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Mai Murakami, all-around silver medalist, ineligible for gymnastics worlds

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Mai Murakami, the world all-around silver medalist behind Simone Biles last year, will not be chosen for Japan’s team for October’s world championships. At the moment, at least.

“Yes, she is in eligible [sic] for the world championships for now,” Japan’s gymnastics federation emailed Monday when asked to confirm reports that Murakami was indeed out of the biggest meet between now and the Tokyo Olympics.

The federation later responded to a follow-up email Monday morning (Monday evening Japan time) asking if Murakami’s status could change or if she could be named an alternate.

“We don’t know yet,” it responded. “We will decide everything by the beginning of July.”

Murakami, 22, missed one of the nation’s spring qualifiers for fall worlds with a reported back injury. That is the reason she’s ineligible, according to Japanese media.

October’s worlds in Germany are crucial for the Japanese women. They must place in the top nine in the team event to qualify a full team for the Tokyo Olympics (setting aside the already qualified U.S., Russia and China).

That shouldn’t be a problem, given Japan has been in the top five at every Olympics and worlds since 2008 (again, setting aside the U.S., Russia and China). But not having its best gymnast, arguably the greatest female gymnast in the nation’s history, makes matters more difficult.

Murakami, a Tokyo native, was a 19-year-old alternate at the 2015 Worlds. She ended up competing due to a teammate’s injury and placed sixth in the all-around, the best finish by a Japanese woman in six years.

In her Olympic debut in Rio, Murakami had the best finish by a Japanese female gymnast, seventh on floor exercise. She followed that by topping all-around qualifying at the 2017 World Championships, where a fall off the balance beam in the final dropped her to fourth.

She bounced back to win the floor exercise title at those Worlds, becoming the second Japanese woman to win an Olympic or world all-around title. And the first since 1954.

Then last year, she finished between Simone Biles and Morgan Hurd, becoming the first woman to beat an American in an Olympic or world all-around final since 2014.

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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.

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