USA Swimming urges Olympic postponement; USOPC believes IOC should be afforded more time, advice

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USA Swimming requested the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee advocate to Tokyo Olympics decision-makers to postpone the Games by one year.

In response, USOPC leaders, while prioritizing athlete safety and health, said the IOC, World Health Organization and the Japanese government should be given more time. The Opening Ceremony is July 24.

“They [the IOC] believe that it is premature to make a final call on the date of the Games,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland and Chair Susanne Lyons said in a joint statement, “and we believe that we should afford them the opportunity to gather more data and expert advice before insisting that a decision be made.”

USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey III, in a letter to Hirshland on Friday morning, urged for a postponement to 2021.

“There are no perfect answers, and this will not be easy; however, it is a solution that provides a concrete path forward and allows all athletes to prepare for a safe and successful Olympic Games in 2021,” Hinchey wrote. “We urge the USOPC, as a leader within the Olympic Movement, to use its voice and speak up for the athletes.”

Hirshland and Lyons responded by saying they have “complete and total empathy” for athletes amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many can’t train properly, including swimmers unable to find open pools.

“We understand that the athletes have concerns about training, qualification and anti-doping controls, and that they want transparency, communication and clarity to the full extent possible,” Hirshland and Lyons said. “The USOPC has made it clear that all athletes should put their health and wellness, and the health and wellness of the greater community, above all else at this unprecedented moment. At the same time, and as it relates to the Games, we have also heard from athletes that they want the Olympic and Paralympic community to be very intentional about the path forward – and to ensure that we aren’t prematurely taking away any athletes’ opportunity to compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games until we have better clarity.

“The USOPC is in constant communication with senior leadership of the IOC and IPC [International Paralympic Committee] – and they have also expressed that their focus is on the health and well-being of athletes, and communities around the world, and that they will continue to rely on advice from the World Health Organization as they determine if it is necessary to adapt their position as the situation evolves.”

Hinchey noted swimmers’ worlds have been “turned upside down” after training facilities across the country were closed.

“Our world class swimmers are always willing to race anyone, anytime and anywhere; however, pressing forward amidst the global health crisis this summer is not the answer,” Hinchey wrote. “The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritize everyone’s health and safety and appropriately recognize the toll this global pandemic is taking on athletic preparations. It has transcended borders and wreaked havoc on entire populations, including those of our respected competitors. Everyone has experienced unimaginable disruptions, mere months before the Olympic Games, which calls into question the authenticity of a level playing field for all.

“Our athletes are under tremendous pressure, stress and anxiety, and their mental health and wellness should be among the highest priorities.”

Earlier Friday, Lyons assured, “There is no circumstance when the USOPC would send our athletes into harm’s way if we did not believe it was safe.”

IOC President Thomas Bach has repeated the Olympics will not be canceled.

“Of course, we are considering different scenarios,” Bach said Thursday, according to The New York Times. “While we do not know how long the tunnel we are all in at this moment will be, we would like the Olympic Flame to be a light at the end of this tunnel.”

Hirshland and Lyons said the IOC, ahead of an executive board meeting next week, is polling National Olympic Committees on the impacts on athletes’ training.

“Rest assured we are making your concerns clearly known to them,” the USOPC leaders said. “The USOPC will be leaders in providing accurate advice and honest feedback, and be unfailing advocates of the athletes and their safety, and the necessity of a fair platform for the Games. You have our promise.”

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”