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IIHF not giving up on NHL Olympic agreement

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AARHUS, Denmark (AP) — Like Russia’s star Alex Ovechkin, the International Ice Hockey Federation thinks NHL players need not miss the 2018 Winter Olympics – though team owners likely now need a “game-changer” offer on the table.

“We are continuing to try to find solutions,” the governing body’s general secretary Horst Lichtner told The Associated Press on Tuesday, after the NHL said it would not take part in the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Lichtner spent much of the day in talks with IOC officials and winter sports leaders about the NHL’s announcement late Monday. The league ended negotiations aimed at ensuring it would shut down for the Olympic period in February and let its superstars play in South Korea.

Ovechkin said Tuesday he would play at the Winter Games anyway, suggesting the NHL was bluffing.

Lichtner also said the door is not closed, though he acknowledged that the Switzerland-based IIHF must make a better offer.

“Then we can re-open the discussion, maybe not for ever but to come back with some so-called game changers to the (NHL team) owners which would then probably help to find a better decision than we have now,” he said.

The IIHF had already agreed to meet players’ travel and insurance costs when the IOC ended its long-time commitment to pay. The NHL sought more concessions, but the IOC would not concede a share of marketing rights to a commercial league.

Lichtner said the IIHF was focused on a five-year plan for the sport in Asia, leading up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Games in the coveted Chinese market.

“We have a strategy and that would of course be easier and much nicer if this is with the NHL than without,” the German official said of a plan that includes the Russia-based KHL.

A Chinese delegation is due to attend the annual world championships, staged in May in France and Germany.

Though a two-Olympic deal was part of recent NHL talks, Lichtner did not rule out finding a separate solution to the Beijing Olympics.

“I don’t think we should predict now what will happen until 2022,” he said. “We will always try to do the best for ice hockey – and this is put the best players on the ice and let them play, because they want it.”

That includes Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals star who said Tuesday that “I’m pretty sure everything is going to be fine.”

“It’s my country,” Ovechkin said in Toronto. “It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. Somebody going to tell me I don’t go. I don’t care, I just go.”

The IIHF’s Lichtner predicted that others players could follow.

“I actually think there will be some more Ovechkins in this world who want to use the Olympic stage to show their skills,” Lichtner said.

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MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set

Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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