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USOPC condemns systemic inequality, sets athlete town hall

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The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee will hold an athlete town hall on Friday, CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a letter to Team USA athletes, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

The town hall will be a forum for athletes to discuss how they’ve been impacted personally, to listen, to learn and to support each other, Hirshland wrote in a letter sent Monday night. This conversation will be facilitated by athletes and available to athletes.

“We are reading and hearing the messages you, and so many citizens of this nation, are sharing and we understand you are struggling with anger, frustration and uncertainty,” Hirshland wrote. “As Team USA athletes, you represent a total diversity of race, gender, geography and perspective. You, and all you represent, continue to be a powerful force for good.”

Many national governing bodies made statements condemning racism and seeking change, including those for major Summer Olympic sports of gymnastics, swimming and track and field.

“We can see that apathy and indifference are not solutions,” Hirshland wrote. “The USOPC stands with those who demand equality and we want to work in pursuit of that goal. We must do everything in our power to ensure equality promised is equality achieved. We are committed to providing opportunities for our community to engage, to learn, and connect to resources for them to become advocates and take action.”

The full text of the letter:

Dear Team USA athletes –
Like so many of you, I have watched the events of the past week unfold with a deep sense of despair and helplessness – questioning what I can do, what we in the Olympic and Paralympic community can do, and what all of us in our local communities can do, to bring forth honest conversation and enact necessary change.
We absolutely condemn the systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States. It has no place in ours or any other community. It is clear there are no forces as ugly, damaging and demeaning as racism and marginalization practiced by some of those in positions of authority. It played out in Minneapolis in the most tragic and unconscionable way imaginable. It is being felt intensely across the United States day after day.
We are reading and hearing the messages you, and so many citizens of this nation, are sharing and we understand you are struggling with anger, frustration and uncertainty.
As Team USA athletes, you represent a total diversity of race, gender, geography and perspective. You, and all you represent, continue to be a powerful force for good.
In this moment, when you might otherwise be training and competing together, many of you are still isolated at home. Conversations had on the track or pool deck, or in social settings, aren’t happening as they would normally, and this only adds to the frustration.
We’ve heard directly from you how important community and comradery are to Team USA athletes. That’s why, on Friday we will convene and support an athlete town hall where you can openly discuss how you have been impacted personally, listen to each other, learn from each other, and support each other. This conversation will be facilitated by athletes and available to athletes. Registration information will be sent soon. This discussion cannot resolve these issues but it is essential to progress.
We can see that apathy and indifference are not solutions. The USOPC stands with those who demand equality and we want to work in pursuit of that goal. We must do everything in our power to ensure equality promised is equality achieved. We are committed to providing opportunities for our community to engage, to learn, and connect to resources for them to become advocates and take action.
We’ve long celebrated the great power of sport as a way to unify nations and people in conflict. Today, and as we go forward, we believe unity among teammates, friends and colleagues can start to help heal our own.
Sarah Hirshland
CEO, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

Sam Mikulak
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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

April Ross, Alix Klineman
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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

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