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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Claressa Shields congratulated by famous boxing actor (video)

Claressa Shields
Getty Images
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Claressa Shields may just be the most dominant female athlete on the planet. The Flint, Mich., native is now a two-time Olympic boxing champion with a 77-1 record and a four-year unbeaten streak.

Actor Mark Wahlberg, who played boxer Micky Ward in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” took notice.

He taped a video that Shields watched before a celebration in her hometown Thursday, according to the Flint Journal.

“You are the true definition of a champion,” Wahlberg said. “You continue to inspire so many people, not only in Flint, but all over the world. I’m so proud of you. Your performance was amazing. God bless you. I look forward to seeing you, and I look forward to doing lots of things with you.”

Now Shields must decide whether to turn professional, which would end her Olympic career.

“Professional women’s boxing is not nowhere near on the same attention level as the Olympics are,” the 21-year-old Shields said, according to the Flint Journal. “I get way more attention than any female boxer who is professional right now with me being an amateur.

“So the goal is to go professional but still have that same attention and same mainstream. Hopefully, if they have the rule changed that the women professionals can come back and fight the Olympics, I would go professional to fight on TV and make a bunch of money but then come back and defend my two gold medals in 2020.”

MORE: Shields becomes first U.S. fighter to win back-to-back golds

Russian Olympic medalists gifts include racehorse

Abdulrashid Sadulaev
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — Luxury cars, apartments, even a racehorse — being an Olympic medalist in Russia can come with great material rewards but also controversy.

Under President Vladimir Putin, it’s become a tradition for Russia’s Olympic heroes to be showered with large cash sums and sometimes unwanted gifts.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after dozens of medalists were presented with BMW cars at the Kremlin by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an advertisement appeared online offering one of them for sale, with photographs showing the car still covered in stickers celebrating Russia’s medal haul in Rio.

The advertisement offering the BMW X6 for 4.67 million rubles ($72,000) was anonymous and quickly withdrawn. It couldn’t be independently verified by The Associated Press, though Russian agency R-Sport claimed the seller was a Russian medalist who thought the car was too big and unwieldy.

Figure skater Maxim Trankov, who received a Mercedes-Benz SUV for his gold medal in 2014, said few Olympians could afford to own such cars.

“Has no one thought that these gift cars are not only liable for the tax on luxury items, but also aren’t cheap to run and earnings can’t cover it?” he wrote on Twitter. “I’d sell mine too if it came to it … Or does everyone think all sports pay as well as soccer, hockey or tennis?”

Gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan said she wouldn’t be able to drive her new BMW because at 17 years of age she was too young to have a license.

While online commenters mostly supported an athlete’s right to sell expensive Olympic gifts, many were critical of the government for a display of conspicuous consumption at the Kremlin at a time when Russia’s pension and healthcare systems are under financial strain.

It’s not fully clear how much the prizes have cost the Russian government.

State TV channel Rossiya 24 reported that the fleet of BMWs was provided by the Olympians’ Support Fund, which is backed by a group of Russia’s richest men, but that the accompanying cash prizes of tens of thousands of dollars per medalist came in part from the federal budget.

More awards are on offer from regional governments, many of which made public displays of generosity despite financial troubles of their own.

The Caucasus region of North Ossetia last month promised a free apartment for any medalists from the area, though it isn’t clear if this has happened yet.

In another grand gesture, the head of the restive Dagestan region gave Olympic wrestling champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev 6 million rubles ($93,000) in cash and a racehorse at a lavish welcoming ceremony featured on local TV.

Still, all may not be well for Sadulaev, who’s nicknamed the “Russian Tank” for his habit of crushing opponents on the wrestling mat. He’s already facing an allegation from a Moscow radio presenter of reckless driving in his eye-catching BMW.

MORE: Putin slams Russia’s Paralympic ban