1972 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball players want silver medals in Hall of Fame

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Members of the 1972 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team have talked about finally retrieving those silver medals they vowed to never accept and left behind in Germany.

No, they still don’t want them for themselves.

They believe the medals belong in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but the latest attempt to get them from the International Olympic Committee has been thwarted.

To get the medals a home in the Hall of Fame — which is holding its induction ceremony for the Class of 2022 this weekend — the IOC told the players they first have to accept them.

“If we have to accept them, then that’s not going to be an option,” said Tom Burleson, a center from North Carolina State who played on the team.

It’s the same non-starter it was 50 years ago Friday.

The Americans’ first loss in Olympic competition remains one of the most complicated and controversial finishes ever — there’s little question it’s part of the sport’s history, which the Hall preserves.

It’s not that the IOC disagrees with the Hall of Fame option. The Olympic governing body would let members of the team do what they want with the medals — once they’ve followed the organization’s procedure for obtaining them.

Tom McMillen, a forward from Maryland and a member of the 1972 team, said the IOC saying players having to accept the medals is “sort of ridiculous” and came up with a possible solution to the impasse: Have a third-party accept the medals so they could be placed in the Hall of Fame.

“What we talked about was, given what the IOC’s position is, we could say, ‘OK, give us the medals,’ and then we reject them by giving them to the Naismith museum,” said McMillen, now president and CEO of the LEAD1 Association, representing college Football Bowl Subdivision athletic directors and programs.

“In other words, we say, ‘We don’t want these, we don’t think we deserve them, we think we deserve the gold,’” McMillen said. “But I think everybody’s got different views. I mean, it’s really hard, so it’s probably going to stay the way it is.”

At least for the foreseeable future.

The sting of the loss still lingers.

The United States brought a 63-game Olympic winning streak into the final against the Soviet Union on Sept. 9, 1972, in Munich. It appeared the Americans had extended it to 64 when the horn sounded to end the game with them leading 50-49.

The game was restarted — twice — during what even the players struggle to define as errors by the officials or an outright attempt to cheat them.

Referees initially put time back on the clock after the Soviets argued they had called a timeout and the horn had sounded. The clock was still being reset when the ball was put into play and the Soviets didn’t score, so R. William Jones, the secretary general of FIBA, again ordered the clock reset to 3 seconds.

Given another chance, the Soviets fired a long pass to Aleksander Belov, who scored to give the Soviets a 51-50 victory.

Ed Ratleff, a forward who played at Long Beach State, believes it’s possible some players may have softened on their stance after 50 years, but said neither he nor anyone he still talks to has. One of them, Kenny Davis, has in his will that his family is to never accept silver.

“I tell you what, I am the same way I was 50 years ago,” Ratleff said. “My mother always taught me you won’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you, and I didn’t think the silver medal belonged to us.

“I’m not taking it and I’m sure 100% we got cheated out of it and I think they knew that, too.”

McMillen hopes the entire team will one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame and with this being the 50th anniversary of the Munich Games, this weekend would have been a fitting time. It’s an honor Olympic champions such as the 1960 and 1992 U.S. teams have earned.

Short of that, he hoped at least the medals could have a home in the Springfield, Massachusetts, museum. McMillen, a former Congressman from Maryland, asked IOC member Dick Pound about putting the medals in the Hall of Fame.

The IOC let McMillen know earlier this year — and reiterated its position again this week — that nobody could accept the medals except the players themselves.

“The IOC expressed its appreciation for his efforts but felt that appointing an attorney to accept the medals would not be appropriate,” an IOC spokesman said Thursday in an email to The Associated Press.

Previous conversations about awarding dual gold medals also had been denied and McMillen was disappointed to learn his latest attempt wouldn’t work, either.

Given that, McMillen said the medals might still be in a vault in Switzerland in 1,000 years, but in fact they’re not even all together now. The IOC said it received seven medals in 1992 from the local organizing committee, which are now kept in its Olympic Museum collections. The others remained with the organizing committee.

Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Hall of Fame board, said the Hall is aware of the players’ wishes and would like to help them. However, it appears those steps are out of the Hall’s hands.

“There’s a scar on the hearts of each one who has participated,” said Colangelo, also the former chairman of USA Basketball, adding that any decisions will have to wait.

“It still needs to be addressed as it pertains to the Hall of Fame.”

There have been attempts to heal the scar, or at least ease the pain of the loss for players.

During the 2008 Olympics, the next generation of stars – NBA standouts make up Olympic teams now, unlike the college players in 1972 – went over to the broadcast table to acknowledge Doug Collins, whose free throws with 3 seconds left had given the Americans the lead in 1972, and they believed, the victory, after he worked the gold-medal game at the Beijing Games.

Four years later, members of the team held a 40th reunion, where they remained united that there would never be accepting of silver.

Two of them, James Forbes and Dwight Jones, have since died. McMillen hoped there was a way to get the rest together sometime this year, though it seems there would be no change given what they’ve heard from the IOC.

“We’ll just let them keep it,” Burleson said. “I hate it, it would be nice to think they were on U.S. soil somewhere. But then again, if they want them, they can keep them.”

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Ilia Malinin’s quadruple Axel sheds light on first figure skater to land triple Axel

Vern Taylor
Vern Taylor, the first figure skater to land a triple Axel in competition. (Getty Images)
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Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 15 to do what he has done at that rink for the last three decades: coach figure skaters. But this day was different.

Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, was told that 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the previous night.

“When we heard that he landed it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrific,'” Taylor said by phone.

He was then shown video of Malinin’s feat.

“Anything’s possible,” Taylor said. “43 years [later], that’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it challenging.”

Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the most difficult jump in skating and checked off the only remaining quad yet to be performed.

At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, a 20-year-old Taylor broke through a similar barrier in hitting the last remaining unchecked triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career seems to be just getting started, and many medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of ardent figure skating followers.

He finished 12th at those 1978 World Championships. Taylor’s 1980 Olympic prospects were dimmed by the fact that Canada had just one men’s singles spot, and he had taken runner-up at nationals in 1978 and 1979 to Brian Pockar, who also outscored Taylor at those years’ world championships. So Taylor stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.

“I didn’t have a reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”

Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He can still remember the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters also planned to attempt a triple Axel. They were unsuccessful, though Taylor didn’t know it.

“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what was ahead of me.”

American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreel footage reported to be from 1957, but that was not in competition.

Taylor, skating to music from “Rocky,” put the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The one YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half revolution jump on one foot and spinning out of it while managing to stay on that single skate blade amid a crowd roar.

“During that program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I got the energy from the audience.”

The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchetti, the men’s referee at the 1978 Worlds, said she met with the assistant referee, the ISU president and a technical delegate.

“During this short meeting it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulsen jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully rotated and landed on one foot.”

One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Centre that day was 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with the jump — labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and landing it en route to silver medals at the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and the 1987 World title.

Orser remembered Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor doing an Axel takeoff exercise off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.

Yet another Canadian, Kurt Browning, was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition — a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.

“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”

Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning was handed the keys to a Quattro — quad/Quattro — after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealer was merely leasing it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.

Browning was inspired by American Brian Boitano, whom he previously saw land a quad outside of competition. Taylor motivated him, too.

“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.

Browning also pointed to Jozef Sabovčík, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially given credit for a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships, but weeks later it was invalidated because he touched down with his free foot, according to reports.

“I never want to come off as arrogant, but despite what ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I do know that I landed the jump on that day,” Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthdays through age 44, wrote in an email. “The fact that most of the people in the skating world believe the same thing, it means everything to me that Kurt is one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but I am also not trying to change history.”

Sabovčík, now 58 and coaching in Salt Lake City, attended March’s world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There, he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Russian-born Uzbek Olympic skaters Tatyana Malinina and Roman Skornyakov, whom he calls friends.

“They told me that he was already doing a quad Axel on a fishing pole harness [in practice], and that it was coming,” Sabovčík said.

Less than two months after that talk, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean quad Axel — at a U.S. Figure Skating jump camp.

“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “It really has to be an athlete that can combine the technical ability with jumping ability with the speed of rotation. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively speaking slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to these kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an unbelievably fast rotation.”

The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions and improvements in technology that can aid coaching. Still, there are concerns about if and how the pounding of training quads can wear down a skater physically.

“It’s a lot of pain you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly, who started training a quad in 1989 and attempting it through the mid-1990s. Bonaly had two hip surgeries after her competitive career.

Even Taylor faced those questions.

“People said, ‘Aren’t you worried about injuring yourself?'” he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done.'”

Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel in his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.

“Just playing with it,” said Browning, who never tried it in competition. “Ilia has that special ability to not only get up in the air, but then he has that beautiful rotation that doesn’t look hurried. It’s fast, it’s quick as lightning, but it doesn’t look hurried. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easy, and the ball goes 400 yards.”

Browning recalled a conversation he had with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it in competition last season but did not land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said upon retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.

“I asked Yuzu one day, ‘When you do quad Axel, does it just feel like you’re up there forever?'” Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me funny, and he goes, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”

The skating world awaits the reserved Hanyu’s thoughts on Malinin’s quad.

“Knowing Yuzu, I would think he’d be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He appreciates that kind of athleticism.”

Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who headlines Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the quad Axel in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel a responsibility to land it all the time.

“But I don’t think [Malinin] thinks too much about it,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he’ll be fine.”

The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said that Hanyu did five-rotation Salchows in practice with the aid of a harness.

“It’s just a little bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unratified quad toe loop came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the quad Axel, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

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Aleksandra Trusova splits from coach Eteri Tutberidze, months after Olympic tears

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Olympic figure skating silver medalist Aleksandra Trusova reportedly split from coach Eteri Tutberidze‘s group, eight months after a tearful scene after the Olympic free skate.

Trusova, 18, will now be coached by Svetlana Sokolovskaya, according to Russian media reports dating to Saturday. All Russian skaters are ineligible to compete internationally indefinitely due to the national ban over the war in Ukraine, but Russia is still holding domestic events.

At the Beijing Winter Games, Trusova became the first woman to land five quadruple jumps in a free skate. She had the highest score that day, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap to fellow Tutberidze pupil Anna Shcherbakova from the short program.

Moments after the competition ended, Trusova was seen crying and yelling at Sergey Dudakov, a member of Tutberidze’s coaching team.

“Everyone has a gold medal! Everyone has! Only I don’t! I hate figure skating! I hate! I will never step on the ice again! Never!” she said in Russian.

Shcherbakova had the individual gold, and the other Russian women’s singles skater at the Games, Kamila Valiyeva, skated both programs of the team event. The Russians placed first in the team event, but medals will not be awarded until Valiyeva’s doping case is adjudicated. It’s possible that Valiyeva gets retroactively disqualified, the Russian team gets disqualified and the other nations all move up with the U.S. going from silver to gold.

Trusova performed at the Russian test skates last month, withdrawing after her short program due to a back injury.

Trusova previously left Tutberidze in 2020 for two-time Olympic champion turned coach Yevgeny Plushenko‘s group, then moved back to Tutberidze’s group after the 2020-21 season.

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