Michelle Obama, Ibtihaj Muhammad
AP

First Lady Michelle Obama ‘fences’ with Ibtihaj Muhammad

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NEW YORK (AP) — First lady Michelle Obama wrapped up her speech to dozens of U.S. athletes to mark 100 days before the Rio Games and immediately headed over to a temporary court set up in the middle of Times Square.

There she was greeted by Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad, the two women sharing a long embrace. Muhammad then gave Mrs. Obama a quick fencing lesson before the first lady and a young girl practiced their technique with foam foils.

In the meticulously staged photo op Wednesday was plenty of symbolism, and Muhammad, who is set to become the first American to compete in the Olympics while wearing a hijab, feels comfortable as the face of that message.

This Olympic year is also an election year, one in which Republican front-runner Donald Trump has suggested that Muslims be banned from entering the United States. Amid that backdrop, Muhammad, a 30-year-old New Jersey native, finds herself with many opportunities to speak out.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re in this moment, especially during the presidential election, where people feel so comfortable voicing their dislike or the discontent for people of a particular background, a particular race or a particular religion,” she told reporters later. “We as Americans have to fight that, because that goes against the very values that we stand for.

“I feel like I’m in this position and I have to use it, and I want to use it well. I don’t want to waste my time as an athlete; I want to reach as many people as I can – just not with my skills within my sport but also with my voice.”

Muhammad, who qualified for Rio in saber, said she found out only a few hours earlier that she’d be fencing with Mrs. Obama. She had met the president before but not the first lady.

Mrs. Obama later took part in passing drills with kids and members of the U.S. women’s basketball team.

Earlier, with dozens of American athletes from various sports standing behind her, the first lady described herself as a “real, lifelong, die-hard Olympics fan.” She reminisced about growing up on Chicago’s South Side, where the kids would crowd around one neighbor’s TV and “watch for hours.”

“Once the games were over, we would all run outside and set up some makeshift hurdle or some balance beam, and we’d try to imitate our heroes,” Mrs. Obama said in announcing a partnership by the U.S. Olympic Committee, NBC and summer sport national governing bodies called “Gold Map” that will encourage youngsters to take up Olympic sports.

MORE: Team USA Olympic Closing Ceremony uniforms unveiled

Snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter passes away

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Jake Burton Carpenter, the pioneer who brought snowboarding to the masses and helped turn the sport into a billion-dollar business and Olympic showpiece, has died at 65.

He died Wednesday night in Burlington, Vermont, according to an email sent to the staff of the company he founded. Carpenter had emailed his staff this month saying, “You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back.” He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 but after several months of therapy had been given a clean bill of health.

Carpenter quit his job in New York in 1977 to form the company now known simply as Burton. His goal was to advance the rudimentary snowboard, then called a “Snurfer,” which had been invented by Sherman Poppen a dozen years earlier.

It worked, and more than four decades later, snowboarding is a major fixture at the Winter Games and snowboards are as common as skis at resorts across the globe.

“He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much,” Burton co-CEO John Lacy said in his email to the staff.

Grieving Mikaela Shiffrin returns to World Cup Alpine action with fourth reindeer at stake

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The traditional World Cup Alpine skiing season opener last month in Soelden, Austria, was an emotional one for Mikaela Shiffrin.

Shiffrin’s grandmother, Pauline Condron, was in declining health in the days leading up to the race, making Shiffrin wonder if she should head home instead of staying in Soelden. Condron was especially close to Shiffrin, helping to take care of her soon after birth.

Condron passed away Oct. 22, four days before the Soelden giant slalom, at age 98.

“Polly loved sports,” Condron’s obituary said. “She was an avid bowler in her younger years and enjoyed playing tennis and skiing. Few people know that she excelled at ping pong, had a killer serve, gave up very few games and played into her 90s.”

Condron was able to see Shiffrin in person at World Cup races in Killington, Vt. The World Cup will return next weekend to Killington, which has just passed its FIS inspection.

Shiffrin finished second in Soelden’s giant slalom to an upstart rival, 17-year-old New Zealander Alice Robinson. Shiffrin is the reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the giant slalom, but she hasn’t won in Soelden since 2014.

In the slalom, Shiffrin is more dominant. She won eight of nine World Cup races last year, losing only to Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, and won her fourth straight world championship despite battling illness. The last time Shiffrin finished worse than second in the technical discipline was in the 2018 Olympics, when she uncharacteristically faltered and finished fourth.

Saturday’s race in Levi, Finland, is a slalom. Shiffrin has won three of the last five races in Levi, which means she also has three reindeer  Rudolph, Sven and Mr. Gru. She can win a fourth on Saturday.

The men also have a slalom this weekend in Levi, racing Sunday.

Both runs for each event stream live on NBC Sports Gold at 4:15 and 7 a.m. ET, with the Olympic Channel also carrying the second runs each day.

MORE: Alpine skiing TV schedule

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