Brazil’s Daniel Dias the Michael Phelps of the Paralympics

Daniel Dias
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Daniel Dias likes being mentioned in the same sentence as Michael Phelps.

Some Paralympians may feel diminished — even offended — by using an Olympian as a reference to help illustrate their excellence.

Not Dias.

“If people keep comparing me with Michael Phelps, I will be even more honored,” said the 28-year-old Brazilian. “That will show that I left some legacy for Paralympic swimming.”

Phelps won 23 gold medals and 28 medals overall, making him the most decorated Olympian in history.

Dias, likewise, is about to shatter records and approach Phelps’ numbers.

He won his first gold medal on Thursday in the S5 200-meter freestyle, the first of his nine events. That gave him 11 gold medals and 16 overall through three Paralympic Games.

Australian Matthew Cowdrey has won 23 medals, the most for a male swimmer, with 13 of them gold — a mark Dias seems likely to pass.

Dias can also surpass the record for the most gold medals won by any male athlete. Swedish shooter Jonas Jakobsson, who has competed in the Paralympics since 1980, has won 17 gold medals, and his 27 overall medals are also the most by any male athlete. The 51-year-old could increase those totals with three more shooting events in the coming week.

Dias, from Sao Paolo, was born with a partially formed left hand, and his right arm stops at the elbow. He was also born without a right leg below the knee.

Craig Spence, the spokesman for the Paralympics, was at the pool Thursday night and said Dias’ victory was the most memorable thing he had seen in sports.

He said it surpassed a football match he saw last year, when Flamengo was playing at the famous Maracana stadium.

“When Flamengo scored a goal, I’d never heard such noise in a stadium,” Spence said. “But Daniel Dias winning gold exceeded a Flamengo victory in the Maracana.”

Dias could be the face of the Paralympics, a home-country hero who can drive ticket sales and interest. A frequent presence at football matches in Sao Paulo and as a motivational speaker, the swimmer could be a role model not just for athletes, but all Brazilians.

Additional success at the Paralympics could also increase Dias’ number of sponsors. Nearly 10 brands make him one of the few Brazilian Paralympians that can live off his sporting success.

The swimmer’s training regime is so special that he spent weeks practicing in Spain to focus for the 11 days of competition.

Dias admits there is a lot of pressure for him to deliver nine more medals.

“I do feel the pressure, but that will be compensated for by the support of the crowd and my family,” he said.

What Dias believes will be his most emotional moment of the Paralympics will be sharing a relay on Saturday with the man who inspired him. Six-time gold medalist Clodoaldo Silva is competing in his last Paralympics, and Dias wants him to leave in style.

“I only began because I saw Clodoaldo swimming on TV,” Dias said. “I didn’t even know people like me could swim, could do any sport at all.”

MORE: Rio Paralympics broadcast schedule

Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth

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France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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