Russia, Belarus banned by International Ice Hockey Federation

United States v Latvia: Group B - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
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Russia and Belarus are banned from international ice hockey tournaments until further notice, potentially ruling them out of world championships this spring and summer.

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) became at least the third international sports federation under the Olympic umbrella to announce exclusion plans for Russia and/or Belarus since the International Olympic Committee Executive Board recommended it on Monday morning. The IIHF joined FIFA and World Curling, which announced plans to ban Russia.

“The IIHF is not a political entity and cannot influence the decisions being taken over the war in Ukraine,” IIHF President Luc Tardif said in a press release. “We nevertheless have a duty of care to all of our members and participants and must therefore do all we can to ensure that we are able to operate our events in a safe environment for all teams taking part in the IIHF World Championship program.”

The IIHF said that, under the current conditions, its decision means Russia and Belarus will not participate in the men’s world championship in May in Finland and Russia will not participate in the women’s world championship in August and September in Denmark. Belarus did not qualify for women’s worlds.

Russia, competing as the Russian Olympic Committee without its flag and anthem due to the nation’s doping sanctions, and Belarus were two of the 16 teams that qualified for men’s worlds.

Though active NHL players did not play in the last two Olympics, All-Stars including Russians Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Vladimir Tarasenko have taken part in recent world championships in years when their NHL seasons ended early. Worlds usually take place during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The IIHF also stripped Russia as host of the 2023 World Junior Men’s Championship that begins in December.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”