NHL boss: “What comes next we’ll all have to figure out”

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SOCHI, Russia — Let’s start with a direct quote from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman:

“I don’t want to get into what the pros and cons are for participating. Everybody knows them, and they’ve been debated ad nauseam. We are here because we think it’s great to be here today at this tournament. What comes next we’ll all have to figure out, as we’ve done each of the other times that the NHL players have participated.”

Because that, folks, is the most important takeaway from today’s press conference that featured Bettman, NHLPA chief Donald Fehr, and IIHF president René Fasel. Anyone who figured we’d learn something more definitive about the future of NHL participation in the Olympics was left disappointed, and was probably a bit naive to figure that in the first place.

“It’s nothing that’s been discussed. It’s nothing that will be discussed while we’re here in Sochi.”” said Bettman of the potential to send NHLers to Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

“From our standpoint, we have a process we go through,” said Fehr. “We have a significant time period which we talk to the players, digest what they have to say, figure out what they want, and then they tell me what they’d like me to do, and we try and make that happen. And that process will play out after the Games.”

The most entertaining part of today’s affair came near the end, when Fasel — a big supporter of maintaining NHL participation — said, “There is nothing like an Olympic gold medal in the life of an athlete. Nothing.”

To which Bettman responded, “Except perhaps winning the Stanley Cup.”

So failing any actual hard answers, at least there were some laughs.

At this point, the ball seems very much in the court of the players. As we wrote last week, if NHLers want to keep coming to the Olympics, they need to make that clear.

“None of this moves forward at all, if it moves forward at all, if the players don’t want to play,” said Bettman. “The reason we’re here in the first instance is this is a game with a history and tradition of international competition and our players, NHL players, love representing their countries. And so, if the players ever said, ‘We’re not interested,’ we’re not going to ever force them to go.”

As for when the decision will be made? Fehr employed a famous legal phrase: “I think it will be done…with all deliberate speed. You do it as fast as you can, but in a democratic organization, you have to do it at the rate the players are prepared to do it. All the players.”

Bettman backed the time frame of six months that was proposed by deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

“As a logistical matter, subject to what Don said, we don’t see why it couldn’t be done in that time frame,” said Bettman. “Frankly, if we’re going to continue to participate, having as long a runway as possible to use the advantages would be a good thing. And if we’re not going to participate, giving the various national federations an opportunity to adjust to that, giving them as much time as possible would be good.”

Olympic champion, Tour de France runner-up tests positive

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Samuel Sanchez, a 2008 Olympic champion and 2010 Tour de France runner-up, was provisionally suspended after testing positive for a banned growth hormone on Aug. 9.

Sanchez, a 39-year-old Spaniard, was due to race the Vuelta a España starting Saturday but is now out indefinitely until the conclusion of his case. That may include the testing of his B sample.

Sanchez denied wrongdoing, saying the failed test was a surprise, according to Spanish news agency EFE.

Sanchez won the road race on the first day of the Beijing Games in a five-man sprint that also included Swiss Fabian Cancellara, who would win the time trial in 2008 and 2016, and Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck.

Two years later, Sanchez finished fourth in the Tour de France but was upgraded to second behind Schleck due to doping bans for original winner Alberto Contador and third-place Denis Menchov.

Sanchez also took the polka-dot jersey for best climber at the 2011 Tour and finished second and third at the Vuelta in 2009 and 2007, respectively.

Sanchez rode in the 2010 Tour wearing a special helmet honoring his Olympic title. He also got a tattoo behind his right shoulder commemorating the Beijing gold on Aug. 9, 2008.

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Victoria Azarenka may miss U.S. Open due to custody battle

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Olympic and Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka says her participation in the U.S. Open is in doubt because she might not be able to bring her son with her to New York as a result of her separation from the baby’s father.

Azarenka is “faced with a difficult situation which may not allow me to return to work right away,” according to a post on the former top-ranked player’s social media accounts Thursday. “No parent should have to decide between their child or their career.”

The 28-year-old from Belarus gave birth to Leo, her first child, in December, then returned to the tour in June.

Azarenka’s post said that shortly after Wimbledon — where Azarenka lost to Simona Halep in the fourth round on July 10 — she separated from her son’s father.

“As we work to resolve some of the legal processes, the way things stand now is that the only way I can play in the U.S. Open this year is if I leave Leo behind in California,” was posted on Azarenka’s social media, “which I’m not willing to do.”

The U.S. Open starts Aug. 28.

“I remain optimistic that in the coming days Leo’s father and I can put aside any differences and take steps in the right direction to more effectively work as a team and agree on an arrangement for all three of us to travel and for me to compete,” was posted, “but, more importantly, to ensure that Leo has a consistent presence from both of his parents.”

Azarenka was the runner-up in New York in 2012 and 2013, losing in the final each year to Serena Williams.

Those were also the years that Azarenka won her two Grand Slam singles titles in Australia.

Wimbledon was Azarenka’s first major tournament in more than a year. She currently is ranked 204th.

“Balancing child care and a career is not easy for any parent, but it is a challenge I am willing to face and embrace. I want to support men and women everywhere who know it is OK to be a working mother — or father. No one should ever have to decide between a child and their career, we are strong enough to do both,” was posted on Azarenka’s social media. “I am incredibly grateful for all of the support I have received from women and men around the world who recognize the importance of supporting working moms and our right to be with our children. I look forward to hopefully having positive developments soon so that this difficult situation can be resolved and I can get back to competing.”

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