USOPC CEO to Congress: Beijing Olympic boycott not the solution

Sarah Hirshland
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DENVER — A boycott of next year’s Beijing Winter Olympics will not solve any geopolitical issues with China and will only serve to place athletes training for the Games under a “cloud of uncertainty,” the head of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee wrote to Congress on Thursday.

CEO Sarah Hirshland sent the two-page letter that put a more official imprint on the long-held USOPC stance that Olympic boycotts harm athletes and do little to impact problems in host countries.

Her letter specifically addressed those who believe a boycott of the Winter Games next February would serve as an effective diplomatic tool to protest China’s alleged abuses toward Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hong Kong residents.

She said that while the USOPC is also troubled by actions in China that “undermine the core values of the Olympic movement … an athlete boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is not the solution to geopolitical issues.”

Hirshland offered a history lesson about the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 in protest of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan. That prompted the Soviet Union and several Eastern bloc countries to respond in kind at the Los Angeles Games four years later. More than 450 U.S. athletes who had qualified for Moscow never had a chance to compete in the Olympics.

“To make matters worse, their sacrifice had arguably no diplomatic benefit,” Hirshland said. “The Soviet Union stayed in Afghanistan for another decade. … Both the 1980 and 1984 Games tainted Olympic history and showed the error of using the Olympic Games as a political tool.”

Activists, along with some members of Congress, have been pushing for a boycott, or to relocate the Games. Last month, the Biden Administration got mixed up in articulating its own policy about a possible boycott; the U.S. State Department suggested an Olympic boycott was possible, but a senior official later had to clarify by saying keeping the U.S. team home had not been discussed.

The choice of whether to boycott would ultimately be up to the USOPC, but political pressure could weigh heavily, especially with Congress becoming more involved in the U.S. Olympic team’s operations in the wake of a sex-abuse scandal that led to calls for more oversight and reform.

In her letter, Hirshland argued that the Olympics can be used to raise awareness of human rights issues. But she did not highlight the 1968 Olympics, which were punctuated by protests by sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the likes of which the USOPC has said it would not punish going forward. Instead, Hirshland referenced Russia’s passage of anti-LGBTQ legislation before the Sochi Games in 2014.

“The Olympic and Paralympic community shone a light on inequality in practice, and the Sochi Games became a turning point in the effort to highlight the contributions and inclusion of LGBTQ+ athletes in global sport,” she wrote.

She said the new generation of Winter Olympians were working hard to represent the U.S. next year in Beijing.

“Please give them that chance,” she said. “They do not deserve to train for the games under a cloud of uncertainty about American participation in the games.”

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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