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Huston, Zeuner, Schaar head first U.S. skateboarding team

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VISTA, Calif. — There’s always been a rebelliousness and a bit of an attitude to skateboarding, and now there’s credibility.

That’s what being added to the Olympics will do for a sport, and that was the vibe when USA Skateboarding announced its first-ever national team of eight men and eight women, including stars Nyjah Huston, Brighton Zeuner and Tom Schaar.

“I think that skateboarding is fully legitimate,” Josh Friedberg, CEO of USA Skateboarding said Tuesday, when the national team was introduced at the CA Training Facility, which has a street course on the ground floor and a park course on the second floor of a warehouse in an industrial park in this northern San Diego County city. “Skateboarding grew up outside of the Olympic structure. It’s a lifestyle, it’s a culture, it’s about finding freedom of expression. All these things are why the IOC wanted skateboarding in the Olympic Games in the first place.

“Olympic inclusion is a historic moment for any sport,” Friedberg added. “The U.S. is where skateboarding came from. The chance to name the first USA skateboarding national team today and share that with the world and celebrate these skaters for their abilities and help them along their path to qualifying for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, we couldn’t be more excited. It’s an incredible, historic moment in the history of skateboarding.”

The 16 skaters qualified for the national team based on their performances in international-level events during the previous year and will receive support from USA Skateboarding while they attempt to qualify for the 2020 Games. Skaters will have the opportunity to qualify for the Olympics based on their three best results in World Skate sanctioned events during the 2019 qualifying season, combined with their six best results during the 2020 qualifying season. A maximum of 12 American athletes can qualify for the Olympics. Skaters not on the national team can qualify on their own merit.

The disciplines are street and park.

Huston, of Laguna Beach, who has dominated Street League Skateboarding, is joined by fellow street skaters Chris Joslin of Hawaiian Gardens, Jagger Eaton of Mesa, Arizona, and Louie Lopez of Hawthorne. Schaar, of Encinitas, the first skater to land a 1080, is joined by fellow park skaters Alex Sorgente of Lake Worth, Florida, Tristan Rennie of Rialto and Zion Wright of Jupiter, Florida.

Huston, 24, was the first skater to win $1 million in contest prize money, and has won a lot more since then.

“I’m obviously happy it’s in here at this time and I’m like honored to be able to have a chance to skate the first one, but if it was me, I would have thought it would have been in at least one or two Olympics ago, just because there are so many kids out there skating such a diverse sport, all around the world kids are doing it,” Huston said. “But at least it’s in there now.”

Huston likes his chance to make the Olympic team, which will be announced in May 2020.

“I feel like I’m in a good place and I’m definitely confident to be there supporting my country,” he said. “Obviously there’s only one goal, and that’s to win. No matter if it’s the Olympics or any other contest I’m normally skating, I’m always there to do my best to win.”

Zeuner, 14, of Encinitas, is the youngest gold medalist in X Games history. She skates park, along with Bryce Wettstein of Encinitas, Jordyn Barratt of Haleiwa, Hawaii, and Nicole Hause of Stillwater, Minnesota. The women’s street skaters are Alexis Sablone of Old Saybrook, Connecticut; Jenn Soto of Jersey City, New Jersey; Lacey Baker of Covina and Mariah Duran of Albuquerque.

“Now it’s like perfect timing for everyone to be a part of the whole Olympic thing,” Zeuner said. “We used to compete in little contests so I think it’s great experience and opportunity to be part of it.

Snowboarding superstar Shaun White, a three-time Olympic halfpipe gold medalist, has expressed interest in skating in the Summer Games.

“Shaun’s a real interesting case,” Friedberg said. “He’s an amazing skateboarder; obviously he’s an even more amazing snowboarder. He’s expressed interest to compete in skateboarding in Tokyo. I know he’s been practicing and skating a lot more on that mission right now,” said Friedberg. “The park discipline doesn’t necessarily line up with his strength in skateboarding, which is vert skating, but you never count a person like Shaun White out. He is the ultimate competitor. So if there’s anybody who could get it together and qualify for the Olympics, Shaun could potentially do that.”

Park is a set of combined concrete bowls that have different featured obstacles, such as banks and rails, and some elements of vert.

“Park is relatively new to contests,” Schaar said. “It’s different than street. It’s a lot more transition, you’re going a lot faster and you have to kind of flow and connect your tricks together pretty well. But I think it’s a lot of fun. You can be really creative and do a lot of different things with it.”

Schaar, 19, said the road to the Olympics is “going to be a challenge but I’m up for it and it should be a fun adventure.”

Street courses include obstacles that can be found in any urban environment, such as stairs, rails, benches, ledges and banks. Park is a set of combined concrete bowls that have different obstacles.

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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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
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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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