Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s impact on sports

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Nelson Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president after spending 27 years in prison during an era of racial oppression, died at age 95 on Thursday.

Mandela’s reach was global, in many aspects. Some of his most enduring images came with a backdrop of sports.

He grew up an amateur boxer who admired the U.S. heavyweight champion Joe Louis.

“Mandela was a heavyweight boxer himself,” said artist Harold Riley, for whom Mandela sat for a portrait, to the Manchester Evening News in Great Britain in 2008. “He boxed while on Robben Island. It helped him to keep sane and fit.”

Mandela was also a reported cricket fan. He also famously encouraged a South African nation long divided by race to back a national rugby team. The Springboks, as they were known, had one black player on the roster at the 1995 Rugby World Cup hosted by South Africa.

The team made a surprising run to the title, beating New Zealand in the final, as portrayed in the 2009 film “Invictus.”

In a famous image, Mandela presented the trophy (William Webb Ellis Cup) to Sprinboks captain Francois Pienaar. He did it in a Springboks shirt and ballcap as a crowd of some 65,000 chanted his name.

“Sport has the power to change the world,” Mandela said. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else can.”

source: AP
AP

Mandela impacted the Olympic movement, too. He pushed Cape Town’s bid for the 2004 Games, eventually given to Athens.

“The Games have been staged in the four other continents,” Mandela said in a 1996 speech as Cape Town’s bid was in motion. “Now is the time for Africa to complete the five Olympic rings.”

Though Cape Town lost to Athens in bid city voting, Mandela still participated as a torchbearer during the 2004 Olympic torch relay, which visited Robben Island, where he had been imprisoned for opposing apartheid.

“I have been here for a very long time and to a very large extent Robben Island is a place with which I identify,” Mandela said in 2004. “I am very happy and honored that this honor has been given to Robben Island.”

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

An African nation has yet to host an Olympics, but they are expanding with Rio de Janeiro set to be the first South American host city in 2016.

South Africa did become the first African nation to host the World Cup in 2010.

His 13-year-old granddaughter, Zenani, was killed in a car accident while returning from an opening-day concert, and Mandela canceled his plans to attending opening-day festivities.

His appearance at the 2010 World Cup final, one of his last in public, was celebrated. Beaming, he smiled and waved while wrapped up during cold winter conditions.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Mandela was beloved by South Africa’s star Olympians, including swimmers from the 2004 Olympic 4x100m freestyle relay gold medal-winning team, like Roland Schoeman.

Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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MORE: J.R. Celski explains decision to retire

Maia, Alex Shibutani extend break from ice dance competition

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Brother-sister ice dance duo Maia and Alex Shibutani will not compete next season, the Olympic bronze medalists announced via U.S. Figure Skating on Friday.

“We’re healthier and stronger than we were after the Olympics, and we’re continuing to push ourselves,” Maia Shibutani said in a press release.

“We’ve continued to skate a lot, and we feel like we’ve benefited from some time away to create in different environments and focus on experiences that can help us grow,” Alex said.

The “Shib Sibs” won the U.S. title in 2016 and 2017. They won their first world medal in 2011 (bronze) before reaching the world podium again in 2016 and 2017 with silver and bronze, respectively.

They most recently competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where they earned bronze both individually and in the team event.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are now the second ice dance medalists from PyeongChang to announce they’ll sit out at least part of next season. Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will tour instead this fall and are not expected to return to competition.

The siblings haven’t stayed away from the ice entirely in their break from the sport, though — they’ve also been touring and performing in shows.

The Shibutanis became the second set of siblings to earn Olympic ice dance medals after France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay in 1992.

MORE: How Gracie Gold landed in Philadelphia, thoughts competitive return

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