Russia may boycott Olympic fencing qualifying after gold medalists barred

Russia Fencing

The president of the Russian Olympic Committee indicated Thursday that the country could boycott qualifying competitions in fencing for next year’s Paris Games after some athletes, including his own daughter, were barred from competing.

On March 28, the International Olympic Committee updated its recommendations to international sports federations to possibly allow competitors from Russia and Belarus to compete as neutral athletes without national symbols after the invasion of Ukraine, but still excluding those employed by the military or security services, or those who have publicly backed the war.

Two-time gold medalist Yana Egorian and all three of the gold medalists in women’s team sabre from the Tokyo Olympics — Sofya Velikaya, Olga Nikitina and Sofia Pozdniakova — were refused after vetting from the International Fencing Federation, Russian Fencing Federation president Ilgar Mamedov told state news agencies.

Pozdniakova is the daughter of Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov.

Some lesser-known fencers were approved to compete, Mamedov said. But he didn’t say why the other fencers were refused and there was no immediate confirmation from the International Fencing Federation, known as the FIE.

All three of the women’s team sabre gold medalists were identified as being affiliated with the Central Sports Club of the Army, known as CSKA, in a 2021 statement on the Russian Defense Ministry website following the Tokyo Olympics. It listed Velikaya with the rank of captain and Nikitina as a sergeant. They and Egorian are all listed in profiles on the FIE website with the term “armed forces athlete.”

The FIE decisions showed IOC criteria for the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to be a “farce” and a “thinly veiled suspension” which amounted to discrimination, Pozdnyakov wrote in posts on the Telegram app.

“The International Olympic Committee is imposing such criteria that the participation of the overwhelming majority of our athletes and practically all of the leaders of the national teams in Olympic qualifying and other competitions is in practice unrealistic,” he added.

Pozdnyakov said he had spoken with the Russian fencing team and indicated that they supported boycotting competitions under the current conditions.

“The position is unanimous, our fencers will take part only if there are equal rights with athletes of other countries, without contrived or wrongful parameters and other artificial obstacle courses,” Pozdnyakov said.

There was also criticism from the Kremlin. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said Russia opposes restrictions on its athletes.

“We consider it absolutely wrong to try to apply conditions of some political requirements to athletes and their participation in international competitions,” Peskov said. “We do not agree with such recommendations.”

Fencing has a central place in Olympic politics because it is the sport of IOC president Thomas Bach, who was a gold medalist at the 1976 Montreal Games. Pozdnyakov himself won four Olympic gold medals in fencing, and his daughter won both the individual and team sabre gold medals in Tokyo.

A Russian boycott could smooth the way for Ukraine’s fencers to keep competing. The Ukrainian government and fencing team have a policy of not entering any events where Russian or Belarusian competitors are allowed.

The FIE’s earlier moves toward readmitting Russians and Belarusians led to a protest petition from top fencers from around the world against the plan. At least four competitions on the FIE’s World Cup circuit have also been called off by organizers unwilling to host Russian and Belarusian competitors.

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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