Vatican rider to make history at world road cycling championships

Vatican Cyclist Olympics, Cycling, Vatican City, World Road Cycling Championships, Rien Schuurhuis
Athletica Vaticana
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VATICAN CITY — A plain white helmet like the pope’s skullcap.

The Holy See’s crossed keys seal stamped on his white and yellow jersey over his heart.

Dutch-born cyclist Rien Schuurhuis will carry an enormous sense of duty when he races for the Vatican in Sunday’s road race at the cycling world championships in Wollongong, Australia — marking a first in the city-state’s increasing use of sports as an instrument of dialogue, peace and solidarity.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Schuurhuis told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Australia on Friday. “I think the real emotion is still yet to come when I’m standing there at the start line.

“This is a great first step in the direction of what the pope believes in achieving through sports (with) inclusiveness and fraternity,” Schuurhuis added. “Everyone on the sports field — or on the roads in this case — is equal, no matter their backgrounds, religion or age.”

Vatican athletes have recently participated as non-scoring competitors in the Games of the Small States of Europe — open to nations with fewer than 1 million people — and the Mediterranean Games.

The cycling worlds mark the first time that a Vatican athlete will compete as a regular scoring competitor, after the International Cycling Union recognized the Holy See as its 200th member last year.

“As Pope Francis said when he met with a group of riders in 2019, the beautiful thing about cycling is that when you drop behind because you’ve fallen or because you punctured your tire, your teammates slow down and help you catch up with the main pack,” said Athletica Vaticana president Giampaolo Mattei, who oversees the team. “That’s something that should carry over to life in general.”

The 40-year-old Schuurhuis qualified for the team because he is married to Australia’s ambassador to the Vatican, Chiara Porro.

He holds Dutch and Australian passports but athletically now represents the Vatican.

“I was able to ride a bike before I could walk” Schuurhuis said about growing up in the cycling-crazy Netherlands.

Schuurhuis previously raced on the UCI’s Continental Circuit, one level below the elite World Tour.

“He’s a good cyclist. That’s a high level,” said Valerio Agnoli, Schuurhuis’ volunteer coach and a former teammate of Grand Tour winners Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali.

Schuurhuis, whose day job is now running a company that supplies materials for 3D printers, trains on Rome’s traffic-clogged roads. He sometimes heads out to the Alban Hills, where the pope’s traditional summer residence is at Castel Gandolfo.

Besides a recent photo opp, Schuurhuis doesn’t really ride inside the Vatican.

“I think I did it once with my son,” he said. “But it’s not really allowed to go through St. Peter’s Square. So I think we were told off by the police.”

Schuurhuis doesn’t expect to come close to winning. His main goal is to spread the pope’s message.

Like when he participated in a church event with Indigenous Australians on Friday, or when Belgian standout Wout van Aert sought him out during training a day earlier.

“When people see that very special white and yellow jersey it makes them curious,” Agnoli said.

Agnoli noted how cycling takes place on open roads, passes by people’s homes and isn’t restricted to paying ticketholders inside a stadium or arena.

“That’s the great thing about cycling,” Agnoli said. “I was chosen by the Vatican for this job because my role as a cyclist was that of a team helper. I helped teammates win the Giro d’Italia and the Spanish Vuelta.”

In another example of the values held within cycling, Mattei pointed to how Gino Bartali, the 1938 Tour de France winner who smuggled forged documents inside his bicycle frame to help rescue Jews during Germany’s occupation of Italy in World War II, is currently being considered for beatification by the Vatican, the first step to possible sainthood.

Vatican officials would like to one day field a team in the Olympics.

“To go to the Olympics would require creating an Olympic committee and being recognized by the International Olympic Committee,” Mattei said. “That takes time.”

Competing in a world championships, however, is a big step toward Olympic participation.

So will the pope be watching Schuurhuis on TV?

“The time difference presents a problem,” Mattei said, noting that the race in Australia starts at 2:15 a.m. Vatican time and that Pope Francis is traveling to the southern Italian city of Matera on Sunday. “But maybe he’ll watch a replay.”

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Germany goes 1-2 at bobsled worlds; Kaillie Humphries breaks medals record

Kim Kalicki
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Kim Kalicki and Lisa Buckwitz gave Germany a one-two in the world bobsled championships two-woman event, while American Kaillie Humphries earned bronze to break the career medals record.

Kalicki, who was fourth at last year’s Olympics and leads this season’s World Cup standings, edged Buckwitz by five hundredths of a second combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Humphries, with push athlete Kaysha Love, was 51 hundredths behind.

Olympic champion Laura Nolte was in third place after two runs but crashed in the third run.

Humphries, 37 and a three-time Olympic champion between two-woman and monobob, earned her eighth world championships medal in the two-woman event. That broke her tie for the record of seven with retired German Sandra Kiriasis. Humphries is also the most decorated woman in world championships monobob, taking gold and silver in the two times it has been contested.

Humphries rolled her ankle after the first day of last week’s monobob, plus took months off training in the offseason while also doing two rounds of IVF.

“I chose to continue the IVF journey through the season which included a Lupron Depot shot the day before this race began,” she posted after her monobob silver last weekend. “My weight and body fluctuating all year with hormones, it was a battle to find my normal while competing again. I’m happy with this result, I came into it wanting a podium and we achieved it as a team.”

Love, who was seventh with Humphries in the Olympic two-woman event, began her transition to become a driver after the Games.

Worlds finish Sunday with the final two runs of the four-man event.

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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.