Steele Johnson returns to diving after difficult year out of competition

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When Olympic silver medalist Steele Johnson mounts the 10-meter platform on Tuesday and dives off the equivalent of a three-story building, he will be doing so in competition for the first time in nearly a year and following two foot surgeries.

“I don’t have much expectations for this week,” he said.

Johnson promises not to look at his scores during the U.S. Diving Championships, which will determine the team for July’s world championships. He vows not to watch his competitors.

“I perform best when I have no idea where I’m at,” Johnson said, noting he didn’t know whether he and David Boudia were in medal contention in the Rio Olympic synchronized platform until their last dive. “I perform my worst when I’m really thinking about the scores I need to get to pass someone else, or I’m worrying about what the other divers are going.”

These nationals (TV schedule here) will be familiar and foreign for Johnson, who recently decided to forego his last season at Purdue to turn professional. This week’s meet is in Indianapolis, just an hour’s drive down Interstate 65 from West Lafayette.

But Johnson will not be competing with Boudia in Tuesday’s synchro platform. Boudia, a four-time Olympic medalist, switched to the springboard after a February 2018 concussion. Johnson hopes to reunite with Boudia in synchro springboard for a Tokyo 2020 run, but he’s not ready to add that event yet.

Johnson feels fortunate to be competing at all. In February 2015, a stress fracture was found in his right foot. The pain was manageable, so he put off potential surgery. By September 2018, he would go under the knife, finding a new, more serious stress fracture had developed.

Four months after the surgery, Johnson still couldn’t put any weight on the foot. It had healed completely, but inserted screws were causing inflammation. The screws were removed 15 weeks ago in a follow-up procedure. Johnson was forced to miss all of what would have been his final NCAA campaign.

“It turned out to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Johnson, who at 12 years old ripped his head in half hitting the platform on a reverse three-and-a-half somersault, which led to some memory problems. “I’ve never had something so adverse … just to be able to stand on my feet again.”

He still can’t run on the foot, but he’s been diving his competition list for two weeks and with synchro partner Ben Bramley for a week and a half.

“Not the most time on my feet so far,” Johnson said, “but that being said, back on 10-meter and into competition form a lot quicker than anticipated.”

Johnson believes he can contend for one of two individual platform spots on the world team, decided Friday and Sunday, even though he has less difficult dives than the favorites.

“The Olympics aren’t this year, so my goal was, if I can just compete at this nationals, see where the rest of the field was at, see what I need to work on, that would be good enough for me,” he said.

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Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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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

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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.”

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