AP

French skating chief resigns amid sexual abuse scandal

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PARIS (AP) — The long-serving head of France’s skating federation resigned Saturday amid suspicions that he covered up for a coach accused of rape and sexual abuse by former figure skaters.

Didier Gailhaguet denies protecting the coach and says he’s not at fault, and cast blame on a former sports minister when he announced his resignation following a special meeting at the federation Saturday. He said no one at the federation was aware of alleged wrongdoing.

Speaking after the meeting in Paris, Gailhaguet said “out of the need for appeasement I have taken … the wise decision to resign from my position as president of the federation.” It was not immediately known who would replace him as FFSG president.

Paris prosecutors opened a criminal investigation this week into accusations from 10-time French champion Sarah Abitbol that she was raped by skating coach Gilles Beyer from 1990-1992, when she was a teen.

Two other former skaters have also accused Beyer, and denounced a lack of support from the federation.

The accusations led to calls for Gailhaguet to resign, notably by France’s current sports minister Roxana Maracineanu, because Beyer was allowed to continue having roles at the French skating federation until 2018 despite having been let go by the French sports ministry in 2001 following a report highlighting repeated “serious acts” committed against young skaters.

The Associated Press does not normally name sexual assault victims. But Abitbol accused Beyer in a book published last week and has also spoken about her personal experience on television.

Gailhaguet served a first term as FFSG president 1998-2004 and started his second stint in 2007. Four members of the FFSG’s executive office, including a treasurer, resigned on Tuesday night.

Maracineanu had met with Gailhaguet on Monday and asked him to resign, saying he “cannot absolve himself of his moral and personal responsibility.”

He defiantly said he would not, and then hit back at Maracineanu in virulent terms when holding a news conference on Wednesday, during which he again said he would not immediately resign.

After finally stepping aside on Saturday, he took another swipe at Maracineanu, maintaining his view that she was making him “a sacrificial victim” for the wrongdoing of others.

Gailhaguet blamed former sports minister Marie-George Buffet, who was in position in 2001, saying she allowed Beyer to continue working despite evidence against him.

Gailhaguet was in charge of the skating federation when Beyer was named France’s team leader during the 2011 World Junior Championships in Gangneung, South Korea. Gailhaguet said it was “probably through naivety or trust” that he allowed Beyer to be given that role, given serious allegations against him previously.

Gailhaguet was pressed on Wednesday as to whether he spoke to parents of the junior skaters involved in the 2011 worlds, out of a responsibility to warn them about Beyer, but said he did not.

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Serena Williams battles, then rolls into French Open second round

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Serena Williams overcame early struggles, sweeping past countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0 to reach the French Open second round.

Williams, again eyeing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, started out like somebody who went 16 months between clay-court matches. She needed 74 minutes to take the first set from the 102nd-ranked Ahn, recovering twice after having her serve broken.

She dominated the second set in 27 minutes, advancing to play Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Williams, in long sleeves and tights, had 15 winners to 28 unforced errors in the first set in cloudy, sub-60-degree weather on Monday.

“I hate the cold. I’m from L.A. and I live in Florida,” Williams said before the tournament, which was postponed from its usual May/June slot due to the coronavirus pandemic. “For half my life I’ve never seen snow. Cold weather and me do not mix.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Williams also noted before the tournament that she was “not at 100 percent physically” and spent most of her time in France “rehabbing” without giving specifics. She took a medical timeout with a left Achilles injury in her last match, a U.S. Open semifinal loss to Victoria Azarenka,

“I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t think I could perform,” Williams said Saturday. “I don’t know any athlete that ever plays physically when they’re feeling perfect. That’s just something I think as athletes we have to play with.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310. Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

Rafael Nadal begins his quest for a record-extending 13th French Open title and male record-tying 20th Grand Slam singles title later Monday.

The French Open first round concludes Tuesday with top-ranked Novak Djokovic in action.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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Tokyo Olympic torch relay sets date to resume

Tokyo Olympic Torch Relay
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The Tokyo Olympic torch relay will resume on March 25 and follow its originally planned route and schedule, starting in the Fukushima Prefecture.

Organizers are discussing torch relay modifications given the coronavirus pandemic. Possible changes include the number of officials and staff involved and reducing the size of vehicle convoys.

As it stands, the relay will visit all 47 prefectures of Japan with emphasis on the area affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

With the motto “Hope Lights Our Way,” it will visit the three prefectures most affected by the tsunami and earthquake (Fukushima (March 25-27), Iwate (June 16-18) and Miyagi (June 19-21)) for three days each.

The relay leads up to the Opening Ceremony on July 23.

The torch relay originally began last March 12 in Olympia. The Greek portion of the relay, originally scheduled for eight days, was called off on March 13 due to the pandemic after actor Gerard Butler was among the torch bearers in Sparta.

An unexpectedly large crowd gathered in Sparta despite recommendations to the public not to focus on the ceremony.

The flame remained in Greece until it was flown to Japan as scheduled on March 20.

On March 24, it was announced the Tokyo Games were postponed to 2021. The Japan portion of the torch relay was suspended, too, two days before it was to start.

MORE: USA Swimming updates 2020 competition schedule

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