Billie Jean King

Openly gay athletes part of White House delegation to Sochi Olympics


President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama are not on the planned White House delegation to the Sochi Olympics announced Tuesday.

Yet the list is noteworthy because it includes openly gay athletes: retired tennis legend Billie Jean King and two-time Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow.

Their presence in Sochi will be notable given Russia’s law banning the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations toward minors enacted last spring.

A White House statement said President Obama’s schedule doesn’t allow him to travel to Sochi and that the delegation “represents the diversity that is the United States,” according to reports.

King is on the delegation to attend the Opening Ceremony. Cahow is on the delegation for the Closing Ceremony. The delegations attend athletic events and meet with U.S. athletes.

“Honored to represent USA in Sochi and I hope these Olympics will be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people,” was posted on King’s Twitter account Tuesday.

“Incredibly humbled and honored to be representing my country with this remarkable group,” was posted on Cahow’s Facebook account.

Also on the list are five-time Olympic champion speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden (Closing Ceremony) and 1988 Olympic figure skating champion Brian Boitano (Opening Ceremony).

The last time a delegation did not include a U.S. president, vice president, first lady or a former president was in Sydney in 2000.

“President Obama is extremely proud of our U.S. athletes and looks forward to cheering them on from Washington,” the White House said in a statement. “He knows they will showcase to the world the best of America — diversity, determination and teamwork.”

Camel carries Olympic flame during Sochi torch relay

Watch NBC Olympics Thanksgiving promo video

NBC Olympics Promo
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Actress Eva Longoria narrates the newest NBC promo video for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The 60-second spot features several athletes with their families in their home countries, including:

Simone Biles (USA, gymnastics)

David Boudia (USA, diving)

Genzebe Dibaba (Ethiopia, track and field)

Murilo Endres (Brazil, volleyball) and his wife Jaqueline Carvalho (Brazil, volleyball)

Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands, cycling)

Kerri Walsh Jennings (USA, beach volleyball)

The promo will air on television on Thanksgiving day towards the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“The spot reflects the crucial role that family plays in the journey of so many Olympic athletes,” said John Miller, Chief Marketing Officer of NBC Sports Group. “With the Games being one of the few family-viewing experiences left on television, we felt this message was appropriate for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.”

VIDEO: 2016 Rio Olympic Games: One year out promo

Wagner, Asada, Hanyu headline NHK Trophy in Japan; Grand Prix Final berths on the line

Ashley Wagner
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Three-time U.S. national champion Ashley Wagner looks to qualify for her fourth consecutive Grand Prix Final at this weekend’s NHK Trophy in Nagano, Japan. A medal of any color should be good enough to get her to Barcelona, but she faces a tough field.

Japan’s Mao Asada returned to competition this season and is poised to qualify for the most elite competition since the Sochi Olympics (where she finished sixth) and 2014 World Championships (which she won). Finishing on the podium would earn a berth to the final for Asada. Also in the field are Americans Mirai Nagasu and Courtney Hicks, Japan’s Satoko Miyahara, and one of Russia’s darlings from last season, Anna Pogorilaya.

Olympic champion and last year’s Grand Prix Final winner Yuzuru Hanyu, surely to be the overwhelming crowd favorite in the men’s field, will look to improve his short program results from his other Grand Prix appearance. At Skate Canada, two of his three jumping passes recceived zero points. He rallied in the free skate, finishing second behind Canada’s Patrick Chan. Chan is essentially a lock for the final, while a top three finish would seal the deal for Hanyu.

MORE: Javier Fernandez qualifies for second straight home Grand Prix Final

Other men in the hunt for Grand Prix Final berths competing in Nagano include China’s Jin Boyang and Russia’s Maxim Kovtun, who also need podium finishes to lock up spots in Barcelona. Jin’s and Kovtun’s finishes will likely dictate whether or not American Max Aaron qualifies to the final. More on that process here. No U.S. man has qualified since Jeremy Abbott did it in 2011.

MORE: Jason Brown withdraws from NHK Trophy

Reigining U.S. pairs champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim can make the Grand Prix Final with a medal in Japan.

The U.S. is sending three ice dance couples to Japan, of which two have a shot at qualifying for Barcelona. Siblings and Sochi Olympians Maia and Alex Shibutani can finish in any 1-2 combination with Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue allowing for both duos to qualify for the final. Madison Chock and Evan Bates, U.S. ice dance champions, already qualified. will stream for subscribers live coverage of men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance short programs and free skates. NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have coverage Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Men’s short program — Friday, 2:10 a.m. ET (start order here)
Women’s short program — Friday, 5:05 a.m. ET (start order here)
Men’s free skate — Saturday, 2:30 a.m. ET
Women’s free skate — Saturday, 5:35 a.m. ET