Scott Blackmun

USOC CEO: ‘It’s our strong desire that our athletes comply with the laws of every nation’

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U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun is waiting on clarification on Russia’s anti-gay law, like the International Olympic Committee is, but would like to see U.S. athletes comply with any laws in place.

“It’s our strong desire that our athletes comply with the laws of every nation that we visit,” Blackmun told R-Sport on Wednesday. “This law is no different.”

The Russian news agency asked Blackmun his interpretation of the law.

“We’re looking to the IOC for some leadership in this issue,” Blackmun said. “They have been in discussions with the Russian authorities, so we’re awaiting for some clarification from them.

“Our job, first and foremost, is to make sure that our athletes are prepared to compete and aren’t distracted while they’re here. We’re a sports organization, and we’ll leave the diplomacy on the legal issues to the diplomats, and we’re not going to get involved.”

Asked about involvement if an athlete makes a protest, Blackmun responded:

“You can’t judge in advance what you’re going to do. Each Games is different. The athletes are always going into countries with laws different than his or her own country. They’re going to agree with those laws in some ways, they’re going to disagree with those laws in other ways.”

On Monday, the Russian Interior Ministry said its employees will “act in the framework” of a law banning the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” toward minors “during the Olympics as well as during any other time.”

It also said fears of sexually-based discrimination of Olympic athletes and guests are “absolutely groundless and farfetched.”

The Russian Interior Ministry controls the country’s police force, according to R-Sport. Here are the full comments made to Russian news agency Interfax:

“The law mentioned above has come into effect and operates in Russia.”

“Due to this, employees of the Russian Interior Ministry will act in the framework of the Russian law in general and the law protecting children from harmful information in particular during the Olympics as well as during any other time.

“This law applies to individuals “whose goal is to provoke underage persons to get involved in non-traditional sexual relations.

“Law enforcement authorities will take measures against individuals performing such actions in accordance with the Russian law.

“Law enforcement authorities can not have any questions of people of non-traditional sexual orientation not committing such actions, not holding any provocations and peacefully participating with everyone in the Olympic events.”

“Thus, fears of rights violations of representatives of non-traditional sexual orientation, preventing them from participating in the Olympics and sexually-based discrimination of Olympic athletes and guests are absolutely groundless and farfetched.”

The head of Russia’s National Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, agreed with the interior ministry’s statement, according to R-Sport.

“If a person does not put across his views in the presence of children, no measures against him can be taken,” Zhukov said Monday. “People of nontraditional sexual orientations can take part in the competitions and all other events at the Games unhindered, without any fear for their safety whatsoever.”

The IOC has said the last two weeks that it “received a number of assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”

On Friday, IOC president Jacques Rogge said the Russian government gave the IOC assurances about the law Thursday but more clarifications were required. Rogge cited translation issues.

Here’s how Russian news outlet RT.com explained the law:

The legislation “prohibiting propaganda of homosexuality to minors” was enacted on June 30, when it was signed by president Putin. It’s an amendment to the law “On protecting children from information harmful to their health and development”.

If found guilty of promoting “non-traditional sexual relationships”, individuals could face fines of up to 5,000 rubles (US$150). The sum would be multiplied by 10 if those individuals appear to be civil servants. Organizations, meanwhile, would have to pay 1 million rubles (about $30,000) or have their activity suspended for 90 days if they do not comply with the fresh amendment.

Bolt photographer calls image ‘pure luck’

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen make for contrasting favorites at U.S. Championships

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen
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Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen trained on the same ice for the last three years. They enter this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City as favorites, but took different routes to arrive there.

Wagner, 25, seeks her fourth national title, following the worst Grand Prix result of her 10-year career.

Still, Wagner is the 2016 World Championships silver medalist, which carries the most weight of all with the PyeongChang Olympics coming in 13 months.

Wagner, the most accomplished U.S. women’s singles skater in a decade, can become the oldest U.S. women’s singles champion in 90 years.

“Mentally, I’m feeling very confident,” Wagner said last week. “At this point in my career it is very easy for me to get mentally worn out and worn down, but I usually feel strongest when my training is backing me up and when I know that I am physically fit.”

Chen, 17, is an even bigger favorite in the men’s field. The Salt Lake City native is already one of the most accomplished young skaters in U.S. history, taking two novice and two junior national titles.

In this his first senior international season, Chen had the best fall series of a U.S. man since Evan Lysacek won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Chen’s autumn culminated with a silver medal at December’s Grand Prix Final, beating the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate.

This week, Chen can become the youngest U.S. men’s singles champion in 51 years. He would do it one year after taking bronze and suffering a hip injury later that day that required season-ending surgery.

“I never thought that I would get there that fast,” Chen said.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

Chen was already working with Armenian coach Rafael Arutyunyan in Los Angeles when Wagner joined the training group in the middle of 2013.

Chen was barely 14 years old at the time, but Wagner, by then already a two-time U.S. champion, had learned about him back in 2010.

Wagner saw Chen win the U.S. Championships novice division at age 10, beating skaters six and seven years older than him, including her younger brother, Austin.

“And my brother retired after that year because of Nathan Chen,” Wagner said with a hint of humor.

Under Arutyunyan, a noted jumping technician, Wagner developed into the top consistent challenger to the dominant Russians.

She endured failure — finishing fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and last-place programs at the Grand Prix Final. She experienced success — national and international feats not done by an American since Michelle Kwan.

Most of the U.S. skaters whom Wagner came up with have retired. Her closest recent domestic rivals — Olympic teammates Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds — struggled with poor performances and injury, respectively, in the last year.

If Wagner prevails as she should in Kansas City, the next step is returning to the podium at the world championships in two months in Helsinki, where three Russians, three Japanese and a Canadian will try to keep her off of it. A second straight world medal would make Wagner the best U.S. hope for an Olympic women’s singles medal since 2006.

“The biggest thing about her is her mental toughness,” Chen said of Wagner, “especially when she goes to competitions and zones in on what she wants to do and comes out with the result she wants.”

MORE: Gracie Gold makes desperate move after rock bottom

Mental toughness is something Chen hopes to develop with experience. He already owns the physical tools, most notably an arsenal of quadruple jumps.

Chen, whose adorable 2010 U.S. Championships exhibition at age 10 aired on NBC, is now electrifying. He attempts six quads combined in two programs.

At his last event, the Grand Prix Final in December, Chen recorded the highest free skate score, bettering Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, who both were off their game. He finished second overall behind Hanyu, becoming the second-youngest men’s medalist in the event’s 22-year history.

NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski, who took 1998 Olympic gold at age 15, has, like Wagner, known about Chen since 2010. Lipinski was in Spokane, Wash., for those U.S. Championships seven years ago.

“I remember thinking, oh boy, this kid is so talented, but not really thinking much of it because he was itty-bitty,” Lipinski said of Chen, who has grown a foot since 2010, to 5 feet, 5 inches. “Over time and with growth spurts, everything can change. But that’s why he’s so special. Every year, he improves. You talk about this quad revolution. He’s leading it.”

Chen responded to critics of his artistic skills this season by spending weeks away from Arutyunyan, which the coach supported.

“There is a brain of an adult in this kid’s head,” Arutyunyan said.

Chen went from Los Angeles to work in Michigan under Marina Zoueva, a Russian known for coaching the last two Olympic champion ice dance teams.

NBC Olympic analysts Johnny Weir and Lipinski saw an upgrade in Chen’s artistic components in his fall competitions. If he can challenge the top international skaters artistically, he can beat them with his jumping strength.

“The way that men’s figure skating is progressing, it’s about the quad game and how many you can do,” Wagner said. “It’s starting to look a little bit like ping-pong on the ice. … Going into the next couple of years, the ones that are going to stand out are the ones that do quads and are able to have a full, well-rounded program.”

In Sochi, the U.S. earned no singles figure skating medals for the first time since 1936.

The U.S. hasn’t earned men’s and women’s figure skating medals in the same Olympics since 2002, but it’s certainly looking possible with 13 months until PyeongChang.

“Of course, my goal would be to win the Olympics,” Chen said. “I feel like that’s everyone goal. It’s still a goal for me, but we’ll see how realistic it becomes over the next season.”

MORE: Jason Brown again slowed by injury going into U.S. Championships

Los Angeles 2024 Opening Ceremony plan includes multiple venues

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The Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid plans to use both the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and a to-be-built NFL stadium for its Opening Ceremony.

The ceremony would start with a portion of the torch relay at the Coliseum, with the flame making its way to the NFL stadium for the rest of the Opening Ceremony, including the cauldron lighting.

The Coliseum “will be filled with 70,000 spectators for a Hollywood-produced program of live entertainment, top musical performances and a live viewing and virtual-reality experience of all ceremony events at the L.A. [NFL] stadium at Hollywood Park,” according to an LA 2024 press release.

The Closing Ceremony will be similar, but in reverse, with the Coliseum hosting the formal portion and the NFL stadium opening for a live viewing experience.

The Coliseum hosted the ceremonies in 1932 and 1984, the previous two times Los Angeles hosted the Olympics.

Opening Ceremonies generally have one venue, though a cauldron has been lit outside the venue, such as at Vancouver 2010 and Rio 2016.

Los Angeles is bidding against Budapest and Paris for the 2024 Olympics.

International Olympic Committee members will vote to choose the 2024 host city on Sept. 13.

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