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NHL Players’ Association head ‘more optimistic than ever’ about 2018 Olympics

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TORONTO (AP) — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr offered competing visions Sunday on the likelihood that NHL players will attend the next Winter Olympics.

Speaking ahead of the Centennial Classic, Bettman reiterated that NHL owners were reluctant to return for a sixth consecutive Olympics. Fehr, on the other hand, said he was “more optimistic now than I ever have been” that players would go to South Korea in 2018.

Fehr said he was confident that a deal would be reached with the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee that would allow for that possibility.

Bettman, however, said there was nothing new to report from early December when the NHL’s Board of Governors met in Palm Beach, Fla., and voiced “strong negative sentiment” to the PyeongChang Winter Games, citing the challenges of a season shutdown, the lack of tangible benefit to the league and the IOC’s resistance to covering out-of-pocket payments for players to attend.

He said there had been no further discussions with the IOC or the IIHF “and absent some compelling reason I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of sentiment on the part of the clubs to go through the disruption of taking almost three weeks off during the season.

“We’ve been there, done that five times and while Vancouver and Salt Lake City were different,” Bettman said, referring to their value to the league, “when you’re halfway around the world, it’s not the easiest thing to have in our season.”

Bettman said it wasn’t just the risk of injury at the Olympics, but the effects a compressed NHL schedule has on the league and its players. Even the newly added break for NHL clubs during the regular season is causing concerns among players, he said, because it further tightens the schedule.

Asked why he was so optimistic, Fehr said: “You get a sense of things as they go along. You get a sense of things and how they’re likely to end up. Doesn’t mean you’re always right, but you get a sense of things.”

Given the time constraints of getting a deal done, Fehr didn’t think it was likely that the current collective bargaining agreement would be extended as part of a deal to get players to the Olympics. The players’ association recently rejected a proposal from the league that would have seen the CBA extended while confirming NHL participation in a wide-ranging schedule of international events, including the Olympics.

Fehr did suggest that the players’ association might be open to agreeing to such a plan outside of the current CBA, one that would include the Olympics, World Cup of Hockey and Ryder Cup-style events.

“The optimum would be something that swept in a wide-range of international events over a period spanning several years and that would include the Olympics,” Fehr said. “But if the optimum is not attainable or not attainable at once then you go for the short-term and I don’t have a judgment yet as to which I think it’s likely to be if either.”

Otherwise, a deal that would include only the 2018 Olympics is possible.

The NHL recently began working on two separate schedules for the 2017-18 season, one that would include the Olympics and one that wouldn’t.

MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set

Ghana Olympic skeleton slider’s helmet: rabbit escapes lion

Ron Leblanc
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It’s called The Rabbit Theory.

That’s what Akwasi Frimpong, Ghana’s first Olympic skeleton slider, calls his new helmet.

The one that he will wear in PyeongChang as the second athlete from his nation to compete at a Winter Games.

Frimpong, 31, tells an incredible story.

He said he was raised by his grandmother Minka in a one-room home with nine other children before joining his mom in the Netherlands at age 8 as an illegal immigrant and eventually moving to Utah.

Frimpong’s full story is here.

Frimpong’s life — before he converted from sprinting to bobsled to skeleton — was chronicled in a 2010 Dutch documentary tilted “Theorie van het Konjin” (translation: The Rabbit Theory).

“My former sprint coach Sammy Monsels talks about the analogy of a rabbit in a cage, ready to escape from a lion,” Frimpong said in an email Monday. “I am that rabbit, and I have escaped the lions [of my past]. I am no longer being eaten by all the things around my life.”

The helmet that he will wear sliding head-first down an icy chute in South Korea in three weeks draws attention to it.

The design is of a lion’s head with mouth agape and a pair of rabbits coming out. Plus the colors of the Ghanaian flag.

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MORE: Jamaica qualifies first Olympic women’s bobsled team

Images via Ron Leblanc:

USA Gymnastics leaders resign as more victims speak

USA Gymnastics
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — USA Gymnastics announced the resignations of three key leaders Monday while more women and girls told a judge about being sexually assaulted at the hands of a sports doctor who spent years with Olympic gymnasts and other female athletes.

The resignations of chairman Paul Parilla, vice chairman Jay Binder and treasurer Bitsy Kelley were announced in Indianapolis while a judge in Lansing heard a fifth day of statements from women and girls who said they were molested by Larry Nassar.

“We support their decisions to resign at this time,” said Kerry Perry, president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, which is the national governing body for gymnastics. “We believe this step will allow us to more effectively move forward in implementing change within our organization.”

The board positions are volunteer and unpaid, but the resignations add to the months of turmoil. Steve Penny quit as president last March after critics said USA Gymnastics failed to protect gymnasts from abusive coaches and Nassar.

“New board leadership is necessary because the current leaders have been focused on establishing that they did nothing wrong,” USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement Monday. “USA Gymnastics needs to focus on supporting the brave survivors.”

USA Gymnastics last week said it was ending its long relationship with the Karolyi Ranch, the Huntsville, Texas, home of former national team coordinator Martha Karolyi and her husband, Bela. Some Olympians said they were assaulted there by Nassar.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, Nassar’s sentencing hearing continued Monday, raising the number of girls and women who have spoken to nearly 100 since last week.

“I want to you know that your face and the face of all of the sister survivor warriors — the whole army of you — I’ve heard your words,” Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said after a woman spoke in her Michigan courtroom. “Your sister survivors and you are going through incomprehensible lengths, emotions and soul-searching to put your words together, to publicly stop (the) defendant, to publicly stop predators, to make people listen.”

Nassar, 54, has admitted molesting athletes during medical treatment when he was employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. He has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography crimes.

Under a plea deal, he faces a minimum prison sentence of 25 to 40 years in the molestation case. The maximum term could be much higher.

“Larry, how many of us are there? Do you even know?” asked Clasina Syrboby, as she fought back tears while speaking for more than 20 minutes Monday. “You preyed on me, on us. You saw a way to take advantage of your position — the almighty and trusted gymnastics doctor. Shame on you Larry. Shame on you.

She and other victims also continued their criticism of Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee for not doing enough to stop Nassar when initial complaints were made.

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MORE: Watch, read Aly Raisman’s full testimony