Hannah Halvorsen makes U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing team, 2 years after brain injury

FIS World Cup Cross-Country Lillehammer - Individual Sprint
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The U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing team is set, and it includes a remarkable comeback story.

Hannah Halvorsen, a 23-year-old native of California who lives in Alaska, is headed to her first Winter Games, two years after crossing a street in downtown Anchorage and getting hit by a Jeep. Police estimated the car was traveling 25 miles per hour, she said, confirming previous reports from the Anchorage Daily News and FasterSkier.com.

She landed on the hood, stayed there for 200 yards, then flew off it when the driver braked. She fell onto the road, hitting her head and suffering a traumatic brain injury.

She had a skull fracture and bleeding and bruising in her brain from the Nov. 1, 2019 accident. She broke a tibia and tore her left MCL and PCL completely off the bone.

“I was a hair away from being paralyzed, blind or dead,” Halvorsen said in December 2019, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I’ve realized what matters, doing what you love, with people you love, and that is skiing.”

MORE: Team USA athlete roster for 2022 Winter Olympics

Halvorsen still has no memory of the accident — the details came from an eyewitness — or the 10 days following it. She couldn’t smell or taste for two months afterward, and those senses still aren’t all the way back to normal.

Halvorsen, who has also been open about disordered eating in high school, needed 11 months before she could ski again. She returned to international competition 13 months after the accident in December 2020.

She scored her first career World Cup points (finishing in the top 30) in her second race back. This season, she made a convincing case for an Olympic spot on Dec. 18 by recording her first top-10, a seventh place in a freestyle sprint in Dresden, Germany, one spot above Olympic team sprint champion Jessie Diggins.

Technically, the race didn’t count toward Olympic consideration, but it was impossible to ignore.

Halvorsen’s best race is the freestyle sprint. The event switches every Olympics between the freestyle and classic technique. Fortunately for Halvorsen, it’s freestyle next month in Beijing.

Dresden also marked Halvorsen’s last individual race before the Beijing Games. She ceded a spot in the Tour de Ski in late December due to a cold and concussion-like symptoms — headaches, dizziness — that still pop up, residual effects from the accident.

“I seem to be able to fully recover. As long as I can get back in my routine, get rest, I am kind of at 100 percent,” she said. “I can’t handle the non-stop going. But I can clearly race to my full potential when all pistons are firing.”

So Halvorsen waited, through the holidays and into the new year. The Olympic team would not be finalized by a selection committee until mid-January. She said she played mind games with herself. Some days, she thought she was a shoo-in for the eight-woman team. Others, she felt she had no chance.

Finally, last Monday, Halvorsen was home in Anchorage, about 20 minutes from that street crossing, when she received a phone call that she won’t forget. It came from U.S. Ski Team cross-country program director Chris Groves.

You’re in. We picked you, Groves told her. Halvorsen laughed. She cried. She couldn’t control her body because it was so momentous. It’s still hitting her in waves.

“As soon as I got the news, I immediately thought about how, two years ago, at this very time of year, I was relearning how to walk,” she said. “I can remember how I felt when I was relearning how to walk. Full of doubt. There’s so far I have to go, but at the same time, deep inside me, I would feel like I’m going to do this.”

It never crossed Halvorsen’s mind that her Olympic dream, which she harbored since age 12, might not come to fruition.

“That wasn’t really an option because my identity wasn’t being an Olympian. My identity was chasing the Olympics,” she said. “And that was so deeply rooted in me that it couldn’t really be taken away. What was in my head, once I started to wake up and be more present after the accident, was how am I going to prove to everyone else that I’m still in the game?”

Years ago, Halvorsen was part of an up-and-coming group of U.S. cross-country skiers that earned the nation’s first women’s medals in world junior championships history. Halvorsen, Julia Kern, Katharine Ogden and Hailey Swirbul finished third in the relay.

“We don’t perceive ourselves as underdogs that have potential,” Halvorsen said, noting the foundation laid by Jessie Diggins, Kikkan Randall, Liz Stephen and Sadie Bjornsen, among others. “We see ourselves as just as good as anybody.”

Now, Kern, Swirbul and Halvorsen are going to their first Olympics.

“Hannah is one of the toughest people I know, and the strength she has shown through all of this is truly inspiring,” Kern said in December 2019, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I am always amazed by how Hannah always seems to find the positive side of things and I always seem to find her with a smile on her face, regardless of the situation.”

Diggins, a 2018 Olympic team sprint gold medalist with now-retired Kikkan Randall, leads the Olympic cross-country team. The rest of the roster: Rosie Brennan, Halvorsen, Kern, Sophia Laukli, Novie McCabe. Caitlin Patterson, Swirbul, Kevin Bolger, Ben Ogden, Luke Jager, Scott Patterson, JC Schoonmaker and Gus Schumacher.

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U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup

The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup

The U.S. women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game