U.S., Canada renew women’s soccer rivalry with Olympic spot at stake

U.S. women's soccer team
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MONTERREY, Mexico — The U.S. women’s soccer team plays Canada in the final of the CONCACAF W Championship for a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The U.S. beat Costa Rica 3-0 in the semifinals Thursday night on goals from Emily Sonnett, Mallory Pugh and Ashley Sanchez. Canada downed Jamaica 3-0 in the late game to advance to earn the other spot Monday night in the championship.

The U.S. extended its shutout streak in World Cup or Olympic qualifying matches to 32 games.

The four teams had already qualified for the region’s berths at the 2023 Women’s World Cup as the top finishers in the group stage. The winner of the W Championship additionally earns one of the region’s two spots in the Olympics.

The loser of Monday’s game and the winner of the third-place match between Costa Rica and Jamaica will play in September 2023 for the second and last CONCACAF spot in the Olympic field.

At the Tokyo Games, Canada stunned the U.S. 1-0 in the semifinals, beating the U.S. for the first time since 2001 en route to the gold medal. The U.S. played six matches at the Olympics and failed to score in half of them after coming to Japan having scored in 34 of its last 35 matches in Olympic and World Cup tournaments.

The U.S. won the last two World Cups, but the Americans are heading into next summer’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand with a different look.

Coach Vlatko Andonovski focused on developing young talent since winning bronze in Tokyo, and up-and-coming players including Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh have cracked the starting lineup. Casey Murphy got the starting nod in goal.

A few veterans remain, including Alex Morgan and Becky Sauerbrunn, who both started on Thursday, and Megan Rapinoe, who came off the bench. Carli Lloyd retired after the Tokyo Games.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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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.”