J’den Cox’s test awaits at U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials: Kyle Snyder

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Years ago, U.S. men’s freestyle wrestling head coach Bill Zadick watched J’den Cox move on the mat and coined a nickname: The Matrix.

“When I wrestle the way I want to wrestle, it’s very hard for anyone to create what they want to create,” Cox said recently. “So, in that case, you stepped into a world that you don’t have control of.”

More than 20 opponents entered Cox’s world in the last two and a half years. None left it victorious.

Cox puts his win streak on the line at this week’s U.S. Olympic Trials, which he hopes culminates in a showdown with Kyle Snyder, the only reigning U.S. Olympic men’s wrestling champion, in Saturday’s 97kg freestyle finals in Fort Worth, Texas.

Cox, who took 86kg bronze in Rio after his coach all but begged him to enter the 2016 Olympic Trials, won the world championships in 2018 and 2019 at 92kg, which is not an Olympic weight class. In the latter, he became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years.

In February 2020, less than two months before the originally scheduled Trials, Cox made a surprise announcement. Rather than go back down to his Rio Olympic weight of 86kg, he was moving up to 97kg to challenge Snyder.

In wrestling, only one athlete per nation per division can go to the Olympics. Cox chose what appeared to be the more difficult path with Snyder the roadblock.

“Going up to 97 isn’t a slap in the face to anybody or really to Kyle,” Cox said last week, noting that the world’s best pound-for-pound men’s freestyle wrestler, Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev, is also at 97kg. “It’s really a compliment to say, I acknowledge that you are one of the best wrestlers in the world. I don’t only want to acknowledge it, but I want to prove that I’m better.”

Snyder declined an interview request to focus on Trials prep and a potential match with his friend Cox.

“We’ll settle it on the date that we wrestle,” Snyder said last year on the Baschamania podcast.

MORE: Olympic Wrestling Trials broadcast schedule

This week may conjure memories.

In 2016, Snyder, then a 20-year-old world champion, won a marquee Trials finals series against a reigning Olympic gold medalist — Jake Varner. Snyder also knows Cox well. They met way back in a 2011 Greco-Roman junior match (won by Cox) and most recently in 2015, when Snyder beat Cox at the NCAA Championships and the U.S. Senior Nationals.

Snyder, after winning world or Olympic titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017, dropped to silver in 2018 and bronze in 2019 at the world championships. Cox still rates him possibly as high as No. 2 in the world, pound-for-pound, behind Sadulayev.

“What makes Kyle Snyder great is that he makes grown men ask the question and question themselves as far as, do I want to do this? Am I willing to do what I have to do?” said Cox, whom many would rate among the world’s top handful of male freestyle wrestlers, perhaps trailing only Sadulayev.

The international wrestling world learned much about Cox since his breakout Olympic bronze medal. That he lost all of the hearing in his left ear during his sophomore year at the University of Missouri, then picked up sign language. That he could play violin, guitar, viola, bass and piano, plus compose music and sing.

He’s spoken about struggling with depression, stemming from a traumatic experience at age 7.

Cox revealed in a Flowrestling film, published in 2016 after the Olympics, that as a collegian he stood on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 63 in Missouri, ready to walk in front of traffic. A phone call from a university trainer interrupted the plan.

Over the last year, Cox spent part of the pandemic lifting weights in his garage in Colorado Springs and wrestling with people across the street in a park. Others from around the neighborhood joined him to get in shape. He said one woman started out unable to walk a mile-plus lap around the park, but can now run five laps without stopping.

He made new, meaningful friendships.

“It just kept me on track,” with conditioning, Cox said. “Stuff like that has not only been helpful for my training but also just my mentality of seeing something great and good prosper through all this strife.”

Cox also became a founding member of the Black Wrestling Association, launched last spring.

Cox has known what it will take to make a second Olympics for more than a year. Snyder, thanks to his 2019 World medal, gets a bye into the finals at Trials. The challenge is now days away.

“Why would I pass up an opportunity to test myself?” said Cox, whose tattoos include one that reads in Latin, “If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” “I want to live a tested life. This is part of my test.”

ON HER TURF: Where are the heavyweights? Wrestling weight classes exclude larger women

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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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