U.S. women’s basketball wins World Championship, makes Olympics

U.S. women's basketball

The U.S. women’s basketball team clinched a berth in the 2016 Olympics, beating Spain 77-64 in the World Championships final in Istanbul on Sunday.

The U.S. captured its second straight World title and will try for a sixth straight Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in two years.

Maya Moore scored a game-leading 18 points. Lindsay Whalen added 12 off the bench.

Brittney Griner scored 11 points in her first global championship final.

Moore was tournament MVP. Griner made the all-tournament quintet with Moore.

In Turkey, the Americans won all six of their games by at least 12 points, which they had not done at a World Championships since 1986.

U.S. coach Geno Auriemma‘s top lineup in Turkey included four of his former UConn players — Sue BirdDiana Taurasi, Moore and Tina Charles — and Griner.

A great challenge moving forward will fall on Bird, 33, attempting to become the oldest U.S. woman since Lisa Leslie in 2008 to make an Olympic team. Bird will be in competition with Tulsa Shock guards Odyssey Sims, 22, and Skylar Diggins, 24, for playing time and roster spots. Diggins was among the final cuts for the World Championships team. Sims made it to Worlds and came off the bench.

In Rio, the U.S.’ biggest competition should come from longtime nemesis Australia. The Americans beat the Aussies 82-70 in the semifinals Saturday, with Australia missing its top two players from the 2012 Olympics due to injuries (Lauren JacksonLiz Cambage).

France, the Olympic silver medalist, handed the U.S. its first loss since 2011 in an exhibition game two weeks ago. The U.S. then beat France by 22 points in the quarterfinals Friday.

Spain is a rising threat with former WNBA All-Star Sancho Lyttle and Alba Torrens. Both made the all-tournament team.

Russia, the last team to beat the U.S. at a Worlds or Olympics in 2006, did not qualify for this year’s World Championships. It lost six-time WNBA All-Star and naturalized citizen Becky Hammon to retirement.

Argentina mulls Summer, Winter Olympic bids

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch

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

Kyle Smaine

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.”