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USOC says USA Gymnastics president should resign amid scandal

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A person familiar with the communications tells The Associated Press that U.S. Olympic Committee leadership has recommended USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny resign amid fallout from the federation’s handling of a string of sex-abuse cases.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Thursday because of the sensitivity of the discussion.

The USOC board discussed Penny’s future at its quarterly meeting and delivered the recommendation to Paul Parilla, chairman of USA Gymnastics.

Without divulging what was discussed, Parilla released a statement saying the gymnastics board would meet shortly to discuss its next steps.

Penny is a co-defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by 2000 Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, who has accused former volunteer team doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse.

USA Gymnastics has denied wrongdoing.

Penny has had the support of the USA Gymnastics board. And while the USOC doesn’t have official capacity to oust him, it could take measures such as cutting funding if the board doesn’t go along with its recommendations. USOC gives USAG a cash grant of nearly $2 million each year.

Parilla’s statement said USAG “shares the USOC’s commitment to promoting a safe environment for all athletes, and we take its views seriously.”

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said the board hasn’t set any deadline for USA Gymnastics to act.

For years, the USOC has used funding and other tactics to pressure national governing bodies into making changes it deems necessary. For instance, in 2008, the USOC essentially demanded USA Track and Field streamline its board of directors and said it would consider decertifying the federation if it did not comply.

Since Blackmun took over in 2010, however, the USOC has been reluctant to pressure national governing bodies into making major changes and has been most deferential to its biggest NGBs – the ones that bring home the most medals from the Olympics.

Penny has served as president of USA Gymnastics since 2005, during which time the United States has dominated world gymnastics. Led by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, the women’s program has produced the last four Olympic all-around champions, along with team golds in 2012 and 2016. The success turned gymnasts like Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Nastia Liukin into stars while also making the organization highly profitable.

That image, however, has taken a serious hit in recent months following an in-depth investigation by the Indianapolis Star that portrayed USA Gymnastics as slow to act when it came to addressing allegations of sexual abuse by coaches at member gyms across the country.

Then, last fall, Dantzscher and former gymnast Rachael Denhollander filed a civil lawsuit in California against USA Gymnastics and Nassar.

USOC chairman Larry Probst said the board had a “thoughtful discussion” about Penny’s situation – a discussion that certainly included details about the USOC’s own less-than-robust history of protecting athletes who represent the country at the Olympics.

A trove of documents unsealed last week in a Georgia lawsuit against USA Gymnastics included a 1999 letter from USA Gymnastics’ former president, Bob Colarossi, to Blackmun and others at the USOC warning that it fell short of using the best methods to prevent sex abuse.

Little changed over the years, and not until a sex-abuse scandal at USA Swimming erupted in 2010 did the USOC start taking significant action. Just last month, the USOC-funded SafeSport center opened after a two-plus-year quest for funding.

“Should we have noticed earlier that this full area merited closer attention from the USOC?” said Blackmun, who served as USOC general counsel when Colarossi sent the letter. “With the benefit of hindsight, I sure wish we had. But we didn’t, and the truth is, when this became an issue of great media interest in 2010, it became obvious to us that the scope and scale of the problem was much bigger than any of us were aware of.

“I wish we’d have jumped on it then. I wish we’d had a better appreciation and better response back in 1999.”

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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.