HEARD AT HALFTIME: IOC names Refugee team; U.S. IOC member Randall resigns; NBC to show 7,000 hours of Tokyo coverage

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

BULLETIN Ethiopia’s Letsenbet Gidey smashed Dutch star Sifan Hassan’s two-day-old women’s 10,000 m world record by winning the Ethiopian Olympic Trials in 29:01.03 in Hengelo (NED). Gidey ran on the same track as Hassan and finished more than a minute up on second-place Tsigie Gebreselama (30:06.01).

Gidey, 23, had pacing help from the Wavelight system of flashing lights around the track and said afterwards, “I expected to run a world record.” And there was a lot more.

Unknown Werkwuha Getachew won the women’s 800 in a world-leading 1:56.67; Freweyni Hailu won the women’s 1,500 m in a world-leading 3:57.33 and Gudaf Tsegay won the women’s 5,000 in a world-leading 14:13.32, the no. 5 performer and performance in history. Men’s Steeple star Getnet Wale won the men’s 5,000 m in a world-leading 12:53.28 and Selemon Barega won the men’s 10,000 m in a world-leading 26:49.51, with Yomif Kejelcha second in 26:49.73. Wow!

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The International Olympic Committee’s second Refugee Olympic Team was named on Tuesday, confirmed by the IOC Executive Board during the first of a three-day online meeting.

The team includes 29 athletes, with 19 men and 10 women, competing across 12 sports, from 13 host National Olympic Committees. The originating countries from which these athletes have fled include Syria (9), South Sudan (4), Sudan (1), Iran (5), Eritrea (2), Congo (1), Democratic Republic of Congo (1), Venezuela (1), Afghanistan (3), Iraq (1) and Cameroon (1). Seven of the athletes will compete in athletics and six in judo.

The IOC support program for the Games includes assembly “at the Aspire Academy in Doha (Qatar) on 12 and 13 July for their Welcome Experience, before flying to Japan on 14 July. During the Games, the team will be hosted by Waseda University, which will provide accommodation and training facilities, before the athletes move to the Olympic Village for their respective competitions.”

This is almost triple the size of the 10-athlete team for Rio in 2016 and the IOC intends to continue expanding the program, also bringing sports programming directly to refugees worldwide in the coming years.

The United States lost an IOC member on Tuesday when Kikkan Randall’s resignation was accepted by the Executive Board.

Randall, a gold medalist with Jessie Diggins in the Cross Country Team Sprint at the 2018 Winter Games, was elected in PyeongChang as an athlete representative for an eight-year term into 2026. In her resignation letter to IOC President Thomas Bach (GER), she noted “unfortunate and unforeseen personal circumstances have made it difficult for me to contribute the energy and attention necessary to fulfill my IOC role at a level consistent with my values. I wish you and the IOC all the best in continuing to inmspire the world through the positive values of Olympism.”

Randall is a breast cancer survivor and asked to remain a member of the IOC’s Sustainability and Legacy Commission.

This leaves the U.S. with two IOC members: the long-serving Anita DeFrantz, the IOC’s First Vice President, and David Haggerty, the head of the International Tennis Federation. Randall’s replacement as an athlete member of the IOC will be discussed by the Executive Board on Thursday.

NBC announced its massive coverage program for Tokyo, with 7,000 hours available across a variety of networks and online. Coverage will include:

● 250 hours on NBC;

● 1,306 hours on cable, including USA Network (388.5 hours), CNBC (124.5), NBCSN (440), NBC’s Olympic Channel (242) and Golf Channel (111);

● 5,500+ hours online on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app;

● 300 hours on Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Universo.

Programming will begin two days before the Opening Ceremony with the USA-Sweden women’s football match on USA Network, at 4 a.m. Eastern time.

For more details on NBC’s coverage, including multiple announcements on its announcers, click here.

The Tokyo 2020 organizers refuted a report from the Financial Times that its sponsors had asked to have the Games postponed against until September or October.

“There is no such demand,” said the organizing committee in a statement last Saturday.

The NHK broadcast network reported Sunday that 3,500 city volunteers – assisting as city guides for the Games – have withdrawn from their positions in nine prefectures. This is out of a total of 40,000 volunteers who signed up for the positions.

On Tuesday, Japan Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa told reporters that the government is considering vaccinating all 70,000 members of the volunteer work force as a further measure against the coronavirus.

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto also noted that news media entering Japan for the Games will be tracked by “GPS and other means” during their 14-day quarantine period to ensure they do not go anywhere not on their submitted agenda. Media will be required to stay in one of about 150 hotels authorized by the organizing committee and not in private accommodations or with friends.

Games of the XXXIV Olympiad: Los Angeles 2028 ● Significant financial issues are facing the famed Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California, as disclosed at an informational meeting of the Pasadena City Council on Tuesday (8th).

A presentation by consultants CAAIcon noted that due to the pandemic, the Rose Bowl Operating Company suffered a loss of $3.13 million for fiscal year 2020 on revenues of just $7.82 million due to the lack of events and a ban on spectators. This is being covered by operating reserves, but the future is ominous.

Looking forward, the financial modeling assumes that the City will pick up $9.3 million of the debt payments in 2021 from the bonds sold to finance the $231.7 million renovation of the stadium in 2014, but even so, a loss of $3.33 million is projected for fiscal year 2022, and are projected – due to the debt service – through fiscal year 2026 and beyond.

This is despite increasing revenues, and the total projected losses grow to $5.44 million in fiscal year 2023 to $6.49 million-$6.76 million-$8.65 million through fiscal year 2026.

The Rose Bowl’s situation is further complicated by the opening of the state-of-the-art SoFi Stadium in Inglewood and the newly-renovated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in downtown Los Angeles. The Rose Bowl’s future will depend on attracting more large-attendance events within its 15-event envelope agreed with the surrounding community.

The biggest help would be a revival of UCLA’s football fortunes; the projections assume paying attendance of only 22,000 a game for the 2021 season and then averages of just 35,000-35,000-40,000-35,000 through the 2025 schedule.

The Rose Bowl is targeted as a major venue for football matches for the 2028 Olympic Games.

Games of the XXXV Olympiad: 2032 ● With the IOC Executive Board scheduled to meet from Tuesday through Thursday of this week, it is possible that the Future Host Commission could recommend that the Brisbane 2032 candidature be accepted by the Executive Board, to be confirmed by the IOC Session in Tokyo.

The Future Host Commission report is scheduled for Thursday, and the group has been working with the Brisbane bid group, led by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

IOC Vice President John Coates (AUS) said last month, “If this diligence yields a positive final report, the proposal to host the Games in 2032 will go to a vote of the full IOC membership.”

World Anti-Doping Agency ● The Russian news agency TASS reported that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency has received a detailed plan from the World Anti-Doping Agency on the steps necessary to be considered compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code at the end of its two-year sanctions period.

The plan is designed to be active by 16 December 2022, at which point RUSADA could be free of sanctions. According to RUSADA’s acting director Mikhail Bukhanov, “The plan’s goal is to carefully monitor RUSADA in the two-year period to confirm with maximum certainty that RUSADA is following the conditions of reinstatement in accordance with the [Court of Arbitration for Sport] ruling and international standards.”

Aquatics ● Kuwait’s Husain Al Musallam ran unopposed and was elected as the President of the International Federation for aquatic sports, FINA. In acceptance remarks, he told the delegates at the FINA Congress in Doha (QAT) and online:

“I am proud that FINA is the first International Federation to introduce a by-law that protects athletes’ rights. I am proud that 16 members of the new FINA Bureau are athletes who have competed in the Olympic Games, World or Continental Championships. I am proud that for the first time the FINA Executive has a female Vice-President, a great diving champion. Starting at the next year’s World Championships in Fukuoka, 20 active athletes will be elected to the Athletes Committee by the athletes themselves.”

There were 119 delegations in attendance in Doha and another 102 watching online; Al Musallam was elected by 302-7 and moved up from being First Vice President.

The 28-member FINA Bureau was also elected for 2021-25, including American Dale Neuburger as Treasurer, and Bill Hybl of the U.S. was elected as a member of the independent FINA Ethics Commission.

A short meeting of the Bureau included decisions to raise total prize money paid from FINA competitions to $2.4 million in 2021, creation of a Reform Committee, a memorandum of understanding with four universities to create programs for FINA athletes and formal procedures for Athlete Committee elections to take place in 2022.

Al Musallam also nominated American Brent Nowicki as the federation’s new Executive Director. Nowicki comes from eight years as an attorney in the anti-doping division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a remarkable appointment for a federation which has been accused of lax doping oversight in the past. Strategically, it’s a good early move for FINA to show a new path forward.

The U.S. Olympic Trials in diving are underway in Indianapolis, with preliminaries and semifinals continuing through the week. Finals begin on Thursday (10th) and run through Sunday (13th).

The U.S. Olympic Trials in swimming begin on Sunday in Omaha, and will continue through the 20th (the following Sunday).

On Tuesday, the latest attempt to create a swimmer’s union was unveiled: the International Swimmers Alliance. Its stated goal is to “to improve personal and economic opportunities for all swimmers by elevating swimming into the era of modern sports.”

Its core team are familiar swimming stars – all Olympic gold medalists – who have been advocating for more money and attention for years: Chad LeClos (South Africa), Katinka Hosszu (Hungary), Ranomi Kromowidjojo (Netherlands) and American Matt Biondi, who serves as the Board Chair. Three other Board members were listed, including Tom Shields and Lia Neal of he U.S. and Brent Hayden (CAN). Three Board members were not listed (why?); the Web site states that 120 swimmers from 31 countries are involved.

Also: “All swimming members have either a top 20 individual [long-course meters] world ranking or are under contract with an [International Swimming League] team.”

Comment: The timing of the announcement is hardly coincidental, coming just after the FINA elections over the weekend. But the new FINA leadership has indicated interest in doing more with and for athletes and if the “Alliance” actually does represent the interests of most of the world’s elite swimmers – meaning it could meaningfully negotiate on their behalf – it could be a breakthrough moment for the sport.

In fact, the ultimate loser in all of this, after the FINA elections and formation of this new athlete group, could be the International Swimming League itself!

Athletics ● At the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku (FIN), Ireland’s Thomas Barr signaled his intention to be a factor in the men’s 400 m hurdles in Tokyo, willing in 48.39, moving him to no. 5 on the world list for 2021. He was fourth in the event in Rio in 2016. He said afterwards:

“Normally I’m still only warming up at this time of year. Considering how compressed this season was, I didn’t have much room for error so I’m back on the horse just in time. Since Rio the 400m hurdles has gotten a lot harder, but in an Olympic final, or in any major championship final, anything can happen, so if I’m there or thereabouts, I’ll be ready to mop up the spillage.”

Kenya’s Cornelius Tuwei ran a season’s best of 1:44.42 to move to no. 5 on the world 800 m list for 2021, with Kenyans now in positions 1-2-5-6. Poland’s Wojciech Nowicki, the three-time Worlds bronze medalist in the men’s hammer, improved his seasonal best to 80.77 m (265-0) to move to no. 3 in the world this year.

France’s Morhad Amdouni won the European 10,000 m Cup in Birmingham (GBR) last Saturday, but the local headlines were about the eighth-place finish of British Olympic icon  Mo Farah in 27:50.64.

The time is short of the Olympic qualifying standard of 27:28.00 and Farah, the defending Olympic champion, needs to not only find another race to get the standard, but has to get over a series of injuries to show fitness. Qualifying marks must be made on or before 29 June.

Reigning Olympic women’s 100 m hurdles champ Brianna McNeal of the U.S. was handed a suspension of five years from 15 August 2020 by the Athletics Integrity Unit for “Tampering with any part of Doping Control” on 21 April, but not announced until 4 June.

McNeal immediately filed her notice of appeal and will be allowed to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials while the appeal is ongoing. This is once again a “whereabouts” case where McNeal is alleged to have missed three tests within a 12-month period.

She posted on her Instagram account in February, on the announcement of her provisional suspension, “As far as my situation goes, I am still me! very clean, very honest and transparent. Once all of this blows over I will provide more details of what’s actually going on. The system is pretty messed up if you ask me but that’s another topic for another day.”

World Athletics announced the approval of 35 additional Russian athletes to compete internationally as “Authorized Neutral Athletes,” bringing the total to 62. Four applications have been rejected.

The limit of 10 Russian athletes in the Tokyo Games continues in force.

An obituary notice for 1948 Olympic 110 m hurdles bronze medalist Craig Dixon was published this past weekend in the Los Angeles Times, noting that he died at age 94 on 25 February 2021.

Born in Los Angeles in 1926, Dixon was a star hurdler from his prep days at University High School, where he was City champion – and “intimidated” sitting in class next to Norma Jean Baker, later known as Marilyn Monroe – then at UCLA, where he won the 120-yard and 220-yard hurdles at the 1949 NCAA Championships, in the midst of a 59-race win streak.

He was part of a U.S. sweep at the London Games in 1948, behind Bill Porter (13.8) and Clyde Scott (14.1). He tried again for the 1952 Games, but fell in the final of the Olympic Trials.

Dixon became a coach, returning to UCLA to assist then-coach Ducky Drake, then went on to a very successful career in industrial publishing, finally retiring in 2004. He was much beloved at UCLA, where he was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985.

Cycling ● Just as the Criterium du Dauphine concluded in France, the 85th Tour de Suisse – another warm-up for the Tour de France – got underway on Sunday. The eight-stage event will finish on Sunday and so far is a showcase for Dutch star Mathieu van der Poel.

After Swiss riders Stefan Kung and Stefan Bissegger went 1-2 in the opening 10.9 km time trial, van der Poel won the hilly, 178 km second stage by one second over Germany’s Maximilian Schachmann and by four seconds over seven more riders.

Van der Poel then triumphed again on Tuesday, winning a mass sprint at the end of another hilly, 182 km stage, crossing the line ahead of France’s Christophe Laporte and Julian Alaphilippe.

Heading into Wednesday’s uphill route from Sankt Urban to Gstaad, van der Poel holds a skinny one-second lead on Alaphilippe and four seconds on Kung; the top 18 riders are within 59 seconds of each other.

Giro d’Italia winner Egan Bernal (COL) didn’t get to take the trophy back home just yet, as he was diagnosed with Covid-19 last Friday (4th). He will have to quarantine in Monaco – his European base – for a couple of weeks before returning home.

American Hannah Roberts is once again the BMX Freestyle World Champion, defending her title at the UCI Urban Cycling World Championships in Montpelier (FRA) on Monday.

She won her third world title by scoring 91.90 on her first run, good enough to out-score Swiss Nikita Ducarroz (90.30) and Charlotte Worthington (GBR: 88.90). Americans Perris Benegas (85.80), Chelsea Wolfe (80.00) and Angie Marino (78.10) went 4-5-6. It was the second bronze in a row for Worthington, also in 2019.

In the men’s division, Australia’s Logan Martin used a great first run to out-last American Daniel Sandoval, 94.70-92.96 in the final. Marin Rantis (CRO) was third at 90.90, ahead of Americans Justin Dowell (89.56) and Nick Bruce (89.42). Martin moved up from second at the 2019 Urban Worlds to grab the gold this time, his second world title after 2017.

Football ● Now it’s uniforms that are being protested, as Russia filed a protest against the UEFA-approved uniforms for Ukraine for the upcoming European Championships. According to the TASS news service:

“The Ukrainian national team’s uniforms for the upcoming championship feature slogans chanted by Ukrainian nationalists, namely: ‘Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!’ The uniforms also demonstrate a blurred image outlining Ukraine’s state borders, which include the territories in Donbass and also the territory of Russia’s Crimea.”

Russia, of course, invaded and then annexed the Crimean Peninsula – which had been Ukrainian territory – in 2014 and the action has been the subject of international condemnation ever since. FIFA indicated that the decision on appropriate uniforms was up to the tournament organizer (UEFA).

Russia is in Group B and Ukraine in Group C for the tournament which begins 11 June.

The CONCACAF Nations League Final between the U.S. and Mexico was noteworthy for multiple reasons, not only for the 3-2 win in extra time by the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Spectators were out in force, although capacity was restricted due to the coronavirus. The official attendance was 37,648 at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado.

Unfortunately, the game was marred by fans throwing plastic beverage cups at players, with American Gio Reyna being hit in the face by one cup and Mexican striker Henry Martin suffering a hit from another fan.

Play was also stopped for about two minutes in extra time due to the use of a banned, anti-gay chant by some Mexican fans. CONCACAF has specifically banned the chant and immediately condemned it on the scoreboard and public address system as part of its anti-racist programming.

The lesson? It’s great to have fans in the stands once again, but given incidents of fan violence at NBA games and now in soccer, security will have to ramp up as well.

Gymnastics ● The USA Gymnastics National Championships showcased the great Simone Biles once again, and drew a reasonable audience on NBC.

Sunday’s women’s finals session drew a 0.4 Nielsen rating in the 18-49 demographic and about 1,932,000 total viewers in its 7-9 p.m. Eastern time slot. It was well behind CBS’s 60 Minutes and Kennedy Center Honors (6.68 + 5.05 million viewers) and America’s Funniest Home Videos and Celebrity Family Feud on ABC (4.45 + 5.46 million viewers).

Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, the 2012 and 2016 men’s Olympic All-Around champ, qualified for the Tokyo Games on the High Bar (only) last weekend at the Japanese national apparatus championships. He finished second, but had the most qualification points, despite a mistake in the finals. Uchimura, now 32, has struggled with injuries after winning in Rio.

Judo ● The IJF World Championships are rolling in Budapest (HUN), with 664 judoka in action from 118 nations and Japan already dominating the competition.

A heavy program of controls against the coronavirus, including testing, has been implemented, with the competitors sequestered in hotels. But that has not stopped the Japanese.

Joshiro Maruyama defended his 2019 title in the men’s 66 kg final over Italy’s Manuel Lombardo and Natsumi Tsunoda led a 1-2 Japanese finish in the women’s 48 kg class, defeating Wakana Koga in the final. In the women’s 52 kg class, Ai Shishime was the winner, regaining the world title she won at this weight in 2017, this time against Ana Perez Box (ESP).

Yago Abuladze (RUS) won the men’s 60 kg division over Kazak Gusman Kyrgyzbayev, and Georgia’s 2012 Olympic champ Lasha Shavdatuashvili won his second world title – also in 2013 – over Swede Tommy Macias at 66 kg.

Canada won its second straight gold in the women’s 57 kg class, this time by Jessica Klimkait, who defeated Japan’s Momo Tamaoki in the final. Christa Deguchi had won the class in 2019.

The competition continues through Sunday. The event has €800,000 in total prize money, with €26,000 to the winners, €15,000 for the silver medalists and €8,000 for each bronze medalist. Another €200,000 in prize money is available for the Mixed Team event, with €90,000-€60,000-€25,000 for both bronze-medal teams.

Skiing ● The Federation Internationale de Ski selected new leadership last Friday, with Head sports apparel company chief executive Johan Eliasch winning on the first ballot. Per the announcement:

“He earned 54.82 percent of the vote with 65 votes. Behind him was Urs Lehmann (SUI) with 26 votes (21.85%) followed by Sarah Lewis (BEL) with 15 votes (12.61%) and Mats Arjes (SWE) 13 votes (10.92%).”

He announced on Tuesday that he was resigning as Head chief executive, effective immediately, in order to concentrate on his new responsibilities as well as eliminate the obvious conflict of interest. His time at Head was marked by a significant turnaround of the company’s products, sales and profits; he promised to bring the same abilities to the FIS if elected.

Triathlon ● Britain’s Alistair Brownlee, the two-time Olympic champion from 2012-16, was disqualified at last Sunday’s World Triathlon Series in Leeds (GBR) after pushing Chase McQueen (USA) underwater during the swim.

Brownlee said the push was accidental, but confirmed that he will skip Tokyo and not defend his titles. He tweeted that he will have needed ankle surgery and “then long distance triathlon in the future.”

At the BuZZer ● The FIS made another splash last week, announcing an agreement to include ski jumping in the 2023 European Games, a summer event! The announcement noted:

“Although traditionally a winter sport, the International Ski Federation (FIS) already organises a Ski Jumping Summer Grand Prix and the addition of the European Games into the calendar will be a great opportunity for the best European ski jumpers to show off their sport to new audiences.”

The venue will be at the familiar jumping venue at Zakopane, Poland, with an artificial surface used instead of snow. The summer Grand Prix has been a part of the FIS program since 1994 and Poland is one of the top jumping nations in the world, so the attraction to see local stars could make this a surprise highlight of the summer European Games in two years.

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