U.S. curler Craig Brown experienced an Oympic rarity

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SOCHI, Russia – The U.S. men’s curling team made a roster change Sunday.

Jeff Isaacson, a junior high science teacher, gave up his spot on the four-man rink for its next to last game. The U.S., already eliminated from medal contention, made a group decision to give alternate Craig Brown, 38, his first Olympic action.

The new-look Americans dropped to 2-6 with a defeat to Sweden, but the result didn’t lessen the gesture.

“All of us thought, for the sacrifice [Brown] made for us, we could put him on the ice,” U.S. skip John Shuster said. “We’re not going to lose anything, either, because he’s a great player.”

Some Olympic sports teams were allowed to bring alternates to Sochi, but only in curling were those alternates official U.S. Olympic Team members. Even if they never got called up for a game.

VIDEO: Another tough day for Team USA

It started shortly after November’s U.S. Olympic Trials in Fargo, N.D. Teams of four men and four women vied in a tournament to earn the berths in Sochi. Rinks skipped by Shuster and Erika Brown, Craig’s older sister, prevailed. The spoils of winning trials included the opportunity to add a fifth member to the teams.

Shuster asked Craig Brown (pictured above), whom he played with for a short time after the Vancouver Olympics. Craig Brown had skipped a team that fell short at trials.

“I guess they thought that I was the guy who could help them out the most,” said Brown, who wears glasses and stands 5-foot-7. “So it was an honor to be asked. Obviously, initially, I always would have hoped that I was bringing my own team here, but I feel like I’m part of this team as well.”

Brown spent the Team USA’s first seven games in Sochi watching on the bench next to a pair of U.S. coaches. The entire team hoped he wouldn’t be able to play at all, because that would have meant the U.S. was performing well and advancing with unbreakable chemistry.

That didn’t happen. The U.S. was left to play for pride after a loss Sunday morning. That’s when Isaacson approached Craig Brown.

“I checked with [Isaacson] three or four times to make sure that he was sure about the decision,” Brown said. “Then I thanked him, and I went and curled and tried my best. I played pretty well. Could have made a couple more shots. But not bad.”

Does Brown consider himself more of an Olympian now that he’s registered game time?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll have to figure that out over time. I came here really not expecting to get out on the ice, but it was nice to be out there. It felt good to play.”

The U.S. women’s alternate has yet to play in Sochi with one game left Monday. That’s Allison Pottinger, who, unlike Craig Brown, already has one Olympics under her belt from 2010.

(Craig Brown actually attended the 1988 Olympics at age 12 to watch his sister curl at age 15 and was a mixed zone worker at the 2002 Olympics, but he never made an Olympic Team before now)

Pottinger’s rink lost in the Olympic Trails finals to Erika Brown’s rink. Twelve hours later, she said she received the request from Erika Brown, the woman who dashed her Olympic dreams to join her team in Sochi.

“I’m still on this low, and my whole team’s depressed,” Pottinger remembered. “You need to press the reset button a little bit. They called, and I was thrilled and all. At the same time I was like, oh my gosh, I don’t know. My knee-jerk reaction was yes, but I checked with my team, and they were really supportive of it. They said you’ve got to go. It’s a great opportunity.”

What does an alternate do at the Olympics, if they’re not playing?

“The little things that you don’t really notice,” Pottinger said.

Pottinger totes a paisley bag for such things.

Teammate Ann Swisshelm recently needed a cough drop. There Pottinger was, reaching into her bag.

“It’s like nothing, but it’s a big deal,” Pottinger said. “Otherwise it’s a nuisance, right? Taking care of all those little nuisances and having a positive attitude.”

One time somebody needed a tissue.

“I got it!” Pottinger said.

“What else do you have in that bag?” USA Curling director of high performance Derek Brown asked.

ChapStick. Advil. Deodorant. A nail file. Safety pins.

“I have like this whole pack of stuff,” Pottinger said.

The two alternates Pottinger and Craig Brown have spent a lot of time together, late nights at the Ice Cube Curling Center.

“We talk a little bit about rocks,” Pottinger said. “It’s nice to have a buddy.”

Their biggest duty is what’s called “matching rocks,” throwing competition stones after the completion of play in preparation for the next day’s games to gauge their variance. Not all stones are created equal.

Pottinger and Craig Brown normally don’t get back to the Olympic Village until 11:30 at night. Sometimes, the teams have to be up at 6 for morning matches.

“[Pottinger] is working probably harder than we are,” Swisshelm said.

Pottinger and Craig Brown will return to their normal teams after the Olympics.

Pottinger will actually fly home on Friday, two days before the Closing Ceremony, to prepare for the National Championships that begin March 1.

Craig Brown will be there, too. His rink is on an alphabetical qualified list of eight, eight spots above Shuster’s.

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

USA Boxing
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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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