Canadian men’s luger came out as gay during Sochi Olympics

John Fennell
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Canadian luger John Fennell had a moment of clarity in a training session two weeks before the Sochi Olympics. A man who had no reservations about lying on a sled and whirling down an icy chute at 85 mph finally felt compelled to face a very different fear.

“How in the world can I be brave enough to go down this hill and not be brave enough to be who I am,” Fennell said.

Fennell decided then he would be true to himself, beginning at his first Olympics. How he came to that decision was reported in the Calgary Herald on Wednesday.

He came out to teammates and Canadian Olympic Committee officials after the luge competition. Fennell’s act of bravery took place in what he called a tough environment. He traveled to Russia feeling like a basket case and very aware of the situation with the nation’s anti-gay legislation. He also knew there were no other openly gay male Olympians in Sochi.

“Of all places, I had to pick out that one [to come out],” Fennell joked in a phone interview on his 19th birthday on Wednesday. “There was quite a bit of hype going into it because of the gay rights issues in Russia, which wasn’t the case when I landed. Once I got there, it was a very safe environment. … Once I got to the Olympic Village, I felt like part of the family.”

Fennell, who started luge at 10 and was a 14-year-old spectator at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, finished 27th in his Olympic debut in Russia, before coming out.

He waited until after the team relay four nights later to tell the first person, Canadian luge captain and three-time Olympian Sam Edney. Fennell was so caught up in what he would say that he didn’t realize he was talking to a man who felt awful.

Edney had just missed perhaps his only shot at an Olympic medal by one tenth of a second hours earlier. Edney, 29, and three more of Fennell’s teammates had finished fourth in the luge relay.

Fennell confided in Edney, who responded with a big hug and told the teenager, “Nothing changes.”

“It was pretty relieving to hear that,” Fennell said.

The Calgary native then told more teammates and Canadian Olympic Committee members before leaving Russia. He told his family and friends when he arrived home in Calgary.

Fennell was one of three 18-year-olds to place in the top 30 of the Sochi men’s luge competition. He’s committed for another four years with an eye on the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He says he feels perfectly confident to travel to compete again in Russia, or anywhere.

“I think it can be said when you have something eating at you and a lot of emotional stress and anxiety about something, especially in this nature, once that’s been resolved or dealt with, it’s a very liberating feeling,” Fennell said. “You can put 100 percent effort back into training and sliding, too. It will fundamentally shift the way I see my sport.”

Four-time U.S. Olympic Alpine skier switches to Mexico

Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

LG Snowboard-Cross FIS World Cup
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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

Oleksandr Abramenko
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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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