Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski

Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski ready to provide ‘cultural look’ inside Kentucky Derby

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Johnny Weir‘s theme for his Kentucky Derby hat is Pegasus.

Weir and Sochi figure skating cohort Tara Lipinski have done their homework for their next assignment — fashion experts for this weekend at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Weir called it Kentucky’s version of New York’s Fashion Week.

“Tara and I will be providing sort of a cultural look inside the Kentucky Derby,” Weir said in a teleconference Tuesday. “There is something so lovely about Southern charm and sweet tea and fried green tomatoes and every movie we see with the debutantes and the huge dresses.”

Weir said their work will include pre-filmed spots for Saturday’s coverage (12-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-7 on NBC) as well as giving updates during the show and any necessary post-event follow-ups. NBCSN also has Kentucky Oaks coverage Friday from 3-6.

Weir and Lipinski both rode horses growing up in Pennsylvania and Texas, respectively. But they will bring a different flavor to the Run for the Roses.

“Like, ‘Oh, we saw Jay Z and Beyoncé sitting over there, and we sat on their laps and we sang to them and we enjoyed it,'” Weir offered as an example.

The retired skaters are working together for at least the third time since Sochi. They also covered the Academy Awards and the Best of U.S. Awards.

“We love working together and sharing our own special bit of moxie and sparkle with the world,” Weir said. “I personally would never tire of my little blond munchkin.”

They will be respectful of Derby fashion, even if it doesn’t always agree with their differing tastes. Lipinski said there won’t be a fashion police element to it.

“I’m sure we’ll have some distinct and very outspoken moments,” the 1998 Olympic champion said. “But at the same time, I don’t think it’s going to be catty.”

Weir said “a little birdie” gave him advice on which horse to pick — Danza, the Arkansas Derby winner named after the “Who’s the Boss?” star. Lipinski planned to have girlfriends over Tuesday to learn about the horses, after she spent the afternoon “in a sea of hats” getting fitted.

It will be Lipinski’s first Kentucky Derby and Weir’s second. Weir also went in 2010 and has learned from the experience, when he dressed for a slight chill and ended up sweating while meeting Tom BradyJerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn.

“It was not cute,” Weir said.

Weir is taking no chances on his return trip, consulting on hat selection with A-Morir’s Kerin Rose Gold, who he said also created fashion items for RihannaLady Gaga and Katy Perry.

“I obviously needed a custom hat, because I’m me,” Weir said. “My theme for the hat for the Derby day is Pegasus.

“I like to wear craziness at all costs, because that’s my personality. I’m definitely going to bring myself to Kentucky, but I wanted a little bit of tradition to what I’m wearing.”

Weir, who began riding English saddle when he was about 8, said he was on the fast track to becoming something in show jumping before focusing on figure skating.

“Who knows, maybe I’ll compete in the Summer Olympics for equestrian one day,” Weir joked.

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USOC supports athletes expressing themselves after anthem protests

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PARK CITY, Utah — The U.S. Olympic Committee supports American athletes expressing themselves at winter sports events leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics.

Some MLB, NFL and WNBA players kneeled and remained in locker rooms during the national anthem at games over the weekend.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun was asked Monday if the USOC would support American athletes peacefully protesting during the national anthem this fall and winter at pre-Games competition.

“I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t,” Blackmun said at a pre-Winter Games media summit. “We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.”

Blackmun was correct to reference the Olympic Charter, which states that “no kind of demonstration … is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Blackmun mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos‘ raised-fist salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, which got them kicked out of the Games.

The USOC has since honored Smith and Carlos. They visited the White House last year with the Rio Olympic team.

“That was a seminal moment not only for the Olympic Movement, but for the U.S. Olympic team,” Blackmun said of the 1968 podium gesture. “Our stance on this has been fairly clear. We certainly recognize the rights of the athletes to express themselves.”

Olympic hopefuls were peppered with questions about possible protests at the media summit.

“One of the proudest parts of being an American is the ability to have freedom of speech,” four-time Olympian Julia Mancuso said. “I really look up to athletes who take a stand for what they believe in. I really believe as athletes that compete for Team USA, when it comes to the Olympics, I like to think it’s a special event. Not like the NFL or pro sports teams that compete every weekend. For us, it’s every four years. I’m proud for athletes that stand up for what they believe in if they really want to have a message to get out. But I like to think of us all as patriotic.”

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic bobsled medalist, is the daughter of a U.S. Marine who served in Kuwait and spent summers in the 1980s playing at Atlanta Falcons training camps.

She said any decisions on demonstrations or whether she attends a post-Olympics Team USA White House visit come secondary to her pursuit of making the Olympic team this winter.

“I can’t afford to focus on what I would do in that situation or how I would react,” Meyers Taylor said, adding that anything would be a “game-time decision.” “Maybe the social climate changes a little bit [before the Olympics]. … There’s a lot to consider.”

Aja Evans, a 2014 Olympic bobsled bronze medalist, the sister of former NFL defensive tackle Fred Evans, did not say that she would follow the football players’ lead.

“I honor and commend anyone that does that,” Evans said. “My way of showing my stance is to continue to try to be a positive influence for my city, for my country. I’m representing Team USA the best way I can.”

NCAA hockey players Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, both prospective Olympians with the NHL not participating, said they didn’t envision taking a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I’ve always stood for the national anthem,” Greenway said. “I always will.”

Olympic freestyle skiing medalists Maddie Bowman and Gus Kenworthy have said they plan to skip the traditional Team USA post-Olympic White House visit due to the current presidential administration. Figure skater Ashley Wagner, too, said she would not go if she had to choose today.

Kenworthy said he was shocked that President Donald Trump believed that athletes kneeling during the national anthem disrespected the flag.

“Those people [servicemen and women] are fighting for the freedom to express their beliefs,” Kenworthy said. “I feel proud to be from a country where we have the right to be able to kind of say what we feel, speak up for what we believe in. I feel that people kneeling before a game is actually quite admirable.”

Kenworthy didn’t rule out a personal demonstration at the Olympics, should he qualify again, but knows he could be stripped of a medal for doing so.

“I’m not saying that I would want to be dictated by fear, and if I was to get a medal and be too scared that it would be taken away from me,” he said. “I think that there’s a way to do things in a way that’s not going to sabotage yourself. You can stand up for something and not throw yourself under the bus.”

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U.S. Olympic men’s hockey player from 2006 has shot at PyeongChang

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PARK CITY, Utah — Though no active NHL players will be in PyeongChang, veteran NHL forward and free agent Brian Gionta could very well play for his second U.S. Olympic team in February.

A USA Hockey official confirmed Monday that the 2006 Olympian Gionta “has a very decent opportunity” to be part of the 2018 Olympic team.

That came in response to a Buffalo radio report that Gionta said it’s looking good for him to play for Team USA.

Gionta, 38, played 15 NHL seasons through last year but is currently unsigned as the NHL preseason continues. The U.S. Olympic team of 25 players named around Jan. 1 is likely to include very few, if any, players with Gionta’s experience.

Gionta was seen at the Rochester (N.Y.) AHL club’s practice Monday (but not taking part), according to media in that area. Gionta could play for an AHL club and be eligible for PyeongChang. USA Hockey wants prospective Olympians to be active in the AHL, NCAA or a European league.

Gionta’s agent has not responded to a request for comment on his Olympic prospects on Monday. Earlier in the summer, Gionta’s agent said that the skater was considering the Olympics.

Gionta led the 2006 U.S. Olympic team with four goals. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals to Finland, their worst Olympic result over the last four Winter Games.

That came during Gionta’s most productive NHL season — 48 goals (sixth in the league) and 41 assists for the New Jersey Devils.

Another Olympian — Ryan Malone from 2010 — embarked on a comeback this preseason and could pursue the Olympics. He has been in camp with the Minnesota Wild. If he doesn’t make the Wild, Malone could play on an AHL contract and be eligible for the Olympics.

USA Hockey confirmed that other players in the potential Olympic pool — at some 100 players at the moment — include Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe, a 30-year-old forward, played 394 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes from 2008-16 before joining the Swiss League.

Another is goalie Ryan Zapolski, who ranks third in the KHL in goals-against average this season.

John-Michael Liles, a 2006 Olympic defenseman and unsigned NHL veteran, is not interested in continuing his career in a non-NHL league to be considered for the Olympics, USA Hockey said.

U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said this summer that he was interested in some players who “have a rich history in the NHL and with USA Hockey that we think could potentially really help this roster.” Johannson wouldn’t name names then.

Johansson said a “long list” of potential players for the final 25-man roster must be submitted in September.

A U.S. team of primarily European-based players will take part in a tournament in November in Germany. That roster is expected to be named in October.

The U.S. staff will also look at NCAA and AHL players ahead of naming the PyeongChang team.

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