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No consideration of postponing Olympics, IOC medical chief says

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LONDON (AP) —¬†Seeking to allay fears over the Zika outbreak, the IOC medical director said “everything that can be done is being done” to combat the virus in Brazil and provide safe conditions for athletes at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Dr. Richard Budgett said there are no health warnings against traveling to Brazil, except for pregnant women, and stressed that no consideration has been given to postponing or canceling the games.

“Our priority is to protect the health of the athletes,’ Budgett said on Thursday. “The IOC absolutely is not complacent. We do take this very seriously. … Everything is being done to contain and reduce this problem in the lead-up to the games.”

Brazil is the epicenter of the Zika outbreak, raising concerns about the potential risks of infection during the Aug. 5-21 Olympics. The World Health Organization has declared Zika a global health emergency.

Health officials are investigating whether there is a link between Zika infections in pregnant women and cases of microcephaly, a rare condition in which infants are born with abnormally small heads. Pregnant women have been advised against traveling to infected areas.

As the virus has spread across Latin America, anxiety has grown among athletes and Olympic teams. Budgett said the situation should be kept “in perspective.”

“Everything that can be done is being done,” he said by telephone from Lillehammer, Norway, a day ahead of the opening of the Winter Youth Olympics. “We can give the reassurance that authorities in Brazil are taking it extremely seriously.

“Concern and worry is appropriate, but there is no restriction on travel,” Budgett added. “People need to take measures to avoid being bitten and be sensible. There is no recommendation from health authorities to change travel plans.”

Budgett said the possibility of calling off the games has never been on the table.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “No one from the public authorities or World Health Organization or government ministry are actually saying we should even consider canceling the games.”

Budgett reiterated the position that the threat from mosquitoes should be reduced during the Olympics because the games will be during Brazil’s winter, when temperatures are colder and drier.

Brazilian organizers plan to send a letter to all national Olympic committees and international sports federations to explain how they are dealing with the virus, Budgett said.

Rio organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada confirmed that a memo would be sent on Friday or over the weekend.

“Our main job is to calm down everybody,” Andrada told the AP. “The panic is starting (to be) a little too much. We are looking for true facts to make sure we don’t generate any unnecessary worries.”

Budgett said the IOC is in regular contact with the WHO, which has a unit dealing specifically with mass gatherings, such as the Olympics.

“The IOC are not experts on infection disease,” he said. “We follow the experts, and the WHO and the others at the moment say there is absolutely no restriction on travel, but to seek advice if you are pregnant or planning to be.”

The U.S. Olympic Committee said it would hire two infectious disease specialists to advise potential Olympians who are worried about the Zika outbreak.

“That’s absolutely fine,” Budgett said. “Everyone involved should take the best expert advice.”

Among athletes who have openly voiced worries about going to the games is U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo.

“All I can do is speak for myself. If the Olympics were today, I would not go,” she said Wednesday in Frisco, Texas.

Budgett said comments such as Solo’s are positive and negative.

“It shows people are taking their health seriously and want to protect their health. That’s good,” he said. “It’s negative in that it’s not actually following the advice of health authorities.”

Ultimately, he said, the choice is up to each individual.

“You certainly can never force anyone to go,” he said. “We just have to keep reiterating the official advice of world health authorities.”

Meanwhile, the Australia team medical director said water quality will be more of a threat to the health of athletes and officials at the Olympics than Zika.

In a telephone interview with the AP, Dr. David Hughes said the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay and other aquatic venues for Olympic events were a serious health issue.

“If someone gets a nasty gastro infection, vomiting and diarrhea, it’s not ideal for competing in an Olympic environment,” Hughes said.

Testing of Guanabara Bay conducted by the AP over the last year shows disease-causing viruses linked to human sewage at levels well above what would be considered alarming in the U.S. or Europe.

MORE: USOC to hire Zika specialists

Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen trail at world championships

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Nathan Chen fell in competition for the first time since December. Yuzuru Hanyu messed up a jumping combination. Neither of the world championships favorites is in the top four after the short program in Helsinki on Thursday.

Instead, two-time defending world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain catapulted to a comfortable lead with a personal-best short program. Fernandez landed his jumps clean, with two quads, for 109.05 points.

Japan’s Shoma Uno is second with 104.86, followed by Canada’s Patrick Chan at 102.13 and China’s Jin Boyang at 98.64.

Fifth-place Hanyu put his knee down on the opening jump of his planned quadruple Salchow-triple toe loop combination and then doubled the toe loop. He ended up with 98.39 points, more than 12 points off his world record.

Chen is sixth after falling on a triple Axel and totaling 97.33 points, hurting his hopes to become the youngest men’s world champion.

The free skate is Saturday morning, with coverage on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Chen last fell in the Grand Prix Final short program in December. He then outscored the field, including Uno, Fernandez, Hanyu, in the Grand Prix Final free skate to jump from fifth to second.

Chen then won the U.S. Championships in record fashion and beat Hanyu and Uno at the Four Continents Championships in February, landing a record five quads in the free skate at both events. He has landed 20 straight quads in competition.

Chen has indicated he may attempt six quads in the worlds free skate on Saturday. He may need them to challenge for gold.

The last U.S. man to earn a world championships medal was Evan Lysacek, who took gold in 2009.

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VIDEO: Russian pairs skater slices leg on partner’s skate

Men’s Short Program
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 109.05
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 104.86
3. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 102.13
4. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 98.64
5. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 98.39
6. Nathan Chen (USA) — 97.33

8. Jason Brown (USA) — 93.10

U.S. women’s hockey agreement could have far-reaching impact

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Cammi Granato‘s biggest victory in hockey came 12 years after she retired.

When USA Hockey and the women’s national team agreed to a contract Tuesday night that ended a wage dispute, Granato couldn’t put her happiness into words.

The Hockey Hall of Famer and her teammates staged a similar fight in 2000 without success, and she hopes the current team’s progress paves the way for the future of women’s hockey and even other sports.

“It’s bigger than any victory that we’ve had in USA Hockey,” said Granato, who won the gold medal in 1998 with the U.S. at the first Olympics with women’s hockey. “I just think it’s such a positive, positive day for women’s hockey, women’s sports and women in general.”

Granato and lawmakers, lawyers and experts see the U.S. national team’s agreement as a precedent-setter for other hockey teams around the world and other men’s and women’s athletes in this country.

As the U.S. women’s soccer team continues to work out a labor contract, the women’s hockey team showed how it could leverage solidarity and timing into a multiyear agreement that satisfied all parties involved and pushed gender quality in sports forward.

“I’m hoping it will create a wave across the country of more equity in pay,” said Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, one of 20 senators to write to USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean encouraging him to end the dispute.

“We know that it’s not going to be exactly the same. We know the viewership numbers for some of these sports, but at least you have to try. When you try and you give them more funding, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem.

“Once they’re able to actually support themselves and it’s more lucrative, you get more women going into the sport, then you have better sports and you have more people watching them.”

In that way, women’s hockey has taken the first step toward following women’s soccer, almost 20 years after the World Cup-winning team led by Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain inspired Granato and her teammates to challenge USA Hockey.

Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn around $71,000 annually and up to $129,000 in Olympic years when combined with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

That’s still less than what women’s soccer players bring in, but now players won’t have to work second or third jobs – and half did – or retire to start a family because the new contract guarantees that protection along with insurance and other improvements.

Lawyer John Langel of Ballard Spahr, who represented soccer players from 1998-2014 and the hockey players in this negotiation, said hockey “shouldn’t necessarily take the same long journey” depending on how many strides are made in professional leagues, programming, marketing and sponsorships.

One immediate impact is lengthening careers, which has already shown to be the case in soccer and could transfer over to other sports.

Granato retired in 2005, but still felt as if she had “more to give” and finds it incredible that players in the current generation won’t have to hang up their skates as early as she did.

With a deal in place, the U.S. opens its world championship gold-medal defense Friday against Canada. Players had threatened to boycott the tournament over the wage dispute, which Pepper Hamilton labor and employment lawyer Matt DelDuca considers the most interesting aspect of the case.

“It shows other groups a path for trying to negotiate and use their leverage to negotiate a deal that’s favorable to them or that they’re satisfied with,” DelDuca said.

“It does really require solidarity though. You really need to have everybody together to make it work, and in this case they really seemed to have had that. In all those ways it is a benchmark for other groups to use.”

USA Hockey said all along its priority was to get a deal done, but did reach out to replacement players. Very few accepted the invite as star forward Hilary Knight and other top players espoused the solidarity of the entire player pool.

“There wasn’t any poaching of other players,” said North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, another senator who wrote to Ogrean.

“They were all united in this common goal, and I think that competitive, athletic spirit really showed up in terms of fighting for your rights. I thought they deserved the support of people here who say that they support equality in pay and equality in opportunity.”

Susan Kahn, a University of Buffalo professor of women’s history, said the Senate’s involvement made it clear this wasn’t just a financial dispute, but “a political issue around equal treatment and fighting gender bias in amateur sport.”

Within hockey, the agreement allows for future expansion in the professional and amateur ranks.

“It sets the stage for a major growth in the game,” Granato said. “I think there’s a potential here to take this team and have it be followed similar to other women’s sports and where they’re at right now.”

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MORE: Stanley Cup-winning goalie joins U.S. women’s coaching staff