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Perry Baker back in U.S. rugby 7s squad for Tokyo Olympics

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CHULA VISTA, Calif. (AP) — Two-time world rugby sevens player of the year Perry Baker has recovered from a serious leg injury to earn his place in the U.S. Olympic squad announced Friday.

U.S. head coach Mike Friday announced a squad of 12 players, one alternate and two traveling reserves for the Olympic men’s tournament which kicks off on July 26.

Carlin Isles, touted as the fastest rugby player in the world, captain Madison Hughes, Danny Barrett, and Folau Niua are among four players with more than 50 appearances in the World Sevens Series in the Olympic roster.

Isles and Baker have each scored more than 200 tries in the world series tournaments and give the U.S. team plenty of scoring power out wide.

“This selection process has been incredibly competitive and that is a credit to the entire squad, especially off the back of what has been a hugely difficult year for the world,” Friday said in a statement. “We’ve worked hard as a group to adapt and overcome all the adversities we’ve faced both individually and collectively.”

Baker injured his leg in February but recovered in time to play in a tune-up event in Los Angeles last weekend to confirm his spot in the squad.

NFL veteran Nate Ebner withdrew from selection contention because of injury.

Ebner was playing for the New England Patriots when he took time out in 2016 to play for the U.S. men’s team as rugby sevens made its Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro.

The 32-year-old Ebner had surgery after playing for the New York Giants in the 2020 NFL season and didn’t recover in time to push for selection.

Friday said his men’s roster was chasing a spot on the podium.

When Friday joined the program in 2014 the U.S. men’s team was near relegation in the world sevens series. Now the U.S. men are statistically one of the top teams in the world.

The 2020 season ended after just six tournaments because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing international play more than a year.

In 2019 — the final full season before the pandemic — the U.S. men were leading the competition until Olympic champion Fiji won the last two tournaments to take top spot.

The U.S. women also finished second in the standings in 2019 and were fifth last year behind Olympic medal winners New Zealand, Australia and Canada and France when the series was shut down.

The women’s Olympic team was announced last month, with Abby Gustaitis and Kristen Thomas selected as co-captains. Ten of the 12 starters will be first-time Olympians with the exception of Lauren Doyle and Alev Kelter, who were on the U.S. team which placed fifth in Rio.

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U.S. squads:

Men: Perry Baker, Danny Barrett, Maceo Brown, Madison Hughes (captain), Martin Iosefo, Carlin Isles, Matai Leuta, Folau Niua, Ben Pinkelman, Joe Schroeder, Stephen Tomasin, Kevon Williams.

Women: Kayla Canett-Oca, Lauren Doyle, Cheta Emba, Abby Gustaitis (co-captain), Nicole Heavirland, Leyla Alev Kelter, Kristi Kirshe, Ilona Maher, Jordan Matyas, Ariana Ramsey, Naya Tapper, Kristen Thomas (co-captain).

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More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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