Canada stunned in Tokyo Olympic men’s basketball qualifying, extending drought

Canada vs Czech Republic - FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying
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Canada again failed to qualify for the Olympic men’s basketball tournament. Its last appearance was at the 2000 Sydney Games with a team led by Steve Nash.

A Canadian team with eight NBA players lost 103-101 to a Czech Republic team with one NBA player in the semifinals of a last-chance Olympic qualifier in Victoria, British Columbia, on Saturday.

The Czechs’ one NBA player, Tomas Satoransky, banked in a jump shot in the final seconds of overtime.

The Czechs advance to a winner-to-Tokyo final against Turkey or Greece on Sunday. Canada, coached by Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors, is eliminated from Olympic qualifying.

Canada boasts the most NBA players of any nation other than the U.S., but suffered another stunning elimination from Olympic qualifying to a less-heralded basketball nation.

In 2015, a Canadian team with nine NBA players lost 79-78 to Venezuela, with zero NBA players, in a winner-to-Rio Olympics game at an Americas qualifying tournament. Canada lost another winner-to-Rio game to France at a last-chance tournament.

This year’s team had 2014 NBA No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins and New York Knicks standout RJ Barrett, but lacked its top two scorers from the NBA, the injured Jamal Murray and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and its top NBA big man, Kelly Olynyk.

At Canada’s last Olympic appearance in 2000, Nash led a scrappy team that nearly reached the medal round. Nash and center Todd MacCulloch were their only NBA players. Nash’s devotion was such that he was reportedly sobbing and had to be dragged off the floor after Canada lost in the quarterfinals to eventual silver medalist France.

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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.”