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Billie Jean King unable to attend Sochi Olympic ceremonies

Reuters
King poses for a portrait while promoting PBS's American Masters series in Beverly Hills
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Former tennis player Billie Jean King poses for a portrait while promoting PBS's American Masters …

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former American tennis star Billie Jean King will be unable to join the official U.S. delegation attending the Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremonies due to a serious illness in her family, the White House said on Wednesday.

King was one of three openly gay American athletes named to the U.S. delegation, along with skating champion Brian Boitano and ice hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow. Their selection was intended to send a message against Russia's anti-gay laws.

"The president extends his thoughts and prayers to Ms. King and her family in this difficult time," the White House said.

A statement from King said she is unable to attend because of her mother's failing health.

"It is important for me to be with my mother and my brother at this difficult time. I want to thank President Obama for including me in this historic mission and I look forward to supporting our athletes as they compete in Sochi," she said.

The White House said Cahow, originally named as a member of the delegation in the closing ceremonies, will instead serve in King's place as a member of the delegation for the opening ceremonies.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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