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Commonwealth Games open to athletes taking a knee

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The Commonwealth Games, the biggest summer multi-sport competition outside of the Olympics (that doesn’t include the United States), could allow athlete activism, such as taking a knee, at its next edition in 2022 in Birmingham, Great Britain.

Commonwealth Games CEO David Grevemberg was asked Thursday if an athlete who kneels two years from now would be punished.

He did not directly answer yes or no, but he cited “the profound impact” of sprinter Cathy Freeman, who carried the Australian and Aboriginal flags when she won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 1994 in Victoria, British Columbia.

Freeman, of Aboriginal descent, did the same as the face of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, bringing attention to the nation’s indigenous people.

“How do we get that balance right, what that means, and how can we work with athletes to ensure that their platform and their voice is heard?” Grevemberg said. “What that looks like on the field of play, I would say right now I wouldn’t want to be presumptuous in terms of going through that consultation, what athletes want, what are we able to accomplish, but I do think we are in a very, very unique place in the world right now, and I think there are some unique opportunities to really expand our views on this. I would have to say I think that conversation is critical. We need to find solutions, not build walls, but build bridges right now.”

The Commonwealth Games include athletes from the Commonwealth of Nations, notably Australia, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa and those that make up Great Britain at the Olympics — England, Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland (whose athletes can represent Great Britain or Ireland at the Olympics). Most of the sports are also in the Olympics, but some are not, such as lawn bowls.

On Wednesday, IOC President Thomas Bach said the IOC Athletes’ Commission will talk with athletes around the world to explore how Olympians can express themselves at the Games while keeping the Olympic Charter in mind.

Grevemberg also emphasized discussion.

“We are comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation,” he said. “We need to embrace that.

“I think the Black Lives Matter movement is actually challenging all institutions to really look introspectively at what we can do to be more fair, more free, have better equality.

“It’s been something that we had a lot of questions on in terms of why are you politicizing sport? Actually, we’re humanizing the conversation. We’re giving people the opportunity to express freedom of expression, freedom of association, but we also have some very strong policies on non-discrimination and respect and so forth. People say, ‘Aren’t you opening up the Pandora’s box, the floodgates?’ No, we are respecting people’s rights to voice their opinions and so forth.”

Two Olympics — in Tokyo in 2021 and Beijing in 2022 — will take place before the next Commonwealth Games.

“I don’t want us to be too prescriptive at this point in time because this is a real moving dialogue,” Grevemberg said. “I think it would be too presumptuous of me to say this is how it’s going to look.”

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MORE: Allyson Felix details participating in Black Lives Matter protest

Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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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.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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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.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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