Sue Bird hired by Denver Nuggets

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As Sue Bird works toward a potential fifth Olympics in 2020, she’ll have a new job: Denver Nuggets basketball operations associate.

The Nuggets announced the front-office hiring Friday, adding one of the most accomplished players in history. Bird had been tied to the team since mid-October, when she reportedly attended a practice.

“The best way to describe it is kind of like an apprenticeship,” Bird said on the R2C2 is Interrupted podcast published Wednesday. “They reached out. I had some mutual friends with the president there, Tim Connelly. He just kind of likes to keep athletes in the mix and likes to give them exposure and allow them to learn, give them that opportunity while they’re still playing. Music to my ears.”

Bird, who will be 40 in 2020 and three years older than any previous U.S. Olympic basketball player, is coming off her 16th WNBA season with the Seattle Storm, winning her third title. She also started all five of her games at the world championship in September, earning an eighth career Olympic or world gold medal.

Going into Rio, Bird said it would likely be her last Olympics. But in 2017, she said that she would continue playing for Team USA as long as USA Basketball asks. No younger point guard has unseated her on the national team.

“I’m on a timeline of my health, so as long as that’s still going, I’m going to still go,” Bird said on the podcast, adding that she will want to keep it a secret when she knows she’s playing her last season. “If I could squeeze out a couple more years, that would be great.”

The NBA has recently opened up roles for women. Most notably, Russian Olympian Becky Hammon became the first full-time female assistant coach in the U.S.’ four major team sports leagues with the San Antonio Spurs and later was head coach of their summer league team.

Nancy Lieberman, a 1976 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, and Kristi Toliver, who plays internationally for Slovakia, have worked as assistants with the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards, respectively.

The WNBA season typically starts in mid-May, when the NBA playoffs are happening.

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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

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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.”