U.S. athletes required to be fully vaccinated for Beijing Olympics

The Emblem Of Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games In Beijing
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U.S. athletes trying to make the Winter Olympics will have to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 under a groundbreaking new policy announced Wednesday by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press that, starting Nov. 1, the USOPC will require staff, athletes and others utilizing training centers and other USOPC facilities to be vaccinated.

The requirement, she said, “will also apply to our full Team USA delegation at future Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

According to the team website, athletes will have to show proof of vaccination by Dec. 1. The U.S. is expected to send around 240 athletes to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, though the mandate will impact hundreds more — anyone with hopes of making the final squad.

The International Olympic Committee has been encouraging vaccines but did not require them for athletes who competed in the Summer Olympics. With that guidance, most national Olympic committees, including the USOPC, followed suit by strongly recommending the vaccines but not requiring them. The IOC’s first “Playbook,” a booklet offering health-related and other guidance for the Winter Games, is due out next month.

Earlier this year, around 83% of the more than 600 American athletes who qualified for Tokyo got the shots in time for the Summer Games, according to the USOPC’s final count. The IOC estimated about 85% of all athletes in the Olympic village had been vaccinated.

There were some Americans, including golfer Bryson DeChambeau and swimmer Michael Andrew, who spoke openly about not receiving shots. DeChambeau ended up testing positive shortly before he was supposed to head to Japan and missed the games, while Andrew said he had contracted COVID-19 previously and didn’t plan to get vaccinated.

In her letter, Hirshland said the USOPC had been hopeful that many COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted by the end of the Tokyo Games.

“The stark reality is that this pandemic is far from over,” she wrote. “This step will increase our ability to create a safe and productive environment for Team USA athletes and staff, and allow us to restore consistency in planning, preparation and service to athletes.”

Hirshland said there would be a process for athletes to apply for an exemption.

The USOPC policy veers from those at other American sports organizations, including the NFL and NBA, which don’t have mandates. Neither does the NHL, though it has strict protocols for unvaccinated players, including stipulations that allow teams to suspend unvaccinated players if they miss games due to COVID-19 or travel restrictions related to the virus.

The NHL has an agreement to allow some of its players to compete in the Olympics.

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12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

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At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Olympedia.org. Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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Francesco Friedrich, most decorated bobsledder in history, rebounds for 12th world title

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A week after his first major championships defeat in seven years, German Francesco Friedrich returned to his winning ways to close the world bobsled championships on Sunday.

Friedrich’s four-man sled won the world title by 69 hundredths of a second over British and Latvian sleds that tied for silver, combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It marked Great Britain’s first world championships men’s bobsled medal since 1966.

Geoff Gadbois drove the lone U.S. sled in the field, finishing 18th.

Friedrich, the most decorated bobsledder in history, extended his records with a fifth consecutive world four-man title and 12th world championship between two- and four-man events.

Germany swept all four titles at bobsled worlds with four different drivers taking gold.

Friedrich had won 12 consecutive Olympic or world titles before taking two-man silver at worlds last week in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was dethroned in that event by countryman Johannes Lochner.

Friedrich has been hampered recently by a muscle injury from sprint training in late December. Going into worlds, Lochner had won four consecutive World Cup two-man races, while Hall won the last two World Cups in four-man.

Friedrich, 32, said before this season that he plans to make the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games his final competition. Friedrich and push athlete Thorsten Margis can break the record of four career Olympic bobsled gold medals that they currently share with retired Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske.

The World Cup season concludes with stops in Igls, Austria, and Sigulda, Latvia, the next two weekends.

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