Ukraine president tells IOC boss he does not support Russia athletes returning as neutrals

Volodymyr Zelenskyy

In a phone call with IOC President Thomas Bach, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he expressed disappointment at the possibility of Russians and Belarusians returning to international competition as neutral athletes.

“Since February, 184 Ukrainian athletes have died as a result of Russia’s actions,” Zelenskyy said, according to a press release. “One cannot try to be neutral when the foundations of peaceful life are being destroyed and universal human values are being ignored.”

The IOC confirmed that Bach and Zelenskyy spoke on the phone on Wednesday.

“In the call, the Ukrainian President requested the full isolation of Russia and Russians from the world community,” according to the IOC. “From his point of view, this must also apply to athletes. In this context, the IOC President explained the unifying mission of the IOC and the Olympic Games enshrined in the Olympic Charter.

“At the end of this open and constructive discussion, both Presidents agreed to stay in contact.”

Russians and Belarusians were banned in February by most international sports federations, acting after an IOC recommendation after Russia invaded Ukraine. The IOC said then that a dilemma was created if Russians and Belarusians were still able to compete, while many Ukrainian athletes were prevented from doing so because of the attack on their country.

Bach recently added that, after the invasion and before the bans, 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 also led to the IOC’s recommendation.

“The participation in sport competitions was not based anymore on sports merits, but on purely political decisions,” Bach said last week. “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.”

Bach and leaders in the Olympic movement have said since at least September that they are discussing how Russian and Belarusian athletes who do not endorse the war could return in the future.

Olympic leaders, including U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee board chair Susanne Lyons, have said this does not mean that they are advocating for the athletes to be allowed back into competition at this point.

Olympic leaders decided at a summit last week that if and when the athlete bans are lifted, they would return under “a stricter neutrality,” Lyons said, than occurred at past competitions when Russian athletes competed independently due to the nation’s doping sanctions. In those cases, Russians did not have their national flag or anthem but sometimes had national colors as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” or “Russian Olympic Committee” athletes.

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

In his call with Bach, Zelenskyy also noted IOC support for Ukraine and called on the IOC to “contribute to the restoration of the sports infrastructure in Ukraine destroyed by Russia,” according to the release.

“The only fair response to such actions is complete isolation of the terrorist state on the international stage. In particular, this applies to international sports events,” according to the Ukraine president’s office release. “According to [Zelenskyy], the silence of athletes, coaches and officials condones aggression, and Russia uses sports for propaganda purposes.”

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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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Isabeau Levito wins U.S. figure skating title at age 15, followed by comeback stories


Isabeau Levito won her first U.S. figure skating title at age 15, cementing her status as the new leading American woman to open the new Olympic cycle.

Levito, the world junior champion, tallied 223.33 points between two strong programs in San Jose, California. She distanced two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022 and scored 213.12.

Tennell was just two hundredths behind Levito after Thursday’s short but had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito followed her as last to go in the free and nailed the most pressure-packed performance of her young career, including the hardest jump combination done of the entire field. She didn’t receive a single negative mark from a judge for her 19 technical elements in her two programs.

Moments later, she was in tears backstage.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so proud of myself for staying so calm and staying so focused, doing exactly what I aimed to do,” Levito, who hasn’t finished off the podium in more than 20 events dating to November 2016, said on NBC. “I’m ready to start bouncing off the walls.”

Amber Glenn, 23, placed third and will likely become the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to make her world championships debut in at least 45 years. Glenn botched her 11th attempt to join the list of U.S. women to land a clean triple Axel (tally according to but still moved up from fourth after the short program, passing Starr Andrews.

Last year, Glenn entered nationals as the fourth-ranked U.S. woman and a hopeful for the three-woman Olympic team. She placed 14th in the short program, competing unknowingly with COVID-19, then tested positive and withdrew before the free skate.

In 2021, Glenn was the U.S. silver medalist, yet passed over for a spot on the two-woman world team in favor of the more experienced Karen Chen, who finished 35 hundredths behind Glenn at those nationals.

Levito, Tennell and Glenn are expected to make up the team for March’s world championships, decided by a committee.

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fifth after the short program, popped a pair of planned triple Lutzes and dropped to eighth.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians competed. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired. Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return.

Nationals continue Saturday with the free dance and pairs’ free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

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