Viktor Tikhonov ‘just a normal grandfather’ to Russian forward

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SOCHI, Russia — A dictator. Taskmaster. Strict. Cruel.

Those were the words that were used to describe Viktor Tikhonov when he coached the Soviet national hockey team from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. For North American hockey fans, he was the unsmiling face of the ruthless Big Red Machine that dominated most international competitions during the last quarter of the Cold War (save for the 1980 Olympics, of course.)

And it wasn’t just typical stereotyping of the times. Tikhonov’s players weren’t all that fond of his methods, either.

“When Tikhonov was the head coach,” his former player Igor Larionov once said, “the players who are living at the training camp for 11 months a year, year after year, there was a lot of humiliation and insulting for the players.”

All of which made it so interesting to hear his grandson and namesake, Viktor Tikhonov, a member of the Russian team here in Sochi, describe his grandfather so differently.

“He’s just a normal grandfather,” the younger Tikhonov said. “Always been really kind, always been really helpful. Obviously, I’ve heard the stories that he’s been a disciplinarian, but I’ve never really got it on me.”

Both grandson, 25, and grandfather, 83, will be together soon.

“He’s coming here maybe the 16th or 17th, he said,” said Tikhonov. “So he’ll probably catch the quarterfinals.”

The opportunity to add another Olympic gold medal to the family’s collection isn’t lost on the former top prospect of the Phoenix Coyotes, now a member of SKA Saint Petersburg in the KHL.

“It really is unbelievable,” he said. “I forget who mentioned it to me, but someone said the last time they won was in 1992 when my grandfather (was coaching). Maybe it’ll come full circle.”

If it does, it will be a bittersweet triumph. Tikhonov’s father, Vasily, died tragically in August when he fell from his fourth-floor apartment in Moscow while doing home repairs.

“I wish he could be here,” Tikhonov said. “It’s been both of our dreams for me to make the Olympics. I know he is watching up there and I will try to make him proud.”

Russia opens its Olympic tournament Thursday versus Slovenia.

“The closer we get to it, we definitely can feel all of the emotions growing,” said Tikhonov. “Even since the opening, everyone was watching it on TV and personally I kind of got butterflies seeing that it’s finally here. Playing on our home turf is a big deal.”

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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