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Dawn Staley believes Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird will try for 2020 Olympics

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New U.S. women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley believes stalwarts Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird will return for a run at the 2020 Olympics.

“My gut feeling is yes,” Staley said when asked directly Friday, followed by a chuckle and adding no further detail.

Staley knows Taurasi and Bird from coaching them as an assistant on the 2008 and 2016 Olympic teams under Geno Auriemma. And from playing with them at the 2004 Olympics, the third and final Olympics for Staley, who carried the U.S. flag into the Opening Ceremony in Athens.

Those were the first Games for Taurasi and Bird, the youngest players on that team who have gone on to win four gold medals each. Nobody has won five Olympic basketball gold medals.

Neither Taurasi nor Bird has announced whether she will try for Tokyo 2020. Bird said before Rio that it would likely be her last Olympics. Taurasi said after the Rio final that she was likely done.

“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.”

Taurasi will be 38 years old in 2020. Bird will be 39. 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.

“We all know when it’s time,” Bird was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story on Staley’s hiring Thursday. “I don’t feel even comfortable talking about not just the Olympic team, but basketball. When it comes to USA Basketball it’s such a coveted position that we all work for, you only want to be in that position if you’re at the top of your game. We got a long way to go between now and then. It’s not a yes or a no.”

If there is any concern about the future of the U.S. women, winners of 49 straight Olympic games dating to 1992 (48 by double digits), it’s the unknown of who will succeed Bird as the primary point guard.

Staley, who passed that torch to Bird in 2004, shrugged off any roster concerns so early into her tenure and the Olympic cycle.

“We have an incredible pool of players, but we’ll cross that road when we get there,” Staley said Friday. “Players haven’t committed yet, nor have they told us they’re not going to come back and play. Until we’re at that crossroad, we’re going to act as if we’re going to have our best players representing the USA.”

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Chinese lead, star pairs struggle in world championships short program

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China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong recorded the highest pairs short program score in the world since the 2014 Olympics, topping the world championships field in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are well behind in seventh and 13th place, respectively.

Sui and Han, in just their second event this season, tallied a personal-best 81.23 points.

They lead by 1.39 over Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot going into the free skate Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in third.

The Chinese will go for their first world title after giving up a short-program lead last year and taking silver for a second straight time.

Full worlds short program results are here.

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Sui and Han missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Duhamel and Radford, looking to become the first pair to three-peat in 40 years, came in slowed by Radford’s hip injury suffered in the last week. Radford was off-balance on his triple toe loop landing Wednesday. Duhamel’s hand touched the ice on her throw triple Lutz landing.

They scored 72.67 points, which is 8.56 behind Sui and Han.

Stolbova and Klimov both suffered falls in their short program and scored 65.59, qualifying for the 16-pair free skate by four points. The Russian champions missed the autumn season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, who posted a personal-best 72.17 points for eighth place. The husband-and-wife pair are competing for the second time this season after Scimeca Knierim’s serious abdominal injury.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier suffered two falls and placed 20th, matching the worst U.S. pairs finish in worlds history. They did not qualify for the 16-pair free skate.

Therefore, the Knierims must finish 10th or better after the free skate to ensure the U.S. earns two pairs places at the 2018 Olympics.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. medal in pairs at worlds came in 2002. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

North Korean pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik placed 14th in the short program, the highest of any pair expected to compete for one of four final Olympic quota spots in September.

North Korea sent no athletes to the Sochi Olympics, and it’s not a guarantee it will qualify any athletes for PyeongChang, or if it will send athletes to South Korea in February. But Ryom and Kim’s personal best by nearly 11 points on Wednesday was very encouraging.

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Pairs Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 81.23
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 79.84
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 79.37
8. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 72.17
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Missy Franklin out due to shoulder surgeries

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Missy Franklin is sidelined from swimming competition for an undisclosed period of time to recover from surgeries on both of her shoulders due to bursitis, according to her social media.

“This is what’s best for me to come stronger than ever,” was posted on Franklin’s Instagram. “I’m so far from being done with this sport.”

The five-time Olympic champion was diagnosed in early January following an MRI, underwent surgeries that month and has returned to limited training.

Franklin, who has not raced since the Rio Olympics, will not compete in the next USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., in two weeks.

Her return date is not set.

The U.S. Championships are in June in Indianapolis and serve as a qualifying meet for the world championships in Budapest in July.

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