Reece Whitley, long a standout swimmer, breaks through at nationals

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Reece Whitley long had the pedigree, and the backstory, to portend swimming success. He realized it at the U.S. Championships this week.

The 6-foot-9 19-year-old made his first career summer nationals finals in Palo Alto, Calif. He won the 200m breaststroke and finished third in the 100m breast with personal-best times to establish himself as a contender for the 2020 Olympic team.

“I haven’t been as fast as I wanted to be the past couple of years,” said Whitley, who broke 23 national age-group records through high school before matriculating at Cal last year. “I feel like I’ve always been on the outside looking in.”

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Whitley always stood out — a towering African-American coached by a woman while at a 300-year-old Quaker school in Pennsylvania. As a rising high school junior at the 2016 Olympic Trials, he made the semifinals of both breaststrokes, a discipline dominated by men at least six inches shorter.

But, two years later, the transition to college on the other side of the country proved difficult.

“I went from a small club team who couldn’t find any long-course pool time, six lanes, 25-yard pool to training next to Josh Prenot, Ryan Murphy, Nathan Adrian a couple of lanes over every day,” Whitley, naming individual Olympic medalists who also train under Dave Durden at Cal, said on USA Swimming’s Deck Pass Live after winning the 200m breast on Thursday. “Am I good? Should I be here? But fast swimming, it’s amazing how contagious it can be.”

In 2018, Whitley failed to record a personal best in either breaststroke for the first time over a calendar year. This past March, he placed fourth and fifth as a freshman at the NCAA Championships, helping Cal to its first team title in five years.

“From day one, it was like, all right, we’ve got this team goal of winning a national title,” Whitley said. “What are you going to do to help us get there? It was super intimidating at first.”

In Palo Alto, Whitley shaved 1.13 seconds off his personal best in Thursday’s 200m breast, moving to sixth-fastest among Americans this year. The top four didn’t enter nationals, which take place a week after the world championships.

He moved closer to breaking the separating-men-from-boys one-minute barrier in the 100m breast, clocking 1:00.05 to rank ninth in the U.S. this year. Devon Nowicki won in 59.69.

“It’s going to take a lot faster than that to make the team next year, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Whitley said Thursday. “That’s all I can ask for right now. This summer doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s great to drop time, but everybody’s focused on next summer.”

In other Saturday events, 2012 Olympian Breeja Larson took the women’s 100m breast in 1:06.78, her best time since 2014 and failing to make the 2016 Olympic team. Larson, 27, ranks third among Americans this year behind Olympic champion Lilly King and Annie Lazor, who are not at nationals.

Shaine Casas followed his runner-up in the 200m backstroke by winning the 100m back in 52.72, ranking him fifth in the world this year. His time would have taken bronze at the world championships.

Amy Bilquist won the women’s 100m back in 59.64 to rank sixth in the U.S. this year. Regan Smith, who lowered the world record to 57.57 at worlds, did not swim the event at nationals.

Ally McHugh won the 400m freestyle in 4:07.08 against a field lacking Olympic gold and bronze medalists Katie Ledecky and Leah Smith. McHugh’s time ranks her fifth in the U.S. this year. She also won the Ledecky- and Smith-less 800m free on Wednesday.

To no surprise, Australian Elijah Winnington captured the men’s 400m free in 3:47.39. The U.S. has no men in the top 10 in the world this year and just one in the top 20 (No. 11 Zane Grothe, who scratched the event at nationals).

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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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