Gwen Jorgensen

Gwen Jorgensen’s glory awaits in Edmonton

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Gwen Jorgensen leads the ITU World Triathlon Series rankings going into the season-ending Grand Final on Saturday, just as she did a year ago.

Jorgensen, who took up the sport in 2010, went to the 2013 Grand Final in London’s Hyde Park eyeing her first World Championship and a better finish than in her Olympic debut at the same site (38th, after a flat tire).

She accomplished neither.

Jorgensen crashed on the second bike lap and did not finish the 2013 Grand Final. She tumbled from first to fourth in the rankings.

“I’ll leave London even more motivated,” Jorgensen said last year, “and am very much looking forward to what next year holds.”

What a year it has been.

Jorgensen became the first athlete to win four straight World Triathlon Series events in the same season and leads the rankings by a mountainous 848 points (compared to eight going into last year’s Grand Final).

She will win this year’s World Championship (accumulating World Series results) with a finish of 16th or better in Edmonton on Saturday. A fifth straight win would cap one of the most dominant years for any Rio Olympic hopeful.

“I still make mistakes. I’m not unbeatable,” said Jorgensen, truthfully, since she finished 12th in Auckland and third in Cape Town in April before rattling off four straight wins. “You go into every race, and you have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Jorgensen’s rise also couldn’t have been predicted.

She graduated from Wisconsin in 2009 and was less than a year into an accounting job with Ernst & Young when approached out of the blue by USA Triathlon.

Jorgensen competed for the Badgers’ cross-country, swimming and track and field teams, but won zero NCAA Championships medals.

Still, that multi-sport background that appealed to USA Triathlon.

Jorgensen proved a natural, quickly gaining elite status and making her first World Triathlon Series podium in 2011.

Her real leap came after the London Olympics, when, seven minutes after the winner, she crossed the Hyde Park finish line thinking only about gold in Rio.

Jorgensen changed her training regimen later in 2012, from working mostly alone in the U.S. to joining a group of men and women splitting time in Wollongong, Australia, and Vitoria, Spain.

Jorgensen is now the target, two years before the Games go to Brazil.

She won her most recent World Series event in Hamburg, Germany, by six seconds, though she was at her “D game,” said her coach, who also believes Jorgensen still has room to grow.

“If I give somebody an inch, they’re going to take a mile from me,” Jorgensen said.

American triathletes have collected a total of one medal since the sport was added to the Olympics in 2000 — a bronze in 2004.

We may be in the midst of a professional breakthrough in a sport already known for rising recreational participation in the U.S.

The world’s second-ranked female triathlete is also American, Sarah Groff.

To have any chance Saturday, Groff and the other contenders must lead Jorgensen going into the run, and by a hefty margin.

Jorgensen has beaten the field by 63, 84, 39 and 84 seconds in the running splits of the four World Triathlon Series events with 10Ks this season.

“If it comes down to a running race,” she said, “I’d say it’s my race to lose.”

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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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