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PyeongChang can prove the transformative power of Olympics

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The location of next month’s Winter Olympics couldn’t be more apt, NBC Olympics president of production and programming Jim Bell writes in USA Today.

“The most heavily fortified border in the world, abutting one of its most isolated regimes, and with two countries still technically at war, should bear witness to the most peaceful, unifying event the planet has to offer,” Bell wrote.

“The Olympics have never been merely about sporting events; they’ve also been a powerful reminder of what the world can be: citizens of the planet, coming together, to experience different cultures devoid of judgment or hatred.”

North Korea and South Korea had their first formal dialogue in more than two years on Tuesday. It was about the Olympics.

It resulted in the North planning to send a delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Games, which start Feb. 8 on NBC.

The details could be hammered out at a proposed Jan. 20 meeting among officials from both Koreas and the International Olympic Committee.

It’s a marketed change from 30 years ago, when South Korea hosted its first Olympics, the Summer Games in Seoul.

“Roughly a year before those Games, South Korea was reborn as an open society and democratic state, with its first directly elected president, and a new range of social norms, from civil rights to a free press,” Bell wrote. “The Olympics introduced this new South Korea to the world and now, 30 years later, the Olympics are returning.”

North Korea boycotted in 1988.

But athletes from the two Koreas since showed solidarity at major international sporting events.

The nations marched together under the blue-and-white Korea “unification” flag at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Sydney and Athens.

In Rio, North and South Korean gymnasts posed for a selfie together. And North Korea did compete in the two Asian Games hosted by South Korea in the last 30 years, in 2002 and 2014.

There will be many other highlights from these Games.

U.S. stars like Mikaela ShiffrinNathan ChenLindsey Vonn and Shaun White. International stories like the Nigerian women’s bobsled team. And others uncovered as competition plays out.

“Cynical detractors can often outshout thoughtful critics, and the Olympics make a convenient target,” Bell wrote. “Perhaps this winter, as the world returns to this critically important peninsula, there will be a de-escalation of tensions and a renewed emphasis on hope and cooperation. Warts and all, the Olympics may turn out to be the best vehicle for such an essential transformation.”

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MORE: Breakdown of NBC record hours of PyeongChang programming

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