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USOC calls sex-trafficking lawsuit ‘calculated to offend’

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DENVER (AP) — Two lawsuits filed recently against the U.S. Olympic Committee illustrate the peril the federation finds itself in over its handling of decades’ worth of sex-abuse cases, while shining a light on the murky relationship the USOC has with the sports organizations it oversees.

Martha and Bela Karolyi are suing the USOC, along with USA Gymnastics, seeking damages for the canceled sale of their famed Texas training center — a transaction that tanked in the wake of sex-abuse cases involving team doctor Larry Nassar.

Four taekwondo athletes are suing the USOC and USA Taekwondo for sex trafficking, alleging the federations allowed athletes to train and travel with “known predator coaches.” Last month, Olympic coach Jean Lopez was banned for life after the U.S. Center for SafeSport found he engaged in a decade-long pattern of sexual misconduct and sexual abuse of younger female athletes. Lopez’s younger brother, two-time Olympic champion Steven, is temporarily banned while the center investigates his case.

Of the taekwondo lawsuit, USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said “counsel’s fantastical claims seem calculated to provoke and offend rather than to genuinely seek relief from the judicial system.”

“It appears to be a cynical attempt by counsel to subvert important protective laws with the goal of sensationalizing this case,” Sandusky said. “The USOC will vigorously defend itself against these outrageous claims. We want to be clear, however, that our criticism does not extend to the athletes whose names appear in this case.”

Though the USOC is being targeted in the lawsuits — and also received plenty of credit for the Olympic medals won thanks to the Karolyi and Lopez families — those families’ day-to-day jobs were working not for the USOC, but for the national governing bodies (NGBs) that run their individual sports.

Later this month, leaders of the USOC and several NGBs will appear in front of Congress, where they’ll likely be asked to explain the opaque nature of the relationships the USOC has with NGBs — relationships that are not fully understood by the general public, by lawmakers attempting to grasp the problem or, often, even by the athletes and administrators who serve as their lifeblood.

In short, the USOC gives millions to these organizations for athlete development, with the ultimate goal of winning Olympic medals. But the USOC doesn’t train the athletes, and the athletes only officially come under the USOC umbrella during the Olympics. The USOC has oversight responsibilities over the country’s 47 NGBs but has long struggled to find the right balance over how much control to take over facets of their governance structure and their day-to-day operations.

This uncertainty has created mistrust and confusion regarding NGBs’ pursuit of abuse cases: Because it does not oversee the operations of the NGBs, the USOC could claim to not be responsible for investigating sex-abuse cases against them.

And yet, the USOC did call for and receive the resignation of USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny in March 2017. But it took almost another year — and the revelation of more abuse cases, along with the fact that Penny had been in touch with USOC CEO Scott Blackmun about Nassar — before the USOC hired an independent investigator to look into its own handling of the Nassar case, which now stands as the Olympic movement’s most searing “#MeToo” moment.

Blackmun resigned in February, citing health issues, but not before he also spearheaded the call for the resignation of the entire USAG board of directors.

Meanwhile, athletes have spoken of being confused about which, if any, Olympic organizations would listen to their claims. Sometimes, they were dissuaded from pursuing cases, told that the need to protect the rights of the accused and statute-of-limitations laws would make their cases difficult.

The USOC has tried to improve handling of these cases in recent years, most notably by establishing the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which takes the investigation and prosecution of the cases out of the hands of the NGBs.

But for decades before the center’s 2017 opening, the NGBs and the USOC were widely viewed as the first and last resort for these athletes, who often took their complaints to their own Olympic leaders instead of directly to law enforcement.

It was a long-standing problem .

When he was president of USA Gymnastics in 1999, Bob Colarossi sent a letter to USOC leadership taking issue with the USOC putting the brakes on USAG’s decision to ban a coach who had been convicted of sex crimes because he had not been given a hearing by the Olympic organizations.

“This is not an issue that can be wished away,” Colarossi wrote. “The USOC can either position itself as a leader in the protection of young athletes or it can wait until it is forced to deal with the problem under much more difficult circumstances.”

Elite speed skater Bridie Farrell, who was an abuse victim but kept it secret for years, says she thinks USOC and NGB decisions have always come down to a simple equation: “I don’t think it’s the idea of giving the accused due process,” she said. “I think it’s just putting the two sides on the scale and seeing which one has more potential for medals, sponsors, funding.”

“I don’t think these people are all bad people,” Farrell said. “But I think in the moment of truth, they were all cowards, and it took 250 strong, brave women to stand up in gymnastics to try to get these people to change.”

The gymnasts’ victim-impact statements during Nassar’s sentencing for possession of child pornography and sexual assault served as a turning point in the sex-abuse scandal — as athletes gave gut-wrenching voice to the abuse Nassar inflicted on them while he served as a doctor for the Olympic gymnastics team and for Michigan State athletics.

Congress, which has ultimate oversight of the U.S. Olympic movement via the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, is getting more involved.

In January, it passed a bill that makes members of amateur sports organizations, including those that run Olympic sports, mandatory reporters of sexual abuse, and requires the organizations to implement standard protections for athletes.

Last month, Farrell testified alongside Olympic gymnasts Jordyn Wieber and Jamie Dantzscher at a Senate subcommittee hearing to discuss abuse. On May 23, the same subcommittee will hear from leaders of the USOC, USA Gymnastics, USA Taekwondo and Michigan State about an issue that has led to the departures of all those leaders’ predecessors over the past 14 months.

Since the spate of cases became public, the USOC has taken a number of measures, including increasing funding to the SafeSport center and adding resources for sex-abuse victims. It has created a unified approach to the handling of sex-abuse cases across the range of NGBs.

“The USOC is deeply focused on supporting, protecting and empowering the athletes we serve,” Sandusky said.

Even with its renewed focus, the USOC has a long road ahead to regain the trust of athletes, parents and, now, lawmakers, who have been hands-off for more than a decade but are showing signs of moving closer to revisiting the amateur sports act, which codifies the relationship between the USOC and the NGBs.

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Lance Armstrong timeline: cancer, Tour de France, doping admission

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A look at the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong, who beat testicular cancer to win a record seven Tour de France titles, then was found guilty of and admitted to doping for the majority of his career …

Aug. 2, 1992: Armstrong, then a 20-year-old amateur cyclist who had left triathlon because it wasn’t an Olympic sport, makes his Olympic debut at the Barcelona Games. He finishes 14th in the road race as the top American, missing a late breakaway. “I don’t think it was one of my better days, unfortunately,” Armstrong said on NBC. “Last couple weeks, everything has been perfect, but today, I just didn’t have what it took.” A week later, Armstrong finished last of 111 riders in his pro debut.

Aug. 29, 1993: Wins the world championships road race, becoming the second U.S. man to win a senior road cycling world title after three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. Armstrong prevails by 19 seconds over Spain’s Miguel Indurain, who won five straight Tours de France from 1991-95. “I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a Tour racer,” Armstrong said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I love the Tour de France; it’s my favorite bike race, but I’m not fool enough to sit here and say I’m going to win it. For the time being, I’m a one-day rider.”

Aug. 3, 1996: After failing to finish three of his first four Tour de France appearances (and placing 36th in the other), is sixth in the Atlanta Olympic time trial. “This was a big goal and something that I wanted to do well in and wanted the American people to see success,” Armstrong said on NBC. “The legs just weren’t there to win or to medal. I have to move forward and look to the next thing.”

Oct. 2, 1996: Diagnosed with testicular cancer. A day later, he undergoes surgery to have the malignant right testicle removed. Five days later, he begins chemotherapy. Six days later, Armstrong holds a press conference to announce it publicly, saying the cancer spread to his abdomen (and, later, his brain). He described it as “between moderate and advanced” and that his oncologist told him the cure rate was between 65 and 85 percent. “I will win,” Armstrong says. “I intend to beat this disease, and further, I intend to ride again as a professional cyclist.”

Oct. 27, 1996: Betsy Andreu later testifies that, on this date, Armstrong told a doctor at Indiana University Hospital that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs; EPO, testosterone, growth hormone, cortisone and steroids. Andreu said she and others were in a room to hear this. Her husband, Frankie Andreu, an Armstrong cycling teammate, confirmed her recollection to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Armstrong, in admitting to doping in 2013, declined to address what became known as “the hospital room confession,” which he previously refuted.

January 1997: Establishes the Lance Armstrong Foundation, later called Livestrong, to support cancer awareness and research. Is later declared cancer-free.

Feb. 15, 1998: Returns to racing. Later in September, finishes fourth in his Grand Tour return at the Vuelta a Espana, one of the three Grand Tours after the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.

1999 Tour de France: Achieves global fame by winning cycling’s most prestigious event in his first Tour de France start since his cancer diagnosis. Armstrong was not a pre-event favorite, but he won the opening 4.2-mile prologue to set the tone. He won all three time trials and, by the end, distanced second-place Alex Zulle by 7 minutes, 37 seconds in a Tour that lacked the previous two winners — Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani. Armstrong faced doping questions during the three-week Tour. An Armstrong urine sample revealed a small amount of a corticosteroid, after which Armstrong produced a prescription for a cream to treat saddle sores to justify it. “There’s no secrets here,” Armstrong said after Stage 14. “We have the oldest secret in the book: hard work.”

2000 Tour de France: With Ullrich and Pantani in the field, Armstrong crushed them on Stage 10, taking the yellow jersey by four minutes. He ends up winning the Tour by 6:02 over Ullrich, who over the years became the closest thing Armstrong had to a rival. In a Nike commercial that debuted in January that year, Armstrong again attacked his critics, saying, “Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?”

Sept. 30, 2000: Takes bronze in the Sydney Olympic time trial, behind Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov (a teammate on Armstrong’s Tour de France teams) and Ullrich. Armstrong would be stripped of the bronze medal 12 years later for doping. “I came to win the gold medal,” he said on NBC. “When you prepare for an event and you come and you do your best, and you don’t win, you have to say, I didn’t deserve to win.”

2001 Tour de France: Third straight Tour title. In Stage 10 on the iconic Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong gave what came to be known as “The Look,” turning back to stare in sunglasses at Ullrich, then accelerating away to win the stage by 1:59 over the German. “I decided to give a look, see how he was, then give a little surge and see what happened,” Armstrong said after the stage. Also that year, LeMond gives a famous quote to journalist David Walsh on Armstrong: “If it is true, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If it is not, it is the greatest fraud.”

2002 Tour de France: Fourth title in a row — by 7:17 over Joseba Beloki sans Ullirch and Pantani — with few notable highlights. Maybe the most memorable, French fans yelling “Dope!” as he chased Richard Virenque (another disgraced doper) up the esteemed Mont Ventoux. Armstrong would be named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

2003 Tour de France: By far the closest of the Tour wins — by 1:01 over Ullrich — with two very close calls. In Stage 9, Armstrong detoured through a field to avoid a crashing Beloki, who broke his right femur and never contended at a Grand Tour again. In Stage 15, Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s yellow bag. He crashed to the pavement, remounted and won the stage, upping his lead from 15 seconds to 1:07 over Ullrich.

2004 Tour de France: Record-breaking sixth Tour de France title. Jacques AnquetilEddy MerckxBernard Hinault and Indurain shared the record of five, and now share the record again after Armstrong’s titles were stripped. Earlier in 2004, the Livestrong yellow bracelet/wristband is introduced. Tens of millions would be sold. He skips the 2004 Athens Olympics, which began three weeks after the Tour ended.

April 18, 2005: Announces he will retire after the 2005 Tour de France. “My children are my biggest supporters, but at the same time, they are the ones who told me it’s time to come home,” Armstrong says. On the same day, former teammate and 2004 Olympic time trial champion Tyler Hamilton is banned two years for blood doping.

2005 Tour de France: Finishes career with seventh Tour de France title. Armstrong remains defiant until the end. In his victory speech atop a podium on the Champs-Elysees, he says with girlfriend Sheryl Crow looking on, “The last thing I’ll say, for the people that don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics, I”m sorry for you. I’m sorry you can’t dream big. And I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.” A month later, French sports daily newspaper L’Equipe publishes a front-page article headlined, “Le Mensonge Armstrong” or “The Armstrong Lie.” It reports that six Armstrong doping samples at the 1999 Tour de France showed the presence of the banned EPO.

Sept. 9, 2008: Announces comeback, the reason being “to launch an international cancer strategy,” in a video on his foundation’s website. In his 2013 doping confession, Armstrong says he regrets the comeback. “We wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t come back,” he tells Oprah Winfrey on primetime TV.

2009 Tour de France: Finishes third, 5:24 behind rival Astana teammate and Spanish winner Alberto Contador. “I can’t complain,” Armstrong said on Versus after the penultimate stage finishing atop Mont Ventoux. “For an old fart, coming in here, getting on the podium with these young guys, not so bad.” USADA later reported that scientific data showed Armstrong used EPO or blood transfusions during that Tour, which Armstrong denied in 2013 when admitting to doping earlier in his career.

2010 Tour de France: Finishes 23rd in his last Tour de France. Armstrong races after former teammate Floyd Landis admits to doping and accuses Armstrong and other former teammates of doping during the Tour de France wins. “At some point, people have to tell their kids that Santa Claus isn’t real,” Landis says in a “Nightline” interview that aired the final weekend of the Tour.

Feb. 16, 2011: Announces retirement, citing tiredness (in multiple respects) at age 39. “I can’t say I have any regrets. It’s been an excellent ride. I really thought I was going to win another Tour,” Armstrong said, according to The Associated Press. “Then I lined up like everybody else and wound up third.”

Aug. 24, 2012: USADA announces Armstrong is banned for life, and all of his results dating to Aug. 1, 1998, annulled, including all seven Tour de France titles. Armstrong chose not to contest the charges, which were first sent to him in a June letter, though he did not publicly admit to cheating. USADA releases details of the investigation in October. The International Cycling Union chooses not to contest USADA’s ruling, formally stripping him of the Tour de France titles. “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling,” UCI President Pat McQuaid says. In November, a defiant Armstrong tweets an image of him lying on a couch in a room with seven framed Tour de France yellow jerseys on the walls.

Jan. 17, 2013: Admits to doping during all of his Tour de France victories in the Oprah confession that airs on primetime TV. “I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times,” Armstrong says in a pre-recorded interview. “It’s just this mythic, perfect story, and it wasn’t true.” Armstrong said he did not view it as cheating while he was taking PEDs because others did, too. On the same day, the International Olympic Committee strips Armstrong of his 2000 Olympic bronze medal.

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Anna Veith retires, leaves Austrian Alpine skiing in unfamiliar territory

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Anna Veith has retired from Alpine skiing, leaving Austria without an active woman who has won a World Cup overall title for the first time in 27 years.

Veith announced her retirement on a German-language live stream interview Saturday after a montage of career highlights set to Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.” She was in tears after watching a series of video messages from the likes of fellow champion ski racers Marcel HirscherTina Maze and Lara Gut.

“I‘m ready for the next chapter,” was posted on Veith’s Instagram minutes later. “My heart and head are telling me it‘s time to do something new. And so, I have decided to retire from ski racing.
Skiing is my whole life. It has made me who I am today and will always be something I’m passionate about. I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, to learn and achieve in the past fifteen years. I’ve been able to fulfil my childhood dreams and more.”

Veith, 30, won the overall, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, in 2014 and 2015. Lindsey Vonn was in between major leg injuries. Mikaela Shiffrin was still on the rise.

Veith, then Anna Fenninger, blossomed into the world’s best skier in her early 20s. After winning the 2014 Olympic super-G, she finished first or second in five of her last six starts of that World Cup season to overtake a retiring German Maria Hoefl-Riesch for the crown.

The following year, Veith again came from behind, this time edging Slovenian Tina Maze in the last race of the season.

Everything changed on Oct. 21, 2015. Veith crashed in training, tearing ligaments and the patellar tendon in her right knee, three days before the start of the season. She missed 14 months of races.

Veith, after a 2016-17 season-ending left knee surgery, returned to the top of a World Cup podium in December 2017. At her last Olympics in PyeongChang, Veith skied into first place from the 15th bib in the super-G, looking to cap an improbable ride to a repeat gold medal.

Then something more surprising happened: World champion snowboarder Ester Ledecka beat Veith’s time by .01 from the 26th starting position, relegating Veith to silver. Pre-race medal contenders are usually done by bib 20. Ledecka’s best prior World Cup race finish was a seventh.

Veith tore another right knee ligament in January 2019, then returned this past season with a best finish of seventh.

With Veith’s retirement, Austria has zero active Olympic or World Cup overall champions in women’s Alpine skiing. Austria, the most successful Olympic Alpine nation in history, had at least one active World Cup overall champion every day since Anita Wachter‘s crown in 1993.

In the most recent abbreviated World Cup season, Austria had zero women win a discipline or overall title, though Nicole Schmidhofer won the 2017 World super-G title and the 2019 World Cup downhill season crown.

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