Lauren Jackson, Australian Olympic great, retires from basketball

Lauren Jackson
Getty Images
2 Comments

Lauren Jackson announced her injury-forced retirement on Thursday, ending an illustrious career which saw her star for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and lead Australia to four Olympic medals.

At a Basketball Australia media conference, the 34-year-old Jackson, the WNBA’s most valuable player three times, the last time in 2010, said right knee and left Achilles tendon injuries forced her to end a career that began in 1997.

She had been named on Australia’s Opals squad for the Rio Games in August, but recent fitness testing convinced her she would not be able to play in a fifth Olympics. Jackson made the retirement announcement at Canberra’s Australian Institute of Sport, where her teammates are attending their first pre-Olympic camp.

“It really is so surreal retiring here where it all began 19 years ago,” Jackson said. “Today I’m announcing my retirement from the love of my life, basketball. Two years ago I hurt my knee playing in China, it wasn’t a terrible injury but it was enough — I pulled my meniscus out of the root of my bone.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal, nobody did. My knee ended up degenerating really, really fast, I got arthritis pretty quickly and since then I’ve had multiple surgeries.”

Jackson has spent more time off the court than on for most of the past six years — either in Seattle, with the Canberra WNBL team or stints with club teams in Spain and China. She also played in South Korea and four years part-time with Moscow Spartak, winning two EuroLeague titles with the Russian team.

She came close to retiring in January after being hospitalized with a knee infection following surgery, when she said she’d need an “absolute miracle” if she was going to play in Rio. She was also released from her WNBL contract with the Canberra Capitals, having played just six games in five years.

Jackson won Olympic silver medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008, losing the final each time to the United States. She also earned bronze at London in 2012, when she was Australia’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony. She first played with the Opals when in 1997 when she was 16.

“When I first saw Lauren and what she could do on the basketball court, I knew she was someone special,” said former Australia head coach Jan Stirling. “Throughout all of her accomplishments she has remained humble and through a 19-year commitment to the Opals, she never missed a major event.”

Jackson says she expects Australia to win gold in Rio “and it breaks my heart that I can’t be there.”

The 1.96-meter (6 foot, 5-inch) Jackson spent her entire WNBA career with Seattle, helping lead the Storm to a pair of titles in 2004 and 2010. But she hadn’t played a full season for the Storm since 2010 — just 13 games in 2011 and nine games in 2012.

Drafted by Seattle first overall in the 2001 draft, Jackson ranks sixth all-time in the WNBA in points scored (6,007), eighth in rebounding (2,447) and third in blocks (586). She also leads the Storm in all three categories, with her best game for Seattle coming in a then-WNBA single-game scoring a record 47 points, on 18-of-28 shooting, on July 24, 2007 at Washington.

“I believe Lauren is the most dominant player the WNBA has ever seen,” Seattle coach Jenny Boucek said. “I was fortunate to be around her for many years and every day we were in awe of something she would do on the court. We are grateful for her incredible impact on the franchise, the city of Seattle and the game.”

Jackson’s Seattle teammate Sue Bird said the Australian’s retirement was “sad … but it also gives all of us a chance to reflect on what an amazing career she had.”

“We accomplished a lot together on the court but it’s the friendship that we built off of it that I’m even more thankful for,” Bird said. “She’ll always be the best player this franchise has ever seen and one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.”

MORE: Sue Bird’s last Olympics?

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
Getty
0 Comments

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
0 Comments

There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!