Sun Yang afraid of losing to me, Gregorio Paltrinieri says

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ROME (AP) — Gregorio Paltrinieri won’t be surprised again by Sun Yang.

The Italian swimmer recovered from his initial shock over his Chinese rival’s last-minute no-show to win the longest race in the pool at this year’s World Championships.

For next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Paltrinieri is already considering the possibility that Sun won’t enter the 1500m freestyle at all.

“It would be great if for once I could really race him stroke for stroke. I’m not afraid of a showdown with him. In fact I would relish that,” Paltrinieri said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

“But I’ve also got to realize that he might not enter,” Paltrinieri added. “I’ve got to keep the option open in my mind that if he doesn’t race I’m going to be the favorite in an Olympic final and all eyes are going to be on me just like everyone was watching Sun Yang before.”

At the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August, Sun created chaos in the ready room when he failed to show up for the final of an event that he had dominated for five years.

Sun attributed the no-show to a heart problem but he also got into an altercation with a Brazilian swimmer in the warmup pool on the day of the final.

There were already questions over Sun’s form since he served a three-month doping suspension last year for a banned stimulant. And he didn’t dominate as usual in the 800 free, coming from behind over the last two laps to narrowly edge Paltrinieri for gold.

Three months later, Paltrinieri suspects Sun was afraid of losing.

“It could have been that he was ill. I’m not doubting that. But he was definitely tense and nervous. I had finished this close to him in the 800,” Paltrinieri said, holding his hands less than a meter (yard) apart. “And in the 1500 heats I had beat him by a lot. So I think he just wasn’t so sure anymore that he could win the 1500. And that must have been a factor.”

Since neither Sun nor the Chinese team told organizers that he wasn’t racing, his lane remained empty for the final and reserve Pal Joensen of the Faeroe Islands was denied a chance to compete.

“I still don’t understand what happened and I don’t think we ever will,” said Stefano Morini, Paltrinieri’s coach. “The Chinese are a fairly enigmatic people and they don’t really express themselves too much. And that can be a good thing. We Italians talk too much.”

The talk about the 21-year-old Paltrinieri is that he’s one of Italy’s biggest medal hopefuls for Rio.

Since the 800m is not an Olympic event for men, the 1500m will be Paltrinieri’s only race in Rio. It will be his second Olympics, having finished fifth in the 1500m as a 17-year-old at the 2012 London Games.

Paltrinieri’s grueling workout regimen consists of 14 to 18 kilometers (9 to 11 miles) of swimming per day. His training group includes another medal hopeful, Gabriele Detti, who missed worlds due to a urinary infection.

It’s easy to spot Paltrinieri, though, because he’s the one with the frenetic stroke style.

In an Olympic-sized 50-meter pool, Paltrinieri often requires more than 40 strokes per lap. To an untrained eye, that might appear like a big waste of energy compared to Sun’s more fluid and long strokes which usually total less than 30 per lap.

But the much smaller Paltrinieri is able to produce speed by rapidly rotating the trunk of his body, much like how American standout Katie Ledecky has come to dominate the women’s events in freestyle.

“It’s like a surfer who’s always on top of the wave,” Paltrinieri said.

Another comparison could be made to the way Tour de France winner Chris Froome pedals much more rapidly up mountains than traditional climbers.

“Everyone has their own style. Mine is an extreme one and so is Froome’s. But they’re effective,” Paltrinieri said. “The more you swim above the water the faster you go. It’s like when you’re on a motor boat bouncing up and down. Sun Yang swims underwater more than anybody else, like [Ian] Thorpe. He has enormous strength. It’s great to watch but it’s not the most effective way to swim.”

Still, Morini is working on lengthening Paltrinieri’s strokes, and they have plenty of time to discuss their plans since both coach and athlete sleep at the Italian federation’s training facility in Ostia, the Roman seaside, from Monday to Friday.

On the weekends, Paltrinieri usually goes home to Carpi, a town near Modena that was also the hometown of Dorando Pietri, the runner who was denied victory in the marathon at the 1908 London Games because officials helped him up when he collapsed just before the finish.

A century later, a statue of Pietri was erected in Carpi.

Depending on how things go for Paltrinieri in Rio, another statue might be in order – whether or not Sun races.

MORE SWIMMING: Missy Franklin embraces recent ‘disappointments’

Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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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

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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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