Rowdy Gaines, feeling deja vu, knows Olympic swim team will look different in 2021

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Rowdy Gaines knows the feeling of an Olympic dream deferred. About this time 40 years ago, Gaines was in line to go for five swimming gold medals at the Moscow Games. Then the U.S. boycott was announced.

“Little bit of deja vu,” Gaines, the longtime NBC Olympics swimming analyst, told NBC Olympics primetime host Mike Tirico shortly after the Tokyo Games were postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus. “There’s a big difference between the word boycott and postpone, but an athlete’s life, especially in our sport, comes and goes in a matter of a year or two. … It’s pretty devastating to see that a lot of kids are going to miss this opportunity this summer.”

Gaines, then 21, was at his peak in 1980, already a world-record holder and world champion. He would be 25 at the next Olympics in 1984, older than any U.S. Olympic swimmer in an individual event since 1956, according to Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

After a brief retirement, in an era where swimmers rarely competed beyond college age, Gaines rededicated himself and won three golds at the Los Angeles Games. It was the exception, not the norm.

“Champions in our sport are the ones that can live through the valleys,” Gaines told swimmers at Auburn, his alma mater, in his SEC Network documentary, “Rowdy.” “Living through the peaks is the easy part.”

How can a single year alter swimming?

Consider that in 2000, a 15-year-old Michael Phelps placed fifth in the Sydney Olympic 200m butterfly. Phelps broke the world record six months later and lowered it again at the 2001 World Championships, winning by seven tenths of a second over the Sydney Olympic gold medalist.

In 2015, Australians Bronte CampbellMitch Larkin and Emily Seebohm each won a pair of individual world titles. At the Rio Olympics, the trio combined for one medal, Larkin’s silver, outside of the relays.

“An athlete’s life can certainly come and go in a short span,” Gaines said. “So you’re going to have an athlete that was just barely hanging on to try to get to this summer. And I’ll use a name because I think most people are going to say it: Ryan Lochte.”

Lochte, 35, is bidding to become the oldest U.S. Olympic male swimmer in an individual event in history. To make the Olympic team in his trademark event, the 200m individual medley, he may have to fend off phenoms 20-year-old Michael Andrew and 18-year-old Carson Foster.

The flip side: the recent success of Andrew and Foster is by no means assured to continue for another year. How will swimmers who have never experienced the crucible of an Olympics handle this interruption?

“The example of a very young athlete that is just hitting his or her stride; right now, perfect timing,” Gaines said. “Then, all of a sudden, a year from now, things can change emotionally and physically.”

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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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