USOC returns to Boston for Road to Rio event

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BOSTON (AP) — More than two months after Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympics collapsed under the weight of fierce public opposition, the United States Olympic Committee is returning to the city with a much different goal in mind.

The organization is sending several athletes and former Olympians to Boston this weekend as part of its Road to Rio Tour, an effort to drum up support and enthusiasm for Team USA as the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro draw closer. The visit is timed to coincide with the Head of the Charles Regatta, one of the world’s premier rowing events that annually attracts some 400,000 spectators to the banks of the Charles River.

The stop was planned well before the USOC dropped Boston in July as the U.S. bid city for the 2024 Games, USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said, and isn’t meant as a fence-mending attempt in a region where emotions are still raw after months of sometimes bitter debate.

“I do think the USOC really trashed the Olympic brand in Massachusetts and in Boston,” said Evan Falchuk, a former candidate for governor who was leading the drive for a ballot question that would have barred the state from using public funds in support of the 2024 games, had the bid gone forward.

Falchuk and other critics contended that the USOC forced Boston 2024, the private group spearheading Boston’s Olympic bid, to shield details of its bid from the public and later pressured city officials to sign an agreement that could have left taxpayers holding the bag for future cost overruns.

With support for the bid lagging in public opinion polls and Mayor Martin Walsh ultimately refusing to sign the guarantee, the USOC severed ties with Boston and later pinned America’s hopes for 2024 on Los Angeles. In August, a report from a state-funded consultant suggested the Boston organizing group underestimated by nearly $1 billion the costs of hosting the games.

Nastia Liukin, the individual all-around gymnastics champion in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is among eight U.S. athletes coming to Boston as part of the tour.

While the anger surrounding the demise of the bid was “unfortunate,” Liukin said, she expects nothing but strong support for the athletes during the weekend promotion.

“It’s about Rio and the road to Rio,” said Liukin, who is engaged to former Boston College hockey player Matt Lombardi and believes fans can easily separate their admiration for U.S. athletes from any sour feelings over the botched bid.

Other tour participants include Ryan Lochte, an 11-time Olympic medalist in swimming; Caryn Davies, a three-time medalist in rowing; and Lolo Jones, a three-time track and field Olympian.

Boston is the third venue on the tour in 2015 after earlier visits to Philadelphia and San Diego. Six stops are scheduled for next year, including the final one in Los Angeles in August.

Boston was selected in part because it is a “great sports city” with a long history of producing and backing Olympians, said Sandusky.

“This isn’t about bidding for the Olympics but supporting Team USA,” he said, adding that the USOC enjoyed a strong working relationship with Boston officials though “ultimately it didn’t work out.”

Another local connection: The lead sponsor for the Road to Rio tour is Boston-headquartered insurance giant Liberty Mutual.

“People love the athletes,” agreed Falchuk, who ran for governor under the United Independent Party banner in 2014. But he believes an apology should come from bid organizers and politicians he contends waited too long to question the financial underpinnings.

“You would like to see someone say, ‘I’m sorry we did this,” but everyone says ‘let’s pretend this didn’t happen,’” he said.

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Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth

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France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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