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NHL says it will not participate in PyeongChang Olympics

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The NHL now considers the matter “officially closed.” It will not participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The league wanted a concession from the International Olympic Committee, International Ice Hockey Federation or the NHL Players’ Association to entice owners and officials to take a break in its season to accommodate the Olympics for a sixth straight time dating to 1998.

The NHL made clear for months its stance — it would not break for the Olympics if the status quo didn’t change.

Which led to Monday’s statement, in full:

“We have previously made clear that, while the overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players, we were open to hearing from any of the other parties who might have an interest in the issue (e.g., the IOC, the IIHF, the NHLPA) as to reasons the Board of Governors might be interested in re-evaluating their strongly held views on the subject. A number of months have now passed and no meaningful dialogue has materialized. Instead, the IOC has now expressed the position that the NHL’s participation in Beijing in 2022 is conditioned on our participation in South Korea in 2018. And the NHLPA has now publicly confirmed that it has no interest or intention of engaging in any discussion that might make Olympic participation more attractive to the clubs. As a result, and in an effort to create clarity among conflicting reports and erroneous speculation, this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalizing our 2017-18 regular season schedule without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games. We now consider the matter officially closed.”

What did the NHL want in return for committing to PyeongChang?

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has cited “fatigue” among team owners about repeatedly taking a break during the season to send players to the Olympics. Owners have mentioned the risk of having their stars get injured away from their team in the middle of their seasons. South Korea, with its 14-hour time difference from New York, was also not as enticing a Winter Olympic host as, say, Canada or Russia, for the NHL to gain.

Other issues Bettman and other league and team officials expressed include a lack of exposure and benefit for the NHL, the league’s inability to use the Olympics for marketing due to sponsorship rules and money.

“If they [the IOC] don’t value our participation why are we going,” Bettman said last week, according to Reuters. “From our standpoint there may not be any next steps.”

Months ago, the NHL offered the NHLPA a deal allowing Olympic participation in exchange for a three-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement. Players turned that down, according to The Associated Press.

The NHLPA called the NHL’s decision “shortsighted”

“Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season’s schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage,” the NHLPA said in a statement. “The NHL may believe it is penalizing the IOC or the players, or both, for not giving the owners some meaningful concessions in order to induce them to agree to go to PyeongChang. Instead, this impedes the growth of our great game by walking away from an opportunity to reach sports fans worldwide.

Moreover, it is doing so after financial issues relating to insurance and transportation have been resolved with the IOC and IIHF. The league’s efforts to blame others for its decision is as unfortunate as the decision itself.

NHL players are patriotic and they do not take this lightly. A decent respect for the opinions of the players matters. This is the NHL’s decision, and its alone. It is very unfortunate for the game, the players and millions of loyal hockey fans.”

Four years ago, the NHL didn’t announce until seven months before the Sochi Olympics that it was participating in those Winter Games. But the NHL and Olympic officials had a handshake agreement one year before Sochi, according to Sportsnet.

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has said he plans to play for Russia in PyeongChang no matter the NHL’s stance. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has supported Ovechkin.

The NHL’s statement Monday made no mention of possible rules or penalties that would discourage or prohibit players from playing in the Olympics, other than missing NHL games.

Who will make up Team USA and Canada?

USA Hockey would look mostly to the college ranks if it couldn’t field NHL players. Canada eyes a mix of European-based professionals, North American minor-leaguers and players from the Canadian junior leagues and NCAA, according to the AP in February.

USA Hockey didn’t discuss roster specifics in a statement Monday evening.

“We respect the NHL’s decision and will examine our player pool options and plan accordingly,” assistant executive director hockey operations Jim Johannson said in a statement.

Hockey Canada said it wants NHL player participation.

“Today’s statement by the NHL is not what we were hoping for because, ultimately, we want best-on-best at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games which, for us at Hockey Canada, includes the participation of NHL players,” Hockey Canada President and CEO Tom Renney said in a statement. “This does not change our preparation for the Games — we have developed both a Plan A and a Plan B, and will be ready to move forward.”

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Laurie Hernandez plans on competing in 2019, agent says

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Olympic gymnastics champion Laurie Hernandez plans on competing in 2019, her agent said.

Hernandez has not competed since taking team gold and vault silver at the Rio Olympics, followed by winning “Dancing with the Stars” later that fall.

She said in October that she hoped to compete in 2018 but would not rush a comeback. Hernandez since decided not to compete at the U.S. Championships this August.

No member of the Final Five has competed at the elite level since Rio, though Madison Kocian is in her sophomore season at UCLA and Simone Biles plans to return this summer.

Aly Raisman said in September 2016 that she planned to take one year off, then return to training for a Tokyo 2020 run. But her focus shifted in the last year to something more important — taking on USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee after Larry Nassar sexual-abuse crimes.

The last member of the Final Five, 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas, has not said in widely reported comments if or when she will return to competition.

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Sonja Henie record at stake; figure skating worlds pairs preview

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When Aljona Savchenko won her first gold medal at her fifth Olympics with her third different partner in PyeongChang, she said she “wrote history.”

She can write some more this week.

Savchenko, who at 34 became the oldest female figure skating champion in Winter Olympic history, and partner Bruno Massot are the only pairs medalists from PyeongChang who are back for the world championships in Milan.

The Germans headline the field for the short program Wednesday and free skate Friday.

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Savchenko can tie Norwegian Sonja Henie for the female record of 11 world championships medals. She can grab a share of second on the all-time pairs list with a sixth world title, four shy of Soviet Irina Rodnina‘s record.

Savchenko, who won four crowns with now-retired Robin Szolkowy, goes for her first world title with Massot. They’re clear favorites.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong withdrew from worlds due to Sui’s foot injury. Olympic bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retired.

It’s arguably a surprise that Savchenko and Massot chose to compete in Milan. They’re the first Olympic pairs champions to compete at a post-Olympic worlds since 1992.

Their top challengers are Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who outscored Savchenko and Massot in the Olympic short program but dropped off the podium in the free skate with a fall on their throw.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, 15th at the Olympics, made the top 10 in all of their four world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh. The last U.S. pairs medal came in 2002, the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline.

The Knierims were the only U.S. pair in PyeongChang, but in Milan they’re joined by Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay.

Stellato earned singles silver at the 2000 World Junior Championships, then retired at age 17 due to hip injuries. She came back at age 32 in 2016 in pairs and, with the Sochi Olympian Bartholomay, took bronze at this year’s nationals.

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