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Johnny Quinn leaves door open for bobsled return

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As U.S. bobsledders gathered in Calgary for push championships this week, Johnny Quinn prepared for the pursuit that has taken up most of his time since he became a viral star at the Sochi Olympics — public speaking.

Quinn traveled to Oklahoma City for his latest engagement, at a Retirement Investment Advisors client appreciation event on Tuesday.

Quinn’s presence in a banquet room rather than an ice house confirms that his break from bobsled will continue one more season. Athletes must be at push championships if they intend to compete in 2016-17.

Quinn has not raced in a bobsled since the Sochi Olympics, where he gained global fame for busting through a locked bathroom door and also finished 12th as a push athlete with the No. 2 U.S. sled piloted by Nick Cunningham.

Quinn has not filed retirement paperwork.

He is leaving the door open for a run to the Pyeongchang Olympics and a possible comeback next season. He recently performed a series of tests to gauge his physical shape compared to four years ago. He was pleased with the numbers.

“We’re 18 months away from Pyeongchang, so it’s going to give us some time to make sure that my speed and strength surpass where I was in 2014,” said the 32-year-old Quinn, a former wide receiver at the University of North Texas who played four preseason games with the Green Bay Packers in 2008. “In 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, I want to be on that podium.”

Whether Quinn makes it to Pyeongchang depends on two primary factors.

First, that he can earn a place on the team. Quinn must return from three years off and outperform other push athletes, including those who have been competing for most of the Olympic cycle plus recent U.S. track and field converts.

Second, that Quinn wants to make the team. He’s not fully committed to a comeback and stressed that finances will be key.

“One of the biggest challenges in Olympic sports is trying to find a way to fund your Olympic dream,” he said. “I have to make sure I can afford to compete in the Olympic year.”

Quinn said he’s about 30 percent of the way to a financial goal to dive back into bobsled. The speaking engagements, about 100 per year, have helped.

He has presented to elementary-, middle- and high-school assemblies. And Fidelity Investments. And LiftMaster, a suburban Chicago company whose products include garage-door accessories.

“A lot of what I learned within Team USA and during my time in the NFL really translates over into life in the corporate world,” Quinn said. “Bring me in to help fire them up and motivate them, give them tools and action steps.”

Quinn opens his talks with a video of his highlights from Sochi and then delivers a message — “Think Like an Olympian.” A guide is available to download on his website.

He doesn’t mind that his fame was born out of that viral moment in the athletes’ village.

“Breaking down the door opened the door to some opportunities,” Quinn said. “Had I known it was going to blow up, I would have saved some [pieces of the door], auctioned it off and give it to a charity or something.”

Tuffy Latour, who works with USA Bobsled and Skeleton as a skeleton coach, said Quinn called him last week to say he was still interested in coming back to bobsled at some point. Quinn wanted to know the steps he needed to take in the next several months to best position himself.

“He’s basically just looking to get his foot in the door,” Latour said. “He’s not planning on coming back to the sport full-time this season but next season. We’re trying to build up the ranks on the U.S. team, and having somebody like Johnny, or any of the veterans coming back these next couple years will only enhance the depth.

“If he can come back in any type of shape he was in 2013 or 2014, he’s more than welcome to come out. He knows what it takes to make the team. That’s why he’s given himself a year, I think, to get in the best shape possible.”

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Kyle Dake repeats as world wrestling champ; next challenge: Jordan Burroughs

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Kyle Dake recovered from an unspecified freak accident that required surgery, and not wrestling in a meet for eight months, to repeat as world champion at 79kg, a non-Olympic weight class, on Sunday.

The next six months will bring another challenge — beating Jordan Burroughs for an Olympic spot.

“Every year I have a goal of being the best guy in the world. Last year, I proved it. This year, I proved it,” Dake told Trackwrestling.com. “I’ve got my work cut out for me, coming up.”

Dake, a four-time NCAA champion at Cornell who considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year, is now in his freestyle prime. He backed up going unscored on at worlds last year by beating his four opponents in Kazakhstan this week by a combined 27-4, capped by topping Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov 4-2 in a final rematch.

Kid Dynamite is unquestionably one of the world’s best pound-for-pound wrestlers.

That was not the case four years ago. Then, an internationally inexperienced Dake moved out of the 74kg division, and up to 86kg for the Olympic year, to avoid facing Burroughs because Burroughs had a bye into the Olympic trials final as the reigning world champion. Dake ended up losing the 86kg trials final to J’den Cox, who on Saturday repeated as world champion himself.

The four-year difference would seem to favor Dake over Burroughs at April’s trials, where Dake has a bye into the semifinals and Burroughs into the final.

Burroughs, at 31 years old, is on the back end of his career. He just missed the finals of back-to-back world championships for the first time, though he came back for bronze medals. Burroughs has made every U.S. world or Olympic team at 74kg dating to 2011 and earned a medal every time, save his tearful Rio Olympic exit.

Dake, reluctant four years ago to detail his decision to move out of 74kg, determined before this week’s worlds that he would choose 74kg over 86kg (where Cox likely waits again).

“74 seems like a good spot for me,” Dake told Trackwrestling last month.

The number of weight classes drops from 10 at worlds to six at the Olympics, ensuring that at least two of these Americans will not make the Tokyo team:

Burroughs — 5x Olympic/world champion
Dake — 2x world champion
David Taylor — 2018 World champion (missed 2019 while injured)
Cox — 2x world champion
Kyle Snyder — 2x Olympic/world champion

Later Sunday, Snyder rallied from being upset in the 97kg semifinals on Saturday to snag a bronze medal with a 5-0 win over Georgian Elizbar Odikadze. A potential third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev was the most anticipated match of the championships, but Snyder was beaten one match early by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov.

Sadulayev, meanwhile, blanked Sharifov 4-0 to complete a 30-3 romp through his four matches to repeat as world champ.

“The hardest part about it I would say is just the fact that I didn’t get to wrestle Sadulayev again,” said Snyder, a Rio Olympic champion and a 2015 and 2017 World champion who shared bus and elevator rides with Sadulayev on Saturday and Sunday. “I felt prepared for him.”

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MORE: Jordan Burroughs: Time is running out

Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

Margo Sugarman
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Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18. Joey Wagman, its starting pitcher for its first and last games this week, plies his trade for the independent-league Milwaukee Milkmen.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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MORE: USA Baseball taps longtime catcher to be Olympic qualifying manager