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

Bill Bowen/Octane Design
0 Comments

By Colton Wood

DETROIT – Leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, 8-year-old Karrington Mitchell watched a video on the celebrated civil rights activist at her school in Detroit.

“I was learning about him,” Mitchell said, “so I had two dreams: I have a dream that one day I could become the most greatest [figure] skater in the whole, entire universe. And my second dream was: I have a dream that one day I can help the homeless and for cancer to get better, so they don’t have to fight for it and then their parents are in tears because they don’t feel so bad.”

The Beginning

When Mitchell was 6, her grandmother introduced her to figure skating.

Mitchell had no knowledge of the sport and even had to ask her grandmother what ice skates were.

That same year, in 2017, Mitchell became one of the original participants of the newly-started organization Figure Skating in Detroit, which is a spinoff of the famed foundation Figure Skating in Harlem that gives girls of color the combination of education and access to the artistic discipline of figure skating.

“I didn’t know how to skate,” she said. “I was sad because I always fell on my butt. It hurt; very painful, very painful. I didn’t really know how to stop at the moment. I fell a lot.”

The constant inability to stay up on her skates led to Mitchell initially thinking she wanted to hang up her skates forever.

Bill Bowen/Octane Design

“I didn’t really like it at first, so I told my grandmother, ‘I don’t want to go to figure skating anymore.’ But when it was a new year, they taught me new things. I still did fall, but I started getting better at it.”

While teaching the girls enrolled in the program how to figure skate, FSD, the first chapter of FSH, seeks to help girls transform their lives and grow in their confidence, leadership and academic achievement.

This month, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships came to Detroit, marking the first time nationals came to the “Motor City” since 1994.

With nationals in Detroit, it gave FSD the chance to promote its organization to a national audience.

“I’m really happy for the nationals because they get to skate,” said Mitchell, who has aspirations of becoming a figure skating coach. “Even though I’m not in nationals and other people aren’t, either, doesn’t mean they don’t think our skating is good.”

Spreading to Detroit

When Sharon Cohen, founder of FSH and mother of 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen, expressed interest in expanding her organization, she reached out to three-time Olympic medalist Meryl Davis.

Davis, a Michigan native, worked diligently to convince Cohen that Detroit was the right city to expand to.

That hard work soon paid off, as Cohen chose Detroit from a narrowed list of around five other cities.

“Detroit is really unique because there is a need for a program like this,” Davis told NBCSports.com/figure-skating. “There’s also a really strong figure skating community here… The combination of the need but also some of the resources was unique, so I think that’s a big part of what convinced her that Detroit was the right place to have this program.”

When Cohen told Davis she was going to pick Detroit, Davis, 32, was ecstatic.

She quickly introduced Cohen to the Michigan figure skating community. American ice dancer Jerod Swallow was among the countless number of people Davis, who is now an honorary co-chair of FSD, introduced Cohen to.

Swallow, Davis said, has been an instrumental part to the early success of FSD.

“We’re only in our second full year of Figure Skating in Detroit,” Davis said. “A lot of wonderful things have already happened. We have so much ahead of us. It’s really exciting.”

Though FSD teaches its participants the art of figure skating, its goal isn’t necessarily to tell them that FSD will make them an Olympic figure skater.

“Our goal is to say, ‘The lessons you learn here on the ice will help you figure out [what you want to do with your life] no matter what you do,’” Davis said.

Bill Bowen/Octane Design

A Success Story

Harlem, New York, native Florence Ngala received a flyer in 2001 that changed her life forever.

The flyer, which showcased the FSH organization, enticed a young Ngala, then 6.

Ngala enrolled in the program shortly thereafter and was a participant until she turned 18.

Now 23, Ngala is a photographer for the New York Times and famous American rapper Cardi B.

After speaking at a private event in Detroit during the U.S. Championships, Ngala said she credits her success to FSH.

“I’ve benefited so much as a former skater and alumna,” Ngala said. “I would just love to see in five years from now, 10 years from now, these girls [in the program] going on to do whatever they want to do.”

Ngala understands her success in life has led to her becoming a role model for those who are following in her footsteps at FSH and FSD, something she said is beautiful to see.

“I think, ultimately,” Ngala said, “girls should just believe they can go on and do whatever they want to do.”

Ngala, who made her first-ever trip to Detroit this month for nationals, believes the U.S. Championships coming to Michigan will help build the legacy of FSD.

“It really is a benefit for both parties,” she said. “It’s only year two of Figure Skating in Detroit existing as a program. The U.S. Figure Skating Championships being here is very serendipitous. It’s awesome.”

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

LG Snowboard-Cross FIS World Cup
Getty
0 Comments

Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

Oleksandr Abramenko
Getty
0 Comments

Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!