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TODAY: Olympic hopefuls crowd-fund to get to Sochi

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Getting to Sochi is no easy task, athletically or financially. To help out with the latter, Olympic hopefuls are turning to crowd-funding for help, reports TODAY.com.

Athletes create profiles on sites like GoFundMe, Indiegogo and the athlete-centric RallyMe, seeking online donations to help them make it to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Many of the athletes on crowd-funding sites are U.S. speedskaters, bobsledders and skeleton racers, who don’t have big sponsors like many of the snowboarders and skiers.

“Let’s be honest, I’m not LeBron James,’’ U.S. speedskater Patrick Meek told TODAY.com. “I’m not going to have a billboard in Times Square to promote my story. Athletes can use these sites as another tool in their arsenal. It’s an inexpensive way to get our stories out there and thank our sponsors. Every little bit helps.”

Many Olympic sports athletes train six to eight hours per day and work part-time jobs. Even with a USOC stipend, it can be hard to make ends meet. Crowd-funding websites can connect the dots.

Recent crowd-funding stories have led to more public awareness. Meek, a part-time valet at a Park City, Utah, hotel, recently started his own RallyMe page because he fielded questions from potential donors.

“We’re a little bit more real, and people can feel like they’re part of our story,’’ Meek said. “I think that’s something fans today relish. You don’t have to spend $10,000 on season tickets. You can spend a little on an athlete and feel like you’re part of the journey. It breaks down the barrier between the athletes and the fans and creates a real connection.”

Short-track speedskater Chris Creveling has raised $5,500 out of a goal of $35,000 on his GoFundMe page.

“The Russian skaters aren’t thinking, ‘Am I going to spend this money on rent or groceries?'” Creveling said. “They are thinking, ‘How am I going to get this gold medal?’ Having this extra money gives us the peace of mind to focus on our main goal, too.”

Ski jumper Lindsey Van raised over $20,000 on her RallyMe site through Facebook and even wearing a RallyMe sticker on her competition helmet.

“We’ve become aware of how much people can make, and good for them,” said speedskater Brittany Bowe, who has a RallyMe page. “If that gets them one step closer to making their dreams come true, then awesome. You can’t do anything but be happy for those people. Everybody is out here trying to make their dreams come true.”

Short track speedskater overwhelmed by crowd-funding response

U.S. Olympic tennis player refuses to answer meldonium questions

Varvara Lepchenko
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Varvara Lepchenko, a 2012 U.S. Olympic tennis player, reportedly refused comment eight times Tuesday on a report that she tested positive for meldonium earlier this year.

“At the moment I have no comment on any of this,” Lepchenko said after losing her first-round match at the French Open, according to multiple reports. “I’m here just to answer tennis questions. If you have any questions about my match, I would gladly answer them, but otherwise, I just have no comments.”

Lepchenko, a 30-year-old who lived in Uzbekistan until 2001, was found to have meldonium at about the same time as Russian Maria Sharapova, a physiotherapist who worked with Sharapova said, according to Russia’s Sports-Express last week.

Sharapova announced on March 7 that she tested positive for meldonium in January.

Lepchenko didn’t play on the WTA Tour from late February until early May, withdrawing before the BNP Paribas Open in March with a left knee injury and the Sony Open two weeks later with a right knee injury, according to the WTA.

The World Anti-Doping Agency relaxed meldonium punishments in April, allowing bans to be lifted. Sharapova’s ban has not been lifted.

Lepchenko, who lost in the second round at London 2012, is ranked No. 64 in the world and will not qualify for the Rio Olympics.

MORE: Djokovic calls for rankings points at ‘arguably the fifth Grand Slam’

Russian Olympic champion positive in Beijing retest, coach reportedly says

Anna Chicherova
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London Olympic high jump champion Anna Chicherova is one of many Russians among 31 athletes overall who tested positive in recent retests of Beijing Olympic samples, according to Russian news agency TASS.

TASS named nine 2008 Olympic medalists among 14 Russian athletes, citing a Russian TV report, including eight medalists in track and field, with Chicherova being the superstar of the group.

“Three days ago, Anna received a notice that her doping sample from the Beijing Olympic tested positive after a re-check, and she called me,” Chicherova’s coach said, according to TASS. “So far, this is at the development stage and this has not yet been finally confirmed. But all are aware of this and are dealing with the issue.”

Last week, the International Olympic Committee said 31 unnamed athletes from 12 nations across six sports failed drug tests in retesting of 454 samples from 2008 using the latest drug-testing methods.

Chicherova, 33, took high jump gold at the London Games and bronze in Beijing. She is one of two track and field athletes to earn an individual-event medal at the last five World Championships and last two Olympics. The other is Usain Bolt.

Chicherova, who has had no previously widespread reported doping history, would be one of Russia’s top Olympic track and field medal hopes in Rio, should the ban on Russian track and field athletes competing be lifted before the Games.

Russia is expected to learn if it will be allowed to send a track and field team to Rio on June 17.

“The Ministry of Sport is extremely disappointed to hear the speculation that Russian athletes are among those found to have violated anti-doping rules at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after re-testing their samples,” the Russian Ministry of Sport said in a statement through Burson-Marsteller public relations firm. “Any athletes found cheating should face corresponding sanctions.

“We have taken numerous steps to eradicate the issue of doping, and understand that the roots of the problem, particularly in athletics, go back to the past.”

MORE: Russia track and field boss: ’50-60 percent’ chance of Olympics