Breanna Stewart
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Breanna Stewart’s youth may boost her Olympic team chances

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The U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team of 12 players will lean heavily on experienced gold medalists and professional superstars adept at pressure situations.

And that’s why UConn senior Breanna Stewart, who fits neither of those labels, could become the youngest U.S. Olympic women’s basketball player since 1988 when the team is named in the next few months.

“[It’s roster spots] 10, 11 and 12 who aren’t going to get a lot of minutes,” said U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan, who chairs the five-person Olympic team selection committee. “Who can sit there and be ready to go and be content with that scenario? Sometimes that’s where youth has the advantage. … After you pick the first eight or nine, because you know that’s who the core of the team is, that last three or four is the ones that you have so much flexibility with to try and fit in. So the key is, we’re not picking an All-Star team. We’re picking a team. That’s the way it comes together.”

Ten of the 12 members of the 2012 Olympic team (that went undefeated en route to a fifth straight gold) are among 25 finalists to make the Rio Olympic team.

The pool of potential first-time Olympians includes reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Brittney Griner. The latter started all six games at the 2014 World Championship.

That would seem to leave little room for a collegian, even the 6-foot-4 forward Stewart, who has been called a guard in a center’s body and whose versatility has been likened to Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant.

Stewart is trying to lead UConn to a fourth straight NCAA title this season and could earn her third straight NCAA Player of the Year award. No UConn player has accomplished either feat.

Stewart’s UConn coach, Geno Auriemma, doubles as the Olympic coach (but is not on the five-person selection committee).

“Stewie has put herself ahead of a lot of players in the WNBA that could also be on this team,” Auriemma told media at a three-day national team camp at UConn last week. “And if she does make the team, it’s because she deserves it. She earned it.”

Stewart came into focus as an Olympic hopeful when she made the 2014 World Championship team.

At Worlds in Turkey, she played a total of 36 minutes over six games, scoring 11 points, fewest on the team. Not surprising, but the value in her being there was largely unrelated to the box score. Same with last week, when Stewart tacked on the national-team camp in between college games.

“Now Stewie’s one of us,” three-time Olympic champion point guard Sue Bird said at last week’s camp. “She was just way more assertive and aggressive and, beyond everything else, comfortable. When we had Worlds, she was the youngest on the team, it was her first time, there’s all these old players, probably players that she watched growing up. So I think it can be the type of situation where you don’t want to step on people’s toes, but now, I don’t think she cares.”

Diana Taurasi (2004), Candace Parker (2008) and Sylvia Fowles (2008) all made Olympic teams immediately following their final NCAA seasons. All three averaged between 16 and 19 minutes per game at their first Olympics, about three times as many as Stewart at the 2014 World Championship.

Callan compared Stewart to Maya Moore and Bird, who were one and two years out of college when they made their first Olympic teams but, like Stewart, already had World Championship experience.

“Young players, you don’t want to have to necessarily rely on them in the gold-medal game, when you’re down by one and there’s 10 seconds left,” Callan said of an unlikely scenario for the U.S., which has won 41 straight Olympic games. “But at the same time, they also sometimes by being young don’t feel that pressure. They just go play. When you’re a four-time Olympian, perhaps, you realize, whoa, the weight of the world. I just think it’s the mix of everything that values the youth and experience.”

MORE: Brittney Griner returns as Olympic finalist without fear of 2012

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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