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Australia names its first indigenous Winter Olympian

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SYDNEY (AP) — Figure skater Harley Windsor is set to be the first indigenous Australian to compete in the Winter Olympics after being selected for PyeongChang, just a little over a decade after he stumbled into a sport he knew nothing about.

Windsor and Russian-born teenager Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya, the junior world pairs champions, secured an Olympic spot with a bronze medal in a qualifying competition in Germany in late September and were among the first four athletes to be confirmed in the Australian team on Thursday.

Brendan Kerry and Kailani Craine were selected to compete in the individual figure skating events in PyeongChang.

The 21-year-old Windsor, from western Sydney, said his selection “feels like an amazing and mind-blowing accomplishment.”

“I grew up in the Aboriginal community and have always been around Aboriginal culture,” he said, “so it’s been a huge part of my life and something that I’m very proud of.”

There have been 51 indigenous Australian Summer Olympians, including Cathy Freeman, who ignited the Olympic cauldron at the 2000 Sydney Opening Ceremony and won 400m gold the following week.

“She was such … a great inspiration for me when I was young,” Windsor said. “I hope I can give other young indigenous athletes some inspiration that they are able to get to the highest level in winter Olympic sports just like we’ve done in summer sports.”

Australian Olympic Committee chief executive Matt Carroll said Windsor’s selection was historic for the Olympic movement in Australia.

“Just as Harley has stated he wants to, we hope that he provides inspiration to young indigenous athletes that they can follow in his path and compete at a high level in winter sports,” Carroll said.

Windsor fell into figure skating by accident at age 8 when his mother took a wrong turn while looking for a fast-food restaurant and mistakenly drove into the car park of a small ice rink.

Windsor asked his mother if he could take a look inside and, after persuading her to let him strap on a pair of skates, he slid onto the ice and was instantly hooked.

“I just really liked it so I asked if could come back the next week, then the next week, then the week after that,” Windsor told The Associated Press. “I didn’t think it would go anywhere but when I started to get serious, I actually started to enjoy the sport even more.

“It was hard work but because I had started to fall in love with the sport and I started improving really quickly, in some ways it wasn’t difficult because I just enjoyed it so much.”

Windsor almost quit the sport in frustration two years ago because he was unable to find the right partner in Australia, but his Russian coach suggested he go to Moscow to find a perfect match.

It was there that he was introduced to Alexandrovskaya, a classically trained pairs specialist who also was struggling to find the right partner and toying with the idea of quitting.

The pair quickly forged a good working relationship and although they train mostly in Moscow, Alexandrovskaya agreed to give up her dream of competing for Russia and applied for Australian citizenship. The 17-year-old Alexandrovskaya was granted citizenship last month.

“To be honest, at first I didn’t know it was going to go so well but the more we skated together the more we started to figure each other out,” Windsor said. “I think it works well for us because she’s a bit more fiery on the ice and I’m a bit more calm so it kind of balances out.

“We have our fights and stuff, obviously, but we mix really well and train very well and we’re both strong competitors.”

Craine will also make her Olympic debut in PyeongChang after winning a berth in the women’s individual competition. The 19-year-old Craine, who has more than 120,000 Instagram followers, has been dreaming about the Olympics since she was eight.

She went to the Olympic ice rink in PyeongChang earlier this week but said she refused to have her picture taken with the Olympic rings until she had formally secured a place on the team.

“And now I have,” she said. “It seems so surreal. It’s all I’ve ever wanted my whole life and now it’s crazy to think it’s happening.”

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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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MORE: Candace Parker finished with USA Basketball

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