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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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Study shows which colleges produce most U.S. Olympians

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Want to be an Olympian? Go West, young athlete.

An OlympStats.com study found that Stanford, UCLA, USC and the University of California were the top colleges or universities attended by the 9,000-plus Americans to compete in Olympic history.

Olympic historians Bill Mallon and Hilary Evans spent the summer compiling the statistics.

They found that Stanford had at least 289 Olympians, followed by UCLA with 277, USC with 251 and Cal with 212.

Stanford and UCLA tied for the most Summer Olympians with 280.

The most Winter Olympians? The University of Minnesota with 93, more than two-thirds being hockey players.

Ivy League schools Harvard and Yale dominated the early editions of the Summer and Winter Olympics.

But USC topped the list at every Summer Games from 1928 through 1964 (tied with Cal in 1948). UCLA’s run went from 1968 through 2004. Stanford had the most in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

In Winter Olympics, the University of Utah topped the 2002 and 2006 teams, followed by Utah’s Westminster College in 2010 and 2014. Many skiers and snowboarders who train in Park City take classes at those two schools.

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Andre Ward, last U.S. man to win Olympic boxing gold, retires

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Andre Ward, the only U.S. male boxer to win Olympic gold in the last 20 years, is walking away from the sport at the top of his game.

Undefeated. A world champion. Arguably the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter.

“All I want to be is an Olympic champion. All I want to be is a world champion. I did it,” a voice appearing to be Ward’s said in an online video.

Today is the first day since 1952 that there are zero active male U.S. Olympic champion boxers. Claressa Shields, gold medalist in London and Rio, is now a professional fighter.

Ward, 33, ended his career without a loss since the age of 13 but said the cumulative effect of boxing for 23 years started to wear on his body. He no longer had the desire to prepare the way he used to.

“My goal has always been to walk away from this sport and to retire from the sport and to not let the sport retire me,” Ward, nicknamed S.O.G. “Son of God,” said on ESPN. “I have that opportunity today.

“I know it’s time. I’ve studied retirements. … How they walked away, who came back and all these different things. I’ve talked to a lot of guys, and they’ve always told me, you’re just going to know when it’s time. Nobody else will know but you.”

At the Athens Olympics, Ward fought in memory of his father, who died of a heart attack in his sleep at age 45, two years before the Games. He blew a kiss to the roof on the medal podium.

“In the second round, I got thumbed in my eyes, and I saw a double [vision],” Ward said on NBC after the gold-medal bout. “I never experienced nothing like that before.”

Ward turned pro and went 32-0, winning eight world titles.

His last fight was a June 17 TKO of Russian Sergey Kovalev to retain his WBA, IBF and WBO light heavyweight titles.

“I want to be clear – I am leaving because my body can no longer put up with the rigors of the sport and therefore my desire to fight is no longer there,” Ward said in a statement on his website. “If I cannot give my family, my team, and the fans everything that I have, then I should no longer be fighting.”

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