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Iran-born athlete denied entry to U.S. as officials work to ensure access

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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. government has told the U.S. Olympic Committee that the travel ban put in place over the weekend shouldn’t impact athletes traveling to the United States for international events.

But one athlete has already been affected. Iranian-born Icelandic taekwondo fighter Meisam Rafiei said he was denied entry into the U.S. for this week’s U.S. Open in Las Vegas, according to Iceland newspaper Morgunbladid and reports citing his Facebook page and USA Taekwondo.

“Was on my way to US Open to compete for Iceland with my icelandic passport and was denied because I was born in Iran,” the Facebook post with a picture said.

In a statement Monday, USOC leaders said the government told them it would work to ensure athletes from all countries would have expedited access to the United States for international competitions.

A World Cup archery event is scheduled for Las Vegas on Feb. 10.

Iran, one of the seven countries listed on the ban, brought one archer, Zahra Nemati, to last year’s Olympics. The status of Iran’s archery team for the World Cup is not known.

The U.S. wrestling team travels to Iran next month for a World Cup event, and the head of the federation said plans are still in place for that trip.

Other events in the United States later this year include the Boston Marathon and Prefontaine Classic in track and field, World Cup cycling events and another World Cup archery contest. When those events take place, the impact of the ban and its legality could be different than it is currently.

“We’re in contact with (track’s international federation) and the USOC, and we’re all committed to doing whatever we can for athletes to travel however they need to for events,” said Jill Geer of USA Track and Field.

All this comes with the International Olympic Committee set to award the 2024 Olympics in September. Los Angeles is a finalist, along with Paris and Budapest, Hungary.

In a statement, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti depicted the bid as one for “a low-risk Games that gathers nations together, showcases American values, and brings benefits, not burdens, to our community.”

“I am confident that the IOC will evaluate our bid on these merits,” he said.

In announcing their latest contact with the government, USOC chairman Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun issued a joint statement Monday recognizing that “the Olympic Movement was founded based upon principles of diversity and inclusion.”

“We also acknowledge the difficult task of providing for the safety and security of a nation,” the statement said. “It is our sincere hope that the executive order as implemented will appropriately recognize the values on which our nation, as well as the Olympic Movement, were founded.”

MORE: U.S. wrestlers set to head to Iran

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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MORE: What to watch every day of PyeongChang Olympics

USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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MORE: What to watch every day of PyeongChang Olympics