Bryan Habana, World Cup rugby star, cut from South African Olympic squad

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Rugby sevens will also be missing a global star on its return to the Olympics next month, although it’s got nothing to do with Zika.

Bryan Habana, the World Cup-winning South African wing who set his sights on adding an Olympic medal to a career bursting with titles and honors in the 15-a-side game, failed Thursday to make South Africa’s final squad for the Rio de Janeiro Games.

Habana set aside his commitments with South Africa’s main Springboks team this season to return to sevens, which he hadn’t played at the top level for more than a decade, in the hope of going to Rio. He appeared in the world sevens series and was on an initial “Blitzboks” training squad named for the Olympics.

“My appreciation and gratitude for getting the opportunity to have been a part of the @blitzboks #RoadToRio far outweighs the disappointment of not making the final squad,” Habana wrote on Instagram.

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My appreciation and gratitude for getting the opportunity to have been a part of the @blitzboks #RoadToRio far outweighs the disappointment of not making the final squad. I find myself incredibly fortunate to have become a part of a very special brotherhood, to have pushed myself further than what I had imagined in making the transition over to 7s being helped each and every step of the way by all the members of the squad and getting to experience just how much love these boys have for each other! Their hard work, dedication, commitment and never say die attitude is immensely infectious and will stand them in good stead as they head over to Rio to challenge for that Gold medal. To Neil, his coaching staff and each member of the squad, thanks for allowing me the opportunity to have been so warmly welcomed back into the 7s family. To those players selected, keep on pushing each other as the final training weeks approach and go out there and express your talents to the best of your abilities! I'll be your biggest supporter and cheering you on loudly from Toulon!!!

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Rugby – this time in the seven-a-side form – will return to the Olympics next month for the first time since 1924.

Habana joins another big name in the 15-man game, Australia’s Quade Cooper, in missing out on selection for his country’s Olympic team.

Habana has won a World Cup and a southern hemisphere title with the Springboks, and also southern hemisphere and European club titles. He was the world player of the year in 2007.

One 15-a-side international, Juan de Jongh, did make South Africa’s 12-man squad while another, Francois Hougaard, is one of two traveling reserves.

South Africa is among the favorites for gold in the Olympic rugby sevens alongside other traditional sevens powers Fiji and New Zealand.

MORE: Jarryd Hayne, former 49ers RB, misses Fiji Olympic rugby team

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

Kyle Smaine
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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.”