympic unity

Disillusionment. Fear. Rage.

In a divided America, the political conventions are sure to arouse those sensations among the millions of viewers tuned in. Then in a commercial break, an electric guitar will blare the final lines of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” over images of a diverse group of U.S. athletes tearing up as they heard their national anthem during 2012 Olympic medal ceremonies.

The words flash by on the screen, white on a black background, between the shots of sobbing and beaming champions: “FOR 17 DAYS ... WE ARE ALL ... UNITED.“ The 30-second spot closes with a rising American flag, the graphic for NBC’s Rio Games coverage and the date of the opening ceremony.

NBC is buying ad time on other networks during both conventions the next two weeks, seeking a receptive audience for a not-so-subtle message.

“The country is more partisan, seemingly, than it’s ever been,“ said John Miller, the chief marketing officer for NBC Olympics. “And for 17 days, we say we’re all united. For 17 days, we all root for Team USA. We’ve got to put everything aside for a minute.“

The ad debuted March 15, the day of crucial primaries in Ohio and Florida, and aired on CNN and Fox News along with NBC networks. It appeared frequently during NBC’s coverage of the Olympic trials, but it will again accompany non-sports fare at the conventions.

“Any place they’re talking about politics, that’s the spot we’re going to run,“ Miller told The Associated Press last week.

With so much bleak news over the past few weeks — terrorist attacks, shootings and political division — another NBC ad promotes the message of global unity, with athletes narrating scenes of competitors from different countries embracing.

“I don’t know of anything else in the world,“ the voiceover goes, “that brings people together and empowers people so purely as the Olympics does.“

The motivation for NBC in these spots isn’t just to lure in viewers hoping for a break from the news of the day. It’s also to seek to frame the Olympics as a “pure,“ inspiring event amid the troubles swirling around the Rio Games — from the Zika virus to Brazilian political turmoil, from polluted waters to doping scandals.

Miller, once the executive behind NBC’s classic “must-see TV” campaign, was looking to counteract those sorts of concerns before the 2008 Games when he first produced an ad with these themes. Beijing brought its own set of worries, from human rights issues to air pollution.

This is the part of the story where Miller mentions Yoko Ono. He went to John Lennon’s widow to buy the rights to “Imagine” for a 60-second spot with a message of global unity.

NBC tested the commercial with potential viewers, and Miller expected it to do well with an older audience. The way the network sells advertising for the Olympics, what matters is the number of households tuned in more than the demographics. So Miller wouldn’t have been too alarmed if the spot captivated older viewers but flopped with younger ones.

“I specifically made it a little schmaltzy to capture that older audience,“ he recalled.

To his shock, the ad, while popular with all ages, tested best with the 18-to-34-year-old range. As he summed up the explanation those younger viewers would relate: “The country had been at war at least half of their memorable lives.“

“That notion of American unity, as well as global unity, is extraordinarily strong and resonates with the young as well as the old,“ Miller said. “But it even resonates more strongly with the young.“

So the theme became a valuable one for NBC to promote both Summer and Winter Games, a way to connect with younger viewers who will one day make up the main audience under the network’s lengthy contract to broadcast the Olympics. Miller acknowledged NBC is probably pushing that refrain even harder this time around.

“It seems to be more appropriate now than ever,“ he said.

NBC dives deep into its research of Olympic viewership, though it’s never looked specifically into whether depressing news in the real world makes viewers more likely to tune in. As it happens, the Beijing Games marked the start of an upswing for Olympic ratings in the United States.

Jim Bell, the executive producer for NBC Olympics, doesn’t have any numbers to prove why exactly viewers tune in, but he does know what he keeps hearing from acquaintances who tell him they’re looking forward to the Rio Games: “How they need a break — whether it’s from their job, or the news cycle, or their kids.“


►  3 of 5 Most Valuable Sports Teams Aren’t American

Forbes is out with its annual list of the most valuable sports franchises on the planet, and Americans might be surprised to see that three of the top five are soccer teams outside the US. Still, coming in at No. 1 were the Dallas Cowboys, while 27 of the teams in the top 50 hail from the NFL. Here are the top 10 franchises, their value, and the percentage change from last year:

  1. Dallas Cowboys, $4 billion, up 25%
  2. Real Madrid, $3.65 billion, up 12%
  3. Barcelona, $3.55 billion, up 12%
  4. New York Yankees, $3.4 billion, up 6%
  5. Manchester United, $3.32 billion, up 7%
  6. New England Patriots, $3.2 billion, up 23%
  7. New York Knicks, $3 billion, up 20%
  8. Washington Redskins, $2.85 billion, up 19%
  9. New York Giants, $2.8 billion, up 33%
  10. Los Angeles Lakers, $2.7 billion, up 4%

Click for the FULL RANKINGS.


►  Russia Swapped Urine Samples Through ‘Mouse Hole’: Report

During the day, it looked like an impenetrable wall. Only under cover of darkness was the small “mouse hole” at ground level uncovered to reveal a passage from Russia’s anti-doping lab to a room where clean urine tests sat waiting, frozen. “At a convenient moment, usually around midnight when no one else was in the room,“ a Russian official passed athletes’ dirty urine samples through the hole so they could be replaced with the frozen samples, produced during a short span when athletes had stopped taking a drug cocktail, according to an independent report released Monday, per NPR. The latest details of the doping scheme come from Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping agency, who says about 100 samples were switched during the Sochi Olympics, including those of at least 15 medal winners.

The samples were given to a Russian intelligence agent “who had a security clearance to enter the laboratory under the guise of being a sewer engineer,“ the report states. The supposedly tamperproof containers were then opened and the clean urine deposited. In an examination of 11 containers, investigators found all “had scratches and marks on the inside of the bottle caps representative of the use of a tool used to open the cap,“ the report says. The World Anti-Doping Agency has recommended all Russian athletes be banned from the Rio Olympics as a result. Russia’s track and field team has already been prohibited; a decision on its appeal is due Thursday. That decision will determine how the International Olympic Committee proceeds “with regard to a collective ban of Russian athletes,“ per the Guardian. The IOC has already “started disciplinary actions” against Russian officials.


►  Auto racing glance for Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sprint Cup

COMBAT WOUNDED COALITION 400 AT THE BRICKYARD

Site: Indianapolis, Indiana.

Schedule: Friday, practice, NBCSN (10:30 a.m.), practice (NBCSN, 1 p.m.); Saturday, qualifying (NBCSN, 10:45 a.m.); Sunday, race, noon, NBCSN.

Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (oval, 2.5 miles).

Race distance: (400 miles, 150 laps).

Last year: Kyle Busch, starting from ninth, won for the fourth time in five races.

Last week: Matt Kenseth emerged down the stretch to win in New Hampshire for the second time in a row. It was Kenseth’s second win in 2016.

Fast facts: Jeff Gordon, the only five-time winner of the Brickyard 400, will come out of retirement to drive the No. 88 for the first of two races as Dale Earnhardt Jr. recovers from concussion-like symptoms ... Tony Stewart, who will run in Indianapolis for the final time, owns the second-best average finish there at 9.6. Stewart is also seeking his 50th career Cup victory. ... Richard Childress Racing hasn’t won a Cup event since winning here in 2013. But the winner of that event, Ryan Newman, has three top-10 finishes in his last four races. ... Jimmie Johnson could see his recent struggles end in Indiana. He has won four times on the 2.5-mile oval.

Next race: Pennsylvania 400, July 31, Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

Online: http://www.nascar.com.

XFINITY

LILLY DIABETES 250

Site: Indianapolis, Indiana

Schedule: Friday, practice (NBCSN, 9 a.m.), practice (NBCSN, noon); Saturday, qualifying (NBCSN, 8:45 a.m.), heat No. 1 (NBCSN, 12:30 p.m.), heat No. 2 (NBCSN, 1:25), race, 2:05 p.m., NBCSN.

Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (oval, 2.5 miles).

Race distance: (250 miles, 100 laps).

Last year: Kyle Busch pulled off the sweep in Indianapolis.

Last race: Busch won in Loudon for his sixth series win in his last 10 tries.

Fast facts: Last week’s win gave Busch 164 wins across the three NASCAR series, putting him within just 36 of 36 of Richard Petty’s record of 200. ... Erik Jones is the only driver to clinch a spot in the Xfinity Chase. ... Six Cup drivers will run Saturday’s race, including Busch, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick.

Next race: U.S. Cellular 250, July 30, Iowa Speedway, Newton, Iowa

Online: http://www.nascar.com.

Camping World Truck

ASPEN DELTA ELDORA DIRT DERBY

Site: Rossburg, Ohio

Schedule: Wednesday, qualifying (FS1, 2:15-5:30 p.m.), race, 6 p.m., FS1.

Track: Eldora Speedway (oval, 0.5 miles)

Race distance: (75 miles, 150 laps)

Last year: Christopher Bell picked up his career win on Eldora’s famed dirt track.

Last race: William Byron won for the fourth time in 10 races this season.

Fast facts: The series returned to the dirt Wednesday in Eldora. Byron has never run a dirt race, but he’s taken three of the last four events in the series. ... Red Horse Racing has given Jake Griffin the No. 11 truck for Wednesday’s race. Though Griffin is just 17, he has over 300 top-five finishes in a variety of lower-tier circuits.

Next race: Pocono Mountains 150, July 30, Pocono Raceway

Online: http://www.nascar.com.

Verizon IndyCar

Last race: Will Power won for the third time in four races — with a second-place finish in between — in Toronto.

Next race: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, July 31, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio.

Online: http://www.indycar.com.

Formula One

HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX

Site: Budapest

Schedule: Friday, practice (1 a.m.), practice (5 a.m.); Saturday, practice (2 a.m.), qualifying (5 a.m.); Sunday, race, 5 a.m., NBCSN.

Track: Hungaroring (circuit, 2.7 miles).

Race distance: (190.5 miles, 70 laps).

Last year: Sebastian Vettel was the only driver to win a race from outside the front row (third position).

Last race: Lewis Hamilton won for the fourth time in five starts at Silverstone.

Fast facts: Hamilton’s point deficit to series leader and Nico Rosberg is down to just one point following Hamilton’s recent strong showings. Kimi Raikkonen is third, 62 points behind Rosberg — but he leads all drivers in podium finishes in Budapest. ...Thirteen of the 30 Hungarian Grand Prix races have been won from the pole.

Next race: German Grand Prix, July 31, Hockenheim, Germany.

Online: http://www.formula1.com.

NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing

MOPAR MILE HIGH NATIONALS

Site: Morrison, Colorado.

Schedule: Friday, qualifying (5 p.m.), qualifying (7 p.m.); Saturday, qualifying (3:30 p.m.), qualifying (6 p.m.); Sunday, finals, 2:35 p.m, FOX.

Track: Bandimere Speedway.

Last year: Steve Torrence conquered Colorado’s high altitude to win in Morrison.

Last race: Antron Brown won for the third time this season in Chicago two weeks ago to move to the top of the Top Fuel point standings.

Fast facts: Torrence, who is seeking his first Top Fuel championship, knocked off eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher in the finals here a year ago. ... Torrence is third in the championship, just behind Doug Kalitta. ... Schumacher’s win in Colorado eight years ago was the start of a series-record seven-race winning streak.

Next race: Sonoma Nationals, July 31, Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma.

Online: http://www.nhra.com.

Other races

WORLD OF OUTLAWS: Friday and Saturday, Summer Nationals, Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

Online: http://www.woosprint.com/

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