HEARD AT HALFTIME: Confidence from Beijing on holding Winter Games, unhappiness about the diplomatic boycott; world road 5 km records!

The Beijing 2022 awards podium and backdrop (Photo: Beijing 2022)

News, views and noise from the non-stop, worldwide circus of Olympic sport:


“The Chinese government has reminded us on several occasions, and again last Friday, that we are moving forward. They are very confident. They have set up an extremely sophisticated sanitary bubble that keeps all the participants inside it. Athletes will have virtually no contact with the outside world and will perform a PCR test every day. …

“My main concern is the increase in the number of cases among athletes. We obviously do not like to lose a few weeks before the Olympics when they have made it their goal for many months. It is above all for them that we organize this incredible event.”

That was International Olympic Committee Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi (SUI) from a Monday interview with the Swiss television channel RTS, confirming the determination of the Chinese organizers to hold the Games on schedule, beginning on 4 February.

The “closed-loop management” program went into effect on Tuesday, exactly one month prior to the Opening Ceremony. The Main Media Center, which includes both the Main Press Center and International Broadcast Center, opened on Tuesday and comprises 98,000 sq. m (about 1.05 million sq. ft.).

Japan’s Kyodo News reported comments from a diplomatic source on the Chinese government’s view of the Games, despite the problems caused by the pandemic.

“[Chinese President Xi Jinping] wants to host the Olympics in their complete form to show to the world that China has overcome the novel coronavirus. He believes it will be conducive to ensuring his appointment [for another term, in the fall].

“The determination is unwavering. Xi’s leadership is expected to accelerate efforts to tackle the pandemic in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, regardless of whether Chinese citizens are fed up with strong restrictions.”

The story also noted comments from another source said to be familiar with the thinking of the Chinese Community Party, including “China has been eager to hold the Beijing Olympics, with national pride at stake, so the diplomatic boycott has become one of the headaches for Xi.

“What China has been also worried about is that the image of it would worsen if it retaliates too much for nations deciding to implement a diplomatic boycott. But Xi cannot forgive them. China has been frustrated.”

Underlining the importance of maintaining strict political neutrality, IOC President Thomas Bach (GER) said in his New Year’s message:

“This Olympic Truce Resolution [adopted by the United Nations] is another demonstration that we can only accomplish our mission to unite the world, if everybody respects that the Olympic Games must be beyond all political disputes. In this way, the Olympic Winter Games 2022 can set another great example for a peaceful competition. The Olympic Games stand above any conflict. In the Olympic Games we all respect the same rules and each other. In the Olympic Games we are all equal.”

Bach also praised the conduct of the Tokyo Games last summer and reiterated the IOC’s focus on sustainability, the solidarity model of sharing revenues and “driving the digitalisation of the Olympic Movement even further.”


● Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The International Fair Play Committee announced the winner of its Fair Play Award for the Tokyo Games, selecting the seven skateboarders who came to the rescue of World Champion Misugu Okamoto after she crashed on her first run in the women’s Park final.

All seven of the other finalists came to her aid, including eventual gold and silver medalists Sakura Yosozumi and Kokona Hiraki (JPN), bronze medalist Sky Brown (GBR), Poppy Olsen (AUS: 5th), Bryce Wettstein (USA: 6th), and Brazil’s Dora Varella (7th) and Yndiara Asp (8th). Although she crashed out in the first round, Okamoto came back to finish fourth overall.

An amazing part of the incident was the youth of the competitors, with five of the eight aged just 12-19 and the other three in their early 20s. Okamoto was 15 at the time of the Games.

International Fair Play Committee Secretary General Sunil Sabharwal (USA) noted, “The many positive actions on the field of play, accentuate sports’ positive attributes that show no borders.”

The Fair Play award was instituted in 2008 and the winner was selected by a five-member jury from 13 short-listed nominees.

The IOC noted findings from Dr. Tomoya Saito, the Director of the Centre of Emergency Preparedness and Response of Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), at a late November conference in Monaco:

“[T]here is no evidence that the virus was spread to the rest of the world by participants in Tokyo 2020. And no epidemic other than [the dominant] AY.29 [variant] in Japan means that virus strains that were brought in by the participants did not spread in Japan.”

Charts showed that the reproduction rate of the virus actually decreased in Japan during the Games period, demonstrating that the event was not the super-spreader that had been forecasted by some prior to the Games.

● Games of the XXXIII Olympiad: Paris 2024 ● Randstad France was reported as an Official Supporter of Paris 2024 on Tuesday and will help with recruitment of Games staff and out-placement after its conclusion.

Headquartered in the Netherlands, Randstad was founded in 1960 and operates in dozens of countries. It is no stranger to the Olympic Games, with its Randstad Staffing services subsidiary in the U.S. deeply involved in staff recruitment for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. For that event, Randstad recruited 20,000 people who assisted with on-the-ground assignments such as bus drivers and ticket takers.

● XXVI Olympic Winter Games: 2030 ● Kyodo News Service trumpeted the possible selection of Sapporo as the site for the 2030 Winter Games in a New Year’s Day story, referring to sources explaining “Because Sapporo’s track record of hosting and managing events is highly regarded, the decision could be decided in the city’s favor before this year ends.”

Sapporo, in northern Japan, hosted the marathons for the Tokyo Games this past summer, which went well, and was the host for the 1972 Winter Games.

A public poll of enthusiasm for a 2030 Winter Games will be held as early as March; a budget for the Games was revised downward in November to ¥280-300 billion, or about $2.4-2.6 billion U.S.

The Sapporo bid is slightly behind Salt Lake City’s effort, as polling has showed overwhelming support for a return of the Winter Games there, and no new facilities need to be built. Its budget projection, including $250 million for legacy operations, is $2.2 billion.

Ukraine’s interest in the 2030 Games is being accompanied by a bid for the 2028 Winter Youth Olympic Games. GamesBids.com reported that Ukrainian Minister of Youth and Sports Vadym Huttsaitconfirmed that an official dialogue has already begun with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to host in 2030, adding that the President now supports a bid for the earlier 2028 Youth Games.”

Their bid is well behind that of Sapporo and Salt Lake City, and will involve the construction of some new venues. That would make a 2030 Winter Games unlikely, but a future Games possible.

The Vancouver Sun reported that a 17-19 December survey by the polling firm Leger showed 34% of British Columbians in favor of 2030 Winter Games bid for Vancouver, with 35% opposed and 31% neutral.

That’s hardly a ringing endorsement, but the pollsters through it a reasonable starting point. The poll showed that contrary to the low-cost concept of the bid, 66% thought that substantial public funds will be needed to stage the Games.

Calgary carefully considered a bid for 2026, but the concept was rejected in a local referendum.

● Athletics ● Sad news of the passing on Monday (3rd) of two outstanding athletes: three-time Olympic triple jump winner Viktor Saneyev and four-time U.S. hammer throw Olympian Jud Logan.

Saneyev, 76, won the 1968, 1972 and 1976 Olympic triple jump titles and was second at the 1980 Games to teammate Jaak Uudmae. He also won two European outdoor Championships in 1969 and 1974 and set three world records during his career, with a best of 17.44 m (57-2 3/4) in 1972. He retired after the 1980 Games and became a coach, but left Russia in the 1990s for Australia.

He had a difficult time there, but eventually found work as a teacher and coach; he died in Sydney.

Logan was a four-time Olympian in 1984-88-92-2000 and was the American Record holder in the event from 1985 to 1994, improving the standard from 76.80 m (252-0) to 81.88 m (268-8). He became a very successful coach at Ashland University in Ohio, serving with the track & field program for 28 years and the last 17 as head coach.

His Eagles won the NCAA Division II men’s championship in 2019, both indoors and out, and the 2021 indoor title. His athletes won 59 individual Division II championships.

He overcame leukemia in 2019, but passed away on Monday at age 62 due to complications from COVID-related pneumonia.

● Ice Hockey ● USA Hockey named David Quinn as coach of the U.S. men’s Olympic team for Beijing and John Vanbiesbrouck as general manager.

Quinn was most recently the coach of the NHL’s New York Rangers from 2018-21, and has been part of international hockey as an assistant coach with the U.S. World Championship team in 2016, as well as in 2012 and 2007.

Vanbiesbrouck is USA Hockey’s Assistant Executive Director of Hockey Operations after a 20-season career as one of the finest goalies in NHL history and was the 1986 Vezina Trophy winner as the best keeper in the league. He was a U.S. Olympian in Calgary in 1988 and competed in four IIHF World Championships between 1985-91.

The U.S. men’s roster will be named later this month, with no NHL players available.

USA Hockey confirmed the U.S. women’s team roster for Beijing, with 15 of the 23 players having Olympic experience, with 13 returnees from the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic gold-medal squad.

Forward Hilary Knight was named to her fourth Olympic team, joining Jenny Potter, Angela Ruggiero and Julie Chu as the only American women to accomplish that feat. Four players made their third U.S. Olympic team: forwards Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker and Amanda Kessel and defender Lee Stecklein.

The U.S. and Canada have met in five of the six Olympic women’s championships games and are favored to do so again in Beijing.

● Judo ● The International Judo Federation once again rewarded the top-ranked judoka in each of its 14 weight classes with year-end awards of $10,000 each. The recipients:

Men: Yung Wei Yang (TPE: 60 kg), Baul An (KOR: 66 kg), Lasha Shavdatuashvili (GEO: 73 kg), Tato Grigalashvili (GEO: 81 kg), Davlat Bobonov (UZB: 90 kg), Arman Adamian (RUS: 100 kg) and Tamerlan Bashaev (RUS: +100 kg).

Women: Distria Krasniqi (KOS: 48 kg), Amandine Bucharde (FRA: 52 kg), Nora Gjakova (KOS: 57 kg), Clarisse Agbegnenou (FRA: 63 kg), Barbara Matic (CRO: 70 kg), Madeleine Malonga (FRA: 78 kg) and Romane Dicko (FRA: +78 kg).

France topped the list with four winners, all women; Georgia and Russia had two men’s winners each and Kosovo had two women’s winners.

● Swimming ● Covid claimed another victim on the U.S. sports calendar as USA Swimming announced:

“In an abundance of caution, USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport of swimming in the United States, announced that it was cancelling its first TYR Pro Swim Series event of the year, originally slated for Knoxville, Tennessee, from January 12-15, 2022.”

The next scheduled Tyr Pro Swim Series event is in Des Moines, Iowa from 2-5 March.

The campaigning has started in earnest at the European Swimming League (known as LEN from its French acronym), after the vote of no-confidence against its current leadership. A 30 December letter circulated by Vice Presidential candidate Josip Varvodic (CRO) stated in part:

“In a nutshell, the [vote of no confidence] was a collective complaint against a system of governance and leadership at LEN that has become unacceptable to the majority.

“We all agree that LEN has spent too much money and energy on trying to become a rival and enemy of [international federation] FINA, rather than a responsible partner for the good of the sports. …

“We deserve better communications on important subjects such as financial reports, sport-driven projects, structure and function of LEN office, minutes and reports of work done by the Executive Board. We also believe that different opinions and debates should not be seen as threats that need to be crushed without pity. On the contrary, they should be reinforced.”

The special LEN Congress will be held on 5 February 2022.


● Athletics ● Just before the end of 2021, records were set for the 5 km road race in Barcelona (ESP). Ethiopians Berihu Aregawi and Ejegayehu Taye ran away from the fields in the men’s and women’s races in the Cursa dels Nassos event.

Aregawi finished in 12:49 to break Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei’s 2020 mark of 12:51 by two seconds; Peter Maru of Kenya was second in 13:30.

Taye won by 45 seconds in 14:19, crushing the 14:43 mark for a mixed-gender race by Beatrice Chepkoech (KEN) from February of 2021.

● Cross Country Skiing ● The 16th Tour de Ski concluded with races in Val di Fiemme in Italy, with Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo and Russian Natalia Nepryaeva coming out on top.

Klaebo won Monday’s 15 km Classical Mass Start in 41:31.2, an impressive 20.8 seconds ahead of Finland’s Iivo Niskanen and 23.7 seconds up on Alexey Chervotkin (RUS). Combined with his fifth-place finish on Tuesday in the 10 km Freestyle Mass Start, Klaebo won the overall title at 2:24:56.0, 2:03.2 better than Russian star Alexander Bolshunov.

Norway’s Sjur Roethe won Tuesday’s race at 31:42.1, just 2.4 seconds up on Denis Spitsov (RUS) and Friedrich Moch (GER: +18.9).

Nepryaeva won her second World Cup race in a row on Monday, taking the 10 km Classical Mass Start in 29:51.3, just 3.7 seconds up on Norway’s Heidi Weng. American Jessie Diggins fell back to 13th.

On Tuesday, Weng won the 10 km Freestyle Mass Start in 35:41.2, out-lasting Ebba Andersson (SWE) by 7.0 seconds, with Nepryaeva fourth and Diggins in 15th. The top Americans were unheralded Sophia Laukli (21) in fifth and Novie McCabe (20) in seventh!

The combined total showed Nepryaeva the Tour de Ski winner at 1:59.38.5, with Andersson second (+46.7) and Weng third (+1:07.7). Diggins, the defending champion, finished eighth, 3:15.8 back of the winner.

● Ski Jumping ● The third leg of the Four Hills Tournament was supposed to be in Innsbruck (AUT) on Tuesday, but strong winds forced the cancellation of the event. The show will move on to the fourth stop in Bischofshofen (AUT) for two events on the 5th and 6th.

Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi won the first two legs, trying to repeat his sweep of all four events from 2019.

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