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Don’t expect ‘status quo’ to get NHLers to 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The NHL is likely to skip the PyeongChang Olympics unless something big changes in the next few months.

The league’s owners are still leaning against allowing the world’s top hockey players to participate in the Olympics next year, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Saturday.

In the league’s most strident comments yet on this quadrennial issue, Daly flatly said the NHL’s Board of Governors doesn’t want to shut down the league to allow its players to participate in South Korea. The owners’ minds would have to be changed by something dramatic, but Daly doesn’t know what that new ingredient would be.

“If the status quo remains, I don’t expect us to be in the Olympics,” Daly said.

The league and the International Ice Hockey Federation have no firm deadline to decide whether NHL players will participate in their sixth consecutive Olympics, but the final decision has already been left for later than in previous years.

The parties waited until June 2013 to execute their agreement for the Sochi Games, but the decision was made several months earlier. The NHL prefers to release its yearly schedule in June, which means a final decision might not be made until summer.

While the IIHF has found the money to cover the costs of a PyeongChang trip after some initial reluctance, the NHL has numerous concerns that aren’t overwhelmed by the excitement of nurturing the game overseas and exposing its biggest investments to injury.

Commissioner Gary Bettman drove the NHL’s decision to participate in its first Olympics in 1998, but the league sees fewer reasons to shut down for three weeks while playing a compressed schedule. Bettman said the issue “got about 10 seconds of discussion” at the board meeting Saturday because nothing has changed.

“I think the realities of Olympic participation are more apparent to our board now, and I think it just leads to less enthusiasm about the disruption,” Daly said. “Quite frankly, we don’t see what the benefit is from … the league standpoint anyway with respect to league participation, so that’s the challenge. As Gary said numerous times, if there was a compelling reason that we could bring to the board that this is something we should do again in Korea, then we present it to the board and see what they would have to say.”

Daly acknowledged that geography plays a role in the board’s position: PyeongChang is 14 hours ahead of New York, which will mean difficult game times for viewers in North America. The league also doesn’t anticipate major growth in its game from playing in South Korea.

“I think on occasion in the past, it has” produced growth in the game to play in the Olympics, Daly said. “I’m not sure it necessarily would in South Korea. Time and exposure, all those issues related to (being) a long way away.”

The IOC and the IIHF benefit enormously in exposure with the NHL’s participation. Bettman and IIHF President Rene Fasel are expected to meet up this weekend

The players gathered in Los Angeles for All-Star weekend are unanimously hopeful they’ll be allowed to play, but they’re aware of the increasingly strident tone against the games being taken by their owners.

“I don’t think you should be able to pick and choose what Olympics you go to,” said New Jersey forward Taylor Hall, who has been to world championships for Canada, but not the Olympics. “That’s not what the Olympics stand for. If you ever talk to anyone that has participated in the Olympics, whether it is a hockey player or a javelin thrower, it’s a special place. It’s something that I would love to be a part of, and I wouldn’t want to see it taken away because the NHL didn’t want to go to South Korea. It’s special no matter what.”

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has previously said that he would play for Russia in PyeongChang even if the league didn’t shut down. He didn’t repeat that declaration Saturday, one day after being recognized as one of the 100 greatest players in NHL history, but he left no doubt he wants to be there.

“I’m pretty sure everybody wants to go,” Ovechkin said. “When I talk to the guys from my team in Washington, everybody wants to go. I think it’s great for hockey, great for us and great for our countries.”

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics