Colton Wood/NBC Sports Figure Skating

Dance party: Before the ice dance final, Hubbell, Bates’ families gather for Little Caesars Arena-style tailgate

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By Colton Wood

DETROIT – Madison Hubbell’s uncle Steve Dedoes played “We Are the Champions” on his trumpet, embraced the frigid Michigan weather and chanted “Defense!” Saturday afternoon in a parking lot just blocks from Little Caesars Arena.

After all, who could blame him; he was having a celebration that was a year in the making.

Dedoes was geographically restricted to watching his niece win the 2018 U.S. ice dance title with Zachary Donohue from his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so when nationals came to Detroit this year, it gave Dedoes the opportunity to have a long-overdue reception with family and friends.

When it was announced in September nationals was coming to Detroit, Dedoes’ son, Mattie, without thinking twice, proposed the family attend Hubbell’s title defense and host a tailgate during the hours leading up to her skate.

“It’s not a thought,” said Mattie Dedoes, Maddie’s cousin who grew up attending tailgates for University of Michigan football games. “It’s just what you do.”

Mattie Dedoes admitted he was, in a way, joking about the tailgate, but when his family gathered together for Christmas, he realized his idea was actually going to come to fruition.

“For us, it’s not that we’re lunatic sports fans, it’s just an opportunity to have fun,” Steve Dedoes said. “Our family, I wouldn’t say we do everything together. We’ve never been to one of Madison’s events now that she’s on the top rung of the ladder.”

Steve Dedoes is a big fan of Michigan sports, so supporting his niece reach skating stardom has brought the fan of a city struggling to become relevant in sports again great relief.

“We get to root for a winner for a change!” Dedoes shouted Saturday.

The scene at the tailgate before Saturday’s free dance. Colton Wood/NBC Sports Figure Skating

Maddie’s mom, Sue Hubbell (also known for creating her daughter’s on-ice costumes), reached out to Donohue’s and Evan Bates’ family about the tailgate, hoping to collaborate to form one immense tailgate. They instantly agreed.

“I love being outside,” said Dee Eggert, Donohue’s mother. “I don’t like being in the stress of the arena, so I’d rather be outside just having a good time and not thinking about the stuff to come.”

Eggert said she often tailgates for football and other popular events but has never thought about tailgating for a figure skating competition.

“Nobody has ever done this that I know of,” she said. “It’s mainly the big sports – football, baseball. We do them at those, but skating is more of sitting in a lounge and drinking a glass of wine.”

MORE: Figure Skating in Detroit unites Olympians, opportunity and life skills for young girls

Michaela Kearsey, Hubbell’s best friend who lives in Scotland, learned of the tailgate and Hubbell’s family’s plans to attend her title defense, and decided to come home from Scotland earlier than planned.

Kearsey met Hubbell when she moved down from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and started skating at the Lansing Skating Club.

Though she no longer skates with Hubbell and despite the Atlantic Ocean stationed between the two longtime friends, they still keep in touch.

“Thank goodness for technology,” she said. “We just text and send voice messages through WhatsApp. I got married last summer. Her and my sister were co-maids of honor, so we did a lot of wedding planning via WhatsApp.”

On Saturday, Kearsey ate, drank and enjoyed the company of Hubbell’s family and friends.

When Steve Dedoes brought together everyone to pose for a picture during the tailgate, Dedoes brought out the iconic D-fence sign and started chanting “Defense!”

“Defense!” Colton Wood/NBC Sports Figure Skating

Kearsey watched as Dedoes referred to Hubbell and Donohue’s title defense and began to laugh.

The ability to experience her best friend carve her own path through the figure skating realm, Kearsey said, has been incredible.

“It’s been really fun watching her journey,” she said. “When I was over in [Scotland] studying, I was able to go see a few of her competitions in Europe, which was really cool. It’s different coming from skating myself; I’m getting the sense now of how our moms used to get so nervous watching.”

Nancy Bates, the mother of Evan Bates, said the tailgate felt like a family reunion.

“We have 50 family members here, and they came from all over the country,” Nancy Bates said. “They’ll come once a year somewhere – usually nationals. It’s like a family reunion.”

Nancy Bates said she rarely gets to see her son, who moved to Montreal with partner Madison Chock, because of his hectic skating schedule, but said she goes to the majority of his competitions.

The families stood for hours in sub-freezing temperatures, prioritizing family and friends over warmth and celebrating their loved ones’ success in figure skating.

“We’re going to be drinking until midnight and miss the [ice dance] event,” Steve Dedoes said. “Just kidding.”

MORE: Skaters’ ties to Detroit add local flavor to U.S. Championships 

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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USOPC proposes more athletes on board as part of overhaul

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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is proposing an increase in athlete representation on its board and a recasting of its mission statement to include the job of promoting athletes’ well-being.

These changes are part of a proposal, released Monday, to rewrite the USOPC bylaws.

The rewrite comes 20 days after federal lawmakers — looking for a shake-up in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal that has tainted the U.S. Olympic movement — proposed their own drastic overhaul of the law governing the USOPC.

The USOPC portrayed its proposals as merely a first step, and, indeed, the measures lack many of Congress’ more aggressive proposals.

But they would heed athletes’ calls for more representation, by increasing their makeup on the board from 20% to 33%.

They would also change the mission statement to read: “empower Team USA athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence and well-being,” where previously the well-being part was not mentioned.

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MORE: Overhaul would give Congress power to fire USOPC board

Why a 62-year-old played at the world badminton championships

Mathew Fogarty
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Mathew Fogarty said badminton’s European elite made fun of him for playing professionally at age 59. That was three years ago. Fogarty still competes at the sport’s highest level, taking part in the world championships that began Monday in Basel, Switzerland.

Fogarty, who turns 63 on Oct. 30, is older than any U.S. Olympian in any sport since the St. Louis 1904 Games, according to the OlyMADMen.

“I play because I can, and I’m a doctor, and I think sports is a really important part of people’s health and fitness,” said Fogarty, who has played competitively since age 7, whose full-time job is a psychoanalyst and who is based in the Los Angeles area. “I’ll stop badminton when I can no longer qualify. There’s still opportunity, and I love the sport. I’m going to continue to do the best I can.”

He lost in the first round of mixed doubles at worlds on Monday. Fogarty and partner Isabel Zhong, a 27-year-old with an IMBD profile, saw their world championships end in 23 minutes, a 21-9, 21-10 loss to a Ukrainian pair.

That was more competitive than Fogarty’s last two worlds appearances — a 21-6, 21-4 loss with Zhong in 2018 and a 21-2, 21-4 loss with another partner in 2017. Fogarty’s only international match wins in the last two years came via walkover or the one time his singles opponent retired after three points, according to his World Badminton Federation profile. He won an international tournament as recently as 2011 and said his career-high mixed doubles world ranking was 32.

He and Zhong paired because they were part of the same Manhattan Beach Badminton Club, and she wanted to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games, Fogarty said. Zhong did not respond to an interview request.

“I told her I didn’t know if we could do it, but we could try,” Fogarty said. “It’s extremely remote [chances] … slim to nil.”

The top mixed doubles team from the North and South American region is in line to qualify for the Olympics. The leaders in qualifying so far are Canadians ranked 19th in the world. Fogarty and Zhong, though they are the only U.S. mixed doubles team at worlds, are 67th in the world in Olympic qualifying and third among Americans.

The U.S. has never earned an Olympic medal in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Mixed doubles was added starting at Atlanta 1996, but the U.S. has put just one mixed team into an Olympics, getting swept out of pool play in Rio.

Fogarty, who has never played at the Olympics, is able to play at worlds for a few reasons: he can fund his way to international events to accumulate ranking points; the U.S. is historically weak and has a lack of players with professional ambitions; mixed doubles is the least common of the Olympic disciplines.

“Matt takes it seriously,” said Dean Schoppe, a fellow 62-year-old who has known and played with Fogarty for nearly a half-century. Schoppe recently retired from pro badminton himself. “Matt still approaches the matches with the actual idea of winning,”

Schoppe called Fogarty the best American junior player of his generation in the late 1970s.

“Most badminton players retire at about 26 or 27 with their first catastrophic injury, which is usually a torn Achilles,” he said. “There are people who are born [to play], you see it in every sport. Magic Johnson, they have the peripheral vision. They have the balance. They have all the intangibles that other people have to try to learn and can’t.

“He has the gift. He can look at you peripherally and see that you’re leaning. … Fogarty can hold the serve and turn his shoulders and do crap that makes you fall over, and that infuriates.”

Mathew Fogarty
Badmintonphoto/BWF

Fogarty took breaks from the sport for medical school in the 1980s and ’90s. He returned in the late 1990s and kept playing deep into his 40s, 50s and now 60s in part, he said, to challenge corruption within the sport.

Fogarty had legal battles with USA Badminton. He said that past officials broke up his Olympic hopeful partnership with a teenager in men’s doubles to push others toward the 2000 Sydney Games.

“The last thing they wanted was a 42-year-old with an 18-year-old trying to make the Olympics,” Schoppe said.

USA Badminton recently had mass resignations among its board and top officials amid reports of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee threatening decertification.

USA Badminton’s new interim CEO, 1992 and 1996 Olympian Linda French, declined comment on Fogarty’s past issues with the organization because she was not formally involved at the time.

“We’re hopeful to move forward in a positive manner and wish all our athletes continued success,” French said.

Fogarty does not know how much longer he will travel the world, or even the U.S., to play competitively. A 43-year-old told him at a recent event that Fogarty was his inspiration to keep playing.

“The nature of sports is you can’t predict what it’s going to be,” Fogarty said.

Schoppe dismissed a question of whether it’s easier to play badminton at such a ripe age than other physically demanding sports.

“Imagine pulling out James Worthy and say, OK, James you are now starting for Golden State and you’re playing the Lakers tomorrow,” Schoppe said. “You cannot be old in badminton and do well in badminton. It’s nothing like baseball.

“We were the anomaly of anomalies to have success in our 40s. Nobody does.”

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