Does anyone care about Olympic tennis?

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The pristine lawns of Wimbledon. A dominating Serena Williams. Britain’s first home-grown champion in more than 70 years. In 2012, it seemed tennis was truly embraced at the Olympics.

Or, was it?

In the months since the closing of the 2012 Games, some of the game’s top players have committed themselves to Rio in 2016: Serena has set her eyes on trying to repeat in South America, as do the men’s doubles gold medalists, Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, and Rafael Nadal, who was forced to pull out London because of injury, wants badly to reclaim the singles gold he won in Beijing.

But there’s part of the sporting world that thinks tennis should keep to their own “Olympic” events – the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open – and stay away from the actual Games.

“Tennis shouldn’t be a part of the Olympics,” says two-time U.S. Open champ Patrick Rafter. “We have our four gold medal events every year in the Slams. For us, winning a Grand Slam is like winning a gold medal for a swimmer. But they only get to do it once every four years. We get to do it four times a year.”

Rafter’s response is perhaps a generational one. Tennis players use to view the Olympics as just another tournament. Olympic draws have a smaller field (64 players) compared to the four majors (128 players).

But Andre Agassi, who won gold at Atlanta in 1996, thinks tennis will only become more a part of the Olympic experience in 2016.

“I think Wimbledon helped a great deal and we have a great platform now to catapult into Rio,” Agassi says. “The guys are taking it much more seriously… it seems like everyone tries to peak for it, which I think is great for the sport.”

Indeed, the Olympics has become a focal point for many tennis schedule makers – and as a career marker for those like Serena and Nadal.

For Pete Sampras, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, tennis only found a place in the Games this year because of Wimbledon playing host.

“The reason tennis was unique at the Olympics this year was because it was at Wimbledon,” Sampras insists. “In Rio, I’m telling you, it won’t be like it was this year. It’s not at the [All England] Club, so it won’t have the same feel.”

Sampras played in the Olympics just once, losing in the third round at the Barcelona Games in 1992.

“Tennis at the Olympics—when I was growing up—was an exhibition sport. For me, it wasn’t that big of a deal to play the Olympics as a tennis player. It’s just another tournament. That’s my humble opinion.”

But Sampras doesn’t agree with Rafter’s point that tennis shouldn’t be a part of the games whatsoever.

“I wouldn’t go that far, but I understand what [Rafter’s] saying. I just think it is what it is. When it comes to Rio, I just don’t think it will measure up to 2012.”

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”