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Commonwealth Games set to start with 11-year-old among the athletes

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An 11-year-old table tennis player is one of some 5,000 athletes set to compete at the Commonwealth Games, which open this week in Gold Coast, Australia.

Anna Hursey of Wales could be the youngest competitor in the history of the games, a stat that has gone unconfirmed with records from the earliest editions in the 1930s reportedly incomplete.

The Commonwealth Games are the biggest summer multi-sport competition outside of the Olympics, held every four years. The Opening Ceremony is Wednesday. The Closing Ceremony is April 15.

The U.S. is not part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Instead, the notable delegations competing in Gold Coast are host Australia, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa and those that make up Great Britain at the Olympics, led by England.

Most of the sports are also in the Olympics, but some are not, such as lawn bowls.

Usain Bolt competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. The Gold Coast edition is headlined by Olympic champions Elaine Thompson and Caster Semenya in track and field, Chad le Clos and Adam Peaty in swimming and Max Whitlock in gymnastics.

Then there is Hursey, the 11-year-old table tennis prodigy from Cardiff with a website and YouTube channel.

Hursey, whose parents reportedly met in the table tennis hotbed of China, started playing when she was 4 or 5 and advanced after receiving coaching in China on a trip with her mother. Her father, Larry, used to play the sport.

The table was nearly the height of her shoulders when she started, evidenced by the YouTube channel, which has separate highlights of Hursey playing at ages 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10.

By 2015, the BBC started covering Hursey. A coach told the network that at age 9, she had probably beaten everyone in the under-18 division in Wales.

“Those people [are] not her target,” her mom, Xiuli Zhang, told the BBC in 2016. “Asian countries, those players should be her target. If she can beat them, she probably can be one of the best.”

Hursey made her senior international debut for Wales last year, winning four of six matches in a lower division at the European Championships. She is No. 568 in the senior world rankings and third in Wales. She’s No. 20 in the world under-15 age rankings.

The youngest recorded Olympian was Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras, who competed at the first modern Games in Athens in 1896 at age 10.

Hursey will be 14 come Tokyo 2020, but it appears unlikely she will be there as a competitor. Not only are there two women in Wales ranked ahead of her, but also four women from England. Plus, Great Britain last fielded a female Olympic table tennis player in 1996, aside from when it hosted at London 2012.

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Kristoffersen topples Hirscher to win giant slalom at worlds

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ARE, Sweden — Norwegian skiing is in safe hands, even with its beloved king now in retirement.

Henrik Kristoffersen gave Norway its second individual gold medal of the world championships by toppling an under-the-weather Marcel Hirscher to win the giant slalom on Friday.

With Kjetil Jansrud also victorious in the downhill last week, Norway appears in great shape heading into the post-Aksel Lund Svindal era.

Svindal signed off his illustrious career with a silver medal behind Jansrud in the downhill, and said he was leaving behind a strong generation of Norwegian skiing talent.

Kristoffersen is at the forefront of that — especially now that he has ended his long wait for a medal at a world championship.

The 24-year-old Kristoffersen had finished fourth in his last three races at the worlds — the giant slalom and slalom in 2017 and the slalom in 2015 — and headed into his second run of the GS in third place behind leader Alexis Pinturault and Hirscher, the favorite and one of skiing’s all-time greats.

However, Kristoffersen produced an aggressive run under the lights, his speed and flow particularly apparent in the bottom section, to win by 0.20 seconds over Hirscher. Pinturault won the bronze medal, 0.42 seconds back.

“It was about time to get a medal,” said Kristoffersen, who wasn’t necessarily expecting it to come in GS.

Kristoffersen’s last win in the discipline came at Meribel in 2015 and he has been consistently behind Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup winner and defending Olympic and world GS champion. He finished second to Hirscher at last year’s Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Kristoffersen was without a win in any discipline for a year but said he gained confidence from the course being doused with salt to maintain the snow surface amid unseasonably warm weather. The temperature in Are for the first leg was 8 C (46 F).

“There’s no one that skis on salt as much as Norwegians do,” he said. “Even though I haven’t trained on salt in GS in a long, long time, I have it from childhood.”

Hirscher’s preparations for the race were affected by a bout of flu that kept him in bed for much of the past two days. He acknowledged after the race that the likelihood of him lining up on the starting gate wasn’t high on Thursday.

“Normally,” Hirscher said, “if you have regular work on those days, you normally tell your boss I’m done for the day.”

Yet he managed to be only 0.10 seconds behind Pinturault after an error-free first run, keeping Hirscher on course for a record-tying seventh gold medal at the worlds. But he went wide at two gates in the top section of his second run, causing him to lose 0.41 seconds on Kristoffersen in the middle section.

“Second place is the first loser but Henrik had an amazing day with two great runs,” Hirscher said. “Henrik is at the top for such a long time. He was more than ready for a world title.”

Hirscher, who was noticeably sniffing after the race, added that he was “looking forward to getting back to bed again” to rest up ahead of Sunday’s slalom.

When Pinturault crossed the finish line in third place, Kristoffersen clenched his fists before walking into the finish area, crouching on one knee and acknowledging the jubilant Norwegian fans in the grandstand.

For Pinturault, it was his second medal of the championships after winning the Alpine combined on Monday.

Wesenberg wins first U.S. skeleton World Cup medal in two years

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With a bronze medal in Lake Placid earlier today, Kendall Wesenberg became the first American to reach the World Cup podium in skeleton in two years.

Wesenberg, who finished 17th at her first Olympics in PyeongChang, had a combined time of 1:51.10 in Lake Placid. Prior to today, her last podium finish at the World Cup was in St. Moritz in January 2017.

“This has never been my strongest track, so we really broke it down piece by piece, and I think it paid off,” Wesenberg said, according to USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “The second run, I kind of tried to throw it away at the top there. By the time I made it to corner 10, I was just thinking ‘build speed, build speed.”

Wesenberg, 28, grew up in California’s Central Valley, but her interest in sliding sports piqued while watching the 2010 Vancouver Games. When the commentators discussed the athletic backgrounds of the athletes, Wesenberg realized she played some of the same sports growing up. A quick Google search brought her to the USA Bobsled and Skeleton page. She told her siblings she was thinking of trying skeleton. They said she’d never do it. Challenge accepted.

Wesenberg emailed a U.S. coach and signed up for a combine and driving training in January 2011. Seven years later, she was sliding on Olympic ice.

Sliding coverage continues today on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, with women’s bobsled live at 3:15 p.m. ET and men’s bobsled live at 4:15.