Laurie Hernandez talks Rio Olympic memories, Tokyo plans with Mike Tirico

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Gymnast Laurie Hernandez last competed at the Rio Olympics. She must wait a bit longer to return with the Tokyo Games postponed to 2021.

“I can adapt to it pretty quick,” Hernandez told Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live” on NBCSN on Monday. “I think that year really threw a lot of athletes off, even though we can all agree it’s the safest for the world. Even still then, my goal is still to make the Olympic team. It’s still a big dream of mine.”

Hernandez, now 19, took two full years off after earning gold and silver medals in Rio. The New Jersey native won “Dancing with the Stars,” then moved to a new gym in California with a bold goal — to make the world’s strongest Olympic gymnastics team going more than three years between competitions.

“Taking those two years off after Rio was, I think, really important,” said Hernandez, the youngest female U.S. Olympian across all sports in Rio. “I got to travel. I got to meet a lot of new people and see about all the things that I really liked, only for it to come full circle and for me to come around a second time.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic halted sports, Hernandez’s plan was to return to competition this spring. Since 2004, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman are the only U.S. female gymnasts to make back-to-back Olympic teams. Douglas and Raisman returned to competition more than one year before their second Olympics.

Depending on when sports resume, Hernandez could get a bit of a cushion to shake off any competition rust.

She’s still reflective, though, cherishing that Rio Olympic experience. Hernandez said she will go live on Instagram on Monday night to coincide with NBCSN Olympic Week’s broadcast of the 2016 Olympic women’s team final. A full TV and live stream schedule for Olympic Week is here.

When thinking of those three weeks in Rio, that’s what first comes to mind.

“I think of how tight we all were,” Hernandez said. “I feel a lot of pride.”

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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

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.”