Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King doesn’t want Olympics overshadowed


Billie Jean King recognizes the impact of her presence on the U.S. delegation to Sochi. At the same time, the tennis legend stressed what she believes the Olympics are primarily about.

“I think when it all comes down to is it’s first and foremost about the athletes,” King said on TODAY on Thursday. “I was thinking about it this morning, trying to go way back when I was one of those athletes and how many years of discipline and how hard they work every day. This could be their one moment in time that they first represent their country and go for a medal.”

King, 70, was one of three gay athletes chosen by President Barack Obama in December to represent the White House at the Sochi Olympics. The others were two-time Olympic medalist hockey player Caitlin Cahow and Olympic champion figure skater Brian Boitano, who came out publicly two days after being announced on the delegation.

What kind of statement would King like to make in Russia, where a law is in place banning the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations toward minors?

“I think President Obama showed it,” she said. “He’s elected and selected three openly gay athletes, one very former athlete. I think Brian Boitano said it right. When we step off the plane, we are part of America. We are what America looks like. I think President Obama has done an amazing job on promoting diversity and inclusion.”

In September, King talked about the amount of activism from today’s athletes and said, “Sometimes I think we need a John Carlos moment.”

At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, the sprinters Tommie Smith and Carlos, gold and bronze medalists, raised their fists on the medal stand during the national anthem in a human rights salute. They were expelled from the Games.

This fall and winter, U.S. medal hopefuls such as Bode Miller and Ashley Wagner have voiced opinions against Russia’s law.

“It’s really about human rights, civil rights,” King said. “The athletes are speaking out.”

King pointed out Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

She doesn’t want anything to overshadow the Olympics themselves but does not know what to expect. King’s plan in Sochi isn’t to check off attending events but to get to know the athletes.

“I’m going to look for future leaders,” King said.

Video: Brian Boitano says U.S. delegation must be careful in Sochi

Kayla Harrison begins MMA career

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12:  (BROADCAST - OUT) Judoka Kayla Harrison of the United States poses for a photo with her gold medal on the Today show set on Copacabana Beach on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two-time Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison has joined mixed martial arts promotion World Series of Fighting as a commentator, brand ambassador and potentially a fighter, but she isn’t 100 percent committed to competing and won’t set a first bout for at least one year.

“All signs point to a yes, but everything has to work out,” Harrison said. “I haven’t booked a fight.”

Harrison, 26 and all but retired from judo, has been asked time and again for years about her interest in pursuing MMA. That’s in part because of former training partner Ronda Rousey‘s overwhelming success after she switched from Olympic judo.

Harrison will serve as a commentator and brand ambassador before potentially getting into MMA competition. Her commentating debut will be at WSOF 34 in New York on Dec. 31 on NBC.

Harrison has taken boxing and jiu-jitsu lessons as far back as 2013, which should boost her MMA potential.

To compete in MMA, Harrison will require a weight cut from her Olympic judo class of 172 pounds.

Rousey competes at 135 pounds, the heaviest women’s weight class in UFC. WSOF, which has no women’s weight classes, plans to develop a women’s program as Harrison readies for a potential debut.

Harrison expects that if she fights, it will be at 145 pounds.

Harrison laughed about people tweeting at her to fight Brazilian Cristiane Justino, a former 145-pound title holder who is set to face Rousey, should Rousey win her comeback fight.

“I’ve never fought MMA before, so my first fight is not going to be for a belt,” Harrison cautioned. “I’m going to MMA 0-0, not as a two-time Olympic champion. People need to remember that.”

Harrison said she last conversed with Rousey one or two months ago. Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, congratulated Harrison on her second gold medal and told Harrison she was available if she needed anything.

Harrison said she might reach out to her former training partner early next year, after Rousey’s comeback fight, to pick her brain about MMA.

“And be like, hey, what do you got for me? Tell me everything,” Harrison joked.

MORE: Ronda Rousey sets comeback fight

U.S. men’s gymnastics program undergoes changes

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 25: Members of the U.S. Men's National Gymnastics Team gather before day two of the 2016 Men's Gymnastics Olympic Trials at Chafitz Arena on June 25, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

U.S. men’s national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika‘s contract will not be renewed at the end of the year as USA Gymnastics makes changes after missing the men’s team podium at a second straight Olympics.

Mazeika was the U.S. men’s head coach at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, where the U.S. men earned team medals at a non-home Games for the first time. He then served as national team coordinator from 2009 through this year.

The U.S. men finished fifth at the last two Olympics.

USA Gymnastics will replace the national team coordinator role with a high-performance director “focused on sustained international success.”

“The coaches, committee members and staff did a thorough review of the existing structure and results, and then took a hard look at what is needed to prepare our athletes for success heading toward Tokyo and beyond,” USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said in a press release.

MORE: U.S. women’s national team coordinator named