Katie Taylor

Ireland’s history at the Olympics

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Ireland’s athletic prowess hasn’t always converted to the Olympic stage, but the Emerald Isle has left impressions across several sports. Let’s highlight them on St. Patrick’s Day.

Ireland has won 31 medals, including nine golds, all in the Summer Olympics, according to sports-reference.com.

The best-known recent Olympians include Katie Taylor, who won women’s boxing gold in its debut in 2012.

Taylor was the grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day parade Sunday in Toronto, where she resides. She is 27 and planning to defend her title in Rio de Janeiro.

The most decorated Irish Olympian of all time is swimmer Michelle Smith, who won three gold medals and one bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, accounting for all of Ireland’s medals at those Games.

Smith came under a doping controversy cloud at and following her surprisingly successful Olympics. She was mentioned on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1997 and, in 1998, was banned four years for tampering with one of her urine samples. That ended her swimming career, and she went into a law profession.

“She had enough whiskey in her sample to be dead,” Australian Olympic swimming champion Susie O’Neill said in 2012.

Then there’s Cian O’Connor, who won gold in individual show jumping at the 2004 Olympics but was stripped of it after his horse tested positive.

Ireland could experience unprecedented success at the 2016 Olympics with the addition of golf. 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and two-time major champion Rory McIlroy are ranked in the top 15 in the world.

They are both from Northern Ireland, whose athletes can compete for either Ireland or Great Britain at the Olympics. McDowell is believed to be tied to representing Ireland at the Olympics because he played for Ireland at last year’s World Cup of golf.

McIlroy did not play in last year’s World Cup and hasn’t decided on which nation he will represent, should he qualify for 2016.

1987 Tour de France champion Stephen Roche competed in the Olympics once, finishing 45th in the road race at the 1980 Moscow Games.

In gymnastics, Kieran Behan became a story at the London 2012 Olympics, the 5-foot-4 tumbler who defied the doctors who said he would never walk again.

He made it to the Games overcoming a complication from surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumor in his leg when he was 10 that left him in a wheelchair. He also later suffered brain damage from a training accident as a boy. Then he tore his right ACL. Then his left.

Irish influences have been seen at the Olympics in other forms. In Sochi, U.S. figure skater Jason Brown gained fame in the lead up to the Olympics and during the Games with his eye-catching “Riverdance” free skate.

In the Paralympics, Irish visually impaired sprinter Jason Smyth is a four-time gold medalist over 2008 and 2012 and has trained with American record holder Tyson Gay.

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Diana Taurasi opens door for 2020 Olympics

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Diana Taurasi may not be done with the U.S. national team after all.

The four-time Olympic champion “hopes to play through the 2020 Summer Games,” according to ESPN.com.

Taurasi, 34, said playing at Tokyo 2020 “would be incredible” after speaking with U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan about her Team USA future earlier this month, according to the Arizona Republic. Taurasi recently signed a multiyear extension with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, though the exact contract length wasn’t disclosed.

“It would be probably the biggest accomplishment if I can make it to five Olympics, but that’s so far down the road,” Taurasi said, according to the newspaper. “I’ve always said I’m really worried about these next couple of months with Phoenix then I’ll regroup and talk to USA Basketball again.

“There’s so many great young player that if it’s time to move on and go that direction, that’s great. If they want me to around to help and win another gold medal, I’ll do anything they want me to do.”

New U.S. coach Dawn Staley, an Olympic teammate of Taurasi’s in 2004, said in March that her gut feeling was that Taurasi would return for Tokyo 2020.

Taurasi said in August, right after the Rio final, that she had likely played her last Olympic game, ending her career 32-0 at the Olympics.

“This was probably my last one,” Taurasi said on NBCSN. “I’ll have a talk about it with coach, but, for right now, I’m settled with four, and I feel good about it.”

If Taurasi plays at Tokyo 2020, she can match Teresa Edwards‘ American record of playing in five Olympic basketball tournaments. (So can Sue Bird, who is two years older than Taurasi but hasn’t committed to a 2020 run.)

Taurasi can also take aim at the U.S. Olympic basketball scoring record of 488 points held by Lisa Leslie. Taurasi is in second place with 379 points after Rio. She would need to average 13.7 points per game to surpass Leslie in Tokyo, assuming the U.S. plays its usual eight games. Taurasi averaged a career-high 15.6 in Rio.

Taurasi will be 38 years old in 2020. The oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player of all time was Tamika Catchings, who turned 37 two weeks before the Rio Games. Catchings has retired.

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MORE: Dawn Staley to coach U.S. women at Tokyo 2020

Julia Mancuso pushes past hip injury for final Olympic run

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When Julia Mancuso was 18 years old, a doctor told the ski racer that she needed to make a choice.

Continue competing (Mancuso had already been to an Olympics at age 17) or live a healthy life.

Mancuso was born with hip displaysia, a misalignment of hip bones that causes the joint to deteriorate faster than normal. The doctor told Mancuso she needed reconstructive surgery.

“I left crying and never went back to that doctor,” she said.

Mancuso went to the slopes instead.

In 15 years since that doctor’s visit, she put together one of the greatest Alpine careers in U.S. history — four Olympic medals (most by a U.S. female skier), five world championships medals and 36 World Cup podiums.

The right hip problems persisted. Mancuso did undergo hip surgery after her breakthrough Olympic giant slalom title in 2006.

The pain returned and, by 2015, became unbearable.

She underwent another hip surgery, this one much more complicated. The operation fixed cartilage damage, cleaned up bone spurs and put more anchors in her labrum because of a slight tear with doctors warning that her hip would probably be 90 percent of what it was, according to The Associated Press.

Mancuso spent six months on crutches. When she returns to the World Cup circuit this fall, Mancuso will have gone more than two and a half years between races.

“It’s really hard for me to walk normally,” Mancuso said last month. “A lot of people ask me why I’m doing it [skiing], because I can’t even walk. Why would I ski? The truth is, skiing is way easier. Skiing is fun because it is easy, and my body loves it. My body loves to ski, and my body needs to ski. … It improves my quality of life.”

Because of her hip, Mancuso said PyeongChang will be her fifth and final Olympics, should she make it there. She might not compete beyond next season.

The U.S. women’s speed team is deep — Lindsey Vonn, World Cup podium finishers Laurenne Ross, Jackie Wiles and Stacey Cook, the young Breezy Johnson. Even Mikaela Shiffrin dabbles. A maximum of four women per nation can start an Olympic race.

The super combined, where Mancuso earned silver and bronze medals at the last two Olympics, appears to be her best shot.

Mancuso is nothing if not dedicated, evidenced by Instagram Stories workout diaries. This complements her laid-back lifestyle, spending half her time in Fiji with her husband of five months and much of the other half in Maui.

She already has post-PyeongChang plans, to honeymoon in Tonga and dive with whales.

Before that, Mancuso hopes to have one more surprise Olympic season.

In 2006, she made her first World Cup podium two weeks before the Torino Winter Games, then won the giant slalom in Torino.

In 2010, she took silver in the Vancouver downhill and super combined despite making zero World Cup podiums in the previous two years.

In 2014, Mancuso snagged combined bronze thanks to the fastest downhill run in Sochi. That came during a season where her best World Cup finish was seventh.

Just making the Olympic team would mean history. No U.S. woman has competed in five Winter Games. Mancuso, halfpipe snowboarder Kelly Clark and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall can become the first.

Mancuso could also become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.

“I’m excited to put my biggest and last effort into these next Olympics,” Mancuso said, “and then see what happens.”

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