Senators owner on Erik Karlsson at Olympics: Maybe, if he was Canadian

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Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk reportedly said he would not let star Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson play at the Olympics without NHL participation, unless, maybe, Karlsson was Canadian.

“So I’m going to give Sweden my best player at the risk of him being injured, beating our Canadian team,” Melnyk said on Sportsnet. “That doesn’t make sense. Maybe if it was a Canadian going to play for Canada. Maybe. But right now it doesn’t make any sense for our franchise, or it’s not fair to our fans if we were to lose him [to injury], God forbid.”

Karlsson, 26, helped Sweden to a silver medal at the Sochi Olympics, tying for the tournament lead with eight points, and was named the best defenseman at the event. A year later, Karlsson earned his second Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman.

The NHL hasn’t announced whether it will take a break in its season to participate in a sixth straight Olympics in PyeongChang. NHL officials have said that if the status quo doesn’t change, they will not be going.

That stance has led owners and players to be asked if they would consider going against NHL policy and playing in the PyeongChang Winter Games anyway, at the risk of possible punishments.

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has said he plans to play for Russia no matter the NHL’s stance. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has supported Ovechkin.

“Good, go ahead, wait until you’re going into the Stanley Cup final, or you’ve got a hot team or you’re favored for the Stanley Cup and Ovechkin is gone,” Melnyk said, according to Postmedia News. “Go to [Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey] Price. He gets hurt. What happens to the Canadiens?”

Karlsson said that he really wants to go to the Olympics, according to Sportsnet, but thus far has not come out with an Ovechkin-like declaration that he would hope to go even if the NHL doesn’t participate.

Which brings us to Melnyk.

“No, no, it would be no, a flat no,” Melnyk said, according to Postmedia News.

Part of Melnyk’s thinking comes from 2006, when his then-star goaltender Dominik Hasek injured himself at the Torino Winter Games. Hasek didn’t play another second for the Senators, who went on to lose in the second round of the playoffs.

“I had a Cup in 2006 parked for me and waiting for me,” Melnyk said, according to Postmedia News. “We were arguing about whose name was going to go on the [Cup]. We were there and what happens? Hasek. I’m not going to do that.

“Can you imagine if [Karlsson] goes and he gets a permanent injury? You know what I’m saying? That’s my view.”

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Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

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Elena Fanchini, an Italian Alpine skier whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini, the 2005 World downhill silver medalist at age 19, passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in the combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her World Cup win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won her world downhill silver medal in Italy in 2005, exactly one month after her World Cup debut, an astonishing breakout.

Ten months later, she won a World Cup downhill in Canada with “Ciao Mamma” scribbled on face tape to guard against 1-degree temperatures. She was 20. Nobody younger than 21 has won a World Cup downhill since. Her second and final World Cup win, also a downhill, came more than nine years later.

In between her two World Cup wins, Fanchini raced at three Olympics with a best finish of 12th in the downhill in 2014. She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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