USOPC backs exploring whether Russians could compete as neutrals in Olympic sports

Russia gymnastics

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee supports the IOC and other Olympic sports organizations looking for ways for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return, as neutral athletes, to competition in Olympic sports.

USOPC board chair Susanne Lyons said the USOPC was part of a unanimous endorsement of the idea from leading Olympic sports officials who attended a summit at the IOC headquarters of Lausanne, Switzerland, last week.

The summit invitees included, among others, high-ranking IOC members, presidents of prominent international sports federations and leaders of three National Olympic Committees — the U.S., China and Russia.

The USOPC is not yet saying that Russia and Belarus athletes should be allowed to compete at the 2024 Paris Games, or any other international sports competition, in a neutral capacity.

“We did not agree that the athletes would come back,” Lyons, who attended the summit, said Monday, echoing her comments from September. “We agreed that there would now be an exploration and a consultation with stakeholders to see whether there could be a pathway for those individual athletes to come back as neutrals.”

Lyons said that there was “absolute agreement” that, should Russia and Belarus athletes be reinstated, there would be “a stricter neutrality” than occurred at past competitions when Russian athletes competed independently due to the nation’s doping sanctions. In those cases, Russians competed without their national flag and anthem but sometimes with the national colors as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” or “Russian Olympic Committee” athletes.

“The sanctions are very specific,” Lyons said. “It can’t be the colors. it can’t be the name of the country.”

One of the outstanding matters is how Russian athletes could be reintroduced into Olympic qualifying events, which are under way. At last week’s summit, the Olympic Council of Asia president offered to allow Russia and Belarus athletes into competitions on its continent. The IOC plans to explore that possibility.

In February of this year, the IOC called on sport federations to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from participation in international competition in light of the invasion of Ukraine. But IOC President Thomas Bach has said since at least September that Russian athletes who do not endorse the war could be accepted back into international sports and has drawn a distinction between IOC sanctions against Russia and Belarus and its recommendation that international federations exclude athletes.

“I don’t know how they could possibly really know whether an athlete is or is not supportive of their government actions, but there was at least an agreement [at the summit] that they would want to have athletes who had not actively supported the conflict,” Lyons said. “This is going to be impossible to figure out how they would monitor it.”

Bach said that, after the invasion and before the ban, some governments refused to issue visas for athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete, and other governments prohibited their athletes from competing against athletes from Russia and Belarus. That, along with more similar government actions, led to the IOC’s recommendation for Russia and Belarus athletes to be excluded, which most international sports federations enacted.

“The participation in sport competitions was not based anymore on sports merits, but on purely political decisions,” Bach said. “So we had to act against our own values and our own mission, which is to unify the entire world in peaceful competition. We had, in fact, to protect this intricate integrity of the competitions.

“What we never did, and we never wanted to do is prohibiting athletes from participating in sports only because of their passport.”

Lyons said that one of the initial agreements of the summit was to support Ukraine and its athletes.

“I’m sympathetic with the plight of the Ukrainian people who, by no fault of their own, have this travesty inflicted upon them,” she said. “That said, I think the conversation [about Russia and Belarus athletes] was really more at a conceptual level about what is, first of all, our role as a movement. We have always said that our role is to try to engender peace and unity in sport.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Isabeau Levito, Bradie Tennell, Amber Glenn named to U.S. team for World Championships


SAN JOSE, Calif. – With a calm command belying her age, Isabeau Levito has taken control of U.S. women’s skating at age 15.

Levito came here as the solid favorite to take her first national title, and she did it with a seemingly effortless grace, her balletic style producing solid winning performances in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate.

She was the last of 18 skaters in the free skate, following rivals who made mistakes big and small. Levito did not need perfection, but her skating approached it, even if the execution of some jumps could have been better.

Levito left no doubt of her superiority and burst into a wide smile even before the scores were announced. After a narrow win over Bradie Tennell (.02 points) in the short program, Levito (223.33) wound up 10.21 points ahead of the runner-up Tennell (213.12) in the final standings.

Amber Glenn was third at 207.44. She, Levito and Tennell will fill the three women’s places on the U.S. team for the March World Championships in Japan.

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Two of the three U.S. women’s skaters on the 2022 Olympic team have announced their retirements (Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell; Karen Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return). Given that and Tennell’s recurrent problems with injuries, Levito’s stature as the leading U.S. woman seemed assured. Whatever pressure she felt holding that position was not evident.

“My entire goal truly for both programs was to stay composed and to really try to suppress my nerves as much as possible and to really not let little minor silly mistakes happen,” Levito said. “I feel as though I did just that today and I’m very proud of myself for it.”

“I’ve gotten very good at suppressing nerves,” she had said after the short program. “I still feel the effects of the competition. But I find my own way mentally to handle it.”

For both Tennell and Glenn, there was a redemptive quality to their skating.

Neither had a result at last year’s nationals. Glenn had to withdraw after the short program when she tested positive for COVID. Tennell never made it to the event because of the foot injury that kept her out of competition for all last season.

“Honestly, it was terrifying being back here after the conclusion of my season last year,” Glenn said. “That was a big mental hurdle for me, but I was happy I was actually able to enjoy myself again and enjoy competing.”

Glenn made her 10th career attempt at a triple axel, stepping out of the landing after getting full rotational credit. Her persistence in trying that jump, which she never has landed cleanly, is one reason she was holding her hip after finishing the free skate. Glenn insisted it was just soreness.

“An unfortunate side effect of being 23 and doing these ultra (difficult) elements is my body can’t always keep up very well,” Glenn said.

Tennell, who turns 25 Tuesday, has been battling an injury in her right foot for more than a year, then an injury in her left foot since October. She fought past all that to make the podium for the fifth time in her last five nationals – twice first, twice second and once third.

“This one probably means the most, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do this again,” Tennell said. “To be here and to have achieved it, especially after the (poor) start of my season and the bumps that I had to overcome, I’m very proud of what I accomplished.”

Levito, the reigning world junior champion, reeled off seven triple jumps, two in combination with other triple jumps. She glided from element to element seamlessly.

“I finally skated the free the way I’ve been training to do it,” she said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to

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Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

Scotty James

Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

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