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USA Hockey, women’s national team strike deal, avoid worlds boycott

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USA Hockey and the women’s national team reached an agreement to end a wage dispute and avoid a boycott of the world championship on home ice that would’ve been a black eye for the sport.

Players and USA Hockey finalized the deal Tuesday night and announced it in a joint statement just three days before the tournament begins in Plymouth, Mich. It’s a four-year agreement that pays players beyond just the six-month Olympic period.

“It’s going to be a turning point for women’s hockey in the U.S. (and) I feel like a turning point for women’s hockey in the world,” star forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said by phone. “There was compromises on both sides, but the contract in its entirety, it’s going to change the lives of the current players that are on the team right now but (also) for the next generation.”

Captain Meghan Duggan called it a “historic moment in women’s sports.” USA Hockey president Jim Smith said people will look back on this day “as one of the most positive in the history” of the organization.

Before this agreement, players said they were paid $1,000 a month around the Olympics, and the new contract is believed to be worth about $3,000 to $4,000 per player per month. Combined with money received from the U.S. Olympic committee, each player could surpass $70,000 in annual earnings, and that number could reach $129,000 in 2018 if the team wins the Olympic gold medal.

Players also received business-class travel, just like the men’s team, and insurance protection they asked for.

“I’m very relieved and I’m very positive about the outcome, and I think the women are, too,” USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said by phone. “Clearly, we wanted to get this behind us, and we’re very excited about having the team in Michigan to put on the jerseys that are their jerseys and to defend their world championship starting Friday night.”

Star forward Hilary Knight called it an “arrangement that will have a positive and lasting impact.” Duggan said the deal was “the best there is” for the present and future.

After more than a year of negotiations over wages and equitable support, players announced March 15 that they’d boycott the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship if significant progress wasn’t made toward an agreement. The sides met for 10-plus hours in person last week and continued conversations before striking a deal Tuesday.

Duggan said she was concerned about not being on the ice to begin the tournament.

“That was a reality from Day One,” Duggan said by phone. “We put that on the line and we made a promise to ourselves that until we reached an agreement that we thought was acceptable and we had made progress, that was a realization that maybe we wouldn’t be there.”

Over the course of the public dispute, unions from the NHL, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball and 16 U.S. senators voiced support for the players. NHL agent Allan Walsh tweeted that men’s players were considering boycotting their world championship in solidarity if a deal didn’t get done.

It took until almost the last minute, but a deal did get done that includes the formation of a women’s high performance advisory group with current and former players – like Hockey Canada has had for some time. The group’s goal is to advance girl’s and women’s hockey programing, marketing, promotion and fundraising to augment existing grassroots programs.

Canadian women’s general manager Melody Davidson congratulated the U.S. team and USA Hockey “on reaching an agreement that will allow the world championship tournament to be a best-on-best showcase.”

Players are set to travel to Plymouth on Wednesday and open the defense of their gold medal Friday against Canada. The team’s first practice is Wednesday.

“Even though this has been going on for two weeks, we’ve all still been preparing – working out, training, skating and doing what we need to do to be ready to go,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “We’ll be all ready to go. I’m not worried about that one bit.”

The U.S. has won six of the past eight world championships, but this deal was not just about one tournament. The goal is stabilizing the relationship between USA Hockey and the women’s national team moving forward.

“That’s the crux of the whole deal,” Ogrean said. “I think there are a lot of things in this agreement other than financial that were important to the women in terms of kind of laying the foundation or building the framework for the women’s program for the years ahead and particularly the next four years of this agreement.”

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Alysia Montano announces pregnancy with clever video, no racing plans

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U.S. Olympic 800m runner Alysia Montaño is due in November with her second child, but this time she has no current plan to race at the U.S. Championships while pregnant.

Montaño’s husband and manager, Louis, said Wednesday that she has no races on her calendar (nationals are in late June) but hopes to continue her fitness during pregnancy. She may do a couple of 5Ks this summer.

Earlier Wednesday, the family announced the pregnancy in a clever video.

The video included the couple’s first child, Linnea, was born in August 2014, two months after Montaño made worldwide headlines for racing while eight months pregnant at nationals.

Montaño, 31, last raced at the Millrose Games on Feb. 11 in her first meet since falling in the Olympic Trials 800m final on July 4.

Montaño is set to be awarded her first two world outdoor championships medals, four and six years after she ran those races, due to a former Russian rival’s doping ban.

MORE: Montaño finds little joy after Russian stripped of medals

Sweden drops 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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The city of Stockholm says it won’t bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Karin Wanngard, the city official in charge of finances, says the reason is because the International Olympic Committee will not be able to report how big the financial contribution to the host city will be.

She says the figures “will arrive at the earliest in November.”

This means that time will be too short to get enough analysis for the issues raised by several actors,” said the Swedish lawmaker, whose Social Democratic Party had been supportive of hosting the event.

“We Social Democrats have always thought that the Olympic Games are important for Stockholm’s growth and development,” Wanngard said in a statement, adding there was little backing for the event. “Unfortunately, we are alone to have this position about the Olympic Games.”

Swedish Sports Confederation chairman Bjorn Eriksson said he and his organization “fully respect the decision as we also believe in a realistic budget and a sustainable economy.”

Sports Minister Gabriel Wikstrom also supported the decision, adding that the Social Democratic-led government was “ready to handle requests for financial guarantees.”

“We have also been clear that it is Stockholm’s city that must make its decision first,” he told Sweden news agency TT.

The news comes six days after the Swedish Olympic Committee named a CEO for the 2026 bid.

In January, the committee said that Stockholm staging the 2026 Winter Olympics was “possible and desirable” and that a formal bid was expected in March 2018.

In 2015, Stockholm pulled out of the race for the 2022 Winter Games after Swedish politicians refused to give financial backing. Swedish politicians were uncomfortable because of concerns over costs, the environment, post-Games use of venues, the environment and other issues.

The early 2026 bid plan called for 80 percent of the events in Stockholm, while most of the Alpine competitions would be in the northern resort of Are, more than 600 kilometers (400 miles) from the capital. A few skiing events would be in Falun, 215 kilometers (130 miles) northwest from there.

The 2026 Winter Olympics have one bidder — Sion, Switzerland.

Cities in Austria, Canada, Japan and have also discussed potential 2026 bids, as has Lillehammer, Norway, the 1994 Winter Olympic host. The U.S. is not expected to bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

The next two Winter Olympics will be in East Asia in PyeongChang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, giving a European or North American city a greater opening to be the 2026 host.

The 2026 Olympic host city is expected to be chosen from an International Olympic Committee members vote in 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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