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Refugee travel ban brings sadness to ‘Lost Boy’ Lopez Lomong

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Two-time Olympian Lopez Lomong‘s mind frequently wanders back in time during training runs through the woods.

He thinks about arriving in the U.S. as one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” with nothing more than a book featuring the Statue of Liberty on the cover. He remembers becoming a U.S. citizen in 2007 after being among the thousands of young civil war refugees brought to the nation. And proudly wearing the red, white and blue as the middle-distance runner carried the American flag at the 2008 Beijing Games.

That’s the inviting country he knows — the one to which he brought two brothers from Africa so they could run at American colleges. The one that hopefully someday welcomes his mom and sister, who remain back in Africa.

Now, Lomong’s new home created fresh fear with President Donald Trump‘s order to suspend all immigration for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days.

It weighs on him.

“I’ve been crying since I was 6 years old when I was taken away from my family. I don’t want to cry again,” Lomong said in a phone interview from Flagstaff, Arizona, where he’s training. “I don’t have tears anymore.”

Lomong was a child when rebels kidnapped him from the arms of his mother at a church service in his village in South Sudan. He escaped from the rebel camp with three older boys, running for three days before being taken by Kenyan border patrol troops to a refugee camp.

There, he stayed for a decade before being told about the “Lost Boys of Sudan” program. He wrote an essay about his life, and was selected to live with an adoptive family in the United States. He arrived on July 31, 2001, with nothing more than the clothes on his back — and that book featuring Lady Liberty.

“It was a blessing to come to this country,” said Lomong, who attended Northern Arizona University and rose to the ranks of All-American.

In 2008, Lomong was part of a U.S. men’s 1500m contingent headed to the Olympics that was truly diverse, joining Leo Manzano, who was born in Mexico, and Bernard Lagat, from Kenya.

“We were one team, wearing the same uniform, wearing the same colors. To me, that right there is what America is all about,” said the 32-year-old Lomong, who is making a movie about his lifelong journey. “We were one.”

He counts being picked to carry the flag for his new country in Beijing as one of his most treasured honors. He couldn’t stop grinning on his trip around the stadium.

Thousands of miles away, two young boys were watching from a one-bedroom apartment in Kenya, on a television bought for them by their big brother. Peter and Alex Lomong vividly remember the feeling of pride as they watched Lopez representing America that day.

They wanted to follow in his footsteps. He helped open the door.

Peter and Alex each attended Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, because their future coach/guardian saw an HBO’s “Real Sports” episode on Lopez and was so touched that he reached out to the family. The brothers moved in with coach Winston Brown and his wife in 2009 — and flourished. Both siblings are now runners in college — Peter a sophomore at Northern Arizona, and Alex a freshman at Ohio State.

“They were fantastic additions to not just our family but to the community,” Brown wrote in an email. “The most remarkable part was Lopez’s trust in Beth and I. He is a one-in-a-billion human being.”

Peter echoes that sentiment.

“I’m able to read, able to speak English, able to tell myself I have a future — all because of my big brother,” Peter said. “He’s an idol to me.”

And constantly looking out for them, which is why Trump’s order is so distressing to Lopez. It pauses America’s entire refugee program for months, and temporarily freezes immigration from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan.

He just wants his brothers — all immigrants — to have a chance at success. He also wants his siblings close, so he doesn’t have to worry about them.

“They’re just kids and want to learn. They want to do something to change their lives,” said Lopez, who also made the U.S. team for the 2012 London Games. “My brothers are here, and doing so great. I want them to be safe. I don’t want to lose anybody else.”

Lately, he’s experienced quite a bit of loss.

At the 2016 Olympic Trials, he was running with a heavy heart. He said he lost his dad and two other brothers in Africa — all within a span of a few months and with no explanation. He didn’t get to attend their funerals.

Someday, Lopez hopes to bring his mom and sister to the United States and reunite the family.

“I want them to be in this country, with the safety and the freedom that we all hold dear in this country,” Lopez said. “I represent this country with all my heart. I want to win a gold medal for this country. I want to do anything for this country.”

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Several women’s players spurn worlds inquiry from USA Hockey

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As sports organizations and notable hockey figures express support of the U.S. women’s team, several players say they rejected overtures from USA Hockey to serve as replacements for the upcoming world championships.

Two players told The Associated Press on Friday that USA Hockey reached out to them to gauge their interest for the worlds, which begin next week in Plymouth, Michigan.

Brittany Ott, a goaltender for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, and Annie Pankowski, a junior forward at the University of Wisconsin, said the email from USA Hockey was not an invitation but rather an inquiry about their availability.

“I responded to that email and I said I’m not willing,” Pankowski said.

A third player, goalie Lauren Dahm, told the AP on Saturday she also turned down an invitation. Dahm plays for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Boston Blades.

The U.S. team has said it plans to boycott the worlds over a wage dispute with USA Hockey, which confirmed Thursday it would begin reaching out to potential replacement players. Several players posted messages on social media saying they support the national team and would decline or have declined any outreach from USA Hockey.

“From a personal standpoint I have never been invited to a USA Hockey series or camp or anything like that and I would honestly love to be invited to something like that,” Ott said by phone. “However at the current time, this is a fight that I believe in and I’m definitely going to stand up and help fight as much as I can.”

Many players posted a version of a Jerry Rice quote on Twitter on Friday: “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t. I said no to USAH & will not play in the 2017WC.” Not all players who tweeted that message were asked by USA Hockey if they could play.

On Saturday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the chorus of support for the players, saying on Twitter the organization stands behind their pursuit of fairness and equality.

“These women understand inequality when they see it and are expressing their right to be treated fairly as athletes and workers,” Smith tweeted. “Of course, they have the NFLPA’s support in daring to withhold their services until a fair agreement is reached.”

Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol posted his support on Twitter, calling players competitors and role models.

On Friday, the NHL Players’ Association and Major League Baseball players posted messages of support. The NHLPA posted on Twitter that it supports players and panned USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements, adding that the decision “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

The MLBPA encouraged all female hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period. The sides met for 10-plus hours Monday, but players have called USA Hockey’s counterproposal “disappointing.”

USA Hockey said Thursday its priority was to have all the players selected for the national team on the ice March 31 when the tournament begins. But the organization added that it informed players’ representatives it would begin reaching out to potential replacements with the tournament coming up.

Star national team forward Hilary Knight said last week she wished USA Hockey luck putting together a suitable team of replacements to defend the gold medal because the player pool was united in the dispute. Ott and Pankowski said they had not heard from any players expressing a willingness to play in worlds.

“It’s a very unified front,” Ott said. “It’s a tight-knit community that we have in women’s hockey here. This is definitely a big opportunity for us to make a big change and have a big impact on our sport and have it grow. We’re all standing together.”

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World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.