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PyeongChang Olympic organizers downplay North Korea concern

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ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP) — South Korea’s Olympic organizers played down concern over ongoing tensions with North Korea on Monday and also said that work has been completed on all venues for the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Lee Hee-beom, president of the PyeongChang organizing committee, said the International Olympic Committee has made it very clear that the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games will go ahead as scheduled.

“There is no Plan B,” Lee said, speaking at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics shortly after the last rehearsal for Tuesday’s official flame-lighting ceremony.

“We know that the world is watching the current geopolitical situation on the Korean peninsula,” he said. “We continue to work very closely with all the relevant authorities and stakeholders to ensure we can deliver a safe and secure games for everyone involved.”

Lee said that all competition and non-competition venues are complete. He said infrastructure works, including high-speed rail and highways, are already done and will be fully operational by December.

Lee added that his main concern for the Games is the weather, and told The Associated Press that artificial snow will be provided if needed.

In the rehearsal among the ruined temples and sports facilities of Ancient Olympia in southern Greece, a Greek actress playing the part of an ancient priestess offered a token prayer to the old pagan gods of the site.

It was the traditional appeal for fire from heaven to light the Olympic flame, using a bowl-shaped mirror to focus the sun’s rays on her torch.

For a few fraught minutes, it looked as if Apollo and Zeus would not oblige. The priestess shifted position, walked around the mirror and tried again. On the third attempt, the sun slipped out from behind clouds for long enough to light the torch, which will serve as a back-up if Tuesday’s ceremony is overcast, as forecast.

Lee was delighted, saying that PyeongChang also won the Games on its third bid, and said he isn’t really concerned whether it rains Tuesday.

“Lighting the torch is important, the date is not so much important,” he said.

Tuesday’s first torchbearer will be Greek skier Apostolos Aggelis. He will then pass the torch to former Manchester United soccer player Park Ji-sung, a South Korean. The flame will be carried around Greece before reaching South Korea on Nov. 1.

The South Korean leg of the relay will involve 7,500 torch-bearers, who will cover a total 2,018 kilometers.

Lee said that the torch relay and accompanying events should help boost ticket sales. He said that about 30 percent of tickets have been sold domestically, and international sales are at about 50 percent of the target.

“We will be able to achieve full stadia,” Lee said. “Koreans are late decision-makers.”

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Skylar Diggins-Smith has the opportunity to fill USA Basketball’s need

Skylar Diggins
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Skylar Diggins-Smith said making the U.S. Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is her second chance.

An ACL tear derailed her Rio 2016 hopes. That happened in a WNBA game on June 28, 2015.

Though Diggins-Smith was among 25 Olympic finalists named in January 2016, she didn’t return to game action until that May, four weeks after the 12-woman Olympic team was chosen.

The 27-year-old guard said she’s played for USA Basketball for 12 years, since before her standout Notre Dame career that led to her current stint with the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock).

“This is the most clear my mind has been,” with USA Basketball, Diggins-Smith said from training camp in Seattle on Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday exhibition against China at Key Arena (10 p.m. ET, usab.com/live).

Signs point to Diggins-Smith making her major international tournament debut at September’s FIBA World Cup, the quadrennial world championship event.

Though Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi‘s surprising returns crowd the backcourt, the other Olympic gold medalist guard, Lindsay Whalen, retired from the national team.

Diggins-Smith’s play last season, her first full campaign back from the ACL tear, boosts her case. She made the All-WNBA First Team.

She also made the first team in 2014. That year, Diggins-Smith was among the final cuts for the world championship team less than a week before the tournament.

“Every time I come to USA Basketball, I think you have a tendency to kind of overthink,” Diggins-Smith said Tuesday. “You just want to do the right thing, don’t really want to make mistakes. … You want to do the right thing, and you press a little bit.”

USA Basketball has stressed finding its next stalwart point guard following five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley (now the U.S. head coach) and the 37-year-old Bird, eyeing her fifth Olympics in 2020.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen,” then-U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said after the Olympic team was named in April 2016. “You really start to look around and, you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered.”

“Obviously, there’s a need,” Staley said in February, listing point guards other than Bird at that camp.

The first name Staley mentioned was Diggins-Smith, for what it’s worth.

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USA Track and Field to honor 1968 Olympic team on 50th anniversary

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USA Track and Field begins a campaign this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympic team.

Members of the Mexico City Games team, one of the greatest track and field teams in history, will be honored at high-profile events the remainder of the year.

The campaign, “1968-2018: Celebrating Athletic Achievement and Courage,” culminates with a “Night of Legends” reunion in December at the USATF Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, also attended by current U.S. stars.

The 1968 Olympic team is most remembered for Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who took gold and bronze in the 200m and were sent home after raising their black-gloved fists in a human rights salute during the national anthem.

The team also included gold medalists Bob Beamon (long jump), Dick Fosbury (high jump), Al Oerter (discus), Wyomia Tyus and Jim Hines (100m), Lee Evans (400m), Madeline Manning Mims (800m), Willie Davenport (110m hurdles), Bob Seagren (pole vault), Randy Matson (shot put), Bill Toomey (decathlon) and the men’s and women’s 4x100m and men’s 4x400m.

“The legacy of the greatest track & field team to ever be assembled is still felt 50 years later,” USATF CEO Max Siegel said in a press release. “These Olympians persevered through athletic challenges and social injustices, maintaining their composure and dignity when others may have fallen. It is USATF’s honor to pay homage to their achievements and bring the team together for an epic celebration at our Annual Meeting.”

U.S. track and field athletes will compete at two meets on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold this weekend — the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

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WATCH: NBC Olympics documentary on 1968 Olympics