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A legend is about to return to the tennis court.
After a year full of personal highs that kept her off the court, Serena Williams, a clear GOAT in the world of tennis if there ever was one, is returning to the action for her first match in over a year with this weekend’s Fed Cup in Asheville, N.C. And while she won’t be making her grand return in any of Saturday’s singles matches, delaying her appearance on the court until Sunday, Feb. 11 when she partners with Lauren Davis to take on Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands in a doubles match, the wait for fans will be nothing compared to the last time they saw Williams slay the women’s singles competition at the 2017 Australian Open over a year ago.
After Williams proved victorious in Melbourne, beating her sister Venus Williams and surpassing Steffi Graff‘s Open Era record with her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, ensuring her return to No. 1 ranking, she began her surprising retreat from the sport that made her a superstar. She withdrew from the upcoming Indian Wells and Miami Opens, citing a knee injury. “Sadly, I have to withdraw from the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and the Miami Open,” she said that March. “I have not been able to train due to my knees and am disappointed I cannot be there. I will keep moving forward and continue to be positive. I look forward to being back as soon as I can.”
However, sports fans were thrown for quite a loop when Williams revealed that she was 20 weeks pregnant just a month later, breaking the news that she and then-fiancé, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, were expecting via Snapchat. And yes, for all the mathematicians at home, that does mean that she won the Australian Open while roughly eight weeks pregnant. Her impending maternity leave wouldn’t be the first break from tennis that Williams had taken in her career, and she certainly wouldn’t the first female tennis champ to leave the tour to start a family only and return successfully, but when you’re riding high at No. 1, there’s always trepidation about losing your momentum.
“It’s hard to figure out what the end of your tennis career should look like,” she told Vogue in August. “I used to think I’d want to retire when I have kids, but no. I’m definitely coming back. Walking out there and hearing the crowd, it may seem like nothing. But there’s no better feeling in the world.”
After all, there was still one major record looming in the not-too-far-off distance, just begging Williams to smash it: Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam titles. “Obviously, if I have a chance to go out there and catch up with Margaret, I am not going to pass that up,” she told the magazine. “If anything, this pregnancy has given me a new power.”
A plan was set: She would return to the court in January to defend her Australian Open title. “It’s the most outrageous plan,” she admitted. “I just want to put that out there. That’s, like, three months after I give birth. I’m not walking anything back, but I’m just saying it’s pretty intense.”
The very next month, on September 1, to be exact, she and Ohanian welcomed baby Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. into the world. And that plan to return to Melbourne? Well, it went out the window. Though we—and maybe even the pro herself—wouldn’t know that until the new year.
As she adjusted to motherhood, something she’d just admitted to Vogue the month prior that she worried she wasn’t quite ready for just yet (“That’s something I have to work on,” she told the publication. “I’m so used to me-me-me, taking care of my health, my body, my career. I always ask, ‘Am I going to be good enough?’”), it was clear that she was more ready than she might’ve thought.
Mel Barlow & Co. / Allan Zepeda / Brides.com
In an open letter to her mother Oracene Price published on The Washington Post‘s website, she thanked her mama for preparing her for motherhood simply through leading by example. “Thank you for being the role model I needed to endure all the hardships that I now regard as a challenges–ones that I enjoy. I hope to teach my baby Alexis Olympia the same, and have the same fortitude you have had,” she wrote, while also remarking at the similarities she noticed in her own little one. “She has my arms and legs! My exact same strong, muscular, powerful, sensational arms and body,” the athlete continued. “I don’t know how I would react if she has to go through what I’ve gone through since I was a 15 year old and even to this day.”
Becoming a mother and stepping away from the court while ranked as No. 1 wouldn’t be the only major changes Williams faced in 2017, however. There was also the small matter of making it official with baby daddy Ohanian. Nearly a year after getting engaged, and just two months after becoming parents, the happy couple tied the knot in front of family and friends, with a star-studded guest list that included Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Eva Longoria, Ciara, Russell Wilson, La La Anthony, Anna Wintour, Kelly Rowland, and more, on November 16 in New Orleans. And by all accounts, it was a fairy tale evening.
“Serena loves Disney and Alexis and Serena danced their first dance song to ‘Tale as Old as Time.’ I think that song is really significant because that song’s from Beauty and the Beast and they come from two such different worlds and I think that was the theme of the evening,” Brides Executive Director Lisa Gooder revealed to E! News. “There were a lot of athletes and sports stars blended with the tech community from Alexis.”
The evening, which also included a surprise performance from R&B group New Edition (and a choreographed dance courtesy of Williams and Ohanian) and a carousel, hit its high point when the pair shared their personalized vows. “Alexis really was amazing during the ceremony. The couple wrote their own vows,” Gooder said. “They were super personal and he really delivered and said ‘You are my Queen and we already have our Princess.’ Everybody was crying. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
“I never wanted a traditional wedding,” Williams told Vogue in January. “I wanted a strong wedding.” By all accounts, she got it.
Mario Testino / Vogue
With a luxe tropical honeymoon in the Bahamas out of the way, it was time to turn her eyes back to the prize: Getting back on the court and reclaiming her top spot. Despite being absent from the game for nearly the entirety of 2017, she still ended the season ranked No. 22 in the world. However impressive that may be, she still faced a long climb back to No. 1 ahead of her. “Maybe this goes without saying, but it needs to be said in a powerful way: I absolutely want more Grand Slams,” she told Vogue. “I’m well aware of the record books, unfortunately. It’s not a secret that I have my sights on 25.”
This time, though, she felt she might just have the ace up her sleeve she’d been waiting for all her life. “And actually, I think having a baby might help. When I’m too anxious I lose matches, and I feel like a lot of that anxiety disappeared when Olympia was born,” she continued. “Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match. I don’t need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don’t need them. That’s a different feeling for me.”
However, her re-ascension would have to start after January’s Australian Open. As Williams revealed that month, her training after giving birth to Alexis Olympia was delayed thanks to a terrifying medical ordeal that befell her just after her emergency C-section. The next day, Williams’ doctors found several small blood clots in her lungs, which caused coughing, which, in turn, caused her C-section wound to re-open. As she went back in for surgery, doctors found that a large hematoma had flooded her abdomen, making a filter in her vein necessary to prevent more clots from forming. All told, Williams spent her first six weeks as a mom bed-ridden. After losing an exhibition match in late December at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, Williams came to the realization that she just wasn’t ready to defend her title in Melbourne.
Mario Testino / Vogue
“After performing in my first match after giving birth I realized that although I am super close I’m not where I personally want to be,” Williams wrote in a statement posted to her Snapchat. “My coach and team always said ‘Only go to tournaments when you are prepared to go all the way.’ With that being said I am disappointed to say I’ve decided not to compete in the Australian Open this year.”
She concluded her note, “However, the memory of last year’s Open is one that I will carry with me and Olympia and I look forward to coming back again. I appreciate the support and understanding of my fans and everyone at the Australian Open.”
With her eyes on Indian Wells in March, this weekend’s Fed Cup, her first since 2015, is the official start of Williams’ rebound—albeit one that, just a day prior to beginning, was delayed a bit further when it was revealed that she wouldn’t be participating in any singles matches today, as originally thought. “This is definitely the start of a long process,” Williams told the crowd of reporters in Asheville. “I’m ready and excited to be chosen to the team. I’m very happy to be here. Physically I feel good. Every day I get better and stronger.”
Whatever the delay, there’s no doubt that Williams is back and ready to fight.
“It’s interesting,” she told Vogue. “There hasn’t been a clear number one since I was there. It will be cool to see if I get there again, to what I call my spot—where I feel I belong. I don’t play to be the second best or the third best. If there’s no clear number one, it’s like, yeah, I can get my spot back. But if there is a clear number one, that’s cool, too, because it’s like, yeah, I’m gonna come for you.”
We can’t wait to watch.
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Show us a sport and we’ll show you a scandal.
There is no such thing as competition without controversy, and when you add millions of dollars; massive egos; years of blood, sweat and tears; and international tension, sometimes between countries that don’t much like each other even on a good day, you’ve got controversy on steroids.
And though it’s beautiful to look at and the inevitable stories of triumphing over adversity are heartwarming, figure skating has had its share of issues.
We know the first one that comes to mind, in no small part due to the Oscar-nominated I, Tonya currently in theaters, so we’ll start with that: Nancy Kerrigan getting whacked on the knee in an otherwise hapless attack arranged by Tonya Harding‘s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly 24 years ago.
NY Daily News via Getty Images
Kerrigan was traumatized but physically OK enough to win a silver medal a month and a half later at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, where Harding finished eighth after having a meltdown over a broken skate lace.
Gillooly spent six months in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering for his role in what proved to be a career-killing PR debacle for Harding. The athlete herself pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution in March 1994, though it was only this year that she admitted she figured out what had happened after the fact—even before she was filled in—but didn’t tell authorities. She was banned for life from the United States Figure Skating Association and stripped of the national title she won two days after Kerrigan was attacked.
“You are a prime example of how ruthless ambition and raw greed can disrupt, degrade and disfigure a sport of grace even to the height of the Olympics,” Circuit Judge Donald Londer told Gillooly at sentencing. “All that will be recalled is a band of thugs from Portland, Ore., tried to rig the national figure skating association championships and the Olympics by stealth and violence.”
As I, Tonya intended, it’s impossible to watch the film and not come away with the sinking feeling that Harding was competing against the odds all her life and was more of an innocent bystander in her own rather tragic story than the villain the tabloids made her out to be 24 years ago.
AP Photo/Lennox McLendon
“I knew that this would be with me for the rest of my life,” Harding told the New York Times recently—and she wasn’t talking about the fact that she was the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition.
She also admitted that the public perception of her (wild remembrances of the incident have ranged from people thinking she personally arranged the attack to thinking she clubbed Kerrigan herself) still gets to her sometimes.
“I do care. I mean, I care, but I don’t care,” Harding told ABC News in December. “The most important people are my family and my closest friends. Everybody else’s opinions don’t matter. So my motto is, ‘Take care of me, so I can take care of my family.’” She recalled, “The media had me convicted of doing something wrong before I had even done anything at all, before I had talked to anyone, before I get out of bed. I’m always the bad person.”
While that act of violence in the name of competition turned out to be an isolated event in figure skating, a different kind of controversy emerged in its wake.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Eight years later in Salt Lake City, the pairs figure-skating competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics was allegedly fixed—you know, no big deal—and the debacle prompted an overhaul of the age-old scoring system.
Which in turn, according to critics, made the scoring even more incomprehensible. Gone was the old way where skaters were judged out of 6 on technical merit and artistry, and in came different possible high scores for each skater based on the difficulty of the tricks they planned to execute and how well they did so, plus overall presentation.
“Of course, the drama of a perfect mark has been taken away, but things had to evolve,” Canadian figure skater David Pelletier told CBC Sports last month. “People watch figure skating for the athleticism and emotion that it can bring more than for the marks the athletes can receive.”
JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images
It was Pelletier and partner Jamie Salé (the couple married in 2005 and have a son together) who were at the center of the controversy in 2002 after they were awarded the silver medal behind Russian pair Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze—which didn’t appear right to anyone who had just watched Pelletier and Salé skate.
Amid the uproar, French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne tearfully admitted to throwing her vote to the Russians in exchange for a Russian judge’s vote for a French ice-dancing pair, after being pressured from the president of the French Ice Sports Federation, Didier Gailhaguet, to do so. Gailhaguet thoroughly denied exerting any pressure on LeGougne. (He resigned in 2004—and then was reelected in 2007.)
Le Gougne then recanted her confession, saying she’d been under pressure yet again, this time by the International Skating Union, to admit to something she didn’t do. After being suspended indefinitely, she told the French paper L’Equipe that she really did think the Russians should have won in the first place and she voted accordingly. “I judged in my soul and conscience,” she said. “I considered that the Russians were the best. I never made a deal with an official or a Russian judge.”
Le Gougne then accused ISU technical committee chairwoman Sally Stapleford, who was British but also had a Canadian passport because her father was Canadian, of masterminding a plot to put Canada on top by drumming up a French conspiracy. Attorney and ISU championship judge Jon Jackson told a reporter at the time, “When accusations get that ridiculous, it’s an indication that people are running scared.”
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images
Pelletier and Salé were ultimately awarded gold medals (at a ceremony that the Russian pair, who got to keep their medals as well, gracefully attended) and Le Gougne wrote a tell-all book, Glissades à Salt Lake City. And now no one understands how figure skating is scored.
The grumbling over skating’s scoring system never abated, with many befuddled athletes, fans and entire countries more united in their annoyance than ever.
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
When the medals were handed out in Sochi in 2014, more than 2 million people signed a Change.org petition demanding an investigation into the judging of the women’s figure skating after Russian Adelina Sotnikova won the gold over South Korea’s Yuna Kim, who won gold in Vancouver 2010 and retired after the Sochi Games.
It was the first women’s figure-skating gold for Russia and Sotnikova’s best finish in non-junior international competition. She wasn’t even the favorite from her own team to win gold, those hopes having been placed on 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia. You’d think the underdog, out-of-nowhere angle would’ve worked for people. Instead, however, critics of the scoring system and the judges implementing it were irate that Sotnikova skated away with the gold after attempting just enough trickery to win and turning in a tidy, though not perfect performance. (Most of the online angst came from people in Korea.)
“I am stunned by this result, I don’t understand the scoring,” Katarina Witt, who won back to back individual golds (in 1984 and 1988, for East Germany), reportedly said on German TV.
Hers is definitely more of a traditional perspective, one shared by many but which doesn’t serve any athlete, coach or analyst to harp on these days. (And speaking of traditional, even U.S. champ Dick Button, who won the men’s figure skating at the Olympics in 1948 and 1952, weighed in via Twitter: “Sotnikova was energetic, strong, commendable, but not a complete skater. I fear I will never be allowed back in Russia again.”)
“Adelina collected more points,” said 1984 Olympic gold medalist turned TV commentator Scott Hamilton, who was watching from the NBC booth. “That is really the only way you can describe it. If you look at Yuna of the past, this was not a program as difficult as she has done, and she left the opportunity for someone to collect points on that side of the scoring. It may not have been as beautiful as Yuna and Carolina, but under the rules and the way it works, she did all that…I think it was a just strategy that worked on the night.”
Ultimately, there was no official protest filed with the ISU or International Olympic Committee, so no official investigation was conducted. However, the Chicago Tribune pointed out that one of the judges on the panel was married to the general director of the Russian Figure Skating Association, and another judge, from Ukraine, had actually been banned from judging for a year after getting caught in a result-fixing plot in 1998.
Meanwhile, does anyone else think the current athletic-proficiency-over-artistry approach might have served someone named Tonya Harding back in the day?
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
In the aftermath of Sochi, in 2016 the International Skating Union ended judging anonymity, which had been implemented in response to the uproar in 2002—a welcome change for those clamoring for more transparency in the sport, not less.
Fast-forward to this year at the U.S. National Championships (all roads lead to the Olympics in this sport) and Ashley Wagner, who was a member of the group that won bronze in the inaugural team competition in Sochi but missed out on making the team that went to Pyeongchang.
Aside from her Sochi teammate Gracie Gold, who took herself out of the running for a 2018 Olympics spot last fall to focus on her physical and mental health, Wagner is the United States’ most well-known star on the ice—so call a country confused that the judges poked so many holes in her performance.
That’s right, in a sport where the national bias is now just assumed, Wagner didn’t even benefit from her own home-soil advantage. She finished fourth at nationals and champion Bradie Tennell, silver medalist Mirai Nagasu and bronze medalist Karen Chen are competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“I’m furious, I am absolutely furious,” Wagner told reporters afterward. “I know when I go and I lay it down and I absolutely left one jump on the table, but for me to put out two programs that I did at this competition as solid as I skated and to get those scores, I am furious, and I think deservedly so.”
In an attempt to avoid a deduction for poor sportsmanship in the court of public opinion, she tweeted later, “As an athlete, I’m allowed to be mad. As a senior competitor with over 10 years of experience, I’m allowed to question things. At the end of the day, I laid out my best and I’m going home proud! Congrats to the lovely ladies of the team, you’ve got me in your cheering squad now! Lastly Twitter, before you eat me alive, don’t forget there is a real person on the other end of your tweets.”
The 26-year-old, whose competitive Olympic career is effectively finished, said on Today a few days later that she didn’t regret reacting strongly in the moment.
“I think the only thing that I question is my scores compared to my scores in the past,” she continued. “I scored lower in the second mark in my short program than I did in a competition that I was injured at and those are the things that I’m confused about, but you know, the technical side, I think was totally fair and I ended up where I ended up, but, I mean, that moment I created for myself—a standing ovation at Nationals, that’s something that for me, I’ll forever be proud of.”
And if she had made the U.S. team, she still would have skated right into a hotbed of national subjectivity and playing favorites. (Which she presumably remembers from 2014, having had one of the more meme-able reactions when she saw her short-program scores in Sochi, where she finished seventh overall in the individual competition.)
Darren Cummings/Pool/Getty Images
Which is apparently just the way it is. A new analysis from BuzzFeed News found that 16 of the 48 figure-skating judges who will be on the job in Pyeongchang—including two each from Canada and the United States, three from China and all three Russians—have evidenced a pattern of showing preference to skaters from their own countries in international competition. And a single judge inclined to give a boost to his or her country’s team could influence the medal standings if the scores are close enough.
NBC News noted, as well, that 33 of the 164 judges considered eligible to judge the skating this year hold or once held leadership positions with their national skating federations—and 11 of the aforementioned 48 fit that bill, including a Korean judge who told a newspaper that she would make sure skaters from her country were “not disadvantaged” this year.
And speaking of scandal, all 163 Russian athletes at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, including 15 figure skaters, are competing as “Olympic Athletes From Russia,” due to the ban slapped on their national team for what the IOC determined was an entrenched, widespread, allegedly government-sanctioned doping program.
Meanwhile, despite all the talk of favoritism, there is such a thing as the exact opposite of support from one’s home country in skating—but that appears to be reserved for those who really upset their compatriots.
Schirner Sportfoto/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Norwegian figure-skating legend Sonja Henie, who though she later became a U.S. citizen and made an anti-Nazi film when she turned to acting, was a personal favorite of Adolf Hitler‘s when she was in her skating prime.
Henie won back-to-back-to-back individual figure-skating gold medals at the 1928, 1932 and 1936 Olympics (the last of which was held in Berlin but is not to be confused with the 1936 Summer Olympics, which is most remembered for U.S. track star Jesse Owens‘ four-gold-medal performance under Hitler’s maniacal gaze), but not before causing widespread outrage back in Norway.
In Berlin before the Olympics, Hitler and his entourage came to watch her skate and she greeted him with the Nazi salute and a “heil Hitler,” prompting headlines speculating that she was some sort of Nazi or Nazi sympathizer. (The general consensus, however weak, was that she was just going with the flow and was not a political person.) She did not repeat the gesture during the Olympics, but Hitler presented her with an autographed photo along with her gold medal, after which she and her parents are said to have accepted an invitation to lunch with him.
“I don’t think Sonja Henie was a political person in any way, shape, or form,” Dick Button told Vanity Fair in 2014. “She was an opportunist… I don’t think she could have cared less who Hitler was, except for whatever power he had and what it would do for her career.”
The 1940 and 1944 Winter Olympics—to be hosted by Japan and Italy, respectively—were canceled due to World War II. After the 1936 Olympics, Henie retired from skating and set her sights on Hollywood, marrying an American and becoming a naturalized citizen in 1940. She ultimately supported U.S. war efforts, but it didn’t escape notice that she didn’t donate to the Norwegian resistance until after Pearl Harbor.
Tune in to NBC to watch the Winter Olympics.
Cardi B woke up at 9 pm checked her Instagram and saw Tami Roman speaking about her pregnancy reports.
Cardi’s performance in Trinidad on Thursday night was well received but the images from her set only serve to add more fuel to the chatters about her pregnancy. Of course, she already addressed the rumors saying she is just eating well and putting on a little weight. Some folks don’t buy it but that’s her explanation. Love and Hip Hop personality Tami Roman went a step further and post a video of herself telling Cardi B to make a formal announcement on her pregnancy. She also begged the rapper not to come for her but she still did and something tells me that this is only the beginning.
“I really like Cardi am a fan of hers I think that she is funny and all and I met her on the red carpet one time and I told her that I was proud of what she was doing and that hasn’t changed,” Tami Roman said.
“Don’t come for me Cardi because this is just my opinion and it matters to nobody but me,” she continues. “So let me state my opinion and its all in love. On the picture, you look pregnant. Now I know you said that you’re just getting fat and that’s okay too but am just saying it looked pregnant, that pregnant lady belly that’s what it looks like about two-three months I don’t know… Just make the announcement.”
Tami Roman has since deleted the video but the damage was already done, all the blogs already ran with it. Cardi B got word of it and fired off a fiery statement before going back to take her nap.
“I got home at 9 a.m. from the studio,” the Bronx rapper wrote. “I slept all the way till 1 pm. I woke up and did a couple of fittings. I went back home about 4 p.m. I drank tea glass of orange juice and popped some Tylenol to sweat a fever out you know regular minding my business type of sh*t. I woke up at 9 p.m., and I see that mother****er is talking about me. Why the f*** are you talking about me? I don’t ever talk about other people!!! I am talking about my s*** but not about other people especially if I don’t know you. So why is my name in your mouth? Do I make a check for you? Do I f*** with you? Am I eating your pu**y? Am I helping you find a job? So why is cardi B in your f****ng mouth?”
“I don’t understand how I be minding my business and people find ways to talk about me maybe there’s not enough jobs out there,” Cardi B added.
Controversies surrounding the death of popular Ghanaian singer who passed away after a ghastly motor accident is still unfolding after a latest development.
Latest reports have claimed that the corpse of the military officer, Francis Atisu Vondee, who died in the car crash alongside Ghanaian dancehall artiste, Ebony, will face court-martial.
It was gathered from Burma camp that the Lance corporal asked for a sick leave but ended up in Mankranso, where he met his untimely death.
According to the sources at the military high command, Vondee who was in a military uniform at the time of the accident, was not officially deployed for the bodyguard duties.
Being dead, his uniform will be hanged in the guardroom for 40 days after which his body be released to the family for burial. His family “could also be denied his benefits” due him, including insurance packages.