Former WNBA No. 1 draft pick switches from U.S. to Belarus

Lindsey Harding

Lindsey Harding, the 2007 WNBA Draft No. 1 overall pick, will be eligible to play for Belarus at EuroBasket in June as the nation tries to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Harding, born in Mobile, Ala., and raised in Houston, split the last two years playing for the Los Angeles Sparks and in a Turkish league.

Harding won the 2007 Naismith Player of the Year award while at Duke. She was a finalist to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team but has never played for the U.S. at the World Championships or Olympics.

Harding is the only Naismith women’s winner since 1997 not to play for the U.S. at a Worlds or Olympics.

Harding wouldn’t be the first naturalized player to compete for another nation. Most notably, six-time WNBA All-Star Becky Hammon played for Russia at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

The Belarus women’s team finished sixth at the 2008 Olympics and fourth at the 2010 World Championships but failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics and was 10th at the 2014 World Championships.

The winner of EuroBasket, co-hosted by Hungary and Romania, will earn a berth in the Rio Olympics (the U.S. is the only nation already qualified). The favorites are Spain and France, which lost to the U.S. in the final and quarterfinals, respectively, at the 2014 World Championships.

The second-through-fifth place teams from EuroBasket will advance to a last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in 2016.

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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.”