Three-time Olympic skater Evan Bates decries “terrible” human rights issues in 2022 host China

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The question was posed to the five figure skaters in a Monday afternoon press conference that was part of the Beijing 2022 Team USA Media Summit.

They were asked if anyone wanted to comment on the human rights issues that have made China a controversial host of the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Three-time Olympic ice dancer Evan Bates did not hesitate to address the topic.

“Speaking on behalf of all the athletes, I can say human rights violations are abysmal, and we all believe that it tears the fabric of humanity,” Bates said.

Asked if that answer referred specifically to China, Bates did not backtrack and mentioned its Uyghur Muslims. Human Rights Watch has described the Chinese government’s arbitrary detention, torture and mass surveillance of Muslims in Xinjiang province of northwest China.

“My answer could be applicable to human rights at large, but if you’re asking what’s happening in China regarding the Muslims, it’s terrible, it’s awful,” Bates said.

“I have no problems in speaking for the athletes in saying what’s happening there is terrible. We’re human beings too and when we read and hear about the things that are happening there, we absolutely hate that. We hate what’s going on there.”

Bates’ ice dance partner, Madison Chock, whose ancestry is part Chinese, added, “I wanted to just say all the experiences we have had in China in the past have been very positive… even (with) all of that is going on, those issues don’t represent the entire country because there are so many good people there.

“Just because something terrible has happened doesn’t mean everyone (in China) supports what is going on or believes that’s the right thing to do.”

Two other 2022 U.S. Olympic team hopefuls of Chinese descent, singles skaters Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou, backed Bates’ position in later press conferences Monday during the virtual media summit.

“I agree with what Evan was saying,” said Chen, three-time reigning world champion. “I think for a greater change to occur there must be power that is beyond the Olympics. It has to be change at a remarkable scale.

“However, the fact that people are talking about this issue, and the Olympics are bringing it to light is already a step in the right direction.”

Zhou, like Chen a 2018 Olympian, said, “As athletes, we still retain our humanity. We heard what Evan said. We echo his sentiment.

“As hopeful Olympic athletes in 2022, our job is to go into the competition completely focused on ourselves. Having concerns about things going on in the political climate or elsewhere is important but not productive towards our primary goal. We echo Evan’s sentiment and would still like to focus on our own jobs.”

Bates’ forthrightness recalled that of Ashley Wagner at the Team USA Media Summit in Park City, Utah, before the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Asked then about Russia’s anti-gay legislation, Wagner replied, “I have such a firm stance on this. I believe we should all have equal rights, and I also do not support the legislation in Russia… I believe the best way for you to show support for the (LGBTQ+) community is to speak out about it.”

Other U.S. skaters asked about the issue declined to address it.

Even once in Sochi, Wagner was unafraid to reference the situation.

“It doesn’t matter where I am, it’s still my opinion,” Wagner said after remarking on the rainbow color scheme at the Olympic practice rink.

Wagner was pleased when the U.S. government tweaked the Russians by sending three openly gay athletes in its official delegation to the opening and closing ceremonies.

When the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee leadership had its media summit press availability Tuesday morning, they were asked if, given Bates’ statements, there was concern about sending athletes into a country where much of the world has expressed some disgust about the way its Uyghur Muslim population was being treated and if there was concern about China retaliating against any athletes who speak out.

“As you know, we encourage our athletes to support the values of the Olympic movement, which include non-discrimination and equality for all, so it’s not unexpected that we have athletes who feel strongly about issues in the world that may impact that,” USOPC board chair Susanne Lyons said.

“We expect China is going to be a unique situation to really allow sport to speak for unity, global peace and the rights of people around the world. We really have no opportunity since we are not a government to influence the activities of another country’s rules and regulations and treatment of people within their own country.

“Certainly, our athletes will have points of view about that. It is our job to ensure they are able to express themselves but also to ensure that they are kept safe.”

USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland said her organization will focus on getting U.S. athletes information so they “understand the rules that are set out, the risks, their opportunities (so they can) make the best choices.”

At the Beijing 2008 Summer Games, U.S. Olympic officials were so worried about offending China they demanded an apology of four U.S. cyclists who, concerned about Beijing’s pollution, wore USOC-issued surgical masks upon arrival at the Beijing airport.

Some of the cyclists later said the USOC (as it was called then) had advised the athletes to wear the masks in public places like airports and criticized the USOC leaders for publicly shaming and bullying them into contrition.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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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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