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Gary Bettman on hockey at Summer Olympics, leaving the door open, Ovechkin


In his first year as NHL commissioner in 1993, Gary Bettman met with then-International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch to discuss NHL participation in the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Bettman asked the 73-year-old Samaranch if hockey could be moved to the Summer Games.

“I don’t think I finished the sentence before he said no,” Bettman recalled in 2009, according to the Canadian Press. “The Winter Olympics are too dependent on hockey in terms of attention [and] ticket sales. We are from that standpoint perhaps their most important event.”

On Tuesday night, Bettman made his first public comments since the NHL’s Monday announcement that it would not accommodate sending players to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, ending a streak of five straight Olympics with blanket NHL participation starting in 1998.

Bettman intimated that he brought up the Summer Games again in recent discussions with Olympic and international officials.

“Listen, if the IOC would move the Olympic hockey tournament to the summer, that would be great. OK?” Bettman said on Sportsnet in Canada. “We’d be thrilled to have our players participate because then it doesn’t affect our season.”

Bettman was asked Tuesday if there is any chance the NHL could change it’s mind on 2018. He did not completely rule it out:

Sportsnet: It’s still believed by most that we have talked to that the door is not 100 percent closed, that the timing of your announcement leaves the opportunity for someone, whether it’s the IOC, the IIHF or the Players’ Association, to come forward with a proposal that would be more amendable to ownership.

Bettman: I don’t think that’s accurate or realistic. The fact of the matter is that we have been clear for a very long period of time that the clubs have had enough of how disruptive the Olympics are to our season, when we have to shut down for three weeks.

Sportsnet: If you hang up from us, and the phone rings and it’s [NHL Players’ Association executive director] Don Fehr on the other line, saying, ‘I’d like to sit down and discuss possible things we could to make sure our players go to the Olympics,’ will you listen?

Bettman: I would never not take a meeting with Don to hear anything he has to say on any subject. But the more important point here is, we’re not looking for a negotiation. … We left the door open, not for a negotiation, to see if anybody had a suggestion.

It was unclear from Bettman’s last answer whether “left the door open” referred to the past, before Monday’s announcement, or remains Bettman’s current view.

If the NHL follows through on not participating in PyeongChang, the most immediate issue is that of individual players wanting to leave their teams to go anyway.

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has taken this stance, and his team owner, Ted Leonsis, has supported him. Ovechkin repeated his desire Tuesday.

Leonsis backed off a bit Tuesday, saying he had not thought about what he will do if one of his players wants to go to PyeongChang, according to Sports Business Daily.

“What the league now does with the IOC, I will wait to see what happens,” Leonsis said, according to the report. “But I’m not going to spend five seconds thinking about what happened yesterday when the playoffs are a week away.”

Bettman said those situations will “be dealt with appropriately at the appropriate time.”

“I love Alex as a person and as a player,” Bettman said. “We don’t have to deal with that now. My expectation is that NHL players will be here playing for their teams. We don’t have to get into that kind of debate and argument now. There’s plenty of time between now and the Olympics.”

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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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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang