Tervel Dlagnev overcomes back injury to lead U.S. Olympic wrestling qualifiers

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Two days ago, Tervel Dlagnev didn’t think he’d be wrestling at the U.S. Olympic Trials or perhaps ever again.

“I was about to quit,” Dlagnev said on NBCSN, adding later, “I had a really, really weird, scary pain go down my back and into my legs. I don’t want to go through that again. At that point, I wasn’t even thinking about performance. I was thinking about my future and playing with my boys.”

Dlagnev saw a chiropractor and persevered to join two fellow 2012 U.S. Olympians in becoming the first three members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Iowa City on Saturday night.

All three wrestlers to clinch Rio berths — Dlagnev, Elena Pirozhkova and Ben Provisor — did so in sweeps of best-of-three finals at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Dlagnev, bad back and all, bounced Zach Rey in the freestyle 125kg finals, repeating the result of the 2014 and 2015 World Championships Team Trials finals.

Dlagnev lost a bronze-medal match in London and in Rio will try to become the first U.S. super heavyweight to earn an Olympic medal since 1996.

Pirozhkova, who ousted Erin Clodgo in the women’s 63kg finals, goes back to the Games after losing her only match at London 2012. She earned World Championships gold in 2012, silver in 2010 and 2014 and bronze in 2013.

“Last time around, I was just so happy to make an Olympic team,” the Russian-born Pirozhkova said, adding, “Opening Ceremonies, you see the flame being lit, that kind of stuff really takes your breath away. For me, it took away from my wrestling. So now I’ve been through that. I want another chance to win a gold medal.”

Provisor dumped Jake Clark in the Greco-Roman 85kg finals, after not making any of the three World Championships teams since he went 1-1 at London 2012.

Since the last Olympics, Provisor said he had back surgery, a pinched nerve, removed a bone spur, a sports hernia surgery, a grade-three hamstring tear and a torn forearm tendon that required surgery.

“It’s been a long road,” said Provisor, whose wife, Leigh Jaynes-Provisor, earned a World bronze medalist last year.

Jaynes-Provisor had to compete one weight class higher than expected on Saturday because she didn’t make weight and lost her first match.

In other classes not yet qualified for Rio on Saturday night:

  • Frank Molinaro beat Bellator MMA signee Aaron Pico, 19, in men’s freestyle 65kg.
  • London Olympian Kelsey Campbell swept Alli Ragan in women’s 58kg.
  • Tamyra Mensah swept Brittany Roberts in women’s 69kg.
  • Jesse Thielke swept 2008 Uzbekistan Olympian Ildar Hafizov in Greco-Roman 59kg.
  • RaVaughn Perkins, who served a doping ban and didn’t wrestle in 2015, beat Pat Smith in Greco-Roman 66kg.
  • Joe Rau beat Caylor Williams in Greco-Roman 98kg.

Those winners can qualify for the Olympics at international tournaments later this spring.

The U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials conclude Sunday with preliminary matches beginning at 10 a.m. ET and finals at 7 p.m. ET, both on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Both reigning U.S. Olympic champions — Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner — and all four reigning U.S. World champions — Adeline GrayHelen MaroulisKyle Snyder and Burroughs — wrestle Sunday.

MORE: Olympic, World champs could vie for one Olympic spot

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

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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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