Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Jon Lujan, Julie Chu

What U.S. Olympians told President Obama at White House

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WASHINGTON — Sage Kotsenburg joked that he would say “What’s up dog?” to President Obama on Thursday. Actually, the coolest part of their meeting at the White House was spoken by Obama.

“He said I was chill,” Kotsenburg said, smiling, shortly before Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama addressed a group of Sochi Olympians and Paralympians stretching their arms in the air to take photos of them at a room inside the White House.

Obama said more than that to Kotsenburg, the first Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion. An estimated more than 200 Olympians and Paralympians met the Obamas (and some saw their dogs, too) over a 90-minute to two-hour stretch.

“[Obama] goes, ‘Sage, this guy was like the favorite moment of the Games. He had the sickest interview, chill,'” Kotsenburg said. “I had no idea what to say. He watched all my interviews or something. He was down. He said I was chill.”

The humor-filled Kotsenburg joked on “TODAY” earlier Thursday that he would tell Obama, “What’s up dog?” He later carried around a bouquet of vegetables — “brussel sprouts and green beans,” he thought — picked from a kitchen garden on the South Lawn.

But when the meeting finally happened, he was at a loss for words.

“I was too mind blown from what [Obama] said,” Kotsenburg said. “I managed to get some stuff out, ‘Thanks. It was awesome that you watched.’ I said thanks probably 100 times.”

Kotsenburg did not get a selfie with Obama, like Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz managed Tuesday. The athletes handed over their phones before meeting the Obamas, but a White House photographer snapped more official images.

What did other Olympians tell the president?

“I asked him if he wanted to try skeleton,” skeleton slider John Daly said. “He said maybe. He said it looked a little too crazy.”

Snowboard cross bronze medalist Alex Deibold came away from his meeting cherishing his hug with the first lady and impressed with the president’s firm handshake and smile.

“They tell you, don’t make any quick actions, don’t stick anything in your pocket,” Deibold said while wearing his bronze medal. “I wanted to be like, ‘Hey, have you guys actually gotten to see these [medals] yet?’ When I see military personnel, they see us walking by, I take it off and hand it to people. They’re really cool. I try and share it with as many people as I can, but in there I decided that it was probably best to be professional.

“I got the hug from Michelle, which was something I was really looking forward to. A good, firm handshake [from the president]. Barack has a great smile. I don’t know if he practices that, but I’m sure it’s something that he has to do all the time.”

Luger Kate Hansen had her heart set on recording video of her dancing with the first lady. That wasn’t possible, but the first lady still made a move or two as the Obamas were very engaging to all the athletes on a personal level, a U.S. Olympic Committee spokesperson said.

In his address to the entire delegation, Obama opened by joking about one Olympian in particular.

“We double checked to make sure that all the bathroom locks are working in case [bobsledder] Johnny Quinn tried to bust down some of these antique doors,” Obama said. “We didn’t want that to happen.”

Obama also made reference to slopesyle skiing silver medalist Gus Kenworthy‘s adoption of Sochi stray dogs.

“That doesn’t count in the medal standings,” Obama said, “but it tells you something about the freestyle skiers.

“I would personally like to thank all of our snowboarders and freestyle skiers for making newscasters across America say things like, ‘Air to fakie,’ and the ‘Back-to-back double cork 1260,'” Obama added. “I don’t know what that means, but I just wanted to say it. I’m pretty sure I’m the first president to ever say that.”

On slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin‘s dream to win five gold medals at the 2018 Olympics?

“I’ve just got three words of advice,” Obama said. “Go for it.”

Obama closed with the story of skeleton silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace, who missed the 2006 Olympics after she broke a leg when a bobsled collided with her on a track, then finished .01 out of a medal in 2010, retired and came back to compete in Sochi as a mother of two.

“Life is never going to go as planned,” Obama read as a quote from Pikus-Pace, who was not in attendance Thursday. “You have to decide when you’re bumped off course if it’s going to hold you back or move you forward. … That’s the spirit we celebrate today.”

In one final remark, Obama told the young athletes, “Don’t tear up the place.”

“We already did!” shouted a female voice in response. A few athletes said afterward that exclamation came from Olympic halfpipe champion Kaitlyn Farrington.

Here were some of the Olympians’ and Paralympians’ social media highlights from the White House visit:

Kotsenburg among winners at Best of U.S. Awards

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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