Dmitry Chernyshenko

Sochi Organizing Committee chief addresses Olympic issues on TODAY (video)

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Dmitry Chernyshenko, the head of the Sochi Olympic Organizing Committee, discussed the city’s readiness to host the Games, security and Russia’s anti-gay law among other topics in a TODAY interview Thursday.

“Of course we are ready,” Chernyshenko, 45, told Matt Lauer. “We already successfully tested all our competition venues during the most extensive test event season last winter. It was 22 international level World Cup sports championships, and the athletes were all happy with what they’ve seen.”

Some U.S. athletes have been in Sochi this week for more venue testing and have seen the power go out multiple times.

Of Russia’s anti-gay law, Chernyshenko said athletes will not be arrested if they march with a rainbow pin or speak in a press conference about gay rights.

“What else can I add? My president already several times expressed the guarantees on behalf of the state leaders that there will be no discrimination, whether by race, religion or sexual orientation,” Chernyshenko said. “We organizers keep social inclusivity a key for our Games. Moreover, the rainbow color is not exclusively belongs to someone. For example, our official uniforms for Games organizers is full of rainbow color.”

Protests or rallies, banned around Games time by Russian president Vladimir Putin in August, are a different matter.

“In accordance to Olympic Charter, rule No. 50, any propaganda or any demonstrations is prohibited during the Games,” Chernyshenko said.

The Sochi organizing president repeated that these will be “the safest Games ever.”

“Because we understand from the very beginning of our successful campaign that the safety is a key priority of the organizers,” he said. “Terrorism, it’s a global threat. Take Boston for example. This is an illustration that terrorism has no boundaries.”

Chernyshenko also repeated that U.S. and Russian officials have collaborated on security plans and that military security will not be dressed in standard uniforms but with a more festive look.

As for the Games themselves, Chernyshenko looked forward to one potential matchup in men’s hockey.

“The most desirable scenario in Russia we are looking for is Russia and USA in the final, and Russia win,” Chernyshenko said, adding a thank you to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for NHL players returning to the Olympics for a fifth straight time.

The U.S. and Russia are scheduled to play on the second Saturday of the Olympics but could also meet in the playoff round if both advance.

Finally, Lauer asked Chernyshenko how to pronounce the name of the host city.

“So-chee,” not So-she, he said.

Photos: Olympic torch blasts off into space aboard Russian rocket

Teddy Riner, dominant judoka, to skip 2018, 2019 Worlds

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French judoka Teddy Riner, arguably the world’s most dominant athlete, will reportedly skip the next two world championships before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

French coach Franck Chambily said Riner will compete a light international schedule the next two years ahead of what would be his fourth Olympics, according to Agence France-Presse.

Riner, a 29-year-old, 6-foot-8-inch native of Guadeloupe, is undefeated since 2010 with a reported 144-match winning streak. That includes Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016 and world titles in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Before the streak, Riner also earned world titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010, plus an Olympic bronze at age 19 in 2008.

He could compete through the 2024 Paris Games.

“When I am invincible, I will stop,” Riner said in 2013, according to The Associated Press.

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Maggie Nichols wins NCAA all-around title with perfect 10

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Even after a perfect 10 in the last rotation, Maggie Nichols didn’t know that she had won the NCAA all-around title. Her coach at Oklahoma, K.J. Kindler, had to tell her.

The reaction?

“Excitement,” Nichols said Friday night on ESPNU. “I just wanted to go out there and feel out the equipment, staying calm and doing my routines that I have been doing in training.”

Nichols, a 2015 World team champion who retired from elite gymnastics after missing the 2016 Olympic team (set back by a torn meniscus that year), became the first Sooner to win the NCAA all-around in 30 years.

The sophomore tallied 39.8125 points and topped Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner of Utah by .0875 for the title in St. Louis. It came one year after Nichols was 29th in the all-around with a balance beam fall.

Oklahoma and Utah will be joined in Saturday night’s Super Six team finals by UCLA, LSU, Florida and Nebraska. The Sooners eye their third straight national title.

Nichols capped her night with one of two perfect scores between the two semifinal sessions, matching 2012 Olympic alternate Elizabeth Price‘s 10 on uneven bars. It gave Nichols a second career gym slam, a perfect score on every apparatus for the season.

On Jan. 9, Nichols came forward as “Athlete A,” who first reported to USA Gymnastics that she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar in summer 2015.

“She has had a really unique year probably like no one else, and her strength showed through,” Kindler said Friday, according to the University of Oklahoma. “It was tough, and to come out on this side this year is really special.”

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