Ibtihaj Muhammad’s unique path to Olympic history (video)

Ibtihaj Muhammad
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Behind an American flag-themed mask, Ibtihaj Muhammad is changing the face of U.S. fencing. And of Team USA as a whole.

Muhammad, a 30-year-old sabre fencer, will compete in her first Olympics in Rio. And she will do so wearing a hijab, which no American has donned in Olympic competition.

Still, Muhammad says she receives backlash.

“Just last week, I was walking with my teammate, and a man told me that I look suspicious,” Muhammad said in a TODAY interview published Friday. “He started asking me if I was going to blow something up.”

Muhammad has received plenty of press since qualifying for the Games in February, but the focus must be squarely on the Games.

She is ranked No. 8 in the world in her discipline.

With two other U.S. women ranked in the world top 24, including two-time Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis, her best shot at a medal is in the team event. Muhammad, Zagunis and two others combined to earn bronze at the 2015 World Championships and gold in 2014.

VIDEO: Miles Chamley-Watson takes fencing to New York City streets

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch

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

Kyle Smaine

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.”