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USA Bobsled and Skeleton dismisses longtime CEO Darrin Steele

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USA Bobsled and Skeleton has fired CEO Darrin Steele, who oversaw teams that won nine Olympic medals and 12 world championship medals.

Steele will remain in place for about another month. The federation’s board of directors did not cite a specific reason for the change. Athletes were told in a conference call Tuesday night, and John Rosen will assume the CEO role on an interim basis until a permanent hire is made.

“This was a very difficult decision,” USABS board chair Bob Bergbauer said. “We are grateful for Darrin’s guidance, but the board feels it’s time for a fresh perspective as we head into the future.”

The news comes less than two months before the federation begins work for the coming season.

“Darrin did a great job and I’ll always appreciate everything he ever did for us,” USA Bobsled coach Mike Kohn said after the news was announced. “The thing about Darrin that a lot of people don’t understand is there’s a lot that goes on that people never know about, high-level things that take place that pave the way for people to be successful. That’s the thing Darrin was great about and great about helping me with.”

Steele was a two-time Olympic athlete in bobsled, and then took over as CEO in 2007. The U.S. sled driven by Steven Holcomb won four-man gold in Vancouver three years later, ending a 62-year drought for the Americans in bobsled’s signature race. Holcomb drove to two more medals at the Sochi Games in 2014, and U.S. women’s drivers Erin Pac, Elana Meyers Taylor (twice) and Jamie Greubel Poser all guided sleds to Olympic medals during Steele’s tenure as well. Noelle Pikus-Pace and Matt Antoine won Olympic skeleton medals, and for much of Steele’s tenure the federation enjoyed constant success.

But the last two years have been filled with one issue after another. Holcomb died in 2017, sending shock waves through the team and the entire federation. The bobsled and skeleton teams managed just one medal at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, and last year’s World Cup season landed only eight medals — seven earned by the driving of Meyers Taylor, and the other a bronze in women’s skeleton by Kendall Wesenberg.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the past 12 years with USABS,” Steele said in a statement released by the federation. “I’ve been able to work with some amazing people and shared some incredible moments that I’ll never forget. I’m proud of the work we’ve done, and I wish the organization well as the baton is passed to the next federation leader.”

Steele is also a vice president for the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation, the sport’s governing body. He will remain in that role.

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Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff will meet in the third round of a second straight Grand Slam, this time at the Australian Open on Friday.

Osaka, the defending champion and world No. 4, and Gauff, the 15-year-old American phenom, each won second-round matches in Melbourne to reach the final 32.

Osaka swept Chinese Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4 on a windy Wednesday afternoon. Later, Gauff followed her first-round win over Venus Williams by eliminating Romanian veteran Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

“I know what to expect,” Gauff said. “I’m excited.”

Osaka beat Gauff 6-3, 6-0 in the U.S. Open third round on Aug. 31. In the most memorable moment of that night, Osaka urged Gauff to share the on-court victor’s interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s better than going into the showers and crying,” Osaka told Gauff in front of a packed crowd. “Let these people know how you feel.”

Gauff obliged after at first declining.

“I’m not the type of person who wants to cry in front of everyone,” she said later. “I didn’t want to take that moment away from [Osaka], as well.”

Gauff, ranked No. 684 at this time last year, is now No. 67. She broke through by beating Williams in the Wimbledon first round, then reaching the round of 16.

Gauff won a lower-level WTA Tour event in October and now ranks fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying. The top four after the French Open qualify for the Tokyo Games, though Gauff has fewer than half the points as No. 4 Alison Riske.

“It’s been really cool to watch her grow because it’s happened so fast,” Osaka said.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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