Indian luger set for 6th (and likely last) Olympics

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Shiva Keshavan is probably not going to medal at the PyeongChang Olympics.

That doesn’t make him irrelevant.

His name gets heard globally once every four years, because of his story: A guy from India, where there is no great winter sports legacy to speak of, goes to the Olympics — in luge of all things.

When he competes in PyeongChang, it’ll be his sixth and almost certainly final time as an Olympian. He’s never finished better than 25th at an Olympics, and he won’t be a podium contender in February.

Ask him if it was worth it, and he doesn’t hesitate before saying yes.

“I didn’t do this for other people to look at my story,” Keshavan said. “I did it for myself. I did it to improve myself and I feel that I’ve come a long way. Until now I’ve learned a lot, traveled the world, met people all over the world and I’ve been privileged to do that. And, well, if other people look at me, I know they’ll respect me for what I did.”

Keshavan was doomed by sled problems and finished 31st in a 35-slider Nations Cup event Thursday night at Mount Van Hoevenberg, meaning he won’t be in Friday’s World Cup. Only the top 15 from the Nations Cup advanced.

But that doesn’t deter him. It never has.

Keshavan’s attitude has been infectious among other sliders for years, and it’s clear he’ll be missed if this — as he expects — is the end of his Olympic journey.

“It really is kind of like a community that you’re a part of, and it’s something that’s really hard to let go,” said longtime U.S. luger Chris Mazdzer, one of the many on the luge circuit who considers Keshavan a good friend. “It is a lot of fun traveling, competing all around the world with a great group of people.”

Keshavan is sort of an unofficial member of many national teams.

Keshavan calls Lake Placid his home track, even though it’s 7,000 miles from the Himalayan region that is his actual home.

When he finished Thursday night, Australians and Ukrainians were among the first to offer him words of congratulations. And last week Keshavan got help from a Croatian just so he could compete.

Keshavan’s sled broke, so Daria Obratov offered hers.

It was way too small for Keshavan, and not exactly contoured for him, but he used it anyway to finish the Nations Cup race in Calgary — which essentially clinched his spot for PyeongChang.

“Although we represent different countries, the Olympic spirit knows no boundaries,” Obratov said.

Keshavan made his Olympic debut as a 16-year-old at Nagano in 1998, when he placed 28th. He’s been an Olympic regular since, placing 33rd in Salt Lake City in 2002, 25th at Torino in 2006, 29th at Vancouver in 2010 and 37th at Sochi.

He’s always been somewhere around five or 10 seconds behind the gold medalists.

He comes much closer in World Cup races, where sliders compete in two runs instead of the Olympic four. And he hasn’t exploited the system — even though he’s not exactly an Olympic medalist, he is competitive.

Besides, he’ll be a six-time Olympian. That’s more of a legacy than he ever envisioned.

“I gave my best,” Keshavan said. “Maybe that’s the thing I want to be remembered for: He gave his best and he never gave up.”

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MORE: Ghana, Nigeria skeleton sliders set for Olympic berths

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.”