Ben Sheets

The Olympic All-Star baseball team

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Baseball may no longer be in the Olympics, but several MLB stars double as Olympians.

Baseball rosters at the Olympics, an official sport since 1992, included many great collegians and minor-league players for the U.S. as well as some surprisingly strong international names.

Here’s one man’s Olympic baseball All-Star team, choosing 25 players from the five Olympic baseball tournaments who went onto notable MLB careers, with statistics via sports-reference.com. This list does not include players from when baseball was a demonstration sport in the Olympics, such as 1984 or 1988.

Catcher
Charles Johnson, U.S. (1992)
Jason Varitek, U.S. (1992)

Varitek and Johnson were teammates on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team, the first Games that included baseball as an official sport. The U.S. finished 5-2 in eight-team group play but lost its last two games — to Cuba in the semifinals and Japan in the bronze-medal game — to finish fourth.

They split time behind the plate. Johnson batted .294 over six games, while Varitek hit .286. Johnson, then 21, had just finished his career at the University of Miami. Varitek, then 19, was at Georgia Tech.

Varitek went on to make three All-Star teams over a 15-year MLB career with the Boston Red Sox. Johnson made two All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves in a 12-year career with the Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Colorado Rockies.

Honorable Mention: Pat Borders, U.S. (2000); Kenji Johjima, Japan (2004); Dave Nilsson, Australia (2000, 2004).

source: Getty Images
Doug Mientkiewicz (Getty Images).

Infield
1B — Jason Giambi, U.S. (1992)
2B — Tadahito Iguchi, Japan (1996)
SS — Nomar Garciaparra, U.S. (1992)
3B — Troy Glaus, U.S. (1996)
1B/3B — Doug Mientkiewicz, U.S. (2000)
2B/SS — Alexei Ramirez, Cuba (2004)

Giambi and Garciaparra joined Varitek and Johnson on the team in Barcelona.

Giambi was coming off a career at Long Beach State and was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics in 1992 as well. He batted .296 in Barcelona, playing in all nine U.S. games and would go on to a 19-year MLB career with the Athletics, New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians, making five All-Star teams and winning an MVP.

Garciaparra, then 19 and embarking on his Georgia Tech career, batted .200 in seven games in Barcelona. He went onto a 14-year MLB career with the Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Dodgers and Athletics, making six All-Star teams.

Iguchi starred on Japan’s 1996 silver-medal winning team in Atlanta. He batted .405, including a 5-for-5 game and one home run. Iguchi was 21 then and didn’t come over to MLB until 2005, playing four years with the White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres.

Glaus was part of the 1996 U.S. team that won bronze at Fulton County Stadium. Glaus hit .219 in nine games, but four of his hits were home runs. He was a four-time All-Star in 13 MLB seasons with the Anaheim Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves.

Mientkiewicz, then 26, was a star of the 2000 Olympics coming off his Triple-A season in the Minnesota Twins system. His eighth-inning grand slam propelled the U.S. to a 4-0 win over South Korea in group play, and he hit .414 overall as the U.S. won a stunning gold with Tommy Lasorda at the helm. He compiled a 12-year MLB career, which began in 1998, with seven teams.

Ramirez was 22 when he played in the 2004 Athens Olympics for Cuba, which won gold losing one game all tournament. He hit .278 in nine games in Athens and is about to start his seventh MLB season with the White Sox with a career batting average of .277.

Honorable Mention: Travis Lee, U.S. (1996); Phil Nevin, U.S. (1992); Brett Lawrie, Canada (2008).

source: Getty Images
Nick Markakis (right) (Getty Images).

Outfield
Jeffrey Hammonds, U.S. (1992)
Jacque Jones, U.S. (1996)
Mark Kotsay, U.S. (1996)
Nick Markakis, Greece (2004)
Brad Wilkerson, U.S. (2000)

Hammonds was the fourth overall pick by the Orioles in 1992 out of Stanford before going to Barcelona. He lived up to that hype in the Olympics, hitting .432 with base knocks in all nine games for the fourth-place U.S. He made one All-Star team in a 13-year MLB career with six teams.

Jones and Kotsay were both collegiate players in California and drafted by MLB teams in the first two rounds in 1996. Jones hit .395 with five home runs at the Olympics, while Kotsay went .273 with three homers. They both went onto long MLB careers scattered among different clubs but made no All-Star teams.

Markakis, born and raised in New York and Georgia, was part of a Greek team at the Athens Olympics that included players who had Greek heritage. He hit .346 for Greece, which went 1-6, and also pitched in two games. A 2003 first-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles, Markakis is going into his ninth MLB season.

Wilkerson, a collegiate star at Florida, made the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team while coming up through the Montreal Expos minor-league system. He hit .216 in nine games in Sydney, made his MLB debut in 2001 and played eight years in the majors.

Honorable Mention: Dexter Fowler, U.S. (2008); Kosuke Fukudome, Japan (1996, 2004); So Taguchi, Japan (2000); Michael Tucker, U.S. (1992).

source: Getty Images
Stephen Strasburg (Getty Images).

Pitchers
Jose Contreras, Cuba (1996, 2000)
Yu Darvish, Japan (2008)
R.A. Dickey, U.S. (1996)
Orlando Hernandez, Cuba (1992)
Billy Koch, U.S. (1996)
Hiroki Kuroda, Japan (2004)
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Japan (2000, 2004)
Roy Oswalt, U.S. (2000)
Ben Sheets, U.S. (2000)
Stephen Strasburg, U.S. (2008)
Koji Uehara, Japan (2004, 2008)
Jeff Weaver, U.S. (1996)

Hernandez and Contreras were two of the first great Cuban players to make it in the majors.

Hernandez gave up four runs in 6 2/3 innings, striking out 10 at the 1992 Olympics as Cuba won gold. El Duque defected before the 1998 MLB season and pitched nine years in the majors.

Contreras’ two Olympics included complete-game shutouts of Japan and Australia in Sydney in 2000. He defected before the 2003 season and played through 2013, making one All-Star team.

Darvish, Kuroda and Matsuzaka have seen varying results as starters in the majors after playing for Japan at the Olympics. Darvish, second in last season’s Cy Young voting with the Texas Rangers, had the worst Olympic ERA of the trio — 5.14 in seven innings in 2008. Kuroda allowed no runs in 2004, striking out 13 over nine innings in three combined appearances. Matsuzaka pitched at least 7 2/3 innings in all five of his Olympic appearances, striking out 45 batters over 43 innings with a 2.09 ERA.

Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young winner, pitched in the 1996 Olympics after finishing his NCAA career at Tennessee. He won in both of his appearances in Atlanta in U.S. routs en route to bronze.

Oswalt and Sheets were anchors on the memorable 2000 U.S. Olympic gold-medal team. Oswalt threw six innings of two-run ball to beat South Korea in the semifinals, and Sheets blanked Cuba in the gold-medal game. Both went on to All-Star MLB careers.

Strasburg pitched for Team USA in the final Olympic baseball tournament in 2008 while in the middle of his San Diego State career. He one-hit the Netherlands in group play and got the call against mighty Cuba in the semifinals. He gave up two earned runs over four innings in a 10-2 loss, but the U.S. bounced back for bronze.

Honorable Mention: Masahiro Tanaka, Japan (2008); Chien-Ming Wang, Taiwan (2004).

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U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order