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Indian luger set for 6th (and likely last) Olympics

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Shiva Keshavan is probably not going to medal at the PyeongChang Olympics.

That doesn’t make him irrelevant.

His name gets heard globally once every four years, because of his story: A guy from India, where there is no great winter sports legacy to speak of, goes to the Olympics — in luge of all things.

When he competes in PyeongChang, it’ll be his sixth and almost certainly final time as an Olympian. He’s never finished better than 25th at an Olympics, and he won’t be a podium contender in February.

Ask him if it was worth it, and he doesn’t hesitate before saying yes.

“I didn’t do this for other people to look at my story,” Keshavan said. “I did it for myself. I did it to improve myself and I feel that I’ve come a long way. Until now I’ve learned a lot, traveled the world, met people all over the world and I’ve been privileged to do that. And, well, if other people look at me, I know they’ll respect me for what I did.”

Keshavan was doomed by sled problems and finished 31st in a 35-slider Nations Cup event Thursday night at Mount Van Hoevenberg, meaning he won’t be in Friday’s World Cup. Only the top 15 from the Nations Cup advanced.

But that doesn’t deter him. It never has.

Keshavan’s attitude has been infectious among other sliders for years, and it’s clear he’ll be missed if this — as he expects — is the end of his Olympic journey.

“It really is kind of like a community that you’re a part of, and it’s something that’s really hard to let go,” said longtime U.S. luger Chris Mazdzer, one of the many on the luge circuit who considers Keshavan a good friend. “It is a lot of fun traveling, competing all around the world with a great group of people.”

Keshavan is sort of an unofficial member of many national teams.

Keshavan calls Lake Placid his home track, even though it’s 7,000 miles from the Himalayan region that is his actual home.

When he finished Thursday night, Australians and Ukrainians were among the first to offer him words of congratulations. And last week Keshavan got help from a Croatian just so he could compete.

Keshavan’s sled broke, so Daria Obratov offered hers.

It was way too small for Keshavan, and not exactly contoured for him, but he used it anyway to finish the Nations Cup race in Calgary — which essentially clinched his spot for PyeongChang.

“Although we represent different countries, the Olympic spirit knows no boundaries,” Obratov said.

Keshavan made his Olympic debut as a 16-year-old at Nagano in 1998, when he placed 28th. He’s been an Olympic regular since, placing 33rd in Salt Lake City in 2002, 25th at Torino in 2006, 29th at Vancouver in 2010 and 37th at Sochi.

He’s always been somewhere around five or 10 seconds behind the gold medalists.

He comes much closer in World Cup races, where sliders compete in two runs instead of the Olympic four. And he hasn’t exploited the system — even though he’s not exactly an Olympic medalist, he is competitive.

Besides, he’ll be a six-time Olympian. That’s more of a legacy than he ever envisioned.

“I gave my best,” Keshavan said. “Maybe that’s the thing I want to be remembered for: He gave his best and he never gave up.”

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Lindsey Vonn wins 79th World Cup race as oldest downhill victor (video)

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Lindsey Vonn became the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill with three weeks until the Olympics, notching her 79th career victory in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday.

In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest female Alpine medalist in Olympic history.

Vonn prevailed by .92 of a second over Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather on Saturday, moving seven shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s record of 86 World Cup victories.

“My focus right now is just so much on Olympics that I haven’t really thought about [the record] that much this season,” Vonn said. “After the Olympics, that will be my No. 1 priority again, and I’ll try to just rack up as many wins before I retire as possible.”

American Jackie Wiles was third to become the fifth U.S. female Alpine skier to qualify for PyeongChang, joining Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, among others. (full U.S. Olympic roster here)

Shiffrin was seventh in Saturday’s race in her least comfortable discipline.

Full results are here.

Vonn, 33, broke Austrian Elisabeth Goergl‘s record as the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill. Goergl is still the oldest winner for any World Cup race, taking a super-G in 2014 at nearly 34 years old.

Vonn, already an Olympic medal favorite in downhill and super-G, won her first downhill since Jan. 21, 2017.

She had raced eight downhills in between with four podium finishes, including taking second to Italian Sofia Goggia on Friday in Cortina. Goggia failed to finish Saturday.

The World Cup continues with a super-G in Cortina on Sunday (5:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

“Mentally, I feel like it’s the first podium I ever got,” Vonn said. “Back in 2004, I feel the same. I have the same motivation, the same drive, the same excitement. I love going fast. That’s never changed. The only thing that’s changed is my body is not as good as it once was, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still win.

“I’ll keep going until my poor little knee gives out.”

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IOC approves unified Korea Olympic team, 22 North Korean athletes

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North and South Korean athletes will compete on the same team at the Olympics for the first time, while the IOC approved 22 North Koreans to compete overall in PyeongChang.

The IOC on Saturday approved the Koreas’ agreement to field a unified women’s hockey team and to march together in the Opening Ceremony behind the Korean Unification flag.

Twelve North Koreans have been added to the South Korean women’s hockey team. The other North Korean athletes will compete in figure skating, Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and short track speed skating.

Full details are here.

“Today marks a milestone on a long journey,” IOC president Thomas Bach said. “Since 2014, the IOC has addressed the special situation of having the Olympic Winter Games 2018 on the Korean Peninsula. Until today, we met separately with the parties on a bilateral basis to address an often fast-changing political situation in a comprehensive way. Today is therefore a great day because the Olympic Spirit has brought all sides together. This was not an easy journey.”

At the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9, one North Korean and one South Korean will carry the flag in the Parade of Nations. The Koreas previously marched together at the Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

The hockey team will compete as “Korea,” under the unification flag and using the song “Arirang” as its anthem. North Koreans will compete under their own flag in all other sports.

North Korea did not qualify any spots for the Olympics, but the IOC had power to offer special invitations.

“Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,” Bach said. “The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.”

The 22 North Korean athletes mark more North Koreans at a Winter Olympics than the last six Winter Games combined.

North Korea had zero athletes in 2014 and two in 2010.

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