Paralympic hopes become secondary for the only woman on the ice

Lena Schroeder
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In 2018, Lena Schroeder became the second woman to participate in a Paralympic hockey tournament, and the first in 24 years.

She hopes to return for a second Paralympic Games for Norway in 2022, but another part of her life takes precedent: working as a doctor, and recently fighting the coronavirus in a hospital outside Oslo.

“My plan is to continue to play hockey as long as I can,” the 27-year-old Schroeder said. “If I find out that I’m not as skilled as I was, or I can’t work out as much as I think I should, then that would be a problem. I would probably be forced to quit [hockey].”

In PyeongChang, Schroeder was on the ice for 5 minutes, 13 seconds, in one game for Norway, which finished fifth of eight teams.

The Paralympic hockey tournament is technically mixed gender, since there is no separate women’s event. Before Schroeder, no woman participated since fellow Norwegian Brit Mjaasund Oejen at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games.

Schroeder became a story in South Korea. She was featured by the BBC, Agence France-Presse (the national news agency of France) and Marca, a leading Spanish daily sports newspaper.

A nation receives an extra roster spot for a female player, but she would have earned a place on the team without the exception, Norway’s coach said.

“We said all the way that Lena was being picked for the team because of her skill level and not because she was a female,” Espen Hegde said earlier this month. “She was there as our No. 14 or 15 [skater out of 16] on the roster, but she was there on the same level as the guys.”

Schroeder, born with spina bifida, played violin for nine years but gave it up once she discovered hockey for the first time at age 15 in 2008. She soon began playing in local games with some men from the national team. By 2011, coaches knew about her and she took part in a more organized session with the national team.

“But I wasn’t ready for it,” she said. “I was too slow, and I couldn’t keep up with the guys. I had it as a personal goal to make it onto the national team. I was constantly working to get on the team.”

Schroeder seized her next chance in a 2013 tryout and made the team. She played her first game for Norway in 2014.

“We expected a smart and skillful player,” Hegde said, “and she was able to live up to those expectations.”

PyeongChang was historic, but could have been even more memorable. She spent more time doing interviews than on the ice in games.

“I wasn’t as essential to the team that I want to be,” she said. “It was great at that time, but I would really like to contribute some more to the team.”

That happened at the 2019 World Championship. Schroeder played every game, partially due to her improvement and partially because of other skaters’ injuries. Norway again finished fifth, the top-ranked team of those that missed the medal round.

“She deserved more minutes on the ice,” Hegde said.

Schroeder played all those games with the national team while taking medical school classes at the University of Oslo, or while putting them off to pursue the Paralympics. After seven years, she became a doctor last Dec. 13 (and had a game to play later that night).

An already busy life accelerated this year. She went from working as a nurse and lab assistant in a private clinic to a doctor in the cardiology ward of Akershus University Hospital on the outskirts of Oslo in April. She had planned to spend that month with the national team, preparing and playing at the European Championships, which were canceled due to the pandemic.

Then she moved to the ER for 13-hour shifts, helping identify patients who may have the coronavirus, as first reported by Paralympic.org.

“They needed extra people in the hospital because of Covid-19,” she said. “I was a bit of a wreck the first week or two, then, gradually, I began to understand my role.”

Schroeder, after finishing shifts and shedding PPE, works out as much as possible. She gathered with the national team earlier this month.

“I really want to continue playing hockey, but they know as well as I know that it’s going to be hard working so much,” she said.

The coaching staff accepts Schroeder will train less but struck a deal to keep her in mind once competition resumes.

“We’ve talked to her about her speed, which has been her biggest obstacle as a player,” said Hegde, who is now the general manager. “Of course, being a female competing with guys who are stronger, she needs to compensate by being smarter and more skillful. I’m really not worried about her smartness or her technique, but we told her, if you want to pursue being a doctor, that’s fine with us, but you need to work on your speed.”

Schroeder embraced the challenge.

“If me working as much as I do in the hospital doesn’t negatively affect my skills on the ice, then I’ll be able to play,” she said.

MORE: How the Olympics, Paralympics intersected over time

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Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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