Carolina Kostner
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Carolina Kostner, working her way back to skating, to share life in Italy in COVID benefit

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When Canadian ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver reached out, Carolina Kostner didn’t need to hear specifics. Kostner was on board.

Weaver, a three-time world medalist with Andrew Poje, organized “Open Ice,” a benefit fundraiser for the United Nations’ Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Weaver will host a three-hour talk show from her New York City apartment at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, streaming live on the International Skating Union’s YouTube channel. More information is available at Openicelive.com.

Weaver will virtually welcome some of the world’s best figure skaters, including Nathan Chen, Adam Rippon, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano and Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

The international guests include the Italian Kostner, who has a story to tell.

The world champion and Olympic medalist has been in the same home for about three months with her boyfriend in the Rome area. She had hip surgery near there on Jan. 23, addressing an injury that plagued her for years and is at least partly why she hasn’t competed since the 2018 World Championships.

She said it’s too early to tell whether her return to skating will be purely in non-competitive shows, or if an Olympic-level comeback is possible.

“I’ve tried many different therapies, but the pain just did not get better,” she said Friday. “I am very confident that I will be able to skate again, and I will be able to perform again. I can’t wait. I will slowly build it so that I can skate for many years.

“For sure, my big dream is to be able to compete, represent my country.”

Kostner earned Olympic bronze at age 27 in 2014. Then in PyeongChang, she placed fifth as the oldest Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928.

The March 2018 World Championships were in Milan, leading many to wonder if she would retire there, especially after topping the short program. Kostner ended up fourth.

‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop,” Kostner said before that event, according to The Associated Press, “and I haven’t felt it yet.”

Kostner is thankful for her current situation. She was planning to stay there for the duration of her physical therapy anyway. Her boyfriend’s place has an outside garden. They cook together and watch movies. He read through Les Misérables.

“Now it’s starting to lighten up a little bit in the borders of the towns,” she said. “Basically, in my own town, I can walk quite freely without being stopped, but as soon as I leave the town, they block you and you need a reason to go out. It’s basically only necessary actions like medical reasons or for grocery shopping or for work.”

On Saturday’s show, Kostner said she may join at the same time as Spanish Olympic medalist Javier Fernandez. They could share what life is like in two of Europe’s most affected countries.

“I miss skating so much,” she said. “Not because of my injury but because of the whole situation.”

Weaver, born in Texas and a Canadian citizen since 2009, said she developed the benefit idea from watching Rosie O’Donnell‘s streaming Broadway show generate $600,000. She received commitments from more than 50 skaters, coaches and others within the sport to fill the three-hour show.

“The great thing about our skating community is, all competition aside, we’re one big family,” said Weaver, who is co-producing with Jordan Cowan “I reached out, and I asked the question. If I didn’t have a phone number, I got one. This is a time where people are wanting to engage and help.”

Weaver and Poje, who began competing together on the top level in 2007, took the 2019-20 season off to evaluate their future. They planned to attend March’s world championships in Montreal as spectators.

“That could have given us a really good idea as to whether we felt like we were missing something,” she said. “When the disease started changing everyone’s lives, obviously that took the primary spot. So we haven’t even considered any other option right now.”

With worlds canceled, Canadians especially missed out on an experience that Kostner knows well. Kostner said she would not trade the honor of carrying her nation’s flag into the 2006 Torino Olympic Opening Ceremony for an Olympic medal. She cherished what could be her last competition two years ago, also in her home country.

“Milan in 2018 felt not like a figure skating competition, but it felt like a soccer game,” she said. “It felt very special to be appreciated not just because you win a medal or you are a champion, but also as a human being of the career you had, the example you’ve been, the people you’ve inspired.”

MORE: Takeaways from abbreviated figure skating season

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Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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