Final women’s Alpine World Cup races canceled, spoiling Mikaela Shiffrin’s planned return

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A few hours after Mikaela Shiffrin announced plans to return to the Alpine skiing World Cup for its final weekend, international organizers canceled the races, giving Italy’s Federica Brignone the season title that Shiffrin had held for three years.

Shiffrin had confirmed early Wednesday morning that she would return for the final weekend, saying the venue of Åre, Sweden, was a place where she and her father, whose sudden death prompted Shiffrin to leave the World Cup circuit, had good memories together.

READ: Shiffrin had planned sentimental return

Later in the day, the international ski federation (FIS) announced plans to hold the races without spectators, largely rendering moot Shiffrin’s statement that she would limit interactions with fans and media to maintain her privacy and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Shortly thereafter, FIS announced that the races wouldn’t be held at all.

“We are so sorry that we have to cancel the competitions that we have prepared for for so long,” said World Cup manager Fredrik Broman. “The current situation give us no other option than to cancel.”

A tweet from the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team said the races had been canceled “after new recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Sweden.”

Brignone held the World Cup lead by 153 points. With each race offering 100 points to the winner and three races on the weekend schedule, Shiffrin still had a slim chance of winning the season title for a fourth straight year. Instead, Shiffrin will finish second despite not racing since Jan. 26.

READ: Brignone passes Shiffrin for overall lead

Shiffrin had a much better chance of taking the slalom season title for the fourth straight season and the seventh time in eight years, trailing Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova by just 20 points with two races scheduled for the weekend.

The World Cup Finals, scheduled for next week in Italy, had already been canceled due to coronavirus concerns in Italy.

The 2019-20 season was never likely to be a repeat of Shiffrin’s previous year, when she set a World Cup record with 17 wins in 26 races and won the overall season title by 849 points. She also won the slalom title by a wide margin and took the crystal globes in giant slalom and super-G. In the world championships, she won the slalom and super-G, along with a third-place finish in the giant slalom.

This season, she was especially vulnerable in giant slalom, winning just once in five races. She took a short break to reset, then returned to win two races in her first weekend back. In January, she had two wins and five podium finishes in eight races, leaving herself poised to win the overall title again.

Brignone’s previous best in the World Cup season standings was fifth in 2016-17, the same year she finished fourth in the downhill standings for the second straight year. She won the Alpine combined season title last season and defended it this year with two wins. With five wins in all disciplines this season, she took her career win total to 15.

She said in late February that she hoped her friend would return to action shortly, even if it threatened her chances to win the overall title.

Vlhova, second in the overall standings last season, was the only skier in striking distance of Brignone and Shiffrin this year. Her slalom season title is her first in any discipline.

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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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