AP

Olga Korbut puts 5 Olympic medals up for auction

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Olga Korbut walks around the man-made lake in anonymity, despite the bright red warmup jacket with “Olga” in sparkly letters on her left shoulder.

Korbut likes it here, this little suburban slice of nature, a place where she can get her body moving, listen to the birds, stroll alongside the dog walkers.

Korbut stops at a set of bars to stretch, torqueing her hip at an impossible-for-mortals angle that sends her right foot above her head. She moves to the other side of the bars, puts her hands on the ground and sends her feet into the air, propping them up against a sign. She holds the handstand for about 30 seconds and flips back over, waving her hands upward like a gymnast completing a routine.

Even at 61, Korbut is still strong and supple, appearing as if she could hop onto the uneven bars and complete the Korbut Flip, just as she did more than 40 years ago as a teenager who changed gymnastics forever.

So, too, is her mind, content with her place in history and her quiet life in Arizona.

“I love being here, with the nature, the nice weather,” Korbut said, the accent from her native Belarus still noticeable. “It’s paradise.”

Korbut sprang onto the Olympic scene like a bottle rocket, a 4-foot-11, pigtailed waif who turned gymnastics on its head.

Nicknamed “The Sparrow from Minsk,” she did things no one had seen before, acrobatics that pushed the sport forward from balletic motions of the past. And she did it with an un-Soviet flair, playing up to crowd to the point it loved her even when she failed.

Korbut won three gold medals and a silver as a 17-year-old at the 1972 Munich Games, then added another gold and silver at Montreal in 1976.

She instantly became a worldwide star. People knew her around the world and treated her like royalty wherever she went, a transition that was sometimes difficult for a teenager from Grodno, near the borders with Poland and Lithuania.

“I came unknown to the Olympic Games and overnight people make me famous,” Korbut said. “I wasn’t prepared for that, but it was funny when I came to the store with my money, they would give it to me free.”

Korbut traveled the world doing exhibitions and became an ambassador of sorts for her sport, once meeting President Richard Nixon. She spearheaded efforts to help victims of the 1986 Chernobyl accident and moved to the United States in 1991, becoming a gymnastics teacher and motivational speaker while continuing to raise money for victims of the nuclear accident.

Korbut struggled while coaching young gymnasts at first. Many of them lacked the motivation she had, but then again, few people have that kind of inner drive to be the best in the world.

Through the years, Korbut adjusted her coaching style and shifted to private classes, where the gymnasts tended to be more motivated.

“In the first, I saw that maybe they didn’t want to do it, maybe their parents pushed them in it,” she said. “But I do my classes very differently, to not push them, but invite them into this world. I would show them my medals and tell them that it’s not very hard if you love to do that. I show them and teach them to be in love with gymnastics.”

Korbut moved to Arizona after participating in a clinic here. She has spent her time in the desert giving private lessons and touring the world to promote gymnastics.

With her on every trip: her Olympic medals.

Korbut brings the medals with her everywhere, pulling them out at each stop so her fans can not only see but touch them.

“Millions of people around the world touched those medals through the years,” said Jay Schanfeldt, Korbut’s fiance.

Now her fans will have an opportunity to own those medals.

From Feb. 25-26, five of Korbut’s Olympic medals — her floor exercise gold from Munich among them — and some of her Olympic memorabilia will be available at Heritage Auctions’ Sports Platinum Auction.

Korbut and Schanfeldt say the selling of her memorabilia is not a desperate money grab, though they acknowledge the money certainly will be nice. They see it as more of a chance to make a deeper connection with her fans, allowing them to be part of a history they helped create.

“This is Olympic history, and I would like to share with the whole world,” Korbut said. “They helped to make it history and make it live forever. This is how I wanted to share with the people.”

Once the auction is over, Korbut will go back to her peaceful life.

She’ll continue to walk around the lake in the middle of Scottsdale every day, continue her workouts to stay in shape and teach the occasional private lesson if someone should want one from one of the greatest Olympics gymnasts of all time.

“Arizona is a retirement place, so I enjoy it here,” she said. “I always wanted to plant to garden. I never had time for that and now I will do whatever I want, plant fruits, herbs and enjoy the weather.”

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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.