Aja Evans

Olympians throwing ceremonial first pitches, a brief history

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Olympic bronze medalist bobsledder Aja Evans sought advice before throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on Monday.

She knew just the person to ask — her uncle, retired MLB outfielder Gary Matthews — among others. The best advice?

“Aim high,” she said.

Evans got the job done, getting the ball over the plate before the White Sox-Twins game. Other Sochi Olympians were throwing out first pitches this week, including hockey silver medalists Brianna Decker and Jessie Vetter and skeleton bronze medalist Matt Antoine at Miller Park in Milwaukee on Monday.

Olympic ski slopestyle bronze medalist Nick Goepper is slated to throw out the first pitch at the Reds’ first night game Wednesday.

There have been some fabulous and, more memorable, forgettable first pitches by Olympians over time. It is common for Olympic stars to throw first pitches at MLB games shortly after the Summer or Winter Games finish.

The most notable is certainly nine-time Olympic track and field champion Carl Lewis, who has run the gamut in at least three ceremonial first pitches in MLB and NCAA baseball. He bounced the ball to home plate, airmailed another pitch and gave up entirely and sprinted from the pitcher’s mound, as detailed in this video post last year.

One must sympathize the most with artistic gymnasts, who are among the least trained Olympians when it comes to throwing a baseball 60 feet at a strike-zone target.

“Hopefully I’ll make it to the catcher,” 2008 Olympic champion Shawn Johnson once said.

She had trouble doing so at an Iowa Cubs game near her home in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2010, but was respectable when moving in front of the mound for a throw at Dodger Stadium in 2009.

Fierce Five gymnast Jordyn Wieber stepped in front of the mound and made it to home plate on one bounce at a Detroit Tigers game after the 2012 Olympics, doing so with a boot on her right foot due to stress fracture.

Three of Wieber’s teammates, Gabby DouglasMcKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross, threw simultaneous first pitches at Dodger Stadium in 2012. Maroney, the high-flying vault world champion, was the only one to do so from the pitching rubber and clearly had the strongest arm.

The multi-talented eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno showed a stellar windup and accuracy on this first pitch, also at Dodger Stadium.

Swimmer Jason Lezak looked calm and collected throwing a smooth, but not particularly fast, accurate strike in LA. Another swimmer, Jessica Hardy, risked throwing her pitch while wearing her two 2012 Olympic medals.

Ice dancing silver medalist Ben Agosto received a perfect score from the judges, according to the stadium announcer, for his first pitch at Safeco Field in 2012.

Even Yuna Kim has thrown out a first pitch, at a South Korean baseball game while wearing a “2018” jersey for the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Three-time Olympic basketball champion Diana Taurasi was just a bit outside on a throw at Chase Field.

“A little wild thing,” Taurasi said. “I wanted to throw it with a little heat.”

Then there are the quirky first pitches we saw out of South Korea last year — rhythmic gymnast Shin Soo-ji‘s whirligig pitch that has received more than 11 million YouTube views and 2012 gold medalist archer Ki Bo-bae, who made a mascot whiff with a bow-and-arrow pitch.

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Italian curler roars after hitting shot to qualify for Olympics (video)

Italy curling
World Curling
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Forgive Amos Mosaner for shouting, for he clinched Italy’s first Olympic curling qualification.

Mosaner’s double takeout in an extra end put Italy past Denmark 6-5 in the last-chance Olympic qualification tournament in Pilsen, Czech Republic, on Sunday.

He rushed down the ice after that last stone, tossed his broom aside, pumped his fist and roared into a group hug with teammates.

Skip Joël Retornaz returns to the Olympics after a 12-year absence. He skipped Italy’s team at the 2006 Olympics, where they earned an automatic berth as host nation.

“This has such a different taste,” the 34-year-old Retornaz said, according to World Curling. “Earning the right on the ice feels great. It feels like a dream for me.”

Denmark later did make the Olympic field as the last nation, beating the Czechs for the spot.

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MORE: List of Russia Olympic medals stripped; new Sochi medal standings

The Pyeongchang Olympic curling fields:

Men
Canada
Sweden
U.S.
Japan
Switzerland
Great Britain
Norway
Italy
Denmark
South Korea

Women
Canada
Russia
Switzerland
Great Britain
U.S.
Sweden
Japan
China
Denmark
South Korea

Mixed Doubles
China
Canada
Russia
U.S.
Switzerland
Norway
Finland
South Korea

Russia says its athletes want to compete at Pyeongchang Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian athletes are overwhelmingly in favor of competing at the Pyeongchang Winter Games despite a ban on the national team, the country’s Olympic committee said Monday.

Sofia Velikaya said the Russian Olympic Committee’s athletes’ commission, which she chairs, has heard from “all the athletes in all sports” on the Olympic program, with a majority in favor of competing.

Velikaya said no athletes have told the ROC they would rather boycott.

“At the current moment, everyone’s training and everyone’s hoping to take part in the Olympics,” Velikaya said.

The International Olympic Committee last week barred the Russian team from Pyeongchang because of doping offenses at the Sochi Olympics, but is allowing Russians to compete under a neutral flag as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the government won’t stand in their way.

ROC spokesman Konstantin Vybornov said teams from biathlon and snowboard had recorded videos affirming their desire to compete, while the men’s hockey team has written “a collective letter.”

Some Russian hardliners believe it is shameful for athletes to compete at the Olympics without their national flag. But Velikaya defended the athletes, saying everyone watching will know who is from Russia.

“The choice of competing at the Olympics is strictly individual,” Velikaya said. “I call on Russian society to treat athletes’ decisions with understanding and respect.”

With the IOC due to send out invitations to individual Russians over the next two months, Velikaya said Russian sports officials would put together lists of their preferred teams.

Those rosters, she said, would stop the IOC from inviting “numbers five and six” in the Russian team while leaving out genuine medal contenders.

Russia is pushing back against some IOC conditions, however, backing appeals by Russian athletes banned for doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Velikaya also said her commission will ask the IOC to remove a condition stopping athletes from being invited to Pyeongchang if they have been suspended for doping in the past.

That affects a few athletes with earlier offenses unconnected to the Sochi Olympics, including biathletes banned for using the blood-booster EPO and speed skating world champion Denis Yuskov, who was suspended in 2008 after testing positive for marijuana.

Forcing the Russians to compete as neutral athletes puts the IOC in the uncomfortable position of regulating how they celebrate.

The Russian flag won’t be flown at medal ceremonies, but what happens if a Russian winner accepts a flag or a gift from a spectator for a victory lap? Can Russian athletes fly the flag from their windows in the athletes village?

Those are on a list of questions Vybornov said Russia will ask of the IOC.

“A figure skater wins, let’s say, and they throw her a teddy bear in Russian uniform onto the ice,” Vybornov said. “She picks it up. Can she do that? Or is that an offense?”

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MORE: List of Russia Olympic medals stripped; new Sochi medal standings