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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Several women’s players spurn worlds inquiry from USA Hockey

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As sports organizations and notable hockey figures express support of the U.S. women’s team, several players say they rejected overtures from USA Hockey to serve as replacements for the upcoming world championships.

Two players told The Associated Press on Friday that USA Hockey reached out to them to gauge their interest for the worlds, which begin next week in Plymouth, Michigan.

Brittany Ott, a goaltender for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, and Annie Pankowski, a junior forward at the University of Wisconsin, said the email from USA Hockey was not an invitation but rather an inquiry about their availability.

“I responded to that email and I said I’m not willing,” Pankowski said.

A third player, goalie Lauren Dahm, told the AP on Saturday she also turned down an invitation. Dahm plays for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Boston Blades.

The U.S. team has said it plans to boycott the worlds over a wage dispute with USA Hockey, which confirmed Thursday it would begin reaching out to potential replacement players. Several players posted messages on social media saying they support the national team and would decline or have declined any outreach from USA Hockey.

“From a personal standpoint I have never been invited to a USA Hockey series or camp or anything like that and I would honestly love to be invited to something like that,” Ott said by phone. “However at the current time, this is a fight that I believe in and I’m definitely going to stand up and help fight as much as I can.”

Many players posted a version of a Jerry Rice quote on Twitter on Friday: “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t. I said no to USAH & will not play in the 2017WC.” Not all players who tweeted that message were asked by USA Hockey if they could play.

On Saturday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the chorus of support for the players, saying on Twitter the organization stands behind their pursuit of fairness and equality.

“These women understand inequality when they see it and are expressing their right to be treated fairly as athletes and workers,” Smith tweeted. “Of course, they have the NFLPA’s support in daring to withhold their services until a fair agreement is reached.”

Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol posted his support on Twitter, calling players competitors and role models.

On Friday, the NHL Players’ Association and Major League Baseball players posted messages of support. The NHLPA posted on Twitter that it supports players and panned USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements, adding that the decision “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

The MLBPA encouraged all female hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period. The sides met for 10-plus hours Monday, but players have called USA Hockey’s counterproposal “disappointing.”

USA Hockey said Thursday its priority was to have all the players selected for the national team on the ice March 31 when the tournament begins. But the organization added that it informed players’ representatives it would begin reaching out to potential replacements with the tournament coming up.

Star national team forward Hilary Knight said last week she wished USA Hockey luck putting together a suitable team of replacements to defend the gold medal because the player pool was united in the dispute. Ott and Pankowski said they had not heard from any players expressing a willingness to play in worlds.

“It’s a very unified front,” Ott said. “It’s a tight-knit community that we have in women’s hockey here. This is definitely a big opportunity for us to make a big change and have a big impact on our sport and have it grow. We’re all standing together.”

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World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.