Evan Strong

U.S. wins its first Sochi Paralympic gold, sweeps snowboarding event

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The first U.S. gold medal of the Sochi Paralympics was historic, and it came on an eight-medal Friday for the American team in Sochi.

Evan Strong led a U.S. sweep of the podium in the debut of men’s para snowboard cross at the Paralympics. Strong was joined by silver medalist Michael Shea and bronze medalist Keith Gabel.

“Today is a dream. I’m ecstatic, I’m over the moon,” Strong said in a press release. “I don’t even feel like my feet are on the ground right now. Today this course is super fun, you can generate lots of speed but it was super challenging and very stressful.”

Strong, 27, is a rare Winter Paralympian who grew up in Hawaii.

He was on his way to a career as a professional skateboarder when, 10 days before he turned 18, he was struck by a drunk driver in a head-on collision while riding his motorcycle and had a partial amputation of his left leg.

He moved to Lake Tahoe in October 2007 and took up snowboarding. He excelled, winning gold in the Winter X Games, World Championships and adding two world overall titles. The Paralympic gold capped his collection.

Video: Evan Strong’s strong resolve

Amy Purdy added a U.S. bronze in the first women’s snowboard cross event. Purdy, a contestant on “The Amazing Race” in 2012, is set for “Dancing with the Stars” this season after the Paralympics.

“It’s a breath of fresh air to have done it,” Purdy said. “The whole journey has been amazing. Most of us have been here from the very beginning. This is a great debut to show what we’re capable of.”

The U.S. won four medals in Alpine skiing super combined events on Friday — Mark Bathum (silver, visually impaired), Heath Calhoun (silver, sitting), Danelle Umstead (bronze, visually impaired) and Stephanie Jallen (bronze, standing).

The U.S. now has 16 medals, surpassing its 2010 total of 13 with two days of competition left. Russia, with more than 50 medals, will win the total medal count.

Paralympic broadcast schedule

2026 Winter Olympic host: Milan-Cortina

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Italy will host the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, with Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo winning an IOC vote over a Swedish-Latvian bid centered on Stockholm.

Milan-Cortina won with 47 votes to Stockholm–Åre’s 34 to become the first Olympics with multiple official host cities.

Italy boasted its public support (83 percent in a March IOC poll versus 55 percent in Sweden) and financial guarantees (Stockholm officials declined to sign the IOC’s host-city contract, leaving it to the smaller ski resort of Åre).

“I cannot look into the heads of my colleagues, but gathering a little bit the atmosphere when leaving the room, my assumption is that what was key and what finally made the difference was the gap in the public support,” said IOC President Thomas Bach, who was not among the voters. “This was, for many members, a clear signal. Public support offers goes hand in hand with political support. This was maybe also the reason then why the city of Stockholm was not ready to sign the host-city contract.”

The Games return to a traditional European site for the first time since Italy hosted in Torino in 2006 after Vancouver (2010), Sochi (2014), PyeongChang (2018) and Beijing (2022).

The two bids were left after five others dropped out for various reasons, all in 2018: Calgary, Canada; Erzurum, Turkey; Sapporo, Japan; Graz, Austria and Sion, Switzerland.

With the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games hosts both decided two years ago (Paris for 2024, Los Angeles for 2028), next up is the 2030 Winter Games. The U.S. has already said that if it bids, it will be with Salt Lake City, which held the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Italy will host the Winter Games for a third time after Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956 and Torino in 2006.

Its bid presentation Monday included all three Italian 2018 Olympic champions speaking — Arianna Fontana (short track), Michela Moioli (snowboard cross) and Sofia Goggia (downhill). The presentation ended with 15-year-old short track speed skater Elisa Confortola addressing more than 80 IOC members.

Italy’s initial bid declaration in March 2018 was for a joint Milan-Torino candidate. Cortina was added within a week to make it a three-pronged bid. By September, Torino dropped out after political infighting, when a senior Italian official declared the bid “dead.” But the bid pressed on as Milan-Cortina, sites separated by more than 200 miles.

Sweden has finished second or third in all seven of its Winter Olympic bid votes, including six straight from 1984 through 2002, according to the OlyMADMen. Stockholm–Åre was trying to become the first Winter Games held in multiple countries, with Latvia holding bobsled, luge and skeleton. Sweden remains the nation with the most Winter Olympic gold medals yet to host a Winter Games.

“Our hope and expectation has been that the IOC would be ready to move from words to action and have confidence in Sweden’s ability to deliver the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games based on our proposal and vision,” Stockholm–Åre said in a press release. “We neither want, nor can present, a concept that involves major government grants and guarantees – or change the legislation – for a sports competition.”

The IOC praised how both bids fit with Agenda 2020 with 80 percent of the venues already existing or temporary and organizational budgets 20 percent lower than 2018 and 2022 cities.

More on the Milan-Cortina bid:

Proposed Dates: Feb. 6-22 (Olympics), March 6-15 (Paralympics)

Venues
Milan
 — Figure skating, hockey, short track
Cortina d’Ampezzo (220 miles northeast of Milan) — Alpine skiing (women), bobsled, luge, skeleton, curling, biathlon (Antholz)
Val di Fiemme (160 miles northeast of Milan) — Cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined, speed skating (outdoors)
Valtellina (85 miles northeast of Milan) — Alpine skiing (men, Bormio), freestyle skiing, snowboarding

Ceremonies
Opening Ceremony — San Siro (home of AC Milan and Inter Milan)
Closing Ceremony — Verona Arena (Roman amphitheatre 90 miles east of Milan)

Slogan
“Dreaming Together”

IOC Evaluation Group Report
“Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo combine the advantages of a big European city and those of a popular mountain resort region in the Italian Alps. The candidature benefits from the region’s strong winter sports history, tradition and experience, as well as the Italians’ love and passion for sport. The project can also leverage the economic strength and prosperity of the northern Italian region. While planning is still at an early stage, the project has the potential to achieve the long-term goals of the cities and the region in line with Olympic Agenda 2020/New Norm.”

MORE: Tokyo 2020 Olympic master schedule

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Japan’s gymnastics worlds team: no Kohei Uchimura, Kenzo Shirai

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Not only is Kohei Uchimura going to miss the world championships, but so is 11-time world medalist Kenzo Shirai.

Japan finalized its five-man team for October’s worlds in Stuttgart, Germany, following a national-level meet this past weekend. Uchimura, arguably the greatest gymnast in history, was already out of the running, sidelined with his latest round of injuries.

Shirai, reportedly slowed by a left ankle injury this season, did compete this weekend. But he finished fifth on floor exercise and third on vault, his two best events, and did not earn one of the last two spots on the world team.

Uchimura, a two-time Olympic all-around champion with six world all-around titles, misses worlds for the first time since 2007. Shirai, a 22-year-old with four world titles between floor and vault, had competed in every worlds since debuting in 2013, just after his 17th birthday.

Without their two stars, Japan sends a relatively inexperienced team. Kazuma Kaya and Wataru Tanigawa, both 22, are the only men who have been to a worlds (and were part of the 2018 silver-medal team). The youngest member is 17-year-old Daiki Hashimoto.

Japan has earned a team medal at every Olympics and world championships since 2003, a streak bettered only by the U.S. women.

MORE: Olympic gymnastics team sizes return to five for Paris 2024

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