Katie Uhlaender, skeleton World champion, becomes track cyclist

Katie Uhlaender
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Katie Uhlaender, a three-time Winter Olympian and 2012 World champion in skeleton, plans to compete at the U.S. Championships in track cycling in August.

Uhlaender, who entered the 2012 U.S. Olympic weightlifting trials but didn’t make that team, began serious track cycling training in January. She plans to make her competitive debut in the sport at Nationals in Carson, Calif., in three months.

“The whole thing seems sort of crazy,” Uhlaender, a 30-year-old who slid at the last three Winter Olympics with three different hairstyle colors, said in a phone interview Friday.

On Feb. 14, 2014, Uhlaender finished fourth in skeleton at the Sochi Olympics, missing her first Olympic medal by .04 of a second in combined time over four runs. She competed with hip and ankle injuries that would require surgery and following a preseason concussion.

After Sochi, Uhlaender underwent surgery on her left hip, which had bothered her since 2010. She planned to return to skeleton last fall, but then came the left ankle surgery in September to shore up a problem area since 2005.

Uhlaender announced she would miss the 2014-15 skeleton season and rehabbed at a U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she started doing stationary bike work. A professional cyclist there noticed Uhlaender’s wattage statistics and suggested she give the sport a try.

Uhlaender, though, had decided to move to Texas, without a job lined up, and share a bed separated by a pillow named Berry with her best friend. She learned a velodrome was nearby, so Uhlaender decided to continue cycling.

“The worst that could happen is I fail,” Uhlaender said. “I thought, I’m kind of chubby from two surgeries and not [skeleton] training. I feel like it would be more of an insult to deny the opportunity. I’m established as a skeleton athlete. For me to go ride a bike when I can’t slide anyways, this is perfect cross training until my ankle’s ready.”

Uhlaender rides on a borrowed green 1992 Cannondale bike nicknamed Dumpster that she renamed Oscar, in honor of the “Sesame Street” character Oscar the Grouch of the same color.

“It’s refreshing to do something when I can’t go sledding 90 miles per hour head first,” she said.

USA Cycling invited Uhlaender to take part in a camp in Colorado Springs in April, she said..

“They thought I had really great potential,” Uhlaender said.

Track cycling, where riders compete on 250-meter wooden ovals banked up to 45 degrees with one gear and no brakes, includes several disciplines.

Uhlaender is focused on one of them — the team sprint. The women’s team sprint, which debuted at the Olympics in 2012, includes two cyclists from one nation racing two laps in about 33 seconds. One rider peels off after the first lap, with the second rider’s time crossing the finish after two laps as the nation’s overall result.

“For the first 125 meters, I was competitive,” Uhlaender said of her performance at the USA Cycling camp. “The issue is I’m going from doing a five-second sprint [on the ice at the start of a skeleton race, running and then jumping onto the sled] to a 19-second sprint [the time it takes to do one lap in the velodrome].”

Uhlaender, boosted by her skeleton and weightlifting careers, believes she has the strength to contend as that first-lap rider with more seasoning, to become competitive with national-level cyclists for 19 seconds.

“I don’t think there’s many women more powerful than me,” said Uhlaender, who clean and jerked 216 pounds at the 2012 U.S. Olympic weightlifting trials in the 127-pound weight class and failed in all three attempts to snatch between 175 and 180 pounds.

Uhlaender said she was seeking a partner to compete with at the U.S. Championships in August.

It’s very possible the U.S. will not qualify a berth in the team sprint at the Rio 2016 Olympics. It did not qualify for the London 2012 Games, which included 10 nations. It is currently ranked No. 18 in the world by the International Cycling Union. Nine nations will qualify for Rio 2016 based on the rankings next Feb. 29.

After Uhlaender finished fourth in Sochi, she saw Dan Jansen, the speed skater who missed Olympic medals in 1984, 1988 and 1992 before winning gold in world-record fashion in his final Olympic race in 1994. Jansen told Uhlaender his story of enduring defeat and tragedy (his sister died of leukemia the day of his first race at the 1988 Olympics).

Uhlaender asked Jansen how he persevered for so long.

“He said, don’t think about it as four years or the overwhelming goal at the end,” Uhlaender said. “Just focus on each day and each step.”

Uhlaender plans to continue skeleton. Even if she impresses at the U.S. Championships in August and continues competing in track cycling in the fall, she wants to also compete on the 2015-16 World Cup skeleton tour this fall and winter.

She plans to retire from skeleton after the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, which could be her fourth Olympics.

Watch: Noelle Pikus-Pace shares skeleton stories in emotional TEDx Talk

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game