Outpouring of support for Lebanese skier Jackie Chamoun in wake of photo scandal

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A Lebanese minister’s desire to investigate a year-old risque photo shoot featuring the country’s lone female Olympic Alpine skier has generated global support for her ahead of her competition at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Over the last week, 22-year-old Jackie Chamoun, a two-time Olympian, has come under the scrutiny of Faisal Karameh, Lebanon’s Sports and Youth Minister, who ordered an investigation into topless photos disseminated in the country without her intent. Karameh declared that he wanted, “all measures taken to protect the reputation of Lebanon.”

Youssef Chamel Khalil, the administrator of Lebanon’s Olympic Alpine team, said Chamoun will face no repercussions for the photos and would be allowed to compete in Sochi.

RELATED: Minister calls for probe into Chamoun photos

“It’s OK,” he told AP. “In Lebanon, there is a little bit another way to think. Lebanon is a country of so many cultures.”

That statement has sparked outrage among free speech and women’s rights supporters across the world, as well as many who criticized the Lebanese government for having skewed priorities.

“Some women are beaten or killed, others are raped, and the media shifts their attention to a confident talented beautiful woman who represents her country at the Olympic games,” Cynthia-Maria Aramouni wrote on Facebook, referring to schoolteacher Manal al-Assi, who was allegedly beaten to death last week by her husband.

Aramouni helped launch a Facebook campaign called “I’m Not Naked,” in which Chamoun supporters posed semi-nude using the hashtag #StripForJackie. Tha same hashtag is being used similarly by protesters of Chamoun’s condemnation on Twitter.

Additionally, a handful of companies have taken to social media in support of Chamoun.

Almaza, the national beer of Lebanon, has begun an ad campaign featuring a beer bottle, with only a collar label, positioned in the snow next to a pair of skis, in support of Chamoun. Almaza posted a copy of the ad to its Twitter account:

Absolut has an ad in Lebanon featuring one of its vodka bottles without a label and the #StripForJackie hashtag:

Here is a photo shared on Twitter of Chamoun checking the #StripForJackie hashtag from Sochi:

In 2013, Chamoun and her Vancouver Olympic teammate Chirine Njiem posed for an Austrian ski-tourism calendar featuring professional skiers and models posing topless at various ski resorts around the world.

The portraits of Chamoun and Njiem were taken in Faraya, Lebanon’s most popular ski resort located about an hour northwest of Beirut, and the slope where both women trained for the Olympics.

The photos, which were taken by Hubertus von Hohenlohe, the German-born Mexican prince who will compete at the Games for the sixth time next week, and used in the calendar depicted no explicit nudity.

RELATED: Chamoun makes it from Beirut to big time

In an interview with NBC Olympics in January, Chamoun spoke about the sensitivity the photos might have had if taken elsewhere in Lebanon, a traditionally conservative Middle Eastern country.

“If we were somewhere else in Lebanon, in a public place, maybe they would have shooted us,” Chamoun said. “But we were on the slope in Faraya and it is an open space. The people who go there are people from Beirut who are open-minded, more international in their thinking, so it wasn’t a problem.”

A behind-the-scenes video from that photo shoot that left little to the imagination was broadcast on Lebanese television and racier images screen-grabbed from that video have been publicly circulated.

Hohenlohe told NBC Olympics he had nothing to do with the video’s release, and was incredulous about the backlash Chamoun has received.

“I don’t believe it,” Hohenlohe wrote in an email. “It seems like we are in the ’50s or even the ’40s. I am proud of the pics and don’t think there is really anything bad.”

Chamoun does not blame Hohenlohe for the controversy. “He’s a really good friend. It’s not his fault,” she told AP.

The backlash from these photos prompted Chamoun to take to her Facebook page to apologize to anyone who might have been offended and to plead for people to stop sharing the pirated images.

“All I can ask to each of you who saw this, is to stop spreading it,” she wrote. “It will really help me focusing on what is really important now: my trainings and race.”

Chamoun will compete in the women’s slalom on Feb. 21.

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, beach volleyball’s new sensation, win World Tour Finals

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes
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In just a few months since reuniting, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have become not just the best women’s beach volleyball team in the U.S., but also, arguably, the world.

Cheng and Hughes, former partners who got back together for a 2024 Olympic run, won the World Tour Finals for the biggest title for a U.S. pair since April Ross and Alix Klineman took gold in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old Californians swept reigning world champions Duda and Ana Patricia of Brazil 21-18, 21-16 in Sunday’s final in Doha.

Cheng and Hughes have entered four tournaments since reuniting last fall and won all of them — once on the domestic AVP tour and now three international events.

They are rolling into the start of the 2024 Olympic qualifying window next week. It’s likely that the top two U.S. women’s pairs across international events over the course of the next 18 months qualify for the Paris Games.

Cheng and Hughes were previously NCAA champion teammates at USC, then the most promising, young U.S. pro team before splitting in 2018. Cheng made the Tokyo Olympics with Sarah Sponcil (lost in the round of 16), while Hughes’ Tokyo bid flamed out when partner Summer Ross suffered a back injury in 2019.

“It was a lot of the unknown and being young and kind of immature and listening to maybe outside forces and not really knowing how to deal with things as well,” Hughes said in October of their past breakup. “We’ve pretty much moved past that in our relationship. Moving forward with one another, we’re completely different players, and we’re a lot more mature. It feels like the right time. The past is past. We’re just moving forward.”

Cheng and Hughes have taken over from April Ross and Klineman as the top U.S. team. After winning Olympic gold, Klineman underwent shoulder surgery in January 2022 and last week announced she is pregnant and may return from childbirth for a “last-second” 2024 Olympic qualifying bid.

April Ross, a 40-year-old with an Olympic medal of every color, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

The U.S. earned at least one beach volleyball medal at every Olympics that the sport has been on the program (since 1996), and a men’s or women’s gold at all but one Olympics. Eighteen months out from the Paris Games, Cheng and Hughes are the best hope to keep the podium streak going.

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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