Belarus hands opposition activists, including Olympic swim star, prison terms in absentia

Aliaksandra Herasimenia

Belarusian authorities on Monday handed lengthy prison terms to two opposition activists who had fled the country, in the first court verdict against dissidents that was announced in absentia.

Aliaksandra Herasimenia and Alexander Opeikin were each sentenced to 12 years in prison. A court in Minsk convicted the two on charges of calling for sanctions and inflicting harm on the national security of Belarus.

Herasimenia, a retired swimmer and three-time Olympic medalist, and Opeikin founded the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, which united hundreds of Belarusian athletes critical of President Alexander Lukahsenko’s authoritarian rule.

Belarus was shaken by major protests after the disputed August 2020 reelection of Lukashenko, which the opposition and the West denounced as a sham. Authorities responded to the demonstrations with a crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. It was followed by an array of crippling Western sanctions.

The foundation created by Herasimenia and Opeikin contributed to canceling the biggest international tournaments in Belarus in 2021, including the European Track Championships, the Ice Hockey World Championship and World Modern Pentathlon Championships —- a humiliation for Lukahsenko, who loves sports and is a proud hockey player.

Belarusian authorities accused the two activists of undermining Belarus’ national security. The trial was held behind closed doors and without the accused present in accordance with a new law Lukahsenko signed in July, which allowed courts to try Belarusians who had fled abroad in absentia.

In addition to handing Herasimenia a prison term, the court also ruled to seize her apartment, her car and $48,000 in her bank accounts.

According to Belarus’ most prominent human rights group, Viasna, 1,439 political prisoners are currently behind bars in Belarus.

Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who also faces prosecution and lives in exile in Lithuania, condemned the sentences handed to Herasimenia and Opeikin on Monday.

“Shameful!.. This is how the regime tries to punish its opponents in exile,” Tsikhanouskaya tweeted. “The regime can’t get to them, but their property in Belarus was seized, including a car (and) an apartment.”

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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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