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U.S. cities eye possible 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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LIMA, Peru (AP) — There’s an outside shot the United States won’t have to wait 11 years to host its next Olympics.

It’s a longshot, but there’s talk in Salt Lake City, and even some in Denver, of a bid for the 2026 Winter Games, which take place two years before the Summer Olympics return to Los Angeles.

The same country hosting back-to-back Olympics hasn’t happened since before World War II, but as this round of bidding has shown, rules are made to be changed.

Five people familiar with internal discussions in both cities told The Associated Press that preliminary talks have taken place about what it would take to bring the Winter Games back to the United States for the first time since Salt Lake hosted in 2002. None of the people wanted their names used because the discussions are preliminary, and because the U.S. Olympic Committee wants to stay focused on the Los Angeles bid for the 2028 Olympics.

“Salt Lake City would enjoy hosting the Games again,” said Fraser Bullock, a key player in Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympics. “The focus at this point is on LA, as it should be.”

On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee will award the 2024 Summer Games to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles.

Both were in the running for 2024. But realizing he had two top-tier candidates, IOC president Thomas Bach spearheaded a rules change to approve the awarding of the 2028 Games, as well. It helped prevent a potentially embarrassing bid process for those games. At the same time, Bach led a streamlining of the bid process for the 2026 Winter Games, in part to avoid an unwanted repeat of the 2022 bidding when the only bidders were from China and Kazakhstan.

“The sooner the Winter Olympics can come back to the U.S., the better,” said Max Cobb, the president of U.S. Biathlon. “We’ve got a fantastic set of venues in Utah that are still in use and more or less at world-class standard.”

The Salt Lake City Games were marred by a bidding scandal that resulted in several IOC members losing their positions for taking bribes.

But with help of Mitt Romney and others, the Olympics were saved, while Salt Lake and Park City have stood as prime examples of the sort of legacy that modern Olympics are supposed to leave in a region. There’s an eight-lane interstate running from the Salt Lake airport, which was upgraded for the Olympics, to Park City, which is the home of U.S. Ski and Snowboard. Park City is the host of key U.S. training centers for freestyle skiing, speedskating and cross country skiing.

Overall, the area has hosted about 75 World Cup and world-championship events in winter sports since the Olympic cauldron was extinguished more than 15 years ago.

Denver would have a steeper hill to climb. Although it’s bigger than Salt Lake City, the mountains are farther away, and more infrastructure would be needed.

“We would welcome an invitation to discuss, in depth, what it would take for Denver to become a Winter Olympic host city,” said Matthew Payne, executive director of the Denver Sports Commission.

Denver also stands as the only city to once be awarded the Olympics — the 1976 Winter Games — only to turn them back after public opinion turned against hosting the event.

The public support piece is as crucial as ever, especially in the wake of a number of cities pulling out of the running for 2022 and 2024 because of poor response from citizens and failed referendums.

One of the few potential candidates for 2026 — Innsbruck, Austria, which has hosted two previous Winter Olympics — has a referendum scheduled for Oct. 15 that has the potential to scuttle a possible bid.

Calgary and Sion, Switzerland, have also shown interest in hosting. Salt Lake City and Denver are officially on the sideline, though after Wednesday, things could heat up. The 2026 Games are next on the docket — and the only Olympics through 2028 still in search of a host.

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MORE: 2026 Olympic bidding news

Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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