Kobe Bryant won’t play in Rio Olympics

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MIAMI (AP) — Kobe Bryant is passing the Olympic torch.

Bryant revealed Saturday that he is removing himself from consideration for a spot on the U.S. team that will compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this summer, meaning the five-time NBA champion’s retirement begins officially when his 20th and final season with the Los Angeles Lakers ends.

Bryant made the announcement in Salt Lake City before the Lakers’ game against the Utah Jazz. He has informed USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski of his decision.

He said it’s simply time to move on, and let someone else — the younger stars like Stephen Curry — enjoy their Olympic journey.

“Since my retirement announcement, I’m able to watch these guys in a different light,” said Bryant, a gold medalist in 2008 and 2012. “I’ve come to terms with the fact that they are the future of this game. These are the guys who deserve the spots in Rio. These are the guys who people need to watch and root for. These are the guys to show fans where this game is going in the future.”

He tipped his hand on the decision Thursday night, when he said it’s time for others to “see how many championships they can win, see how many gold medals they can win.”

On Saturday, he made his intentions completely clear.

“I’ve had my moment,” Bryant said in a pregame news conference.

The NBA’s No. 3 all-time scorer, Bryant worried that if he took a spot on the 12-man roster and then could not play because of injury — and he’s dealt with major ones in recent years — he could wind up hurting the U.S. chance at gold as well as take a spot from a younger player who possibly hasn’t been on the Olympic stage before.

When wearing the red, white and blue, Bryant’s record was perfect. He was on five different USA Basketball national teams over his career, with those teams combining for a 36-0 record in international competition. He has told Krzyzewski and Colangelo that he is willing to help the national team in unofficial ways going forward.

It just won’t be as a player.

Bryant revealed to AP in November that “it would mean the world” to him to have one more Olympic opportunity, both for the camaraderie that would have come from being teammates with other NBA stars one more time but also because he has long thought of himself as someone with a unique global perspective. He spent part of his youth in Italy, has business relationships now all over the globe and is still one of the most popular athletes worldwide.

His head and his heart wanted to go to Rio. The rest of his 37-year-old body doesn’t seem so willing to cooperate.

His shoulder is aching and there’s concern about his Achilles. He’s missed eight games already this season and entered Saturday shooting just under 35 percent — a career-worst.

“I already let Jerry and Coach K know that I physically can’t do it,” Bryant said.

His last season has been an emotional one. Fans have celebrated him on the road — they even cheered for him wildly in Boston, with Celtics fans giving the longtime Laker rival a long, warm salute — and he is almost certain to be the leading vote-getter for the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto next month.

“Kobe will inevitably go down as one of the greatest ever to play this game,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday. “I think by his announcing that this is his last season in the league, there’s no doubt it’s created enormous interest in every one of his games for the remainder of this season.”

Still, the grind of a 20th NBA season — after his last two were basically destroyed by injuries — is taking a clear toll, and when the Lakers’ season ends in April it would obviously be difficult for Bryant to keep things going through the Olympics in August.

So he decided the best move would be let others carry the U.S. flag.

“I want to walk off the court that last time,” Bryant said, “as a Laker.”

MORE BASKETBALL: Nine teams already qualified for Rio Olympics

Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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