U.S. Olympic women’s water polo squad set, eyes another gold medal

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The world’s toughest water polo roster to make is set. USA Water Polo announced its 13-member Olympic women’s team Thursday.

The U.S. women are the defending Olympic champions, and have won a medal at every Olympic water polo event. The squad won silver in 2000, bronze in 2004 and silver again in 2008, before gold in 2012.

Entering the 2016 Games, the Americans hold the World Championship, World Cup and World League titles as well, making them the first nation to carry all four major championships at the same time since women’s water polo became an Olympic sport in 2000.

Headlining the roster is Maggie Steffens, a two-time FINA World Player of the Year and the 2012 Olympic tournament MVP. She led all scorers in London with 21 goals while competing as the youngest player on her squad. Later that year she earned her first Player of the Year honor; two years later she became the first woman to receive the award twice.

She’s now the U.S. team’s leader and captain at 23 years old.

It’s one of the youngest rosters the U.S. has ever assembled. It features no one in their 30s, which is a first for any U.S. Olympic men’s or women’s water polo team since 1972, according to sports-reference.com.

The youngest member of the squad is 17-year-old Aria Fischer, who becomes the youngest U.S. Olympic water polo player since 1964, and youngest-ever U.S. Olympic women’s water polo player, according to sports-reference.com. She’s joined on the squad by her older sister, Makenzie, who’s 19. Their father, Erich, was a member of the U.S. men’s water polo team that placed fourth at the 1992 Olympics.

Another teenager is Maddie Musselman, who received an Olympic berth on her 18th birthday.

The oldest woman on this squad is Courtney Mathewson at 29, who was also a part of the gold-medal winning 2012 team. Kami Craig, who will turn 29 on July 21, is the team’s most experienced player, as Rio will mark her third Olympics. Melissa Seidemann is the only other woman from the 2012 Olympic team.

In goal for the Americans will be Ashleigh Johnson, a 21-year-old who will become the first black woman to play water polo for the U.S. Olympic team. She’s also the only player on the roster not from California; Johnson is a Florida native. The other goalie is Sami Hill.

Rounding out the squad are KK Clark, Rachel Fattal, Kiley Neushul and Kaleigh Gilchrist, who hopes to be a surfer at the 2020 Olympics.

MORE: U.S. women’s water polo team qualifies for Rio Olympics

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

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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.”