Hubbell/Donohue nearing in on fourth Skate America win, but Chock/Bates nipping at their heels

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America
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LAS VEGAS — After nearly an entire figure skating season without crowds – thanks to Covid-19 – the raucous applause and partial standing ovations at the Orleans Arena are what stood out the most to the top ice dancers.

“The thing that sticks out in my mind from this performance was really being aware while it was happening of how the crowd was reacting,” Madison Hubbell, who leads with partner Zachary Donohue following the rhythm dance at Skate America, said. “Very often we feel that energy come through at the bow or at the end of the performance. I would say this wasn’t the most applause we’ve gotten ever, but it felt like it. I really noticed it at the entry of our lifts. It was very welcome after a year of mostly silence.”

Hubbell and Donohue are halfway to their fourth consecutive Skate America victory in as many years. U.S. teammates and training mates Madison Chock and Evan Bates are nipping at their heels, though.

“You could really feel the crowd’s energy,” Chock also commented. “We had a wonderful time performing for each other, but also for the crowd because they were just so receptive to what we were giving to them and it was great to hear the response. When they clap along to your music, it’s the best feeling.”

In a season of hip-hop and blues rhythm dances, Hubbell and Donohue’s Janet Jackson medley to “Nasty,” “Rope Burn” and “Rhythm Nation” garnered 83.58 points.

Chock and Bates’ Billie Eillish program to “My Boy,” “Therefore I Am” and “Bad Guy” scored 82.55.

The Canadian team of Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorenson are in third after their George Michael medley – which included “Careless Whisper,” “I Want Your Sex” and “Freedom! ’90” – earned 75.33 points.

After living in Canada for 11 years and skating for the nation since the 2018-2019 season, Sorenson officially became a citizen on Aug. 10 of this year, making him and Fournier Beaudry eligible to be one of three Canadian ice dance teams selected for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

“It’s nice to have that weight off my shoulders because it was definitely stressful” Sorenson said. “I did the swearing in on Zoom. … I cried.”

All three of the top teams’ scores were less than what they earned earlier in the season at lower-level competitions.

Hubbell and Donohue scored 0.48 points higher to win the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, Chock and Bates 1.17 at their silver-medal performance to four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at Finlandia Trophy and Fournier Beaudry and Sorenson 1.31 better when they took silver at Lombardia Trophy.

“I would say that coming in to this competition and seeing some of the levels that were given at Finlandia last week, we were kind of expecting a very tough panel [of judges],” Hubbell said when asked about the judging in Vegas. “Zach and I, in going to Skate America, there were a few things we wanted to use to our advantage for experience. One being some of the panel being back for the Olympics, and also competing against Madison and Evan so early, which is not our typical course of events.”

Hubbell and Donohue and Chock and Bates have been among the top ice dance teams in the country and the world since both pairs teamed up before the 2011-2012 season. They typically meet for the first time on the ice at the Grand Prix Final in December.

“We definitely left a lot of points on the table,” Hubbell added. “We’re hoping with those extra technical points we can get closer to 90.”

The winning rhythm dance scores at the last two world championships was 88.42 and 88.15.

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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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