LeDuc becomes first publicly out non-binary athlete on a winter Olympic team as U.S. pairs’ team named

2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships - Day 3
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Recently crowned national champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc and Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who withdrew from the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships before it started when Frazier contracted Covid-19, were named to the U.S. Olympic team Sunday morning.

At an average age of 29.6 years old, they make up the oldest U.S. Olympic pairs’ figure skating team in 90 years.

LeDuc, 31, became the first openly gay athlete to win gold in a U.S. pairs’ event in 2019 and this year the first publicly out non-binary athlete to win a U.S. Championships event in any discipline. Next month they will become the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.

The U.S. returns to fielding two Olympic pairs’ teams for next month’s Beijing Winter Olympics after only qualifying one — Knierim and her husband Chris — for PyeongChang in 2018. Though this week was expected to see a battle between Cain-Gribble/LeDuc, Knierim/Frazier and two-time reigning U.S. silver medalists Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who again finished second on Saturday, the teams selected represent the two most recent U.S. champions and the top U.S. pairs’ teams at the two most recent world championships. It is an impressive squad, with seven of the last eight U.S. titles captured between the four skaters.

Calalang and Johnson were named first alternates, with Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov second alternates and Emily Chan/Spencer Howe third, following the order of results at nationals.

A strong finish by either team at the Olympics could produce the first top-five finish by Americans in pairs in 20 years.

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Unable to contend for the title in Nashville, Knierim and Frazier petitioned onto the team and were chosen based on a body of work over the past year that includes seventh at the 2021 World Championships in their first season together and Grand Prix finishes of third and fourth this fall, the best for any U.S. team.

Knierim is the only member of the team with Olympic experience and the first U.S. pairs’ skater to return to an Olympics in 20 years. She and Chris were 15th in 2018 and helped the U.S. to a bronze medal in the team event. In Beijing she will become the oldest U.S. women’s pairs’ Olympian in 30 years.

U.S. champions in 2015, 2018 and 2020, the Knierims ended their competitive skating partnership in 2020, just when 2017 U.S. champs Frazier, 29, and Haven Denney ended theirs. The longtime friends then teamed up for one of the fastest rising U.S. pairs’ teams in history. Chris is now one of the team’s coaches.

Cain-Gribble, 26, and LeDuc are in their sixth season competing together and have consistently placed in the top four at the U.S. Championships, winning in 2019 and 2021 plus taking bronze in 2017 and 2021. They were ninth at their 2019 and 2021 world championships appearances.

The pairs’ teams join Mariah BellKaren Chen and Alysa Liu on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. The three ice dance teams and three men will be named later Sunday.

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Luz Long’s Olympic silver medal for sale from Jesse Owens long jump duel

Jesse Owens, Luz Long

One of the most consequential Olympic medals ever awarded is on the auction block — the silver medal captured in 1936 by Germany’s Luz Long, the long jumper who walked arm in arm through the stadium with Jesse Owens to celebrate their triumphs while Adolf Hitler watched from the stands.

Long’s family has decided to auction the medal and other collectibles from the German jumper’s career. Long was killed in World War II in 1943.

The auction house selling the medal has labeled Long’s collection “The Beacon of Hope.”

“The story of Jesse Owens never seems to end,” said Long’s granddaughter, Julia Kellner-Long, in a phone interview from her house in Munich. “My grandfather has always been inspirational and influential in the way I choose to see the world, and this is something I think the world outside needs. Now more than ever. It gives us hope.”

Long cemented himself in Olympic lore during the Berlin Games when he was the first to congratulate Owens on his triumph in the long jump. Later they walked around the stadium together and posed for pictures.

There’s also the story Owens told of Long approaching him after he fouled on his first two attempts in the preliminary round. With only one more try to make the final, Owens said Long suggested he take off a foot in front of the board, to assure he wouldn’t foul on his last try. Owens took that advice and went on to win the title — one of four he captured in Berlin — with a then-Olympic record jump of 8.06 meters (26 feet, 5 1/2 inches).

Owens was Black, and his stirring success at those Olympics was said to have annoyed Hitler by puncturing the Nazi myth of Aryan racial superiority.

The camaraderie between Owens and Long, and the relationship that ensued between the men and their families, are often held up as the prime example of what the Olympics are supposed to be about — a peaceful coming together of people from different countries and cultures who set their differences aside in the spirit of competition.

“It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me,” Owens said, years later. “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace.”

The decision to sell came shortly after Luz’s son (and Julia’s father), Kai, died at age 80. Kellner-Long said the great responsibility of preserving her grandfather’s memorabilia should be passed onto an individual, or museum, that has the time and resources to do so. The family also wanted to use the sale to rekindle the story of Long and Owens.

“Even 86 years later, shining a beacon of hope is an important and realistic value, especially in a time of increasing racism, increasing exclusion and hatred,” Kellner-Long said.

The auction house started the bidding for Long’s medal at $50,000, and estimated the value at somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million. The bidding runs through Oct. 15. The value of Olympic medals on the open market varies widely. One of Owens’ four gold medals from 1936 fetched $1.46 million. Bill Russell’s gold medal from the 1956 Olympics recently sold for $587,500.

David Kohler of SCP Auctions, which is conducting the sale, said the medal is about Long, but also “the story of the courageousness and the athlete and what he did there.”

Long didn’t live long enough to see his legacy play out. He was killed in 1943 in the battle of St. Pietro on the Italian island of Sardinia. Shortly before that, he wrote a letter to Owens, one he predicted would be “the last letter I shall ever write.”

In it, Long asked Owens to go to Germany after the war and find his son.

“Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we were not separated by war,” Long wrote. “I am saying — tell him how things can be between men on this earth.”

Owens and Kai Long met several times over the years, including at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in 1966. Owens later was a best man at Kai’s wedding.

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson

Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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