(For Highlights of the major competitions of the weekend, click here.)
News, views and noise from the non-stop, worldwide circus of Olympic sport:
≡ SPOTLIGHT ≡
Perhaps the highlight of the U.S. Olympic Trials in speed skating came after it was over, when 500 m-1,000 m-1,500 m winner Brittney Bowe gave her 500 m slot to Erin Jackson, the no. 1-ranked sprinter in the ISU World Cup, but who had slipped and finished a non-qualifying third in the 500 m racing.
Bowe, 33, didn’t have to do it and could have kept the spot for herself – she earned it – but explained her decision in a post-event interview, with Jackson, 29, on NBC:
“First and foremost, Erin has earned her right to be on this 500 m team. She’s ranked no. 1 in the world and no one’s more deserving than her to get an opportunity to bring Team USA home a medal, and after that unfortunate slip, I knew in my mind – before that night was even over – that if it had to come down to a decision of mine, she could have my place.
“It’s just the spirit of the Olympics and being a great teammate. Yes, it’s bigger than just me, it’s Team USA. Erin has a shot to bring home a medal, hopefully a gold medal and it’s my honor to give her that opportunity. She’s earned it and she deserves it.”
Jackson was composed, but obviously overjoyed:
“It’s hard to even really put it into words, you know. I’m beyond grateful and humbled and I’m happy. Yeah, I’ve grown up with Brittney, I’ve known her, like, almost my whole life, growing up, looking up to her in Ocala [Florida training camps]. Like, I’ve always known what an incredible person she is and now it’s just, yeah, it’s really showing.
“She’s always been there for me, helping me out when I was just like the new kid, back in Ocala, just always been an awesome mentor, an amazing person, someone I can talk to if I need a friend, or advice, anything, it’s an amazing relationship and I’m so grateful.”
Sounds like the International Fair Play Committee has a pre-Olympic award to make to Bowe, but the American star – ranked no. 1 in the ISU World Cup at 1,000 m and no. 2 at 1,500 m – also made a savvy move on two levels going into Beijing:
● Bowe added four days of rest for herself between the 1,500 m on 7 February and the 1,000 m on 17 February. The women’s 500 m is on 13 February; now, with Jackson skating in the 500 m, Bowe can concentrate on her best event and chase an Olympic medal in the 1,000 m, where she is a three-time World Champion.
Further, Bowe had little chance of winning a 500 m medal. She ranks 23rd in the ISU World Cup standings in the event, with a best finish of eighth (twice). Why waste the effort?
● Further, as Bowe mentioned, it is about Team USA and especially about U.S. Speedskating. American skaters have underperformed in this sport over more than a decade in Olympic competition.
After winning eight medals (3-1-4) in Salt Lake City in 2002 and seven (3-3-1) in Turin in 2006, U.S. production dived to four (1-2-1) in Vancouver in 2010, then zero in Sochi in 2014 and one – a women’s Team Pursuit bronze, with Bowe included – in PyeongChang in 2018.
For Beijing, Bowe is the brightest hope the U.S. has, followed by Joey Mantia – currently no. 1 in the ISU World Cup standings for 1,500 m – and Jackson in the 500 m. The U.S. men also set a Team Pursuit world record in December and are expected to contend in that event.
It would mean a lot for the sport in the U.S. to have a breakout Games with 4-5 total medals and the increased funding that would come with that performance.
Bowe’s gift to Jackson was heart-warming, but she was also using her head.
≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
● XXIV Olympic Winter Games: Beijing 2022 ● The International Olympic Committee posted a list of added precautions for those going to Beijing, which can be generally summarized as “don’t get close to anybody.” A sample:
“Keep physical interactions with others to a minimum in the 14 days prior to travelling to China. In the final five days before your departure avoid all public and crowded places such as restaurants, etc.”
China demonstrated last week the extent to which it will go to fight the virus: after an “outbreak” of three cases in the centrally-located city of Yuzhou, officials locked down the 1.2 million inhabitants, with food delivered to homes by government officials.
The shocks continue in Kazakhstan, where at least 44 have died in the anti-government riots and former two-time Prime Minister Karim Massimov has been arrested “on suspicion of treason.” Russian troops were sent to restore order, in cooperation with government forces and the BBC reported that more than 8,000 people have been detained.
On Twitter, more memories of the Almaty bid for the 2022 Winter Games, won by Beijing by just 44-40 and for which Massimov was the bid chair:
● From former U.S. Olympic Committee communications director Patrick Sandusky:
“I was there in the room in Kuala Lumpur when the vote happened. While the bid for Almaty had a strong presentation, there were for sure concerns about their ability to host an event of the scale of the Olympics. I doubt anyone thought this might happen, but there were concerns.”
● From Michael Payne (GBR), former IOC Marketing Director:
“Was not just strong – Almaty came within whisker of winning – some say first round was a draw & why there had to be a [revote] after technical malfunction.”
● From long-time bid consultant Terrence Burns (USA):
“Well I wasn’t only in the room, I wrote every single word of the Almaty presentation and strategy. They were sincere and could have done it. Comparing this week’s events is like comparing alternative history. Had they won, would this have happened? I doubt it.”
● Games of the XXXIV Olympiad: Los Angeles 2028 ● Installation of the quarter-mile track in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum on 5-6 February is moving right along.
ABC7 Los Angeles filed a segment showing the earth-moving effort and a computer animation of what the track will look like once completed. Said NASCAR’s Derek Muldowney of the project:
“So the very first thing we had to do was protect the field. On top of that we’ve got roughly 9,000 cubic yards of fill material that’s all recycled concrete. Once this is in, which we hope to finish this work this week – the fill material and the grading of the track – we’re ready to pave.
“It kept me awake very, very early in the process because we’ve never done anything like this before.”
The Coliseum’s running track, installed for the 1984 Olympic Games, was removed for the then-L.A. Raiders in 1993 to allow lowering of the field for football.
World Lacrosse wants to be part of the 2028 Olympic program as an added sport and has made sure that the LA28 organizers know they are serious, by announcing its 2023 men’s World Championship will be held at the new Snapdragon Stadium in nearby San Diego, California from 23 June-1 July of 2023.
This will be the fourth Lacrosse Worlds to be held in the U.S., but the first on the West Coast. World Lacrosse chief executive Jim Scherr – a former chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee – said, “We’re incredibly excited to bring the premier men’s lacrosse tournament to California for the first time.
“The sport has seen rapid growth around the world and across the United States – especially in the southwestern region – and this event will serve as a catalyst for additional interest and participation as we seek to gain inclusion for lacrosse in the 2028 Olympics. Under the leadership of a connected and passionate local organizing committee, we anticipate unprecedented exposure for the sport amidst the stunning backdrop that Southern California provides.”
● International Olympic Committee ● Francois Carrard, the Swiss lawyer who oversaw the transition of the IOC from a tiny team to a professional sports organization in the 1990s, passed away on Sunday (9th) in Switzerland.
Carrard came to the IOC in 1989 as Director General under then-President Juan Antonio Samaranch and served for 14 years, into 2003, for President Jacques Rogge. Carrard’s term saw the IOC grow into a sophisticated firm with worldwide interests and influence. He worked with Samaranch on many reforms, most notably in the aftermath of the Salt Lake City bidding scandal in 1999, many of which continue to today.
He hardly left the world of sports, being called on by federation after federation to help straighten out their affairs, including football (FIFA), wrestling (UWW) and quite recently, the aquatics federation (FINA), and the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF). He was absolutely respected and made a enormous positive impact for good governance in each organization he worked with.
● Athletics ● American distance star Stephanie Bruce announced last Thursday (6th) that she will be retiring at the end of 2022 after being diagnosed “with a congenital heart condition called Bicuspid Aortic Valve disease (BAVD). It’s the most common congenital heart disease that affects people.”
Bruce will be 38 on Friday and finished fifth in the U.S. Cross Country Championships last Saturday in San Diego. She has bests of 31:24.47 for the 10,000 m (2020), 1:09:55 for the half marathon (2021) and 2:27.47 for the marathon (2019); she was the 2019 U.S. Half Marathon champ.
She is a co-owner of the Picky Bars energy bar company and she and her husband Ben have two young sons, living in Flagstaff, Arizona. They are documenting her final year in competitive running under the title, “Grit Finale.” Her next appearance will be the Rock N Roll AZ Half Marathon on the 16th.
Sad news that one of the key figures in the development of women’s track & field in the U.S., longtime coach Barbara Jacket, passed at age 87 on 6 January.
She started the enormously successful women’s program at Prairie View A&M in Texas and her teams won 12 NAIA national championships (nine outdoors and three indoors), and two AIAW national titles (1974 and 1976) as well as 13 Southwestern Athletic Conference track titles from 1966-91. She retired in 2010 after serving for five years as the school’s director of athletics.
Her contributions were widely recognized and she was the U.S. head women’s coach for the 1987 IAAF World Championships in Rome (ITA) in 1987 and the head women’s coach for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona (ESP) in 1992.
Longtime Middle Tennessee State coach Dean Hayes passed at age 84 on Friday (7th) after battling skin cancer. The university’s announcement noted:
“Hayes has guided the programs to 29 OVC titles, 19 Sun Belt championships, and 20 NCAA Top 25 finishes. Fifty-three of his student-athletes have earned a total of 125 All-America honors, five have become national champions six times and a number of them have gone on to compete internationally in the Olympic Games, World University Games, World Championships, Goodwill Games, Pan-American Games and African Championships.”
Hayes, a recognized jumps expert, was on U.S. coaching staffs for the 1983 IAAF World Championships in Helsinki (FIN), the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul (KOR) and he served as a meet referee at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
● Figure Skating ● Nathan Chen’s sixth straight win at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Sunday moves him into rarefied company among the list of all-time U.S. champions.
In a competition that dates back to 1914, the sport had its first men’s superstar in the 1920s when Sherwin Badger won five straight times from 1920-24, and then Roger Turner won seven straight times from 1928-34; Turner also won World Championships silver medals in 1930 and 1931.
Turner held the record for consecutive wins until after World War II, when Dick Button dominated the sport, also winning seven straight U.S. titles from 1946-1952, plus two Olympic titles in 1948 and 1952 and five World Championships golds in 1948-49-50-51-52.
There have been many other stars who have won four in a row, and Todd Eldredge won six U.S. titles between 1990 and 2002 before Chen took over in 2017.
Still just 22 and with three World titles already, Chen could continue to at least 2030 if he wishes … perhaps skating in front of home fans in Salt Lake City? But with six U.S. titles in a row, he’s behind only Turner and Button with many great years of skating ahead.
Look for many more stories about the health of skaters Alysia Liu (Women) and Brandon Frazier (Pairs), both named to the U.S. team despite having the coronavirus. The Beijing 2022 Playbook for Athletes and Team Officials specifies that two separate negative (PCR) tests are required within 96 hours of departure for China, and for those who have contracted Covid within 30 days of departure, a certificate specifying their infection and recovery dates.
The U.S. figure skaters figure to be on a U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee charter via Delta Airlines to go to and from Beijing.
● Football ● FIFA announced its finalists for its “Best Player” awards for men and women for 2021:
● Men: Robert Lewandowski (POL/FC Bayern München), Lionel Messi (ARG/FC Barcelona/Paris Saint-Germain) and Mohamed Salah (EGY/Liverpool FC).
● Women: Jennifer Hermoso (ESP/FC Barcelona), Sam Kerr (AUS/Chelsea FC Women) and Alexia Putellas (ESP/FC Barcelona).
The winners will be disclosed on 17 January, after a vote by an “international jury respectively comprising the current coaches of all women’s/men’s national teams (one per team), the current captains of all women’s/men’s national teams (one per team), one specialist journalist from each territory represented by a national team and fans registered on FIFA.com.”
● Shooting ● Almost too sad to even report, Britain’s Daily Mail headline read:
“World junior shooting champion, 19, dies after accidentally shooting himself in the stomach when bending over to pick up spent cartridges while hunting in Italy”
Cristian Ghilli won the 2021 World Juniors bronze in Skeet and was a member of Italy’s gold-medal-winning Team Skeet squad, but accidentally shot himself while on a hunt with friends in Montecatini Val di Cecina, in the Pisa province.
He was rushed to the hospital, but could not be saved due to heavy internal bleeding.
● Wrestling ● An innovative college-Olympic wrestling doubleheader is scheduled for 12 February at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas called the “Bout at the Ballpark,” with Oklahoma State and Iowa in a collegiate dual meet as well as the U.S. and Iran in a men’s Freestyle dual.
Fox News reported last Friday that the head of the Iranian wrestling federation, Alireza Dabir, 44, and the 2000 Olympic Freestyle gold medalist at 58 kg, told an Iranian television interviewer last week:
“We always chant ‘Death to America’ but importantly is showing it in action. A doctor, he might even be wearing a tie, but he is doing his job well. He is saying ‘Death to America.’ Some talk a lot but don’t do much. We need to prove it with an action.”
The story further noted comments from Sardar Pashaei, the former coach of the Iranian Greco-Roman team and identified as an “Iranian-American,” that Dabir holds a U.S. green card as well!
No doubt the Iranian team will be under close watch when they make their way to Texas.
≡ AT THE BUZZER ≡
One of the renowned chroniclers of questionable behavior in international sport, British author and journalist Andrew Jennings, 78, passed away after a short illness on Saturday (8th). As colorful as the events he covered, he was especially known for his books concerning the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, including:
● The Lords of the Rings: Power, Money and Drugs in the Modern Olympics (1992)
● The New Lords of the Rings (1996)
● The Great Olympic Swindle (2000)
● FOUL! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals (2006)
● Omertà: Sepp Blatter’s FIFA Organised Crime Family (2014)
● The Dirty Game: Uncovering the Scandal at FIFA (2015)
Jennings was widely disliked in some quarters and celebrated in others; he even appeared before the U.S. Congress in committee hearings in April 1999 (about the IOC) and in July 2015 (about FIFA). He did a serious of documentaries for the BBC on FIFA from 2006-15, each more incriminating than the last.
His advice on reporting was summed up at a Play The Game conference:
“When the pack of reporters go in one direction – go in the opposite direction. Avoid the crowd, stay away from the mob of quick turnaround news-bite reporters, and go away and dig until you think you are getting to some truths. Some independent truths are better than none.”
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