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Olga Korbut puts 5 Olympic medals up for auction

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Olga Korbut walks around the man-made lake in anonymity, despite the bright red warmup jacket with “Olga” in sparkly letters on her left shoulder.

Korbut likes it here, this little suburban slice of nature, a place where she can get her body moving, listen to the birds, stroll alongside the dog walkers.

Korbut stops at a set of bars to stretch, torqueing her hip at an impossible-for-mortals angle that sends her right foot above her head. She moves to the other side of the bars, puts her hands on the ground and sends her feet into the air, propping them up against a sign. She holds the handstand for about 30 seconds and flips back over, waving her hands upward like a gymnast completing a routine.

Even at 61, Korbut is still strong and supple, appearing as if she could hop onto the uneven bars and complete the Korbut Flip, just as she did more than 40 years ago as a teenager who changed gymnastics forever.

So, too, is her mind, content with her place in history and her quiet life in Arizona.

“I love being here, with the nature, the nice weather,” Korbut said, the accent from her native Belarus still noticeable. “It’s paradise.”

Korbut sprang onto the Olympic scene like a bottle rocket, a 4-foot-11, pigtailed waif who turned gymnastics on its head.

Nicknamed “The Sparrow from Minsk,” she did things no one had seen before, acrobatics that pushed the sport forward from balletic motions of the past. And she did it with an un-Soviet flair, playing up to crowd to the point it loved her even when she failed.

Korbut won three gold medals and a silver as a 17-year-old at the 1972 Munich Games, then added another gold and silver at Montreal in 1976.

She instantly became a worldwide star. People knew her around the world and treated her like royalty wherever she went, a transition that was sometimes difficult for a teenager from Grodno, near the borders with Poland and Lithuania.

“I came unknown to the Olympic Games and overnight people make me famous,” Korbut said. “I wasn’t prepared for that, but it was funny when I came to the store with my money, they would give it to me free.”

Korbut traveled the world doing exhibitions and became an ambassador of sorts for her sport, once meeting President Richard Nixon. She spearheaded efforts to help victims of the 1986 Chernobyl accident and moved to the United States in 1991, becoming a gymnastics teacher and motivational speaker while continuing to raise money for victims of the nuclear accident.

Korbut struggled while coaching young gymnasts at first. Many of them lacked the motivation she had, but then again, few people have that kind of inner drive to be the best in the world.

Through the years, Korbut adjusted her coaching style and shifted to private classes, where the gymnasts tended to be more motivated.

“In the first, I saw that maybe they didn’t want to do it, maybe their parents pushed them in it,” she said. “But I do my classes very differently, to not push them, but invite them into this world. I would show them my medals and tell them that it’s not very hard if you love to do that. I show them and teach them to be in love with gymnastics.”

Korbut moved to Arizona after participating in a clinic here. She has spent her time in the desert giving private lessons and touring the world to promote gymnastics.

With her on every trip: her Olympic medals.

Korbut brings the medals with her everywhere, pulling them out at each stop so her fans can not only see but touch them.

“Millions of people around the world touched those medals through the years,” said Jay Schanfeldt, Korbut’s fiance.

Now her fans will have an opportunity to own those medals.

From Feb. 25-26, five of Korbut’s Olympic medals — her floor exercise gold from Munich among them — and some of her Olympic memorabilia will be available at Heritage Auctions’ Sports Platinum Auction.

Korbut and Schanfeldt say the selling of her memorabilia is not a desperate money grab, though they acknowledge the money certainly will be nice. They see it as more of a chance to make a deeper connection with her fans, allowing them to be part of a history they helped create.

“This is Olympic history, and I would like to share with the whole world,” Korbut said. “They helped to make it history and make it live forever. This is how I wanted to share with the people.”

Once the auction is over, Korbut will go back to her peaceful life.

She’ll continue to walk around the lake in the middle of Scottsdale every day, continue her workouts to stay in shape and teach the occasional private lesson if someone should want one from one of the greatest Olympics gymnasts of all time.

“Arizona is a retirement place, so I enjoy it here,” she said. “I always wanted to plant to garden. I never had time for that and now I will do whatever I want, plant fruits, herbs and enjoy the weather.”

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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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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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