Tag Archives: champion

Behind Pozuelo and Laryea, TFC set to face reigning champion Atlanta in East final

With a salary of $ 3.8 million US in 2019, Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo is looking like a bargain for Toronto FC. But Toronto-born fullback Richie Laryea, at the MLS-minimum $ 56,250, is a downright steal.

Both are making their mark at different ends of TFC’s salary scale.

Pozuelo, proving again he is New York City FC’s kryptonite, scored both goals in TFC’s dramatic 2-1 win over top-seeded NYCFC in the Eastern Conference semifinal Wednesday. Laryea, meanwhile, triggered the winning penalty with a marauding run off the bench.

After missing the playoffs last season, Toronto is now one win away from its third MLS Cup final in four years. TFC lost to Seattle in a penalty shootout in 2016 and beat the Sounders in 2017.

Fourth-seeded Toronto advances to play at No. 2 Atlanta, the defending MLS champion which defeated No. 3 Philadelphia 2-0 in the other Eastern semifinal on Thursday, on Oct. 30.

Toronto lost 2-0 at Atlanta on May 8 and won 3-2 at BMO Field on June 26 — thanks to a Pozuelo penalty kick in stoppage time. The spot kick came after Laryea, driving towards goal, was fouled in the box.

Pozuelo, 28, and Laryea, 24, are both newcomers to Toronto this season.

Pozuelo arrived in March to much fanfare as a designated player — in the wake of off-season exits by Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez — after protracted exit negotiations with his Belgian club KRC Genk. Laryea, originally drafted by Orlando, signed later that month with Toronto issuing a two-paragraph release.

Their salaries reflect the hype, or lack thereof.

Pozuelo is the seventh highest-paid player in MLS, according to the MLS Players Association. Teammates Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore rank No. 2 and 3 at $ 6.5 million and $ 6.3 million, respectively.

Laryea is the lowest-paid TFC player, No. 32 on the club list.

Pozuelo landed with a bang, scoring two goals and adding an assist in a 4-0 win over New York City FC on March 29.

“I think today we showed we have a good team,” he said in his post-game interview Wednesday.

Toronto has converted Laryea, a former midfielder, into a fullback. Working hard off the field to learn the position, he has pushed Brazil’s Auro for a starting job.

Laryea draws praise from Bradley

Laryea has a competitive streak that makes him a welcome presence when push comes to shove. And with the ball at his feet, he can cause havoc.

“His ability to move with the ball, to put guys on the wrong foot, to go by guys, that part is special,” said Bradley. “And he continues to make big plays for us whether it’s as a sub or a starter. I’m so happy for him, so proud of him.”

Laryea was introduced in the 78th minute Wednesday at Citi Field.

“I just came in looking to bring a spark and help change the game, because the guys fought really hard for 80 minutes before I came in,” he said.

He did just that, helped by Pozuelo. The Spaniard spotted him streaking down the right flank and fed him a pass that left two NYCFC defenders in no-man’s land. Laryea then danced around fullback Ronald Matarrita and accelerated into the New York penalty box where Matarrita caught up with him as he made the turn towards goal and chopped him down to trigger the decisive penalty.

WATCH | Pozuelo leads TFC into conference final: 

Alejandro Pozuelo scored both of Toronto FC’s goals as the Reds beat NYCFC 2-1. 1:40

Moved farther forward in the playoffs due to Altidore’s quad strain, the slick Spaniard has pulled the strings up front. Not a conventional No. 9, he serves more like a basketball centre when pushed up front — he can turn and strike himself or bring someone else into the play while drawing defensive attention.

“He was great on the night,” said coach Greg Vanney. “He held up the ball for us, he brought people into the play. He moved around, he fought for things. He helped lead us defensively.”

Pozuelo led the team with 12 goals and 12 assists during the regular season, with three of those coming against NYCFC. Wednesday made it five.

Pozuelo did dip slightly in form during the regular season, due perhaps to his extended campaign in Europe and North America combined with Toronto moving him around the field.

His favourite position is in the middle, slightly behind the striker, where he can move around the field and work his magic. His recent role has allowed him to do much of that.

Pozuelo is quick to praise Laryea.

“An amazing player,” he said. “When he comes to the pitch, he always give the maximum. We know he has a lot of good quality. He helps the team a lot. For me, he is one of the best players on this team.”

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CBC | Soccer News

Heavily Canadian Cup champion Blues visit Trump at White House as full team

President Donald Trump honoured the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, using the occasion to announce an envoy to Turkey, mention the economy and an agriculture deal with China and laugh off the possibility of impeachment.

For the Blues, it was more of a last chance to celebrate the first title in franchise history than a political statement. Like previous NHL champions, they decided to keep with the long-held tradition of visiting the president at the White House amid teams from the NBA and other leagues either declining or not receiving an invitation or being disinvited by Trump.

St. Louis has a heavy concentration of Canadians and just one American still on the roster from the group that beat the Boston Bruins in the Cup Final. Every returning player from the Cup champions took the tour, met with Trump and was present for the ceremony in the Rose Garden.

“No matter what we do, we do it as a group,” alternate captain Alex Steen said. “I think that’s how we won. We’re a very tight-knit group.”

Trump goes off topic, bungles Schwartz’s name

Trump veered off into talk about bringing soldiers home from overseas and the stock market and revealed Vice-President Mike Pence was travelling to Turkey to try to reach a ceasefire deal. When he circled back to the Blues, he went through their improbable run from last place in the league to champions with nods to Steen, owner Tom Stillman, captain Alex Pietrangelo, goaltender Jordan Binnington, forward Jaden Schwartz — who he called “Jason” — and playoff MVP Ryan O’Reilly.

“Being able to see [the Oval] Office and get a tour of the White House, it doesn’t get much better than that,” said Schwartz, who acknowledged he might have a new nickname. “This is [something] you’ll remember forever.”

Trump even mentioned the Blues adopting Laura Branigan’s 1982 hit “Gloria” as their victory song, and the U.S. Marine Band played the team into the ceremony with that tune. Young fan Laila Anderson, who was the team’s inspiration while she fought a rare auto-immune disease, got her own mention.

“You inspired the Blues all season, and today you continue to inspire all Americans,” Trump said. “We all know your story.”

Blues owner Tom Stillman (R) gives a jersey to Trump. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Stillman, who presented Trump with a No. 45 Blues jersey, called it a “light-hearted, fun kind of celebration.” He echoed Steen’s sentiments about why the entire team showed up — a departure from when goaltender Braden Holtby and forward Brett Connolly skipped the 2018 champion Washington Capitals’ visit in March in support of teammate Devante Smith-Pelly.

“I think this team acts as a team in everything they do,” Stillman said. “They stick together. By and large, [I] like to keep politics and sports separate. This is a matter of a traditional honour, being invited to the White House by the presidency. It’s something you do. I’m really proud of our group for all coming together and having a good time of it, as well.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman; Pence’s wife, Karen; and Republican Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley of Missouri were among those in attendance for the half-hour ceremony.

Berube, Trump not on same page

Coach Craig Berube stressed the notion of the Blues’ playoff run as a team effort and brushed off Trump’s comment that the pressure was off after winning.

“We won the Stanley Cup, I think, once we got our team working together and playing together,” Berube said. “When you play as a team, day in and day out — hard — you’re going to be hard to beat. So that’s what it basically boiled down to. These guys all came together as a team and played for each other, and we ended up being champions.”

The Blues paraded down the streets of St. Louis, raised their championship banner, donated a Cup ring to the Hockey Hall of Fame and capped it all off by going to the White House. Now, players are eager to move on to trying to do it all again.

“It’s a new year and new challenges and experiences,” Binnington said. “We kind of still have this stuff lingering around, but obviously it’s positive and it’s amazing to experience that. But at the same time, yeah, it’s back to work and simplify things a little bit. It’ll be nice.”

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CBC | Sports News

Bianca Andreescu prepares for big U.S. Open moment with confidence of a champion

Serena Williams has called Bianca Andreescu an “old soul.”

Others have called the 19-year-old Canadian “a boss” on the court.

And Andreescu is just getting started.

After her second match victory at her first-ever U.S. Open, Andreescu was asked in a post-match interview if anyone scares her at this point.

“If I just go out there and play my game, I think I can beat anyone right now,” she said without hesitation.

She’s got the swagger of a champion. The confidence of a player who has won Slams before. And yet this is all new to Andreescu.

Watch Andreescu’s three-set victory that propelled her to the quarter-finals:

The 19-year-old Canadian battled past American Taylor Townsend 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium. 1:51

You’d never know it.

The Mississauga, Ont., native has taken the tennis world by storm this year. And now she’s preparing to take to the court on Wednesday night for the biggest match of her career.

As the stakes get higher and the pressure intensifies, Andreescu keeps rising. She is 16-3 in three-set matches this year, including 11 straight wins. Outside of time missed due to injury, she’s been nearly unbeatable this season, posting a 42-4 record.

Now she’s preparing to play in her first-ever Grand Slam quarter-final match inside the tennis coliseum that is Arthur Ashe Stadium — the largest tennis venue in the world. It’s the third time during this year’s U.S. Open that Andreescu is playing at Ashe.

Memorable moments during meteoric rise

If she was supposed to be shaken and fazed by the big stage, she’s hasn’t been. Keep in mind that this is Andreescu’s first appearance at the U.S. Open; last year she lost in qualifying for the tournament.

But what a difference a year makes.

Andreescu defeated American qualifier Taylor Townsend 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 on Monday night in front of a rowdy and sometimes rude New York crowd to advance to a final-eight meeting Wednesday with No. 25 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium.

Andreescu, right, offers a hug to Taylor Townsend following the Canadian’s win on Monday in the fourth round of the U.S. Open. (AFP/Getty Images)

“I heard some Canadian fans here and there, which was nice, especially in tougher moments,” Andreescu said after Monday’s win. “It’s not easy. I tried not to pay attention to that, but it’s hard when it’s, like, everyone. I’m glad with how I managed to just keep my cool.”

Andreescu has provided some memorable moments on the court in her short time in the spotlight, including a historic win at Indian Wells in March.

But perhaps the moment that endeared Andreescu to Canadian sports fans most was her emotional encounter with Serena Williams last month in the Rogers Cup final in Toronto.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t do it today,” Williams said, crying after retiring from the match just four points in. “Bianca, you’re a great sportsperson, woman.”

Watch Andreescu console Williams after the tennis icon retired from the Rogers Cup final:

Bianca Andreescu and Serena Williams shared an emotional embrace after Williams was forced to retire from the Rogers Cup final due to injury. Andreescu is the first Canadian woman to win the Rogers Cup since Faye Urban in 1969. 2:14

Andreescu then took the microphone at centre court to soak up her championship moment — once again showing poise and grace in the big moment, beginning with acknowledging her competitor.

“Serena you made me cry. I know how hard it is to pull out of a tournament due to injury. It’s not easy,” Andreescu began. “This isn’t the way I expected to win. You are truly a champion. I’ve watched you play so many times. You are truly a champion.”

It was this moment that won Williams over. In her post-match interview she called Andreescu an “old soul” for her grace in that moment.

It sent Andreescu’s stardom into greater orbit.

‘Just the beginning’

There’s an authentic exuberance and joy that exudes from Andreescu whenever she’s in front of the microphone. She seems to be soaking up every one of these moments right now.

And while she’s shown her ability to act mature beyond her years on the court, finding the right words at the right time and the right shots under pressure, there are still moments that remind spectators of her youth — like on Saturday, when she was told she had cracked the top 10 of the Women’s Tennis Association rankings.

“I don’t usually check these things, I like to just focus on my game,” she said, trying to hold back a surprised laughter.

“Wow, that’s all I can say right now.”

Andreescu’s success this season has only been matched by her self-confidence. Now, with a top 10 spot in the rankings secured, she has an opportunity for another major moment under one of the brightest spotlights in tennis.

“This is just the beginning,” she said after her Rogers Cup win.

Canadian sports fans are certainly eager for what comes next.

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CBC | Sports News

Defending champion, No. 1 seed Naomi Osaka ousted before quarters at U.S. Open

Naomi Osaka’s 10-match U.S. Open winning streak and title defence are done after she was outplayed in the fourth round by Belinda Bencic and lost 7-5, 6-4 Monday.

Osaka has been wearing a black sleeve on her bothersome left knee and was visited by a trainer after getting broken to trail 3-2 in the second set.

“I was so excited to come on the court. The challenge cannot be bigger [than] against Naomi,” said the 13th-seeded Bencic, who will face No. 23 Donna Vekic in the quarter-finals. “I’m really pleased with how I played and how I managed my nerves in the end.”

The result under the closed roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium on a rainy afternoon means both defending champions and No. 1 seeds are gone before the quarterfinals at the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.

WATCH | Bencic stuns Osaka in 4th round at Flushing Meadows:

Belinda Bencic defeats defending U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka 7-5, 6-4 in their round of 16 match at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. 1:45

Last year’s men’s champ, Novak Djokovic, stopped playing in his fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka on Sunday night because of a painful left shoulder.

Osaka made her breakthrough at Flushing Meadows in 2018, winning her first major championship by beating Serena Williams in a chaotic final that devolved after Williams got into an extended argument with the chair umpire.

Osaka followed that up with a second consecutive Grand Slam trophy at the Australian Open in January. That allowed her to become the first tennis player representing Japan to reach No. 1 in the rankings.

Big-match player

Bencic, who is from Switzerland, showed again that she is a big-match player. She improved to 3-0 against Osaka this season and now has a tour-leading nine victories over top-10 opponents in 2019. Bencic also is 4-1 over her career against top-ranked players.

Bencic is 22, just a year older than Osaka, but her progress was slowed in recent years by injuries, including wrist surgery.

Back in 2014, when she was 17, Bencic became the youngest woman into the U.S. Open quarterfifnals since 1997, when Martina Hingis took the title.

It was Hingis’ mother, and then Hingis herself, who coached and mentored Bencic along the way, and she credited them after getting past Osaka.

“I know so much from them, what they’ve taught me,” Bencic said.

Nadal dispatches Cilic

Rafael Nadal easily passed his first test of this year’s U.S. Open and reached the quarter-finals at a ninth consecutive Grand Slam tournament.

With Tiger Woods throwing uppercuts in the stands, Nadal shook off dropping a set and powered past 2014 champion Marin Cilic 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the fourth round.

Nadal dropped a set for the first time in this year’s tournament but quickly responded by breaking to lead 3-1 in the third set and was on his way.

Nadal is seeking his fourth title at Flushing Meadows and his 19th Grand Slam trophy overall. Roger Federer holds the men’s record of 20; they only could meet in the final this year. The rivals never have played each other in New York.

The No. 2-seeded Nadal, who retired from his 2018 semifinal at the U.S. Open with a knee injury, will try to get back to the final four by beating No. 20 Diego Schwartzman.

Vekic achieves career best

Vekic, a 23-year-old from Croatia, reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final by saving a match point and edging No. 26 Julia Goerges of Germany 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-3.

“I don’t even know how I won this match,” Vekic said.

Well, here’s how: Goerges served for the victory at 5-4 in the second set, coming within one point of ending things right there. Not only couldn’t Goerges convert, but she also double-faulted three times in that game and unraveled from there, wasting a 21-ace effort.

Osaka is more powerful than Bencic and repeatedly used her serve to keep things close, finishing with nine aces.

But it was Bencic’s precision that won the day. She made only 12 unforced errors in the entire match, while producing 29 winners.

Her style is similar to the younger Hingis, who won five Grand Slam singles titles.

“I’m just trying to play it a little bit like chess and anticipate,” Bencic said.

Playing so crisply, so cleanly, she took balls on the rise and snapped them back, rushing Osaka and not giving her time to respond in kind.

Bencic broke for a 6-5 lead with a forehand volley winner followed by a backhand passing winner, then served out that set. In the second, Bencic conjured up another terrific backhand passing shot off a sharp volley by Osaka to set up love-40, and a double-fault then made it 3-2.

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CBC | Sports News

Former world champion runner suspended for using same drug as Canadian canoe star

Former world champion runner Marina Arzamasova has been provisionally suspended for doping after testing positive for a drug in development that is popular with body builders.

The Athletics Integrity Unit said Tuesday it notified the 31-year-old Arzamasova of the allegation, one month before the world championships in Doha, Qatar.

Arzamasova, who is from Belarus, edged Canada’s Melissa Bishop to win gold in the 800 metres at the 2015 worlds in Beijing. Arzamasova ran one minute 58.03 seconds, while Bishop crossed in 1:58.12.

Arzamasova was also the 2014 European champion. She placed seventh at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The AIU said Arzamasova’s case involves LGD-4033, better known as Ligandrol. The drug has been in clinical trials to treat muscle wasting conditions. It is reportedly used in supplements by body builders to build muscle mass with fewer side effects than steroids.

It’s the same drug Canadian canoer and 11-time world sprint champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for two weeks ago.

Vincent Lapointe is not competing at this week’s canoe sprint world championships in Szeged, Hungary, after failing an out-of-competition doping test. Her case is pending and her hearing is expected to be heard over the next few months, according to her lawyer Adam Klevinas. 

WATCH | Laurence Vincent Lapointe say her positive test was tainted:

Canadian canoeist Laurence Vincent Lapointe has been suspended after testing positive for a banned substance. 3:12

In July, Australian swimmer Shayna Jack revealed Ligandrol was found in her system, and has vowed to fight her suspension.

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CBC | Sports News

Why Bianca Andreescu got paid half as much as the men’s Rogers Cup champion

Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu earned $ 521,530 US for winning the Rogers Cup women’s tournament on Sunday in Toronto. Rafael Nadal got paid $ 1.049 million for winning the concurrent men’s event held in Montreal.

The inequality extended beyond the champions’ cheques. The total purse for the women’s event was about $ 2.8 million. The men’s was worth $ 5.7 million.

Sounds outrageous, right? Equal pay for equal work is a concept that reasonable people generally accept. And pro tennis is on board: the Grand Slam tournaments all offer equal prize money, and so do some other high-end tour stops that feature both a women’s and a men’s event. Shouldn’t the Rogers Cup follow suit?

Well, it’s not as simple as that. Here’s what you should know about the Rogers Cup pay gap and why it exists — but maybe doesn’t have to.

1. It’s not because men’s tennis brings in more revenue than women’s

It’s true the men’s game commands a lot more money for stuff like sponsorships and broadcast rights. But the sport decided years ago that prize money would be equal when men and women play in tournaments held under the same umbrella — if those tournaments are of equal importance.

2. The Rogers Cup men’s and women’s tournaments are not equal

This is the key point. The men’s tour classifies the Rogers Cup as a Masters 1000 event (1,000 is the number of rankings points the winners gets). If we disregard the season-ending ATP Finals, which is only for the top eight players in the world, Masters 1000 is the second-highest tier of events. Only the four Grand Slams are higher.

Meanwhile, the women’s tour classifies the Rogers Cup as a Premier 5 event. The winner of one of these gets 900 points. This is the third tier of normal tournaments for women — below the Slams (2,000 points) and the four Premier Mandatory events (1,000 points). As you might guess, the more points an event is worth, the more prize money is offered.

3. If both Rogers Cup tournaments were of equal value in rankings points, the women would get equal prize money

This was the case for the other event Andreescu won this year. The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., has both a men’s and a women’s tournament, and they’re both 1,000-point events. Andreescu made $ 1.354 million for winning it. Men’s champ Dominic Thiem got the exact same amount.

It’ll be the same at the U.S. Open, which starts on Aug. 26. The men’s and women’s champions at the final Grand Slam of the season will each walk away with $ 3.85 million. Bottom line: organizers who stage concurrent tournaments worth equal rankings points have to pay the women the same as the men.

4. The Rogers Cup isn’t alone in having unequal men’s and women’s tournaments

A few other tour stops feature a men’s 1,000-point tournament alongside a women’s 900-point tournament. This week’s Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati is one example. The China Open in Beijing is the reverse: its women’s tournament is a 1,000-pointer and the men’s is a 500, so the women make more money there.

Watch Andreescu’s interview with Adrienne Arsenault:

The Canadian teen sat down with Adrienne Arsenault to talk about her incredible run at the Rogers Cup. 10:59

5. The men are still treated better, though, because they have more 1,000-point events

There are nine Masters tournaments for men, compared to only four Premier Mandatory events for women. The women’s tour sort of makes up the difference with its five Premier 5 events — but they don’t quite do the trick. Remember, those are 900-point events. So the prize money is less. Until the women’s tour offers the same number of big-money 1,000-point events as the men get, you can argue that tennis hasn’t really achieved pay equality. 

6. It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way 

There’s no rule against tournament owners reaching into their pockets to increase the prize money in their women’s event. Tennis Canada operates the Rogers Cup and turns a nice profit from it every year. But if it dipped into those funds to increase the prize money for the women’s tournament, that could mean less money to spend on, say, grassroots programs.

They might do it anyway. A Tennis Canada spokesperson told CBC Sports the organization is “concerned” with the pay gap at the Rogers Cup and will “seriously consider” taking some of the revenue increases it expects to see in coming years from selling the tournament’s broadcast rights and using them to “close the gap over time.” Tennis Canada is also in the process of equalizing the prize money at all the lower-tier pro events it runs.

Here’s an idea for how the women’s tour could close the pay gap at events that still have one: recruit a sponsor willing to top up the women’s prize pool for those tournaments. It’s already been done to some extent. A Japanese cosmetics company signed on as the new title sponsor for this year’s WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, and the winner could now pocket as much as $ 4.75 million. That’s not only a lot more than the $ 2.71 million the winner of the men’s ATP Finals in London will make — it’s the biggest cash prize in the history of tennis. Seems like a good look for the brand, the tournament and the players. Everybody wins.

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, the CBC Sports daily newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing below.

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CBC | Sports News

NBA champion Kawhi Leonard thanks Raptors, city of Toronto

Star forward Kawhi Leonard, who led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title in June, opened Wednesday’s introductory news conference with the Los Angeles Clippers by thanking his former team, the city of Toronto and fans across Canada.

Leonard, who was named Finals MVP, was arguably the most coveted prize in this year’s free-agent class, and met with several teams including the Raptors, Lakers and Clippers in his hometown of Los Angeles.

Speculation rose to a fever pitch that Leonard would re-sign with the Raptors after he flew to Toronto to speak with the team and president Masai Ujiri.

WATCH | Kawhi Leonard thanks Toronto for ‘amazing season and best parade ever’:

Kawhi Leonard has nice words for his former team and the city of Toronto during his introductory press conference with the L.A. Clippers. 2:09

But in the end, Leonard chose to return home and sign with the Clippers. He helped orchestrate the blockbuster trade that saw the Clippers obtain Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, forward Danilo Gallinari and five first-round draft picks.

Leonard reportedly signed a three-year, $ 103-million US deal with the Clippers with a player option for the 2020-21 season.

Former Raptors’ star forward Kawhi Leonard and fellow Clippers newcomer Paul George show off their new jerseys at Wednesday’s introductory news conference in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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Champion again: Kylie Masse repeats as 100m gold medallist at swimming worlds

Canada’s Kylie Masse made it back-to-back world titles in the women’s 100-metre backstroke, clocking 58.60 seconds at the world aquatics championships in Gwangju, South Korea, on Tuesday.

Australia’s Minna Atherton held the lead midway through the race but Masse came on strong in the final 50 metres for the victory at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center to join the late Victor Davis as the only Canadian swimmers to capture two gold at worlds.

Atherton placed second in 58.85 while Olivia Smoliga of the United States was third in 58.91.

“It is so hard to do that,” CBC Sports swim analyst Byron MacDonald said of repeating as world champion. “I believe only two other swimmers on the planet are going to be able to claim that after these worlds are over. Truly a great performance.”

She was only marginally off her best time today … and will be a medal threat many times over in her career.— CBC Sports swim analyst Byron MacDonald on Canada’s Taylor Ruck

Does this make Masse the odds-on favourite to win gold at next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo?

“No,” said MacDonald. “Will she be one of the favourites? Absolutely, yes. The field is so close … tenths of seconds that anything can happen in an Olympic year. Remember, [Canada’s] Penny [Oleksiak] did not even make worlds [in 2015 before winning four gold at the 2016 Olympics] so people can come from nowhere.”

Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C., appeared to be in medal contention but faded over the final 25 metres, finishing fourth in 58.96. Ruck, who set a personal-best time of 58.55 on April 3 at the Canadian trials, had withdrawn from the 200 freestyle hours earlier to concentrate on other events in Gwanju.

“Taylor was struggling a bit earlier this summer and is just starting to get back to top form,” says MacDonald, who coaches at the University of Toronto. “She was only marginally off her best time today. She is a fantastic athlete and will be a medal threat many times over in her career.”

American Kathleen Baker, who ended Masse’s world-record reign at 368 days last year, was sixth in 59.56. The 22-year-old from Winston-Salem, N.C., arrived in South Korea having not competed since March due to a rib injury, and recently pulled out of the 200 individual medley at worlds to focus on the backstroke.

Masse, 23, entered Tuesday’s race determined to take back the world record Baker snatched from the native of LaSalle, Ont., after clocking 58-flat at the U.S. swimming championships last July. A shocked Masse won gold two years ago at worlds with a then-world record time of 58.10.

Commonwealth gold

Masse was in Japan preparing for the Pan Pacific Championships last August when Baker broke her record. 

The U of T swimmer went on to capture gold in 58.61 with Baker clocking 58.83 for bronze. Earlier that summer, Masse stood atop the podium at the Commonwealth Games in Australia and came closest to taking back the world mark earlier this year with a 58.16 clocking at Canadian trials.

Masse’s performance gave Canada its second gold of these worlds after Maggie MacNeil of London, Ont., surprised many with her victory in Monday’s 100 butterfly.

Ruck, 19, is making her debut at worlds after recently completing her first year at Stanford University in California.

Her rise began at the 2016 Olympics in Rio when she helped Canada’s freestyle relay team to a pair of bronze medals.

Two years later at the Commonwealth Games, Ruck’s record eight-medal haul included gold in the 200 freestyle where she set a meet record, and silver in the 50 freestyle where she set a national record. Later in the summer, Ruck became the first Canadian to win five individual medals at a single Pan Pacific Championships.

Oleksiak advances to 200m freestyle final

Penny Oleksiak of Toronto qualified seventh for Wednesday’s women’s 200 freestyle final with a time of one minute 56.41 seconds.

The 19-year-old helped Canada to a bronze medal in the women’s 4×100 relay along with Kayla Sanchez, Maggie MacNeil and Taylor Ruck to open these world championships on Sunday.

Nearly three years on, Oleksiak still has trouble comprehending the gravity of her 2016 Olympic accomplishments when she won gold in the 100 freestyle, silver in 100 butterfly and relay bronze in the women’s 4×100 and 4×200.

“I think it’s just I don’t want to disappoint Canada, which sounds weird and sounds really cheesy,” she told CBC Sports recently. “But going into the next Olympics, I don’t want people to be disappointed in me if I don’t do as well as they think I’m going to do.”

Sun Yang again shunned at podium

Sun Yang was in the middle of controversy at the world swimming championships again. Only this time, it wasn’t his doing.

Sun won the 200-meter freestyle on Tuesday after Danas Rapsys of Lithuania finished first and got disqualified for an apparent false start.

The Chinese star touched second, but got elevated after Rapsys had already celebrated in the pool.

Sun appeared surprised, clasping his hands to his face, but quickly sat on the lane rope and raised both arms in the air as a mix of cheers and boos rang out.

Once again, Sun got shunned by a competitor on the medals podium. Scott kept his hands behind his back and refused to shake Sun’s hand, standing off on his own while the other medallists joined Sun to pose for photographers.

Sun, who served a three-month doping ban in 2014, is being allowed by FINA to compete in Gwangju ahead of a Court for Arbitration in Sport hearing in September that threatens Sun’s career.

Sun has been accused of smashing vials of his blood with a hammer during a clash last year with testers, and faces a lifetime ban if found guilty.

After Sun won the 400 free, silver medallist Mack Horton of Australia refused to step on the podium or acknowledge Sun during the medals ceremony. FINA, swimming’s governing body, sent warning letters to Swimming Australia and Horton for his actions.

WATCH | Mack Horton refuses to share the podium with Sun Yang:

Australian Mack Horton refused to stand next to Chinese swimmer Sun Yang on the men’s 400-metre freestyle podium. Sun is currently facing allegations of doping rule violations that could result in a ban from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. 0:59

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Canada’s Maggie MacNeil wins world 100m butterfly title after upsetting 3-time defending champion

Maggie MacNeil of London, Ont., knocked off three-time world champion and defending Olympic gold medallist Sarah Sjostrom to win the women’s 100-metre butterfly, posting a Canadian-record time of 55.83 seconds at the world aquatics championships on Monday.

Sjostrom was nearly one second ahead of MacNeil early on but the Canadian took charge and caught the reigning Olympic champion, handing the Swede her first loss in the event since 2013 and capturing Canada’s first gold medal at these worlds.

The 19-year-old MacNeil, making her worlds debut on the senior national team, turned in the eighth-fastest performance of all-time and is the second-fastest woman in history. She is also just the second female Canadian swimmer to ever win a world title, joining Kylie Masse, who won the 100 backstroke two years ago at worlds.

Sjostrom, who is tops in the world across the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle, crossed the line in 56.22. She has slipped a little in butterfly of late and that allowed MacNeil to take her throne.

Emma McKeon of Australia, who finished second to Sjostrom in the100 butterfly in the 2017 world final, was third on Monday in 56.61.

MacNeil, who recently completed her freshman year at the University of Michigan, was part of the Canadian women’s 4×100 freestyle relay team that won a bronze medal on Sunday at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center.

WATCH | Maggie MacNeil helps Canada to relay bronze on Sunday:

Kayla Sanchez, Maggie MacNeil, Penny Oleksiak and Taylor Ruck posted a time of three minutes 31.78 seconds to lead Canada’s 4×100 relay team its first medal at the event since 1978. 6:18
She qualified second for Monday’s 100 butterfly final in a personal-best time of 56.52, only 6-100ths of a second off Penny Oleksiak’s Canadian mark from her silver-medal winning performance at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Sjostrom qualified first in 56.29.

MacNeil’s victory on Monday upped Canada’s medal total to five in Gwangju, with two silver and two bronze at the two-week event that features swimming, artistic swimming, diving and water polo.

Pickrem collects bronze in 200m medley

Canada’s Syndey Pickrem challenged for the lead over the last 50 metres of the women’s 200 individual medley final on Monday but came up short, placing third in two minutes 8.70 seconds.

Katinka Hosszu, the unbeatable Hungarian, prevailed in a 2019 world-leading time of 2:07.53 for her fourth consecutive gold medal in the 200 IM at worlds. The 2016 Olympic gold medallist is also the three-time defending world champion in the 400 IM. Ye Shiwen of China rounded out the podium on Monday in 2:08.60.

Japan’s Yui Ohashi, who was considered a medal contender on Monday, was disqualified from the race.

The 22-year-old Pickrem, a dual Canadian/American citizen, shone at the recent FINA Champions Swim Series in Indianapolis, finishing second in the 200 medley. Her 2:08.61 put her just behind Hosszu (2:08.50) and ahead of Melanie Margalis (2:10.41) of the United States.

Masse top qualifier for 100 backstroke final

Kylie Masse, the reigning world champion in the 100 backstroke, qualified first for Tuesday’s final in 58.50 seconds. The native of LaSalle, Ont., won world gold in 2017 with a then-world record time of 58.10, breaking a mark that had stood for eight years.

But Masse’s time had a much shorter shelf life as American Kathleen Baker swam 58-flat at the U.S. swimming championships last July.

Taylor Ruck, Masse’s teammate, was third in qualifying Monday in 58.83 while Baker was fourth in 59.03.

Peaty captures men’s breaststroke title

Adam Peaty on Monday became the first man to win a third 100-metre breaststroke title at worlds.

The British swimmer claimed the title in 57.14 seconds, a night after he became the first man to break 57 seconds in the semifinals. Peaty was under his own world-record pace at the turn before coming home a full body-length in front and 1.32 seconds ahead of teammate James Wilby.

In the semifinals, the 2016 Olympic champion was timed in 56.88. Wilby touched in 58.46 and Yan Zibei of China was third in 58.63.

Horton given warning for podium protest

China’s Sun Yang was back in the pool for the 200 freestyle semifinals a night after winning the 400 free. He qualified second-fastest behind Clyde Lewis of Australia. The final is Tuesday night.

Earlier Monday, FINA’s executive board met in Gwangju to discuss Mack Horton’s podium protest against Sun and decided to send a warning letter to Swimming Australia and to Horton.

Australian Mack Horton refused to stand next to Chinese swimmer Sun Yang on the men’s 400-metre freestyle podium. Sun is currently facing allegations of doping rule violations that could result in a ban from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. 0:59

“While FINA respects the principle of freedom of speech, it has to be conducted in the right context,” the board said in a statement.

Horton refused to take his spot on the medals stand or shake Sun’s hand after finishing second to the Chinese star in the 400 free. The Aussie swimmer is angry that Sun, who served a three-month doping suspension in 2014, is being allowed to compete in Gwangju before he faces a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing in September that could potentially end his career.

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L.A. billboards push for Clippers to sign NBA champion Kawhi Leonard

A billboard near Los Angeles urges NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard to abdicate his “King of the North” throne in Toronto and become the “King of SoCal” with the Clippers.

With free agency set to begin this Sunday, two digital billboards along Interstate 5 in Downey, Calif., are encouraging the Raptors forward to sign with Los Angeles.

One features an image of a personalized California license plate that reads “KAWHI,” with the hashtag #ClipperNation. The other reads “King of SoCal” and has the hashtag #KAWHI2LAC.

A Clippers spokesman said the team had nothing to do with the billboards, located about 16 kilometres (10 miles) from Staples Center. It could be seen as tampering if the organization was involved, as the three-time all-star is still under contract with Toronto.

Leonard, who turns 28 on Saturday, is expected to decline his player option with the recently crowned NBA champs for 2019-20. The Clippers have a projected $ 52 million US in cap space and are expected to be among several teams seeking his services. July 6 is the first day of the signing period.

Leonard averaged 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals in 60 games with the Raptors in the 2018-19 regular season. He averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 boards, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals in 24 playoff games.

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