Professional boxers can compete at Rio Olympics

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Professional boxers can compete at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, if they qualify.

An overwhelming vote by the sport’s governing body, known as AIBA, on Wednesday allows any boxer to try to qualify next month and earn selection for their national team.

“At the moment it is difficult to anticipate (how many), but there will be some who want to get qualification,” AIBA President C.K. Wu said after a special meeting of member federations.

AIBA’s plan, however, has been criticized across the professional ranks as a move toward dangerous mismatches between established boxers and inexperienced amateurs.

Although Manny Pacquiao had been slated to be a superstar attraction in Rio, he decided last week to focus on his political career after being elected a senator in the Philippines.

Other big names could come from Russia. The head coach of that country’s Olympic boxing team, Alexander Lebzyak, said it was possible Russia could enter two reigning professional world champions: Sergei Kovalev and Denis Lebedev.

Of 88 federations who came to Lausanne for the single-issue meeting, 84 approved the rule change less than 10 weeks before the first bouts in Rio. The other four members abstained, AIBA said.

A total of 26 entry places can be earned at an Olympic qualifying tournament in Venezuela next month, AIBA said.

Though few pros are likely to make the Rio lineup at such short notice, the longer term aim is letting paid fighters know they should target the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

“These are milestones for Tokyo. This is what is happening now,” Netherlands federation president Boris van der Vorst said.

Wu has consistently pushed to extend AIBA’s influence over professional boxing, and already relaxed rules to allow paid fighters to compete at the Olympics.

In 2013, eligibility for Rio was given to boxers who are signed to AIBA-run professional tournaments.

AIBA spokesman Nicolas Jomard rejected the idea that pro fighters would dominate the amateurs, saying the amateurs benefit from their quickness and the three-round format, a view espoused last week by former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.

“AIBA boxers have gone through a stringent qualification,” Jomard said. “So they’re the best around. A lot of them have already sparred with some of these professionals. So the disparity of level, the boys against men tonality, is a misjudgment. All the talk of disparity of level is just not true.”

It is unclear how many professional fighters would be attracted by an Olympic tournament — fighting up to five times over two weeks and going unpaid.

Lebzyak, the Russian coach, told the Tass news agency that a decision on its team would be taken later this month after an amateur qualifying tournament in Azerbaijan. Kovalev is the WBA, IBF and WBO champion at light heavyweight, and Lebedev is the WBA and IBF champion at cruiserweight.

Some pros would likely not meet the demands of already being in a testing regime with their national federation approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We know some of them have been but we can’t tell exactly how many,” said Wu, ruling out awarding wild-card entries to high-profile names.

Wu defended AIBA’s doping record, which has been criticized for little or no out-of-competition testing since the 2012 London Olympics.

“We have tremendous change, a lot of effort,” Wu said, adding that all boxers in Rio would comply with WADA testing standards ahead of the games. “These people have to be subjected to the full testing.”

Under Wu’s leadership, AIBA added women’s boxing at the 2012 London Olympics and removed protective headgear from men’s amateur fights.

“This is part of the vision,” Wu said of the latest vote. “I would say it is in my masterplan.”

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”