Luka Doncic leads Slovenia to first Olympic basketball berth with historic performance

Luka Doncic
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Luka Doncic guided Slovenia to its first Olympic basketball berth with a triple-double in a 96-85 win over host Lithuania in the final of a last-chance qualifying tournament.

Doncic, the All-NBA guard for the Dallas Mavericks, tallied 31 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists to catapult the former Yugoslav republic to the Tokyo Games.

Also Sunday, Germany beat Brazil, the Czech Republic beat Greece and Italy defeated Serbia for the last Olympic men’s basketball spots.

Serbia, which in 2016 won Olympic silver and lost to the U.S. by three points, was without NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, who chose not to play for the national team after the Denver Nuggets season.

The U.S. is of course the Olympic favorite, despite a roster lacking most NBA superstars and a seventh-place finish at the 2019 FIBA World Cup (with even fewer household names).

Spain, Argentina and France are the world’s other traditional powers, made up the podium at 2019 Worlds and are back at the Olympics with veteran-led teams.

Upstart Slovenia won the 2017 European Championship, after never placing better than fourth previously, with an 18-year-old Doncic making the all-tournament team.

But it did not qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, leaving this week’s tournament in Kaunas as its lone path to Olympic qualification.

Slovenia, population 2.1 million, will be the smallest nation by current population to participate in an Olympic men’s basketball tournament since Estonia and Latvia in 1936, the first Olympic tournament.

Lithuania, one of the best men’s basketball nations of the last 30 years, failed to qualify for the first time since it became independent from the Soviet Union before the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Its current roster includes NBA standouts Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas.

Its Olympic appearances streak was the longest of any European nation. It was the only nation other than the U.S. to make the quarterfinals of every Olympic men’s tournament of the Dream Team era.

Lithuania was knocked out in the quarterfinals in 2012 and 2016. Before that, it lost five consecutive Olympic semifinals from 1992 through 2008 with teams led by the likes of Arvydas Sabonis (Domantas’ father who presented Doncic with an MVP award Sunday), Sarunas Marciulionis and Sarunas Jasikevicius.

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12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

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At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Olympedia.org. Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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Francesco Friedrich, most decorated bobsledder in history, rebounds for 12th world title

Francesco Friedrich
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A week after his first major championships defeat in seven years, German Francesco Friedrich returned to his winning ways to close the world bobsled championships on Sunday.

Friedrich’s four-man sled won the world title by 69 hundredths of a second over British and Latvian sleds that tied for silver, combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It marked Great Britain’s first world championships men’s bobsled medal since 1966.

Geoff Gadbois drove the lone U.S. sled in the field, finishing 18th.

Friedrich, the most decorated bobsledder in history, extended his records with a fifth consecutive world four-man title and 12th world championship between two- and four-man events.

Germany swept all four titles at bobsled worlds with four different drivers taking gold.

Friedrich had won 12 consecutive Olympic or world titles before taking two-man silver at worlds last week in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was dethroned in that event by countryman Johannes Lochner.

Friedrich has been hampered recently by a muscle injury from sprint training in late December. Going into worlds, Lochner had won four consecutive World Cup two-man races, while Hall won the last two World Cups in four-man.

Friedrich, 32, said before this season that he plans to make the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games his final competition. Friedrich and push athlete Thorsten Margis can break the record of four career Olympic bobsled gold medals that they currently share with retired Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske.

The World Cup season concludes with stops in Igls, Austria, and Sigulda, Latvia, the next two weekends.

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