Boston Marathon tribute, moment of silence held near finish line

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Survivors of last year’s Boston Marathon tragedy hailed courage, character and resilience in a solemn tribute Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of twin bombings that rocked the race.

“It’s difficult to believe it has only been one year,” said Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a dancer who lost her lower left leg in the bombings. “It feels like only a few weeks, and we have a long road yet to walk.”

Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell and Lingzi Lu died from injuries suffered during the explosions near the finish line on Boylston Street. More than 260 others were injured. This year’s race will go on Monday, the traditional Patriots’ Day event and the 118th edition of the world’s oldest annual marathon.

Haslet-Davis and three more survivors spoke Tuesday along with Vice President Joe Biden, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and other officials in front of more than 2,000 invited guests, those affected by the bombings, at Hynes Convention Center near the site of last year’s tragedy.

The two-hour ceremony, which included music from the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and vocalists, was followed by a walk outside, into light rain, for a moment of silence and flag-raising at the finish line.

“We are Boston. We are America. We respond. We endure. We overcome. We own the finish line,” said Biden, the final speaker of the indoor ceremony.

Biden also spoke at last year’s memorial service for Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, whom authorities say was shot and killed by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev three days after the brothers carried out the Boston Marathon bombings.

“I’ve never, never, never witnessed a tribute like I heard today,” Biden said. “You have survived, and you have soared.”

Haslet-Davis drew smiles with optimism.

“No milestone is too small to celebrate,” she said, “even walking into a non-handicapped bathroom stall for the first time doing a happy dance. It’s the little things.”

Patrick Downes also lost his lower left leg in the attack. So did his newlywed wife. He spoke of the sense of community that has enveloped the survivors.

“We should have never met this way,” Downes said, “but we are so grateful for each other.”

David Yepez, then 15, suffered a torn ear drum, second-degree arm burns, and had a 3-inch piece of shrapnel embedded 6 inches into his leg. He was a spectator, at the site of the second of two bombings in 12 seconds, feet away from Martin Richard, the 8-year-old who was killed.

He praised the first responders and medical helpers, many of whom were at the tribute.

“Thank you for your love, compassion and generosity,” Yepez said. “You have touched our hearts in a way that, many times, our gratitude could only be expressed through our tears of joy.”

David’s father, Luis Yepez, also spoke.

“On that toughest mile, just when we think we’ve hit a wall, there will be someone there to cheer us on and pick us up if we fall,” Luis said.

Outside, the Irish tenor Ronan Tynan performed “God Bless America” before the moment of silence at 2:49 p.m., the time the first bomb exploded. The Old South Church bells tolled. An American flag was hoisted up and the national anthem was sung. Bagpipes were played below a crowd of umbrellas.

On Monday, the 118th Boston Marathon will include the second-largest field in race history. The group of some 36,000 runners — 9,000 more than 2013 — will accommodate about 5,000 who did not have the opportunity to cross the finish line last year. Only the Centennial Boston Marathon in 1996 drew more runners (38,708 entrants).

The first athletes will start at 8:50 a.m. ET. The elite women go off at 9:32, the elite men at 10 and the final wave at 11:25.

It’s estimated more than one million well-wishers may line the route from Hopkinton to Boston, double the usual amount, with 3,500 police officers, more than double last year’s number.

Officials stress a simple theme among the staggering statistics — to preserve the traditional feel and character of the Boston Marathon.

“I’ve never heard anything so beautiful as what all of you just said,” Biden said in his speech. “You are the proof that America can never, never, never be defeated.”

Boston sports teams share same #BostonStrong tweet

Curling siblings secure mixed doubles Olympic quota spot for U.S.

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The United States will be represented when mixed doubles curling makes its Olympic debut in PyeongChang, thanks, in part, to the performance of siblings Becca and Matt Hamilton at the 2017 World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship.

Although the Hamiltons finished well off the podium in 10th, their work, coupled with a third place finish at the 2016 World Championships by Joe Polo and Tabitha Peterson, is all the U.S. needed to lock in an Olympic spot for 2018. The bronze won by Polo and Peterson in 2016 was the first time the United States had won a world championship medal in mixed doubles curling, according to TeamUSA.org.

The Hamiltons opened the 2017 World Championships with a perfect 7-0 record through pool play, but a 6-5 loss to Finland in a match that needed extra ends took them out of contention for a medal. Wins against Hungary and Italy moved them into position to get the necessary points to land the Olympic quota spot. In their final match at the 2017 Worlds the Hamiltons fell to Russia, 5-7.

At the top of the 2017 World Championship final standings, Switzerland won the gold, Canada took silver and China left with bronze.

The eight mixed doubles team field set to compete in PyeongChang includes China, Canada, Russia, Switzerland, United States, Norway, Finland and hosts Korea. Curling begins in PyeongChang on February 8, 2018, one day ahead of the Opening Ceremony, with competition lasting throughout the entire span of the Olympic Games.

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President of National Olympic Committees association leaves FIFA post amid bribery claims

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GENEVA (AP) — FIFA Council member Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait is resigning from his soccer roles under pressure from allegations in an American federal court that he bribed Asian officials.

Sheikh Ahmad said Sunday in a statement he will withdraw from a May 8 election in Bahrain for the FIFA seat representing Asia, which he currently holds.

“I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and FIFA Congresses,” said the Kuwaiti royal, who denies any wrongdoing.

“Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interests of FIFA and the AFC, for me to withdraw my candidacy for the FIFA Council and resign from my current football positions,” he said.

The long-time Olympic Council of Asia president contacted the ethics panels of FIFA and the IOC after the allegations were made in Brooklyn federal courthouse on Thursday.

FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including from Kuwaiti officials. The cash was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes, Lai said in court.

Sheikh Ahmad resigned his candidacy ahead of a FIFA panel deciding whether to remove him on ethical grounds.

The FIFA Review Committee, which rules on the integrity of people seeking senior FIFA positions, has been studying the sheikh’s candidacy since the allegations emerged, The Associated Press reported on Saturday.

The FIFA ethics committee is making a separate assessment of whether to provisionally suspend the sheikh, a long-time leader of Kuwait’s soccer federation who was elected to FIFA’s ruling committee in 2015.

Resigning from his soccer positions does not necessarily put Sheikh Ahmad out of reach of FIFA ethics prosecutors and judges if any action was taken.

In 2012, former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar was banned for life by the ethics committee days after he resigned.

Bin Hammam was also clearly identified in Lai’s court hearing for having paid Lai a total of $100,000 in bribes to support the Qatari’s failed challenge to FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter in 2011. Bin Hammam was removed from that election contest in a Caribbean bribery case.

Sheikh Ahmad has also contacted the IOC’s ethics commission about the allegations against him, the IOC said on Saturday.

As president since 2012 of the global group of national Olympic bodies, known as ANOC, Sheikh Ahmad’s support has often been cited as key to winning Olympic election and hosting awards. The sheikh was widely credited for helping Thomas Bach win the IOC presidency in 2013.

Although Sheikh Ahmad was not named in Department of Justice and court documents last week, he has become one of the most significant casualties of the sprawling U.S. federal investigation of bribery and corruption in international soccer revealed two years ago.

The sheikh could be identified in a transcript of Lai’s court hearing which said “co-conspirator #2 was also the president of Olympic Council of Asia.” Sheikh Ahmad has been OCA president since 1991.

Co-conspirator #3 was described as having a “high-ranking” role at OCA, and also linked to the Kuwait soccer federation.

According to the published transcript, Lai claimed he “received at least $770,000 in wire transfers from accounts associated with Co-Conspirator #3 and the OCA between November of 2009 and about the fall of 2014.”

“I understood that the source of this money was ultimately Co-Conspirator #2 and on some occasion Co-Conspirator #3 told me to send him an email saying that I need funds so he could show the email to Co-Conspirator #2,” Lai said in court.

Lai admitted that he agreed to help recruit other Asian officials that voted in FIFA elections who would help Kuwait’s interests.

The Guam soccer federation leader since 2001, Lai pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. He agreed to pay more than $1.1 million in forfeiture and penalties, and will be sentenced at a later date.

The American federal investigation of corruption linked to FIFA has indicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 40 people and marketing agencies linked to soccer in the Americas since 2015.

Lai’s case marked the first major step into Asia, and suggests other soccer officials potentially recruited by the Kuwait faction could be targeted.

The Asian election for FIFA seats on May 8 in Manama, Bahrain, is the same day as a FIFA Council meeting which the sheik will not attend. The FIFA congress is held in the city three days later.

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