Johnny Weir

Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski, Tanith Belbin join NBC Olympics coverage

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Two-time Olympian Johnny Weir, Olympic champion Tara Lipinski and Olympic silver medalist Tanith Belbin will join NBC Olympics for its coverage through the Sochi Winter Games.

Weir, who announced his retirement Wednesday, and Lipinski will serve as figure skating analysts for NBC Olympics’ multi-platform coverage. Belbin will report for NBC Olympics’ Sports Desk and “The Olympic Zone” program.

Weir, noted enthusiast of all things Russian, won’t be competing at the Olympics for the first time since 2002. He’s a three-time national champion and 2008 World Championships bronze medalist.

“I get old,” Weir said on “TODAY.” “I have to say thank you and goodbye. … It’ll be hard not to be out there, and I’ll probably still get sick to my stomach and nervous and go through all the emotions of a competitor. But I’ll be able to support these young skaters and really teach the world what’s going on out there.”

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Weir finished fifth at the 2006 Olympics and sixth at the 2010 Olympics.

Weir, 29, could be covering two of his biggest rivals in Sochi — 2006 Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko and 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek.

He has covered figure skating for Universal Sports in the past and is no stranger to TV, having starred in his own reality show, “Be Good Johnny Weir.”

Weir, who announced he was gay in January 2011, also commented on Russia’s anti-gay law.

“While this law is a terrible thing that you can’t be gay publicly in Russia, I plan to be there in full support of our brothers and sisters there and not be afraid,” Weir said. “If I get arrested, I get arrested. If not, not, great, but our presence is needed. For all the Olympians that worked so hard, a boycott is the worst thing you can do to these young people.”

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Lipinski, who became the youngest individual gold medalist in Olympic Winter Games history at 15 in 1998, also has worked for Universal Sports’ figure skating coverage.

Weir and Lipinski will appear on NBC’s coverage of Skate Canada on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.

Belbin, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist in ice dancing with Ben Agosto, will present features for “The Olympic Zone,” a 30-minute daily show for NBC affiliates covering all aspects of the Games.

“Johnny, Tara and Tanith have entertained judges and fans alike with their skill, style and charisma,” said Jim Bell, Executive Producer of NBC Olympics. “We’re confident those same characteristics will entertain Olympic viewers this February.”

Figure skating at the Sochi Olympics will begin Feb. 6, the night before the Opening Ceremony with the start of the new team competition.

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Ex-No. 2 women’s marathoner of all time retires after doping ban ends

Liliya Shobukhova
AP
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Liliya Shobukhova, who was the second fastest women’s marathoner of all time before her three Chicago Marathon wins were stripped due to a doping suspension, said she has retired and is now a coach, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Shobukhova, 38, returned to race Sept. 12 from a two-year, seven-month ban for abnormal biological passport levels. She finished fifth in a Russian Half Marathon Championship.

Shobukhova’s ban was reduced from three years, two months, after she provided “substantial assistance” to anti-doping officials.

IAAF and Russia track and field officials were banned for life in January for extorting Shobukhova out of hundreds of thousands of dollars to avoid a doping ban ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

Shobukhova won the Chicago Marathon three straight times from 2009 to 2011, the first man or woman to accomplish the feat. Her last title in Chicago came in 2 hours, 18 minutes, 20 seconds, making her the second fastest woman over 26.2 miles ever behind Brit Paula Radcliffe, who holds the three fastest times.

Shobukhova’s wins and times since 2009 were annulled when she was banned in 2014.

Shobukhova also won the 2010 London Marathon (that win also stripped) but never finished better than sixth in three Olympic track and field races.

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IIHF president doesn’t expect NHL participation in 2018 Olympics

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The head of ice hockey’s international body says there is a strong possibility that NHL players won’t be competing at the next Winter Olympics.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel puts the chances at 60 percent that the NHL will decline to go to the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because of a lack of money to cover player insurance.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Fasel said the IOC has canceled its contribution to player travel and insurance costs for Pyeongchang, leaving the IIHF facing a $10 million shortfall and “begging” for money around the world.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the Games,” he said. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

Negotiations and brinkmanship over finances are common in the lead-up to Olympic hockey tournaments. For the 2014 tournament in Sochi, Russia, the NHL’s participation was assured only in July 2013, seven months before the Games.

The IOC’s refusal to cover player insurance adds an additional dimension for 2018.

The NHL did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear costs are a key factor.

“There are real costs to us going, including insurance, including transportation because we’re losing part of our season, we’ve got to get in and out quickly,” Bettman said last month at a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors in New York. “The players for the last five Olympics in particular have been accommodated in a certain way as far as it relates to their families. Those are issues that would once again have to be resolved. … I’m not sure that there would be a lot of appetite for us on top of that to have to pay for the privilege. We don’t make money going to then Olympics.”

Bettman said he didn’t expect a decision until after the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in September.

While the IOC gives the IIHF around $40 million of revenue each Olympics, Fasel insists that money is earmarked for developing hockey and wants national Olympic committees and hockey federations to plug the gap.

The IOC pulled its extra subsidy because its leaders are “a bit scared that other (sports) federations will come and also ask for some compensation for traveling and insurance,” said Fasel, who is also an IOC member and serves on its rule-making executive board.

“I think my idea is to work closer together with the national Olympic committees, as they have normally to pay transportation and insurance for the athletes when they come to the Games, so I can imagine that some of the NOCs are also ready to spend some money there, so we have to go around and do some begging,” he said.

Fasel said the end of this year is the deadline to reach a deal because of the NHL’s need to draw up a calendar for the Olympic season.

“If you don’t have the best, (the Olympics) will be a different competition for sure,” he said, but warned: “At the end somebody has to pay. That’s the question. On my side I will do everything possible to make it happen.”

Fasel dismissed the suggestion that the World Cup of Hockey could offer some players less incentive to demand to be allowed to play at the Olympics.

“There is nothing like the Olympics,” he said. “I think for an athlete to win the gold medal is so different from winning the Stanley Cup. You can win the Stanley Cup every year.”

In Pyeongchang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, the Winter Olympics move to Asia and away from the North American and European nations that have historically been the bedrock of hockey.

South Korea, which has built a team mixing import players with locals, plays in the second level of the IIHF’s world championship and hopes not to be a walkover in 2018. China is far less competitive. China will be in the fifth tier for next year and in 2022 could become the first Winter Olympic host not to enter a hockey team — a situation that worries the IIHF, given China’s potential to become a huge market for the sport.

“One thing they do not like is to lose the face, so they cannot do that,” Fasel said. “I hope and I think they will have a Chinese player, Chinese team in Beijing in 2022. We cannot put them on the ice and they will be beaten 15, 20-nothing. We cannot do that.”

Things are looking up for China, with increased government interest and the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League due to open a team there this year, but Fasel said the NHL is key to unlocking potentially vast commercial rewards in China.

“A North American brand in China has a very special taste. We can see that with the NBA,” he said. “I think what we need is to have a Chinese NHL player, like Yao Ming with basketball.”

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