HEARD AT HALFTIME: Covid situation “on par” with Tokyo; U.S. names 222-member Beijing team; FINA ‘22 Worlds to be postponed?

The U.S. team at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony in PyeongChang. (Photo: Jon Gaede)

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

(For David Miller’s guest comment, “Bach optimistic for
Beijing Games social equilibrium,” click here.)

(For Highlights of the major international
competitions of the weekend, click here.)


Dr. Brian McCloskey (GBR), Chair of the Beijing 2022 Medical Expert Panel, told reporters during a Sunday briefing that the Covid situation for the Beijing Games was going more or less to plan so far:

“We are obviously concerned that the Omicron variant will make a difference, and what we’re seeing all around the world outside China, is numbers of Covid cases going up very rapidly because of Omicron, therefore we expect to see more positive cases in people pre-departure because that’s the nature of the disease and the epidemic in their own country. But, gradually, the numbers come down at each level of the testing that we do through and into the closed loop.

“So what we’re seeing inside the closed loop at present: the numbers are still relatively small for athletes, etcetera, but other stakeholders is roughly on the same sort of par with what we saw in Tokyo, so what we expected. But I would just remind you as well, we’ve never set a target of zero cases inside the closed loop. The target is zero spread within the closed loop.

“And the closed loop, as we said, is what protects the people of China by keeping the domestic population separate from the participants coming in from around the world. So we want that spread to go inside the loop and we want the loop to keep it from emerging out into the Chinese population. That’s what we’re seeing at present.”

The Beijing organizers released their first reports on testing and infections, with 336,421 tests conducted from 4-22 January – including 171 athletes – and 72 positives (no athletes) for a positivity rate of 0.02%. The first positive for an athlete came on Sunday (23rd), as 153 new athlete arrivals were recorded, with one athlete testing positive at the airport.

China lifted a month-long lockdown in Xi’an, but imposed a heavy testing regimen in the Fengtai district in Beijing, which has seen multiple Covid infections over the past 10 days.

McCloskey was asked about spectator attendance:

“The decision about spectators will be one for the Chinese authorities to make, and they will do that on the basis of their assessment of the risk. I would imagine that will be largely based on how well they think they can ensure the closed-loop system is maintained if spectators are allowed in.

“So, obviously, letting spectators inside the closed loop and then straight back out again is not likely to be a decision they would do, but they will look at how closely can they keep the closed loop and that separation between the international participants and the local population. If they are re-assured they can do that safely, then they may consider letting spectators in. But that will be their risk assessment.”

The Beijing Games will open on 4 February.

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee announced a 222-member American team for the Beijing Games, its second largest ever behind the 228-member squad for PyeongChang in 2018.

The team includes 99 returning Olympians (45% of the team), with four five-time Olympians: Lindsey Jacobellis (snowboard), John Shuster (curling), Katie Uhlaender (skeleton) and Shaun White (snowboard). Eight others will compete in their fourth Games.

There are 19 returning Olympic medal winners, including 12 previous gold medalists: Jamie Anderson (snowboard), Jessie Diggins (cross-country skiing), Kendall Coyne Schofield (ice hockey), Brianna Decker (ice hockey), Kaillie Humphries (bobsled, for Canada), Chloe Kim (snowboard), Hilary Knight (ice hockey), Mikaela Shiffrin (alpine skiing), Shuster, Lee Stecklin (ice hockey), White and David Wise (freestyle skiing)

There will be 107 women and 115 men, with athletes from 31 states, led by California (29), Colorado (23) and Minnesota (23). The age range is from 16-year-old Alysia Liu in figure skating up to 40-year-old snowboarder Nick Baumgartner.

The U.S. record for medals at a Winter Games is 37 from the 2010 Vancouver Games. Since then, American teams won 28 medals in Sochi in 2014 and 23 in PyeongChang in 2018. The Beijing total is expected to roughly equal the PyeongChang total.


● XXIV Olympic Winter Games: Beijing 2022 ● The Covid pandemic has shortened the Beijing 2022 Torch Relay to just three days, from 2-4 February.

In China from 20 October 2021, the 2022 relay “is scheduled between February 2 and 4 in three competition zones across Beijing, the Chinese capital’s Yanqing District, and Zhangjiakou in neighboring Hebei Province.”

A total of 1,200 torchbearers are expected to participate, starting at the Beijing Olympic Forest Park. Landmarks along the route will include the Badaling section of the Great Wall, the Fulong Ski Resort and the Summer Palace. There will also be robot torch carriers and the torch will be mounted in self-driving vehicles for part of the route.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is opening two offices in Beijing for the Games, one to deal with legal disputes and the other to handle only doping cases.

The U.S. is well represented, with Michael Lenard – a 1984 Olympian in Team Handball – as the President of the Ad Hoc Division, and Jeff Benz was one of the nine staff arbitrators. David Rifkin is the co-president of the Anti-Doping Division.

ESPN will not send its four accredited staff to Beijing in view of the pandemic. Said Executive Editor Norby Williamson:

“The safety of our employees is of utmost importance to us. With the pandemic continuing to be a global threat, and with the COVID-related on-site restrictions in place for the Olympics that would make coverage very challenging, we felt that keeping our people home was the best decision for us.”

With NBC the rights-holder for the Games in the U.S., ESPN’s Olympic coverage is focused on athlete interviews and news reporting, with very limited access to the venues. Even so, it sent five staff to Tokyo for the summer Games in 2021.

Coca-Cola, like many Olympic sponsors, is caught in a delicate situation with the Beijing Games, and has decided not to promote its association with the 2022 Winter Games through a specific Olympic-themed ad campaign in 2022.

A story in Advertising Age reported that Coke is “expected to be absent on TV” during the Games.

In contrast, TOP sponsor Airbnb announced a direct-to-athletes $500 “AIRBNB500″ “celebratory travel grant for eligible Olympians and Paralympians participating in the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, in the form of a USD 500 travel credit that can be used on the Airbnb platform to book accommodation and Experiences.”

It’s good for 12 months and athletes have to sign up on the International Olympic Committee’s Athlete365 site. Applications must be made by 15 April.

The Indiana Gaming Commission is allowing betting on alpine skiing, bobsled, cross-country skiing, curling, ice hockey, short track speed skating and speed skating at the Beijing Winter Games.

In an unrelated announcement, the IOC appointed eight “athlete ambassadors to help raise awareness of the threat of competition manipulation among qualified athletes, their entourage members and officials currently getting ready for the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.”

The IOC has been aware of potential betting issues with the Games for some time and had a similar program in place at Tokyo 2020. The eight athletes come from six sports – three in alpine skiing – and seven countries. There are no Americans on the panel; double Olympic gold medalist Yang Yang of China – an IOC member – is a member of the group (and is also a possible final torchbearer for the Games).

● XXII Commonwealth Games: Birmingham 2022 ● The public funding share of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England was targeted at about 23%, or £184.2 million (~$248.2 million U.S.), with £109.2 million from the Birmingham City Council and £75 million coming from surrounding authorities.

However, only £50 million has come from the areas around Birmingham, leaving the City Council to come up with another £25 million ($33.7 million) to plug the gap. A tap on the Corporate Capital Contingency fund is the likely source of the added funding. An aquatics center is being built for the Games and the Alexander Stadium for track & field is being renovated.

The total Games cost has been projected at £778 million (~$1.049 billion U.S.); the event will be held from 28 July-8 August.

● U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee ● Ralph Lauren unveiled the Opening Ceremony uniforms for the U.S. team last week, emphasizing “a groundbreaking apparel and textile innovation with Intelligent Insulation – a first-to-market, sustainably-minded temperature responsive fabric that adapts to cooler temperatures by expanding and creating a layer of insulation.”

The concept is to be able to use one item for multiple seasons: “the fabric itself is comprised of two separate materials that expand or contract at different rates in response to temperature changes. As temperatures drop, the lengths of the two materials change differently causing the textile to constrict and bend – creating channels in the fabric structure to increase the amount of insulation provided by the garment.”

These items are available from Ralph Lauren. The men’s Opening Ceremony anorak is priced at $1,998 and the down jacket for the Closing Ceremony at $1,798. The women’s items are priced the same; there is a wide range of hats, gloves, shirts, pants, sweaters and so on, with 53 items for men and 45 items for women.

● National Olympic Committees ● Tonga’s Olympic icon, Pita Taufatofua, more famous for his bare-chested Opening Ceremonies appearances than his competitive skills in taekwondo or cross-country skiing, organized a GoFundme page to aid his native country in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami that hit the islands after an undersea volcanic eruption.

Begun on 15 January, the fund has a goal of A$1 million ($712,615 U.S.), with A$710,765 (~$510,329 U.S.) donated so far. Writes Taufatofua, “I am currently in training camp in Australia but am mobilising all the assistance I can to send to our beloved Tonga. In the coming days, weeks we will need your help. Initial priority for the funds will go towards those most in need, infrastructure and damage to schools, hospitals etc.”

● NCAA Convention ● The National Collegiate Athletic Association, made up of colleges and universities across the U.S., voted 801-195 last Thursday to adopt a new constitution that will allow mammoth changes in American collegiate sport.

The new constitution will come into effect on 1 August and gives each division (I, II and III) significant latitude in governance. Division-specific rules are also expected to be passed and be in effect by 1 August. According to the NCAA’s announcement:

“The constitution also includes some existing priorities and principles for the first time. It prohibits pay-for-play but embraces providing additional educational and other benefits, including those for name, image and likeness. It maintains existing revenue allocations and championship opportunities for each division, and each division will have oversight of its own budget, expenditures and financial distribution to its members. The constitution also underscores the importance of both physical and mental health and emphasizes diversity, inclusion and gender equity.”

Observed: Many of these changes are being driven by the continuously-expanding importance of football in Division I as a massive economic factor in athletic departments, especially at the major-conference level.

Beyond football and men’s and women’s basketball, it is still unclear what the future is for all other collegiate sports. Much attention will now be paid to the Division I regulations and how they will impact all other sports. Where the new constitution has distributed authority to the divisions, this hardly solves the funding questions continuing to plague college athletics.

● Athletics ● World Athletics announced that 22 Russian athletes have been approved to compete as “Authorized Neutral Athletes” in 2022, including reigning World Champions Mariya Lasitskene in the women’s high jump and Anzhelika Sidorova in the women’s vault.

The Russian federation continues on suspension and the World Athletics Council has limited the country to 20 entries across all of the main championships of 2022, including the World Indoors in March, World Championships in Eugene in July and the European Championships in August.

● Football ● FIFA reported that applications for more than 1.2 million tickets were received within the first 24 hours of online sales for November’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar:

“The highest demand came from fans from Qatar, followed by Argentina, Mexico, the USA, the United Arab Emirates, England, India, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and France.

“More than 140,000 tickets have been requested for the Final due to take place on 18 December 2022 at Lusail Stadium, and over 80,000 for the opening match.”

The first sales period continues through 8 February, and the FIFA announcement emphasized:

“In this initial phase, it makes no difference whether applications are submitted on the first day, the last day or any time in between, as all tickets will be allocated following the closing of the ticket application period. In cases where the number of tickets applied for exceeds the available ticket inventory for the domestic or international market, tickets will be allocated by a random selection draw process.”

● Short Track ● Three-time U.S. Olympian Allison Baver, now 41, was charged with eight counts of making a false statement to a bank, and one count of money laundering, in connection with a scheme to defraud the Federally-funded Paycheck Protection Program.

Baver is accused of lying on application for PPP funding of $10 million in support for non-existent employees. Utah television station KTSU reported that “Federal prosecutors want Baver to forfeit roughly $9.7 million of the money …. She also faces up to 40 years if convicted on all counts.”

Baver competed in the 2002-06-10 Winter Games and won a bronze medal as a member of the women’s 3,000 m Relay in Vancouver.

● Swimming ● The Portuguese site SwimChannel.net caused a sensation on Friday, posting a story that FINA will be postponing its 2022 World Aquatics Championships – due to be held in Fukuoka in May – into 2023 due to continuing travel restrictions due to the coronavirus.

The likely new date would be July of 2023, which would have the follow-on effect of moving the Doha Worlds – scheduled for November 2023 – into January of 2024. This would be the first time that a FINA World Aquatics Championships would be held in the same calendar year as an Olympic Games.

The 2022 World Junior Championships in swimming in August, and the World 25 m Championships in December – both in Kazan (RUS) – would not be impacted.

FINA has made no official announcement of any changes so far. SwimChannel.net reported Monday that FINA will also revamp the 10 km open-water race series with a view to raising its profile, and to include the new 4×1,500 m mixed relay.

USA Swimming responded on 20 January to the NCAA’s transgender policy change, reverting each sport’s eligibility criteria to its U.S. National Governing Body, with a four-panel tweet that noted the federation has no such policy.

The 2018 “athlete inclusion procedures” are still in place, using an application and a review, but was referenced to the 2015 IOC guidelines, which have been abandoned. And:

“Following broad transgender policy changes in Nov. 2021, the IOC now requires International Federations to create their own sport-specific eligibility requirements, and so we have been proactively working with FINA for several months to help shape and support their policy development efforts. We believe they will release a new policy shortly, which we will adopt for elite-level competitions.”

The final part of the message was addressed to the many collegiate swimmers – including transgender swimmer Lia Thomas at the University of Pennsylvania – who are not a part of USA Swimming, including “we welcome and look forward to American NCAA athletes and coaches joining our membership in order to be eligible to ne governed by our policy and its provisions and benefits.”

Stay tuned.

The insurgents in the forthcoming European Swimming League (LEN) elections in February are already claiming victory. In a an announcement circulated last week:

“28 Member Federations of the European Aquatics Organisation LEN have now publicly pledged their support to Antonio Jose Silva [POR] to become President of LEN and are backing the reformist Manifesto of Europe 4 All Aquatics.

“As LEN consists of 52 Member Federations, this means that a majority has already been achieved who are ready to vote for change in the Extraordinary Congress and Election set for Frankfurt on 5 February.”

The reform movement, grounded in a desire for more transparency from LEN about its activities, is an outgrowth of a no-confidence vote in the LEN leadership last September, including for its continuing attacks on FINA.

Three-time Olympic Freestyle champ Yang Sun (CHN) may be banned from competition into mid-2024 for issues related to tests for doping, but he still generates enormous interest in his home country.

The South China Morning Post reported that Sun launched a new line of cosmetic products during a two-day online debut in China, seen by about 7.4 million users and generating 180,000 subscribers and selling about $7.8 million in goods. He is to receive a 20% commission on the sales.

Sun was online for about 3 1/2 hours on the first day and 90 minutes on the second day, for a tax-free shop in Hainan.

An independent report into the treatment of women by Swimming Australia was delivered last week and proved highly embarrassing for the federation. Its statement included:

“Broadly, the review found that Swimming Australia must address the coaching gender imbalance, coaching culture, education and accreditation, governance structures, and the complaints process.

“The report also identified issues that affect athlete experiences and wellbeing at all levels of the sport, including a fear and pressure to perform, speaking out, and more broadly control and the coaching culture. …

“Swimming Australia again unreservedly apologises to those members of the swimming community who have had a negative experience.”

The report was triggered by allegations from star Butterfly swimmer Maddie Groves in 2021; the process included interviews with more than 150 individuals and included 46 recommendations for change, many similar to those seen in U.S. reports concerning women athletes.

Something is happening at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where Katie Ledecky is a volunteer assistant coach for the Gators swim team. On Saturday, American Freestyle star Zane Grothe – the 2018 Pan Pacific Champion at 800 m – tweeted:

“Raced Katie Ledecky in a 500 today. Had the audacity to tell her good luck beforehand. I lost”

This was an added race during the Florida-Auburn dual meet in Gainesville, and SwimSwam.com reported that “no official results and times can be found” although the meet results site showed Ledecky as an entrant in the results system.

Wow. And no 2022 Worlds? No!

● Wrestling ● The U.S. has been a frequent host of the UWW men’s Freestyle World Cup, the national team dual-meet championship, first held in Toledo in 1973.

After a 10-year absence, it returned to the U.S. at The Forum in Inglewood, California in 2014-15-16 and was held in Iowa City, Iowa in 2018. It’s coming back to Iowa, to the 5,300-seat Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa for 2022 and 2023 for both the men’s and women’s World Cups.

These will be the first time that the men’s and women’s Freestyle World Cups will be held together, with the 2022 dates set for 10-11 December and 2023 for 9-10 December, in one of the nation’s wrestling hotbeds.

Each tournament includes six teams, including the top five teams at the UWW World Championships and an “All-World” team of the top wrestlers not from a top-five squad.


A silver medal won by American Dan Frank at the 1904 St. Louis Olympic Games for the “running broad jump” was sold at auction for $82,499 on 20 January. Frank jumped 6.89 m (22-7 1/4) for the silver, and also finished second in two non-medal events: the 440 yards and the 5-mile run.

Offered by RR Auction online, the medal came from the Frank family and was enclosed in its original presentation case with had a clasp which identified the event as the “Universal Exhibition Olympic Games St. Louis.” The item also came with an 80-page scrapbook of period newspaper clips, detailing Frank’s adventures from 1900-12.

The medal and the other items were in remarkably good shape for being more than a century old!

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