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India badminton star is world’s top paid female athlete outside tennis

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Pusarla Venkata Sindhu of India— known as PV — turned a silver medal two years ago in badminton at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics into millions of dollars in endorsements.

She’s the favorite to win gold at the Asian Games, though even that result may not yield the same windfall.

The magazine Forbes lists her as the seventh highest-earning female athlete in the world with an income of about $8.5 million — more than 90 percent from endorsements. And almost all from her success in Brazil.

She’s second at home in sports earnings only to India cricket captain Virat Kohli.

Tennis star Serena Williams headed the Forbes list of top earners in women’s sports, but Sindhu is ranked higher than the No. 1-ranked player on the WTA Tour, Simona Halep of Romania.

“To be in the list is a great feeling because everybody compares you with other players — the big shots,” she said Saturday after beating Gregoria Mariska Tunjung of Indonesia 21-12, 21-15 to reach the quarterfinals.

“Many are coming to me saying now you are a millionaire,” she said, breaking into a nervous laugh. She joked that she now ranks with “the legends.”

India has a dearth of female sports stars, so Sindhu’s success has triggered lots of interest from sponsors.

Another factor driving her marketability is India’s previous lack of success in the Olympics.

India has won only one Olympic gold medal in an individual sport. That was with shooter Abhinav Bindra in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The other eight gold medals all came in field hockey, a team event.

India won only two medals in Rio — Sindhu’s silver and Sakshi Malik’s bronze in women’s freestyle wrestling.

Saina Nehwal, a former No. 1-ranked badminton player, cheered Sindhu’s ascent.

“I’m happy with what I’m earning, and she is happy with what she’s earning,” Nehwal said.

Sindhu knows she’s growing the game at home.

“Badminton as a sport has been increasing a lot,” Sindhu said. “Everybody wants to play badminton right now in India.”

There are a million reasons.

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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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