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Diana Taurasi wants to keep playing for Team USA, with Sue Bird

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Diana Taurasi jokes that she “signed a tombstone” with a Phoenix Mercury contract extension through 2020, when she will turn 38 years old.

“Puts me to my graveyard,” she quipped before Sunday’s loss at the New York Liberty.

Hold the eulogy. Taurasi is still one of the world’s best players and could suit up at a fifth Olympics three years.

She scored 37 points in a game last week — her most in the WNBA since 2010.

Including Sunday, she committed zero turnovers in back-to-back games for the first time in her career (420 WNBA games, including regular season and playoffs).

She’s shooting 56 percent from the field in her last three games after a 1-for-11 clunker in the opener May 14.

All that has to impress USA Basketball, which next year will try to three-peat at worlds for the first time.

Taurasi said in Rio that she had likely played her final Olympic game, ending her career in that sense 32-0 with four gold medals.

But now she’s sounding optimistic. Not only for the 2018 World Cup, but also the for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“As long as I’m playing at a high level, and I deserve to be out there, then I’ll always put that USA jersey on,” Taurasi said Sunday. “There’s nothing better than that, no matter how many times you’ve done it.”

It would have been fitting for Taurasi to bow out of the Olympics after Rio at the same time as her college coach, UConn’s Geno Auriemma.

“He picked golfing over us,” Taurasi joked Sunday of Auriemma handing over the national-team reins to Dawn Staley.

But Taurasi praised the hiring of Staley. Both guards, Taurasi and Staley were teammates at the 2004 Olympics, where Taurasi made her Olympic debut off the bench and Staley started every game in her Olympic farewell.

Taurasi recently talked with U.S. national-team director Carol Callan about her future with the program. She plans to have more conversations with Staley, Callan and USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley.

“See what direction they want to go in,” Taurasi said. “A lot of things can change. A lot of things can come up. I take it day by day. And when it’s time to make a commitment, then I will.”

Taurasi’s value to USA Basketball is enhanced by a lack of depth at guard. The U.S. team of 12 in Rio included just three primary guards — Taurasi, Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen, all 34 years and older.

Come 2020, all three of them will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic basketball player — men or women. Two years ago, Kobe Bryant was talked about potentially being placed on the U.S. men’s team in Rio at age 37 for his leadership and experience.

The women’s national team selection committee may face a similar situation.

“That’s going to be a big decision in how they go forward with the worlds and Tokyo,” Taurasi said when asked about “a Kobe-like role.”

Throughout her career, Taurasi has been most linked with Bird. Backcourt mates at UConn and at four Olympics.

Last year, Auriemma said he wouldn’t have coached the U.S. unless Taurasi and Bird had been there. Now, Taurasi is taking a page from her old coach’s book.

Her return to USA Basketball is not only dependent on her own play and a selection committee, but also at least somewhat on the undecided Bird’s plans.

“That would be a weird feeling to go out on the court without Sue, especially with USA Basketball,” Taurasi said. “So, no, I probably wouldn’t see that happening.”

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MORE: Will Candace Parker wear Team USA jersey again?

FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”