USOC says USA Gymnastics president should resign amid scandal

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A person familiar with the communications tells The Associated Press that U.S. Olympic Committee leadership has recommended USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny resign amid fallout from the federation’s handling of a string of sex-abuse cases.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Thursday because of the sensitivity of the discussion.

The USOC board discussed Penny’s future at its quarterly meeting and delivered the recommendation to Paul Parilla, chairman of USA Gymnastics.

Without divulging what was discussed, Parilla released a statement saying the gymnastics board would meet shortly to discuss its next steps.

Penny is a co-defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by 2000 Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, who has accused former volunteer team doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse.

USA Gymnastics has denied wrongdoing.

Penny has had the support of the USA Gymnastics board. And while the USOC doesn’t have official capacity to oust him, it could take measures such as cutting funding if the board doesn’t go along with its recommendations. USOC gives USAG a cash grant of nearly $2 million each year.

Parilla’s statement said USAG “shares the USOC’s commitment to promoting a safe environment for all athletes, and we take its views seriously.”

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said the board hasn’t set any deadline for USA Gymnastics to act.

For years, the USOC has used funding and other tactics to pressure national governing bodies into making changes it deems necessary. For instance, in 2008, the USOC essentially demanded USA Track and Field streamline its board of directors and said it would consider decertifying the federation if it did not comply.

Since Blackmun took over in 2010, however, the USOC has been reluctant to pressure national governing bodies into making major changes and has been most deferential to its biggest NGBs – the ones that bring home the most medals from the Olympics.

Penny has served as president of USA Gymnastics since 2005, during which time the United States has dominated world gymnastics. Led by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, the women’s program has produced the last four Olympic all-around champions, along with team golds in 2012 and 2016. The success turned gymnasts like Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Nastia Liukin into stars while also making the organization highly profitable.

That image, however, has taken a serious hit in recent months following an in-depth investigation by the Indianapolis Star that portrayed USA Gymnastics as slow to act when it came to addressing allegations of sexual abuse by coaches at member gyms across the country.

Then, last fall, Dantzscher and former gymnast Rachael Denhollander filed a civil lawsuit in California against USA Gymnastics and Nassar.

USOC chairman Larry Probst said the board had a “thoughtful discussion” about Penny’s situation – a discussion that certainly included details about the USOC’s own less-than-robust history of protecting athletes who represent the country at the Olympics.

A trove of documents unsealed last week in a Georgia lawsuit against USA Gymnastics included a 1999 letter from USA Gymnastics’ former president, Bob Colarossi, to Blackmun and others at the USOC warning that it fell short of using the best methods to prevent sex abuse.

Little changed over the years, and not until a sex-abuse scandal at USA Swimming erupted in 2010 did the USOC start taking significant action. Just last month, the USOC-funded SafeSport center opened after a two-plus-year quest for funding.

“Should we have noticed earlier that this full area merited closer attention from the USOC?” said Blackmun, who served as USOC general counsel when Colarossi sent the letter. “With the benefit of hindsight, I sure wish we had. But we didn’t, and the truth is, when this became an issue of great media interest in 2010, it became obvious to us that the scope and scale of the problem was much bigger than any of us were aware of.

“I wish we’d have jumped on it then. I wish we’d had a better appreciation and better response back in 1999.”

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Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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