If you want to be up on your friends on who to look for in Tokyo in 2020, this would be a good week to be on vacation:
● Cycling: One of the most gripping editions of the Tour de France in recent memory is in its final week, with three soul-crushing stages in the Alps on Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the final ride into Paris on Sunday. France’s Julian Alaphilippe has this cycling-mad country in a frenzy, leading by 1:35 over defending champion Geraint Thomas (GBR) … and a French rider has not won Le Tour since 1985!
● Swimming: The FINA World Championships continue in Gwangju (KOR), with American distance superstar Katie Ledecky stunned by Australian teen Ariarne Titmus on Sunday in the 400 m Freestyle. They will meet again in the 200 m and 800 m Frees, and U.S. sprinter Caeleb Dressel – who won seven golds at the 2017 Worlds – already smashed his own American Record in the heats of the 100 m Butterfly. Oh yes, and then there’s that Lilly King vs. Yuliya Efimova (RUS) thing going on in the 50-100-200 m Breaststroke races …
● Track & Field: With the exception of eight Americans who have free passes to the IAAF World Championships in Doha as 2017 winners, the U.S. team for the World Championships will be selected on the famed blue track of Drake Stadium at the USA Track & Field National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. Because even the 2017 World Champions have to show up to demonstrate that they are fit (really, just alive), all the talent will be there. With spots on the team at stake, what will happen with Noah Lyles (200 m), Michael Norman (400 m), Rai Benjamin (400 m hurdles), Jenny Simpson (1,500 m), Keni Harrison (100 m hurdles), Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad (400 m hurdles), Jenn Suhr and Sandi Morris (pole vault) and all the rest? And what about Allyson Felix, who hasn’t been seen in competition since giving birth to her daughter?
Then there is the Pan American Games in Lima (PER), with about 6,668 athletes from 41 countries contesting a staggering 419 events in 39 sports, many of which are nowhere close to being on the Olympic program. Alongside crucial Olympic qualifying events in many sports, there is Basque Pelota, Bodybuilding, Bowling, Squash, Water Skiing and others. The governing body, PanAmSports, knows the program is too big, so Lima might be the last of this size.
The Pan Ams start on Friday (26th) and run for two full weeks through 11 August, but the others all finish this coming Sunday (28th). This is going to be great.
U.S. audiences won’t see much of the swimming at the FINA World Championships because of the time zone in Korea; the finals sessions come on at 7 a.m. Eastern time and 4 a.m. here in the West. But Titmus’s upset of Ledecky in the 400 m Freestyle was a positive for a lot of people, not just Titmus:
● Winner: NBC. The biggest winner in all of this is NBC, which can now promote an actual rivalry between Ledecky and a person, instead of against the clock. Have no fear that you won’t see the final 25 m of the race, where Titmus passed Ledecky: NBC will show it to you again and again between now and Tokyo.
● Winner: Seven Network Australia. That’s the group that owns the TV rights to the Tokyo Games in Australia and with the resurgence in its swimming fortunes – after a very tough 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds – interest will be higher than ever.
● Winner: Ariarne Titmus. The 18-year-old had stardom written all over her before the World Championships in Gwangju, but now she will be a name known worldwide. But as very few people follow swimming closely outside of the Olympic Games, she will be heavily promoted in Australia and elsewhere and will have to manage her media presence, social-media posts and sponsors more carefully. Everyone will want a piece of the woman who beat Katie Ledecky.
● Winner: Katie Ledecky. She wasn’t at all happy about losing the 400 m Free, especially with a 62/100ths lead coming into the final 50 m. But she said afterwards her legs were dead at the end and she would have to figure out the next steps.
Ledecky is going to have more trouble in Gwangju because of the schedule on Tuesday, which has her swimming the 200 m Freestyle at 10:17 a.m., then the women’s 1,500 m Freestyle at 8:10 in the evening – a 15-minute race – and then the 200 m semis at 9:14 p.m. That’s about 49 minutes between swimming almost a mile and essentially a four-lap sprint, with an almost-certain awards ceremony in-between at 8:59 p.m.
But assuming she holds form and wins the 1,500 m on Tuesday and 800 m on Saturday – in which she will be heavily favored – Ledecky’s situation changes drastically for Tokyo. Although she will be favored in the 800 m and 1,500 m, she is now poised to be a hunter and not a defender in the 400 m. Perhaps she even gives up on the 200 m for Tokyo and concentrates more on the 400 m and Titmus. It is, for many athletes, a better psychological position to be in.
And Ledecky, after all, is only 22 and will have had a full year in the transition from college swimmer to professional. In light of all this, it will be fascinating to see how deep her participation will be in the forthcoming International Swim League, starting in October. She’s an ISL ambassador, so she will have responsibilities as a member of the D.C. Trident team, debuting on 4-5 October in Indianapolis in a quadrangular meet. How does that fit into her Tokyo preparation now?
With the Toyota USATF Outdoor National Championships coming up, this should be one of the best weeks of the year for USA Track & Field. But it’s going to be anything but.
In addition to staging the Nationals in Des Moines, the federation has to deal with the arbitrator’s decision on the Pan American Games team handed down on Friday. In addition to the six individuals who filed the complaint and were directed by the arbitrator to be added to the team, the decision specifically requires:
“Selection for the team representing the United States in the [2019 Pan American] Games should be confined to competition results occurring from January 1, 2019 to June 10, 2019.”
The complaint filed by the six athletes specifically asking to be placed on the team also brought in up to 137 “Affected Athletes” which included the other athletes already named by USATF to the Pan Am Team.
This now involves:
● The athletes already named to the team;
● Those who might now be named to the team if they can be found and accept the invitation;
● The USATF coaches and staff for the Pan American Games, trying to coordinate not only who is on the team, but the travel, accommodations, accreditation and uniforming of what could be several dozen new team members;
● The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, already with staff in Lima and having to coordinate the entries as well as the logistics for these new members of the U.S. delegation;, and
● The Lima 2019 organizers, who must be quite bewildered at this point as to why the hemisphere’s superpower is asking for so many changes with a week to go before the Games open.
The arbitrator’s decision, in fact, leaves the entire question of participation in the Games up to the Lima organizers. If they do not allow changes and threatens to simply leave the U.S. out of any affected events, the decision expressly allows the existing team members to compete.
Someone needs to arrange for some very large gift baskets to be delivered to the Lima 2019 athlete registration team for Athletics now.