Dirk Nowitzki, Germany suffer heartbreaking loss in bid to KO Spain from Olympic qualifying

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Dirk Nowitzki and Germany nearly eliminated two-time reigning Olympic silver medalist Spain from Olympic men’s basketball qualifying, falling 77-76 at EuroBasket in Berlin on Thursday.

The Germans rallied from deficits of 13 points with 6:37 left and seven points with 56 seconds left of the group-play game that ended up being an elimination game.

The winner would advance to the European Olympic qualifying tournament round of 16. The loser would not only be done at EuroBasket, but also not finish in third through seventh place overall, which is necessary for an automatic berth in the global, last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in July.

The top two at EuroBasket earn spots in the 12-team 2016 Olympic basketball tournament.

Down 77-74 on Thursday, Germany and Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroeder was fouled while shooting a three-pointer with three seconds left. He made the first two free throws but missed the third that would have likely sent the game to overtime.

The loss is widely viewed as Dirk Nowitzki‘s final international game, though Germany could be awarded one of three wild-card places in the global, last-chance tournament in July by FIBA.

Preference for those wild-card places is expected to be given to higher-placing teams in continental Olympic qualifiers, though. Germany’s finish outside the top 16 in EuroBasket will not help its case, if it makes one.

This asterisk is why a Spain loss to Germany might not have derailed its Olympic hopes entirely, and why reigning Olympic bronze medalist Russia may also get a second chance to qualify for Rio after it was eliminated in EuroBasket group play.

Nowitzki, 37, led Germany at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, where it failed to reach the quarterfinals in its only Olympic appearance since 1992. Nowitzki memorably shaved the Olympic rings into the side of his hair before the Games and carried the German flag in the Opening Ceremony.

After the game, Nowitzki was given a standing ovation by the Berlin arena crowd (video here).

Spain survived and advanced without four of its star NBA players — Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Serge Ibaka and Jose Calderon — all sitting out EuroBasket for various reasons but who could return for the Rio Olympics. Its only stalwart on the EuroBasket roster is Pau Gasol.

Spain’s road to Olympic qualification at EuroBasket will not get easier. It is in the same half of the knockout bracket as undefeated France, whose roster includes NBA players Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and Rudy Gobert.

Spain and France could meet in the semifinals next Thursday with the winner receiving an Olympic berth and the loser forced to the global, last-chance qualifying tournament in July.

France beat Spain 65-52 in the 2014 FIBA World Cup quarterfinals, a tournament won by the U.S. to clinch the first Rio 2016 Olympic berth. Brazil, Australia and Nigeria have since been added to the Olympic field, with two more teams to join them from FIBA Americas on Friday.

The other half of the EuroBasket round of 16 bracket includes reigning World silver medalist Serbia and Lithuania, a traditional power that finished fourth at Worlds in 2014.

EuroBasket schedule and standings are available here.

MORE BASKETBALL: Five Olympic questions with Steve Nash

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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

Kyle Smaine
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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.”