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Diana Taurasi wants to keep playing for Team USA, with Sue Bird

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Diana Taurasi jokes that she “signed a tombstone” with a Phoenix Mercury contract extension through 2020, when she will turn 38 years old.

“Puts me to my graveyard,” she quipped before Sunday’s loss at the New York Liberty.

Hold the eulogy. Taurasi is still one of the world’s best players and could suit up at a fifth Olympics three years.

She scored 37 points in a game last week — her most in the WNBA since 2010.

Including Sunday, she committed zero turnovers in back-to-back games for the first time in her career (420 WNBA games, including regular season and playoffs).

She’s shooting 56 percent from the field in her last three games after a 1-for-11 clunker in the opener May 14.

All that has to impress USA Basketball, which next year will try to three-peat at worlds for the first time.

Taurasi said in Rio that she had likely played her final Olympic game, ending her career in that sense 32-0 with four gold medals.

But now she’s sounding optimistic. Not only for the 2018 World Cup, but also the for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“As long as I’m playing at a high level, and I deserve to be out there, then I’ll always put that USA jersey on,” Taurasi said Sunday. “There’s nothing better than that, no matter how many times you’ve done it.”

It would have been fitting for Taurasi to bow out of the Olympics after Rio at the same time as her college coach, UConn’s Geno Auriemma.

“He picked golfing over us,” Taurasi joked Sunday of Auriemma handing over the national-team reins to Dawn Staley.

But Taurasi praised the hiring of Staley. Both guards, Taurasi and Staley were teammates at the 2004 Olympics, where Taurasi made her Olympic debut off the bench and Staley started every game in her Olympic farewell.

Taurasi recently talked with U.S. national-team director Carol Callan about her future with the program. She plans to have more conversations with Staley, Callan and USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley.

“See what direction they want to go in,” Taurasi said. “A lot of things can change. A lot of things can come up. I take it day by day. And when it’s time to make a commitment, then I will.”

Taurasi’s value to USA Basketball is enhanced by a lack of depth at guard. The U.S. team of 12 in Rio included just three primary guards — Taurasi, Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen, all 34 years and older.

Come 2020, all three of them will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic basketball player — men or women. Two years ago, Kobe Bryant was talked about potentially being placed on the U.S. men’s team in Rio at age 37 for his leadership and experience.

The women’s national team selection committee may face a similar situation.

“That’s going to be a big decision in how they go forward with the worlds and Tokyo,” Taurasi said when asked about “a Kobe-like role.”

Throughout her career, Taurasi has been most linked with Bird. Backcourt mates at UConn and at four Olympics.

Last year, Auriemma said he wouldn’t have coached the U.S. unless Taurasi and Bird had been there. Now, Taurasi is taking a page from her old coach’s book.

Her return to USA Basketball is not only dependent on her own play and a selection committee, but also at least somewhat on the undecided Bird’s plans.

“That would be a weird feeling to go out on the court without Sue, especially with USA Basketball,” Taurasi said. “So, no, I probably wouldn’t see that happening.”

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U.S., Great Britain to hold track and field dual meet

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The U.S. and Great Britain go head-to-head in a track and field meet on July 21 at the London Olympic Stadium.

“The Meet” will include nine running, jumping, hurdles and relay events and last two hours. Specific events and athletes will be announced early next year.

The U.S. topped the overall medal standings at every Olympics and world outdoor championships since 2004.

Great Britain is one of three countries to earn at least five medals at every Olympics and worlds since 2007, joining the U.S. and Kenya.

British athletes made six podiums at the just-completed worlds at the London Olympic Stadium, including in all four relays. The other two medals came from Mo Farah, who is moving to road racing and marathons after this season.

“The Meet” is similar to swimming’s “Duel in the Pool,” a biennial head-to-head competition between the U.S. and rival Australia from 2003 through 2007 and between the U.S. and Europe between 2009 and 2015.

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Five women’s gymnasts to watch at P&G Championships

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As Rio gold medalists decide on their futures, this week’s P&G Championships mark the first showcase for a new class of U.S. women’s gymnasts.

For the first time since 2008, nobody in the nationals field in Anaheim has competed at an Olympics. Usually, a gymnast or two carries over into the post-Olympic year, like Bridget Sloan in 2009 and Kyla Ross in 2013.

But this year, the feeling is akin to 2005, when no woman (or man) from the 2004 Athens Games chalked up at nationals.

Back then, a 15-year-old Nastia Liukin, who had already starred in a commercial during the 2004 Olympics, made her senior nationals debut and won the all-around. Three years later, Liukin won the Olympic all-around in Beijing.

There will be talk this week of finding the next Liukin, or Gabby Douglas, or Simone Biles, who, like Liukin, won her senior nationals debut the year after the Olympics.

“Some of them [from Rio], hopefully Simone, will be coming back, but I think this is a great opportunity for some of these girls to go out there and prove that they’re just as ready to compete at a world championships,” said Liukin, now an NBC Olympics analyst. “They have to step up a little bit and kind of become the leaders.”

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Gymnasts this week are vying to impress new U.S. national team coordinator Valeri Liukin (Nastia’s father). The four-woman roster for October’s worlds, where there is no team event, will be named after a selection camp later this summer.

Five gymnasts to watch at the P&G Championships:

Ragan Smith
Rio Olympic alternate
2017 AT&T American Cup champion

The Texan performed admirably in her first senior season in 2016, placing fifth in the all-around at the Olympic Trials. Her best events are balance beam and floor exercise, but the U.S. needed uneven bars help in Rio. So she went to the Games as an alternate at age 15, making headlines for this photo with 6-foot-11 basketball player DeAndre Jordan.

Smith, coached by 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal, emerged this year as the U.S.’ most reliable all-arounder and clear favorite this week. She won the American Cup on March 4 despite a beam fall. A definite all-around medal favorite at October’s worlds.

Ashton Locklear
Rio Olympic alternate
2014 World team champion

Locklear was beaten for the Olympic team bars specialist spot by Madison Kocian after nearly matching Kocian in scores in four routines between last year’s P&G Championships and Olympic Trials. The 19-year-old is not considered an all-around threat this week but is favored to make the world team based on her bars ability. She was fourth in the event at 2014 Worlds.

Riley McCusker
2017 Jesolo Trophy all-around winner

McCusker, who has the same coach as Laurie Hernandez, struggled at the American Cup in her first senior competition, falling on bars and beam. She rebounded to win Jesolo a month later and remain in the mix as the No. 2 U.S. all-arounder (Smith wasn’t at Jesolo).

However, McCusker was on crutches with a cast on her wrist in early July and said she expected to be back to peak form in September, not August.

Morgan Hurd
2017 Stuttgart World Cup bronze medalist

Hurd, a first-year senior who competes in glasses, was adopted from China as a toddler and now lives with her mom in Delaware.

Liukin, asked to name gymnasts to watch this week, started with Hurd, whom she says has the highest floor exercise start value in the world. “She could be capable of winning a world all-around medal and possibly become a world champion on floor,” Liukin said.

Jade Carey
2017 U.S. Classic vault winner

The U.S. has a tradition of sending a vault specialist to worlds, but neither of the top vaulters from the last Olympic cycle — Biles nor MyKayla Skinner — is competing this week. Enter Carey, a 17-year-old who wasn’t an elite gymnast before this season.

Carey performed the difficult Amanar vault at July’s U.S. Classic, where she was the only gymnast to perform two vaults, which is required to compete for medals on the event at worlds.

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