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Halifax shipyard tests steel-cutting methods as first new destroyer expected by 2035

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HALIFAX – The Irving shipyard is testing methods to cut steel for Canada’s new destroyers, though the navy says it will be about a decade before the first vessel joins military operations.

Standing before hundreds of hard-hatted Halifax shipbuilders Friday, Defence Minister Bill Blair also announced that the 15 upcoming warships are officially designated as River class destroyers. They’re named in recognition of Canadian warships that gained fame during the Second World War, and the waterways that lead to Canada’s coastlines.

However, the first of the ships — complete with missile systems and state-of-the-art radar — won’t be capable of operating in the Royal Canadian Navy until 2035, with nine of the destroyers expected by 2040 and the full 15 by 2050, officials said in a briefing on Thursday evening.

Meanwhile, the formal construction contracts haven’t been signed, and a final design is still in progress.

Blair nonetheless touted the early stages of construction as being “historic,” while noting the urgency of building the destroyers.

“It’s important we replace the Halifax frigates,” he said. “They are reaching the end of their life cycle and it’s becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.”

Dave Perry, president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa, said he’s happy to see the project make some progress after years of delay.

“These ships will be a really significant increase in Canada’s naval capability,” he said in an interview Thursday, adding that they will improve the country’s ability to conduct any type of submarine warfare and to participate in NATO naval task forces.

But he also said the contracts need to be signed before the next federal election, to avoid further delays. “This government doesn’t have a lot of time left and it’s still got a bunch of unfinished business,” he said.

Blair said Friday he expects the deal will be finalized while the Liberal government remains in office.

“Both the Royal Canadian Navy and the Irving shipyard need that contract in place …. I’m very confident we’ll get it done before we have an election,” said the Liberal cabinet minister.

Inflation and the navy’s added requirements have been driving up the cost of the destroyers. While Blair and defence officials have continued to state the construction will cost $60 billion, the Parliamentary Budget Officer suggested in 2022 it could be as much as $80 billion.

Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee said Friday in Halifax that the Canadian ships, which are based on the BAE Type 26 design used in the United Kingdom and Australia, are heavier than their counterparts because of design changes.

The navy commander said the River class destroyers have a radar — considered the heart of the modern warship — located higher up in the vessel than in its Australian and British counterparts. That has required associated power, cooling and other supporting machinery, which add 900 tonnes in weight.

Topshee also said that while the Australian and United Kingdom Type 26 ships are primarily intended as anti-submarine escorts, the River class will be expected to defend against air attack and potentially to oversee command and control of other vessels.

On Friday, the Halifax shipyard started producing and testing what’s referred to as “thin-steel” plates, which will eventually be used in the destroyers. The steel is less thick than the materials in the Arctic patrol vessels under construction at the yard. Topshee told reporters the actual production of steel that will be used in the first destroyer to be built — HMCS Fraser — will begin between April and October of 2025.

James Bezan, the Conservative Party’s defence critic, said in an email that the project’s timeline is a reminder that the Liberals have neglected the Armed Forces. The Liberal government, “failed to recruit enough sailors … our warships are rusting out and aging faster than expected, leaving our navy incapable,” he wrote.

Richard Shimooka, a fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, said in an interview Thursday that while the navy is badly in need of new ships, its production timeline is not out of step with other nations building similar classes of vessel.

“We all wish the time frame were faster but it’s probably going to take this long …. It’s difficult to see other options to get something faster,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2024.

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A Lebanese photojournalist, wounded in Israeli strike, carries Olympic torch to honor journalists

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VINCENNES, France (AP) — A Lebanese photojournalist who was severely wounded during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon carried Sunday the Olympic torch in Paris to honor journalists wounded and killed in the field.

The torch relay, which started in May, is part of celebrations in which about 10,000 people from various walks of life were chosen to carry the flame across France before the Games opening ceremony on July 26.

Christina Assi, of Agence France-Presse, was among six journalists struck by Israeli shelling on Oct. 13 2023 while reporting on fire exchange along the border between Israeli troops and members of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group. The attack killed Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah. Assi was severely wounded and had part of her right leg amputated.

AFP videographer Dylan Collins, also wounded in the Israeli attack, pushed Assi’s wheelchair as she carried the torch across the suburb of Vincennes Sunday. Their colleagues from the press agency and hundreds of spectators cheered them on.

“I wish Issam was here to see this. And I wish what happened today was not because we were struck by two rockets,” Assi told The Associated Press, struggling to hold back her tears. “I wish I could have honored journalists this way while walking and in my best health.”

AFP, Reuters and Al Jazeera accused Israel of targeting their journalists who maintained they were positioned far from where the clashes with vehicles clearly marked as press, while international human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said the attack was a deliberate attack on civilians and should be investigated as a war crime.

“This is a chance to continue talking about justice, and the targeted attack on Oct. 13 that needs to be investigated as a war crime,” said Collins.

The Israeli military at the time said that the incident was under review, maintaining that it didn’t target journalists.

While holding the torch, Assi said participating in the relay “is to send a message that journalists should be protected and be able to work without fearing that they could die at any moment.”

In late November 2023, Rabih al-Maamari and Farah Omar of the pan-Arab television network Al-Mayadeen were also killed in an apparent Israeli drone strike in southern Lebanon while covering the conflict.

Assi doesn’t believe there will be retribution for the events of that fateful October day but hopes her participation in the Olympic torch relay can bring attention to the importance of protecting journalists. “For me, justice comes the day I can stand up again, hold my camera, and get back to work,” she said.

The watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists, in a preliminary count, said at least 108 journalists have been killed since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, the majority in the Gaza Strip.

The war was triggered by the Palestinian militant group Hamas’ sudden attack on southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and abducting 250 others. Israel says Hamas is still holding about 120 hostages — about a third of them thought to be dead. Israel retaliated with an offensive that has killed more than 38,000 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Hezbollah militants have traded near-daily strikes with the Israeli military along their border over the past nine months.

Chehayeb reported from Beirut.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Cecile and Laurent Landi helped Simone Biles reach new heights. The Olympics serve as a homecoming

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SPRING, Texas (AP) — Cecile Canqueteau-Landi fit “in the box,” as she put it. She was skinny. She was blonde. She was pretty good at gymnastics.

And so at 9 years old, she was whisked away to become part of the French national team program, a path that ultimately led her to the 1996 Olympics.

There was reward in that journey. Yet looking back nearly three decades later, Landi wonders how many promising young athletes had their careers and their lives altered — and not for the better — because they didn’t fit someone’s preconceived notion of what a gymnast needed to look like by the time they reached their 10th birthday.

When Landi transitioned into coaching in the early 2000s, she vowed not to make the same mistake.

So maybe it’s not a coincidence that when Landi and her husband, Laurent — himself a former French national team member — walk onto the floor at Bercy Arena for women’s Olympics qualifying next Sunday, they will do it while leading the oldest U.S. women’s gymnastics team — headlined by 27-year-old Simone Biles — the Americans have ever sent to a modern Games.

A healthy partnership

In another country in another era, maybe Biles becomes something other than an icon.

“An athlete like Simone would never have reached her full potential in France,” said Cecile. “Because she would have been put aside because she didn’t fit that box.”

For the Landis — who began coaching Biles in 2017 — there is no “box.” There can’t be.

“It’s not the athlete that needs to adjust to the coaches,” Laurent Landi said. “The coaches need to adjust to the athletes and the athlete’s abilities.”

Biles was already 20 and the reigning Olympic champion when the Landis agreed to helm the elite program at World Champions Centre, the massive gym run by the Biles family in the Houston suburbs.

They knew Biles fairly well at the time, having already coached gymnasts who competed alongside Biles at several world championships and the 2016 Olympics. During the interview process, all three agreed there was no point — and no fun — in having Biles merely try to hold on to her otherworldly talent. To keep her engaged, they needed to make sure she kept moving forward.

The result has been perhaps the best gymnastics of Biles’ remarkable career, a stretch that includes three world all-around titles and another handful of entries in the sport’s Code of Points with her name next to them, from the triple-double on floor exercise to the Yurchenko double pike vault that drew a standing ovation at the Olympic trials last month.

Biles views her relationship with the Landis as more of a partnership.

“They’ve been big mentors in like my adulthood (because) they got to see and harness the more mature Simone,” Biles said. “They’ve helped me a lot not just in the gym but out of the gym, too.”

When Biles moved into her first house, Cecile came over and showed her how to operate the dishwasher. When a gymnast who had just gotten their driver’s license had a problem with one of her tires, Cecile went to a nearby gas station and gave a tutorial on how to use the air pump.

“If we can help and they want the help, then why not?” she said, with a laugh.

Changing with the times

The trick is finding a way to provide that help safely and productively, particularly amid a culture shift in the sport aimed at empowering athletes to take ownership of their gymnastics. It is a delicate needle to thread. What serves as motivation for one athlete could be construed negatively by another.

It’s a reality the Landis are well aware of as they try to find the proper balance between being too rigid and too lax. They grew up in a time when the coach/athlete relationship was one-sided. There was no back and forth. There was no discussion. The coach set the standards and expectations. The athlete met them or they didn’t last long.

The shift toward a more cooperative approach was overdue, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy. Laurent Landi acknowledges he’s not the most patient coach, although those around him say he has mellowed a bit over the years. He also understands if he wants to keep doing this for a living, he didn’t have much of a choice.

“Yeah, there will be frustration,” he said. “But you can always go around some stuff and just take your pride (as a coach) away and make sure that the athletes still get the skill done.”

It’s an approach that helped World Champion Centre’s elite program send five athletes to the Olympic trials, with Biles and Jordan Chiles making the five-woman U.S. team while Joscelyn Roberson and Tiana Sumanasekera were selected as alternates.

It’s the kind of success Roberson envisioned when she moved to the Houston suburbs a few years ago to train under the Landis. She was intimidated at first before realizing her new coaches “have a million different ways to coach one skill,” a marked departure from what she was used to.

The goal is to meet the athletes where they are at on a given day, understanding no two gymnasts are the same and what works for one might not necessarily work for another. Perhaps even more importantly, they have learned to evolve as the nature of coaching evolves.

“We’re not always right,” Laurent said. “If you do your own way all the time, you will hurt the majority of the athletes. Maybe one will survive and will be an amazing person, amazing athlete but the (other) 90%, they will be broken. … We had to adjust to Simone, otherwise we would have broke her.”

It’s not just Biles’ age they had to accommodate, but her schedule. She is no longer a precocious teenager who buries herself in the gym. She’s a newlywed whose schedule is packed with everything from corporate commitments to building a house and a family with her husband, Chicago Bears safety Jonathan Owens.

“When (we) tell him he just hears ‘you’re missing practice’ and kind of freaks out,” Biles said. “Because he sees all the end goals and then he gets the calendar and then he’s like: ’Oh, OK, that’s fine. We’ll do this today, we’ll do that.’ So it just takes time for him to process.”

Biles certainly appears well-prepared. She arrives in Paris at the height of her powers more than a decade after ascending to the top of her sport. She’ll be accompanied by a pair of coaches who view the trip as more of a business trip than a homecoming.

A new challenge awaits

While the Landis have been approached to take over the women’s national team program in France in recent years, returning never made much sense to them even with the women’s program is in the midst of a resurgence.

“I think our family will be very proud, probably more than we are,” Cecile Landi said. “Because in a weird way, it’s just work for us.”

And perhaps, goodbye, too.

Cecile, long a supporter of NCAA gymnastics, earlier this year agreed to become the co-head coach at the University of Georgia. Laurent will remain at World Champions Centre in the short term until daughter Juliette — who will dive for France during the Games — graduates from high school next spring.

After that, who knows? The young gymnast put in a box has become a coach who no longer puts limitations on anyone, herself maybe most of all.

“I think I’ve done everything I could do in elite, and beyond what I could ever have imagined as a little French girl in a little town,” Cecile said. “I’ve coached the greatest of all time. I’ve coached many kids. I’ve had many great athletes in NCAA and elite that I feel like I want to try what’s next, a new challenge.”

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US women’s Olympic basketball knows it has work to do after loss to WNBA team

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PHOENIX (AP) — There is no panic in the U.S. women’s Olympic team. The Americans have been in this spot before.

The U.S. lost to the WNBA All-Star team on Saturday night 117-109 and are headed on a flight to London to continue their prep for the Paris Olympics. Breanna Stewart said it felt like deja vu and she wasn’t wrong.

The 2021 Olympic team also lost to the WNBA All-Star team in a tune-up to the Tokyo Games. They went on to cruise to a seventh consecutive gold medal.

Just like in the 2021 exhibition game, the Americans had no answer for Arike Ogunbowale.

The MVP of Saturday night’s game scored all 34 of her points in the second half of the victory. She also had earned MVP honors in 2021.

“We’ll take this one on the chin, keep moving forward,” Stewart said. “Don’t want to peak too soon. We’re excited to get to London and really focus on this team and what our ultimate goal is.”

That goal is continuing one of the greatest Olympic streaks ever. The Americans haven’t lost a game in the Olympics since 1992.

“This is going to help us tremendously. We don’t get that many game opportunities,” said Stewart, who had 31 points to lead the U.S. ”We can go back and watch the film and focus on how we can continue to be better. It was like a little bit of deja vu feeling but just locking in.”

The U.S. women’s team is scheduled to play Germany in London in an exhibition game Tuesday before going to France for the Olympics. The Americans are in a pool with Belgium, Japan and Germany.

“We have work to do and we know that,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Sometimes it’s good, adversity, etc. I don’t think we needed a game like this to have our attention. We know how hard it is to do what we’re trying to do and we have work to do to get there.”

That work starts with getting time together on and off the court. The players had a lot of other responsibilities over All-Star weekend besides the game.

They only got to practice as a team twice before Saturday’s game. Now they’ll have some time together with a lot less distraction. That will help them improve and get ready for what matters most — capping the Olympics with another gold medal.

“It’s not time to panic. It’s time to learn and grow and figure out how we can be our best together,” Stewart said. “We have a group of very unselfish players and everybody wants to succeed here.”

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AP WNBA:

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