Brian Boitano

Brian Boitano says U.S. delegation has to be careful in Sochi (video)

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Olympic champion figure skater Brian Boitano expressed gratitude and caution in his first interview since being named to the White House delegation to Sochi and coming out as gay two weeks ago.

“When the president named the delegation, and I read in the news what his message was of tolerance and diversity, I thought I have to take this opportunity [to come out],” Boitano said on TODAY on Thursday. “I think the message is so strong, I’ve always wanted to represent my country as best I could. I knew that I had to go past my comfort zone and reveal a private side of my life that I had never done before because I felt that the message is so strong.”

Boitano and two other gay athletes — two-time Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow and tennis legend Billie Jean King — were among the delegation named by president Barack Obama on Dec. 17.

“I was so honored to be asked by the White House,” Boitano said. “Going through the whole vetting process and being named to the delegation, it was really interesting because I didn’t know who was going to be on the delegation or any part of it.”

He’s set to travel to Sochi the day before the Opening Ceremony. His actions will be scrutinized in Russia, where a law is in place banning the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations toward minors.

“I think that we have to be careful once we go over there,” Boitano said. “I think the statement is already being made by us being on the delegation — Billie Jean and Caitlin — and us standing together, united as gay people showing that there is freedom of speech and we are successful human beings and athletes. I think that speaks measures.”

Boitano urged freedom of expression for anybody in Sochi, though.

“I encourage everybody to do what they feel is best for themselves,” he said. “I never thought that I would be coming out in this way. In a matter of 10 hours, I decided to do it. That was what was right for me at this time. I tell everybody that I think that they should do what’s right for them at their correct time.”

Boitano, 50, came out publicly two days after he was named to the delegation. He said his life has changed and the reaction has been fantastic and supportive.

“I really never felt that I had to [come out publicly],” he said. “I’ve always been a private person. I’ve kept my private side of my life special for family and friends who really knew me. I’ve never been ashamed of who I was. I’ve always been open with them, so I really didn’t feel that there was a need. I’m just a private guy. I realize that there was a public side of my life and a private side. I’ve always chosen to keep my sexuality private.”

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Michael Phelps to participate in Shark Week

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NEW YORK (AP) — Olympic champ Michael Phelps is participating in Discovery network’s Shark Week this summer, although he won’t be asked to outswim one.

It’s not immediately clear what Phelps will be doing, although Discovery President Rich Ross said Tuesday he’s intrigued about seeing the fastest human swimmer interact with nature’s fastest. Perhaps Phelps can be encouraged to go underwater in a shark cage, he said.

The week of shark-themed programming in mid-summer is annually Discovery’s biggest event. Now that it is approaching its 29th year, programmers are on the lookout for a new wrinkle.

Phelps has won 28 Olympic swimming medals, 23 of them gold.

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World Figure Skating Championships ice dance preview

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Alex Shibutani says he and sister Maia have made a statement the past two years.

“With our ability to perform when the stakes are highest,” he said.

The stakes don’t get much higher than this week.

The Shibutani siblings, breakout world silver medalists a year ago, lead three U.S. couples who finished in the top six at the 2016 World Championships into this year’s worlds in Helsinki.

It is the strongest ice dance field since the Sochi Olympics. The PyeongChang Winter Games medal contenders will be confirmed this week.

The clear favorites are Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic champions competing this season for the first time since taking silver in Sochi. Virtue and Moir returned from their two-year break to post the three highest total scores of all time in their last three international competitions.

“This is probably the most prepared we’ve been for a world championships,” Moir said, while adding, “this was a warm-up season.”

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The Shibutanis finished second (with a personal-best score) to Virtue and Moir at the most recent event, the Four Continents Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea in February. The margin separating the two couples — 5.1 points — was considerable.

“We’re sort of in a way in a race against ourselves to try and see how good we can get and how good we can become,” Alex Shibutani said. “Each competition along the way is another step to that eventual goal [the Olympics].”

At worlds, the Shibutanis are in the medal mix with France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who won the last two world titles.

The French, already the youngest world champs in 40 years, are trying for the first ice dance three-peat in 20 years.

But they have not progressed this season, unable to match or better their winning score from the 2016 World Championships.

Papadakis and Cizeron train in Montreal with Virtue and Moir, but they struggled (held against their own standard) in both competitions outside of French borders this season. And in different areas — step sequences, twizzles, lifts.

Conversely, it looks like the Shibutanis’ biggest obstacles are well behind them. They went from a world bronze medal in their first senior season together in 2011 to four straight years off the podium.

The Shibutanis hit a nadir at the Sochi Olympics with a ninth-place finish, worst of the three U.S. couples. Maia’s tights snagged on Alex’s sequined jacket during a lift.

The devoted vloggers countered doubts after Sochi by stressing their youth — Alex was 22 then; Maia was 19. They talked about weathering the journey and sticking to a meticulous creative process.

It paid off with their first U.S. title last year, followed by that world silver medal in Boston.

“Last year’s results at the world championships were very energizing for us,” Alex Shibutani said. “People are aware of the career trajectory that we have had. We’ve set ambitious goals because we were so motivated following that result and that exciting string of competitions that we had last season.”

The Shibutanis were actually outscored by two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates in the U.S. Championships free dance in January. They stormed back with that personal best at Four Continents, though, erasing any doubt that they are the U.S. couple expected to make the podium in Helsinki.

The U.S. has earned 12 ice dance medals at the last 12 World Championships. In that same span, the U.S. brought home eight medals combined from men’s, women’s and pairs.

The Shibutanis feel confident they will extend recent American success in their discipline.

They would also create more history for sibling skaters. They’re already the most accomplished brother-sister duo since Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of France won three straight world medals followed by Olympic silver in Albertville.

“We really elevated the way that we compete and perform,” at Four Continents last month, Alex Shibutani said. “Our skating has reached another level.”

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