World leaders unsure about attending Rio Opening Ceremony

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Many top foreign leaders have been slow to commit to attending the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics amid Brazil’s political turmoil and a stream of bad news engulfing South America’s first games.

Top politicians who do show up could face a diplomatic quandary when the games open in three weeks.

President Dilma Rousseff has been suspended and faces an impeachment trial, which could conclude days after the Olympics end. She has said she hopes to attend, meaning she would join interim president Michel Temer as the main faces of the host nation.

“If you are a top world leader, whose hand would you shake in the middle of such uncertainty?” Maristella Basso, a professor of international law at the University of Sao Paulo, told The Associated Press. “It is a bizarre situation. The best that foreign leaders can do is to send a letter and stay home to avoid any embarrassment. It won’t be a party occasion for Brazil anyway, look at the mess.”

An early prediction that 100 heads of state or government could be on hand at the Aug. 5 ceremony has not been repeated for weeks. The Brazilian foreign ministry declined to offer numbers, and said a list would be published just the before the games open. Organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada said he did not know how many leaders would attend.

The Brazilian news website UOL puts the number at 45 and lists United Nation Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon as a confirmed guest.

France is an exception. France’s embassy in Brasilia told AP that President Francois Hollande will attend the opening ceremony. Paris is a candidate to host the 2024 games.

Italy’s embassy also confirmed that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi would attend. Rome is another 2024 candidate.

The United States embassy did not say if President Barack Obama would attend. Brazilian media has reported that Secretary of State John Kerry is the American official most likely to be at Maracana Stadium. First Lady Michelle Obama represented the U.S. at London’s opening ceremony in 2012.

China, one of Brazil’s main trade partners, did not reply to AP’s request for information. Brazilian media say China will send Vice Premier Liu Yandong, who is in charge of education and sports. She ranks far below President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

Beijing is host to the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Even Argentina, Brazil’s main partner in the region, has yet to confirm the presence of President Mauricio Macri, although its embassy in Brasilia says he is expected to come.

Japan has also not confirmed its delegation. However, Japan would seem likely to send a top-ranking representative with Tokyo the next host of the Summer Games.

Britain, which held the last Summer Olympics, has just changed its prime minister and its representative is in doubt.

Russia is another question mark. Many Russian athletes have been caught up in a giant doping scandal. A report due on Monday may confirm allegations of state-backed doping by Russia. Already, the Russian track and field team has been banned from the games, pending an appeal.

Even many left-leaning Latin American governments that supported Brazil as South America’s first Olympic host have yet to confirm.

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Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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