Ethiopian runner who protested at Olympics invited home

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — An Ethiopian marathon runner who went into exile after protesting against oppression in his country while winning a silver medal at the Rio Olympics has been asked to return home.

Feyisa Lilesa captured international attention when he raised his arms above his head and crossed his wrists at the finish line in Rio in protest against the Ethiopian government. Now, he’s been invited back by the Ethiopian Athletics Federation and the country’s Olympic committee.

The invitation came after reformist prime minister Abiy Ahmed assumed power.

An open letter from athletics federation head and legendary distance runner Haile Gebrselassie and Olympic committee chief Ashebir Woldegiorgis says they are ready to give Feyisa “a hero’s welcome.”

Feyisa has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States since 2016 and hasn’t returned home since the Olympics. His family joined him in the U.S. in 2017.

Feyisa belongs to the Oromo ethnic group that rebelled against the former government in 2015. They protested the brutal crackdown on opposition, lack of respect for human rights and the imprisonment of dissidents.

Several hundred people were killed during the protests that subsequently led to the resignation of former Ethiopian leader Hailemariam Desalegn.

“As long as this current government is in power, I don’t have hope of going back to Ethiopia,” Feyisa said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2017. “I do know change is inevitable.”

New Ethiopian prime minister Ahmed, like Feyisa an ethnic Oromo, has brought sweeping reforms since he took office in April. They include releasing prisoners, spearheading a peace agreement with Eritrea and inviting foreign-based opposition groups back home.

“We want Feyisa to return home and continue to register great results,” the open letter from the athletics federation and Olympic committee said.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”