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Tucker West wins again after strange luge World Cup week

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WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Those competing in World Cup luge races Saturday night got only one run instead of the customary two, because delays in getting the sleds to the track forced some schedule changes.

Tucker West of the U.S. apparently didn’t mind.

West won the men’s World Cup race for the second straight weekend, finishing in 50.109 seconds for his third career victory on the circuit. Wolfgang Kindl of Austria was second in 50.153 seconds, and Andi Langenhan of Germany was third in 50.243 seconds.

“He is on top of the world,” USA Luge women’s racer Summer Britcher said of West, as he draped himself in an American flag on the podium after the race. “You can see it.”

West’s win capped a strange World Cup week in Whistler, where most athletes waited around all week and were unable to train while their sleds were stuck in transit because of a snowstorm.

“This was a crazy week,” West said.

West didn’t get on the Whistler ice for practice until Saturday. John Fennell didn’t even get that.

Fennell, like all other athletes who rely on Nations Cup qualifying races to get a chance at being in the World Cup field, couldn’t get on the track at the Whistler Sliding Center this week. Shipping problems meant most competitors planning to race in Whistler didn’t have their sleds until Friday night, leading to a very condensed World Cup schedule — with all training and races being squeezed into Saturday.

To make that happen, Nations Cup runs were canceled.

That meant a lot of sliders were in Whistler this week for nothing.

“I feel terrible for all of the athletes who have traveled to Whistler who will receive no time on the ice and will only be allowed to be spectators,” USA Luge veteran Chris Mazdzer said.

Mazdzer didn’t like the move by International Luge Federation officials, and teammate Fennell was maybe the biggest casuality. Fennell used to race for Canada, knows the Whistler track well and this weekend was a legitimate chance for him to collect some critical World Cup points that could have gotten his first year with the Americans rolling.

Instead, he got nothing. No points, and now probably no chance of qualifying for the world championships later this season.

“I’m feeling angry, frustrated, upset,” Fennell said. “I don’t think it’s the right decision. Zero World Cup points is huge for me.”

Fennell had his sled with him in Whistler all week, while many sliders didn’t get theirs until Friday night — a truck involved in the shipping of sleds from last weekend’s World Cup in Lake Placid, New York got stuck in a snowstorm and it took several days to get the sleds rerouted and on the move again. But since so many sliders did not have equipment, Fennell and others who had their sleds were told to keep them off the ice.

“This was my best chance to do well this season and show coaches and the organization what I’m capable of, and it was a waste of time, effort and money,” Fennell said. “I’m walking away empty-handed.”

Canada’s Alex Gough walked away in a very different mood. Gough won the women’s race Saturday night on her home track, finishing the single-heat competition in 38.796 seconds. Germans took second and third, with Natalie Geisenberger finishing in 38.848 and Tatjana Huefner in 38.850.

For the U.S., Emily Sweeney was fourth, Erin Hamlin sixth and Britcher took seventh.

“This was a very interesting week,” Sweeney said.

In doubles, Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken of Germany prevailed in 38.542 seconds. Fellow Germans Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt were second in 38.570, and Peter Penz and Georg Fischler of Austria were third in 38.642.

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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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