Sochi Olympics Speedskating Men

Don’t forget from Sochi: Canadian speedskater Gilmore Junio, a real team player

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Every now and then, Olympic Talk will look back at athletes and/or stories who were memorable, even if they didn’t end up earning medals. As it turns out, some of the best stories don’t come with gold, silver or bronze.

Canadian speedskater Gilmore Junio had already finished with a Top-10 result in the men’s 500m at the Sochi Olympics, and was slated to compete again in the 1000m on Feb. 12.

Junio was one of the four Canadian skaters that had qualified at that distance, but notably absent from that group was Denny Morrison, a two-time world champ in the 1500m that was no slouch in the 1000m, either.

Morrison had failed to qualify in the 1000m when he fell in that event during the Canadian trials in December.

But in a gracious gesture, Junio gave his spot for the Sochi 1000m to Morrison, the first alternate for Canada at that distance.

He did it because he thought Morrison would give their country the best chance in the event, calling him “a consistent medal threat in the distance.”

When it came time for the race, Morrison would reward his teammate’s faith in him with a silver medal finish – just .04 of a second behind gold medal winner Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands.

“I was breathing hard, I have lost my voice and I am so pleased for him,” Junio said immediately following the event per Reuters.

As for Morrison, he pushed for Junio to become Canada’s flagbearer for tonight’s Closing Ceremony, saying that he “embodies what it means to be a Canadian Olympian.”

Junio ultimately didn’t get the nod, which went instead to women’s bobsled gold medalists Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse.

But he could get something else.

Toronto-based design firm Jacknife Design is now trying to raise $7,000 CDN on Indiegogo that will go toward the creation of a special medal for Junio.

It would be comprised of three primary materials – maplewood to represent the people of Canada, silver to represent the 1000m medal Morrison won, and gold to represent the country’s gratitude toward Junio.

“Junio’s ability to put his own lifelong dream aside to give another athlete a shot, set an example for not only Canada but people all over the world,” Jacknife creative director Michael Richardson said to the CBC.

“The way he put the pride of the country ahead of his own personal aspirations made my head spin and left me truly inspired. We had to do something to recognize this true Canadian hero.”

Let’s hope Canadians can give one of their own the recognition he deserves.

Yulia Stepanova, doping whistleblower, appeals her Olympic ban

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JULY 06:  Yuliya Stepanova looks on after finishing last in the Womens 800m heats during day one of the 23rd European Athletics Championships at Olympic Stadium on July 6, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for European Athletics )
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Whistleblower Yulia Stepanova‘s hopes of competing in the Summer Olympics are all but over. Her fight to expose doping and corruption is not.

“It’s OK to lose a good fight,” Stepanova’s husband, Vitaly Stepanov, told The Associated Press on Monday.

They have appealed to the International Olympic Committee to reverse its decision, handed down Sunday, that denies Stepanova a chance at competing in the Rio Games, which begin Aug. 5. The decision, the Stepanovs claim, is based on incorrect information, including the IOC’s framing of Stepanova’s decision to become a whistleblower as a too-little-too-late desperation play made after the Russian team had cast her aside.

It’s a conclusion that both the World Anti-Doping Agency and track’s governing body, the IAAF, disagree with; both recommended Stepanova be allowed to compete in Rio.

But Stepanov said he received several signals that the IOC would not go along, beginning with a general lack of interest from the key decision makers. He said that during the push for Olympic eligibility, he spoke with two separate IOC officials for a total of 90 minutes.

“I think what the IOC didn’t do is spend enough time to understand how big the problem is in Russia and how much covering up is happening in Russian sports,” he said.

Stepanova was the 800-meter runner who was entrenched in the Russian doping system but later came forward with details about the cheating. That triggered investigations that led to the banning of the Russian track team from the Olympics. After receiving more information about Russian sports as a whole, the IOC opted against a ban of the entire Russian team.

Part of that decision included a ruling that any Russian with a previous doping ban would not be allowed in Rio. That includes Stepanova, though the legality of that ruling is in question: In 2011, the Court of Arbitration for Sport invalidated the IOC’s Rule 45, which called for Olympic bans for any athlete who’d served more than a six-month doping penalty. CAS said it amounted to double jeopardy.

It was one of several facets from the decision handed down Sunday that indicated the difficulty the IOC had in finding the right balance between, as president Thomas Bach called it, “individual justice and collective responsibility.” There also were political concerns; a Russian official addressed the IOC executive board and told members not to cave into geopolitical pressure.

While Russia largely welcomed the decision, it was roundly criticized by those in the anti-doping world. The move to ban Stepanova was widely viewed as the worst part of the judgment.

“The decision to refuse her entry in to the Games is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Stepanov said his wife got a bout of the stomach flu on Sunday – making a bad day that much worse.

She was training for the Olympics, knowing that if she made it, she would not compete for a medal, the way she had in the past.

“Her goal is to participate,” Stepanov said. “In my view, she deserved to be an Olympian a lot more than when she was a doped athlete.”

But the odds are against her.

Stepanov said there is no money to fund an appeal to CAS, which would have the last say on her possible ban.

“Sunday was a day to cry a little, to get disappointed,” Stepanov said. “But today’s Monday. We feel we’re trying to fight for the right thing, so we wake up and start fighting again.”

MORE: Russian whistleblower denied bid to compete in Rio Olympics

Gabby Douglas ‘a very strong possibility’ for all-around, Martha Karolyi says

Gabby Douglas
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Gabby Douglas has “a very strong possibility” to get a chance to defend her Olympic all-around title in Rio, U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Monday.

“Gabby’s preparation is in a very, very good direction, and I foresee that she can be in the all-around, but we’re not taking this decision as of now yet,” Karolyi said.

The U.S. will put no more than three women from its five-woman team in the all-around in qualifying. The top two Americans in qualifying will advance to the all-around final, the most prestigious individual competition in the sport.

“We have a tentative lineup, but that’s absolutely tentative and we would not reveal that lineup at the moment yet, because most likely there will be changes as time goes,” said Karolyi, adding that the lineup won’t be finalized until next week.

Simone Biles is considered a lock to be one of the all-arounders in qualifying. Who joins her is unclear.

Douglas and Aly Raisman were tapped at the 2015 World Championships, with Biles and Douglas topping Raisman in qualifying and then going one-two in the all-around final.

However, both Raisman and first-year senior Laurie Hernandez finished higher than Douglas in the all-around at the P&G Championships and the Olympic Trials in the last month.

Karolyi said that Douglas, who fell off the balance beam on both nights at the Olympic Trials, has improved at a pre-Olympic training camp. Karolyi also said that Douglas would not perform the difficult Amanar vault in Rio, which carries five tenths more in start value than the vault Douglas used at the Olympic Trials.

Biles and Raisman both perform the Amanar. If Biles, Douglas and Raisman do the all-around in qualifying, Douglas will go in with a start-value disadvantage in the chase to grab two available final spots.

In 2012, Douglas, Raisman and Jordyn Wieber all did the all-around in qualifying, with the 2011 World all-around champion Wieber finishing third out of the Americans (and fourth overall), missing the all-around final.

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