HEARD AT HALFTIME: MacNeil gets 50 m Back WR in Abu Dhabi; Tokyo costs lower than expected; Covid may end NHL participation in Beijing

FINA's men's Swimmer of the Year for 2021: five-time Olympic gold medalist Caeleb Dressel (USA)

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

≡ SPOTLIGHT ≡

The penultimate day of the FINA World 25 m Championships continued with another world short-course mark and multiple other records in Abu Dhabi.

The headliner was the women’s 50 m Backstroke final, where Tokyo Olympic 100 m Butterfly champ Maggie MacNeil of Canada blasted to the gold in 25.27, crushing Dutch star Kira Toussaint’s two 25.60 swims in 2020. MacNeil led a 1-2 for Canada – which won three golds on the day – with Kylie Masse second (25.62).

More highlights:

Men/50 m Butterfly: A third career Short-Course Worlds gold for 41-year-old Nicholas Santos of Brazil, who touched first in 21.93, 0.05 ahead of Dylan Carter (TTO).

Men/400 m Medley: History for Japanese star Daiya Seto, who won the event in 3:56.26, his fifth straight World Short-Course title in this event! He previously won the 200 m Medley and has a career total of seven World Short-Course golds.

He had to be quick to beat Russian Ilya Borodin (3:56.47), who set a World Junior Record, and American Carson Foster (3:57.99), who earned a second individual medal after his silver in the 200 m Medley.

Men/4×50 m Medley: The U.S. team of Shaine Casas, Nic Fink and Tom Shields had the lead after three legs, but a sensational anchor by Russian Vladimir Morozov brought his team even with Ryan Held of the U.S. and the two touched together at 1:30.51 to share the gold medal!

Russia had Kliment Kolesnikov, Kirill Strelnikov and Andrei Minakov on the first three legs and Morozov out-swam Held, 20.37-20.52 on the final leg. The U.S. squad set the American Record, 0.4 better than the 2018 World 25 m Champs squad.

Women/100 m Breaststroke: China’s 17-year-old Qianting Tang took the gold at 1:03.47, an Asian record, from Sweden’s Louise Hansson (1:03.50).

Women/200 m Medley: The first international championship gold for Canada’s Sydney Pickrem (2:04.29), ahead of a World Junior Record 2:04.48 for Yiting Yu (CHN), with Americans Kate Douglass (2:04.68) and Melanie Margalis (2:06.02) third and fourth.

Women/4×200 m Freestyle: Canada struck again with Summer McIntosh, Kayla Sanchez, Katerine Savard and Rebecca Smith, winning in a national record of 7:32.96. That was 3.57 seconds ahead of the American quartet of Torri Huske , Abbey Weitzeil, Margalis and Paige Madden.

In the women’s 100 m Fly semifinals, American Claire Curzan, 17, tied the World Junior Record of 55.64 and was the no. 2 qualifier heading into tomorrow’s final.

Heading into the final day of the meet, the U.S. leads with 23 medals total (6-6-11), trailed by Russia (13: 4-6-3) and Italy (13: 3-4-6), and Canada (12: 6-5-1).

While the World Short-Course Championships is not as celebrated as the long-course Worlds (coming in 2022), the event has the largest prize-money pool in FINA history. A total of $2.835 million will be distributed, with $15,000-12,500-10,500-9,000-7,500-6,000-4,500-3,000 for places 1-8 in the individual events and $10,000-8,000-7,000-6,000-5,000-4,000-3,000-2,000 for the relays. Plus bonuses of $50,000 for world records!

≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡

● Games of the XXXIII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● Kyodo News reported whispers that total costs for the Tokyo Games will be ¥1.45 trillion (~$12.75 billion), down from a projection of up to ¥1.64 trillion (~$14.42 billion) late last year.

Because of the lower overall cost, no additional public money will be needed. This figure is still to be confirmed; the split of the last-projected ¥1.64 trillion cost was to be 44.0% from the organizing committee, 42.8% for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and 13.2% for the Tokyo national government.

The pre-Covid budget had been ¥1.35 trillion (~$11.87 billion), so the expected added cost of ¥394 billion (~$3.47 billion) turned out to only be an additional ¥100 billion (~$880 million).

It’s still a lot more than the bid projection of ¥734 billion (~$6.45 billion) from 2013.

● XXIV Olympic Winter Games: Beijing 2022 ● While tennis is not part of the Winter Games, the situation with Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai took another turn that will cast a further shadow over February’s Games.

Peng gave an interview to Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao – a Chinese-language newspaper – that included (as translated) according to The Guardian:

“‘I wanted to make this very clear: I have never claimed, or written about anyone having sexually assaulted me,’ Peng said. ‘With regards to Weibo, it’s about my personal privacy … There’s been a lot of misunderstanding … There [should be] no distorted interpretation.’”

This is in contradiction to her post on Weibo on 2 November, in which she accused former Vice Premier Gaoli Zhang of sexual assault. She also verified that her reply to Women’s Tennis Association chief executive Steve Simon (USA) was hers and did include the comments: “I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.”

Reuters reported a WTA statement: “We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.”

Observed: The reports from the Singaporean newspaper raise more questions than provide answers. This isn’t over and the interest in Peng during the Beijing Games is only being heightened.

Continuing Covid-19 infections among National Hockey League teams is placing NHL player participation in the Beijing Games in doubt. The NHL and the Players’ Association released a joint statement on Sunday that included:

“Due to the concern about cross-border travel and, given the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions, effective on Monday, all games involving a Canadian-based team playing a U.S.-based team from Monday, Dec. 20 through the start of the Holiday break on Dec. 23, will be postponed and rescheduled”

and

“Given the disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events – 27 games had been postponed as of Saturday and at least 12 more will be postponed through Dec. 23 – and the continued uncertainty caused by the ongoing COVID pandemic, the NHL and NHLPA are actively discussing the matter of NHL Player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, and expect to be in a position to announce a final determination in the coming days.”

USA Hockey is reported to be actively working on a back-up plan for a U.S. team for Beijing in case the NHL players are not available.

The seventh women’s MyWhy Tour series exhibition match between the U.S. and Canadian women’s teams scheduled for tonight (20th) in St. Paul, Minnesota, was canceled due to Covid concerns. The teams had played two games in St. Louis last Wednesday and Friday – both overtime wins for the Canadians, by 2-1 and 3-2 – and were to play the final U.S.-based game tonight before two final games in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta on 3 and 6 January.

The Canadian women have won four of the six games played so far, with three going to overtime and four of the six decided by one goal.

● Athletics ● The annual Bowerman Awards, given by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) for the top collegiate athletes in the U.S. went to LSU super-jumper JuVaughn Harrison and Texas A&M’s Olympic 800 m champion Athing Mu.

Harrison won the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles in both the high jump and long jump and won places on the U.S. Olympic teams in both events, apparently for the first time since Jim Thorpe in 1912!

Mu won the NCAA women’s 400 m title in a collegiate record of 49.57 and set the collegiate 800 m mark at 1:57.73. She went on to win the U.S. Olympic Trials at 800 m and then the Olympic 800 m in Tokyo.

Track & Field News announced its annual Athletes of the Year, with U.S. shot put world-record setter and Olympic champ Ryan Crouser (USA) as the men’s winner and Jamaican sprint star Elaine Thompson-Herah, the 100/200 m winner in Tokyo, as the women’s winner.

● Football ● The furor over FIFA’s proposal to stage its iconic men’s World Cup tournament every two years is reaching a peak with a “Global Summit” of 207 national federations held online today.

Reports issued at the meeting confirmed the obvious; FIFA President Gianni Infantino (SUI) said:

“We have been advised by independent experts that a switch to a biennial FIFA World Cup would provide a combined additional USD 4.4 billion in revenue from the first four-year cycle, with these funds being distributed across our 211 member associations.

“This additional revenue would allow solidarity funding to move from the current level of USD 6 million per cycle to up to potentially USD 25 million on average per FIFA member association in the first four-year cycle, with the actual distribution being subject to FIFA’s governance principles.”

Moreover, if confederations also move to a biennial schedule, the men’s tournaments would see a total “uplift” of approximately $6.6 billion in the first four-year cycle.

No decisions were made; the FIFA announcement noted, “FIFA plans further consultations with confederations and MAs in early 2022, with the opportunity to examine these studies in further detail.”

Results of a survey of more than 77,000 people was also released, showed that of some 30,390 who identified football as their favorite sport, 63.7% would like to see a biennial World Cup and 52.4% would like to see a biennial Women’s World Cup.

The European confederation (UEFA) released a study last Friday (17th) which showed “alarming findings … which raise severe concerns over the sustainability of the plan for European associations,” including

“Adding up the losses from centralised revenues (media rights of men’s European Qualifiers and Nations League; distributions from UEFA EURO) and from individual sources such as ticketing and sponsorships, revenues for European national associations might drop between €2.5 and €3 billion over a cycle of four years, depending on the number of qualifying windows available (two or just one).”

In addition, UEFA Vice President Zbigniew Boniek (POL) announced that the 10 South American teams in CONMEBOL would join the European Nations League in 2024.

Super teams such as Argentina and Brazil, along with four others, would join “League A” and the remaining four to be in League B. UEFA and CONMEBOL have been the most strident confederations in opposition to the biennial World Cup plan.

Abdullah Ibhais, a former media manager for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organizing committee, lost his appeal against a prison sentence based on a confession that he says was coerced. According to the BBC, a complaint was lodged against him in October 2019, alleging crimes related to a contract for the management of the group’s social-media platforms.

Ibhais says he was coerced into signing a confession by Qatari authorities, and:

“He retracted the confession during his trial, but the court refused to invalidate it and found him guilty this April of ‘bribery’, ‘violation of the integrity of tenders and profits’, and ‘intentional damage to public funds’. He was sentenced to five years in prison.”

He says that he is actually being punished for “internal criticism of the Supreme Committee’s handling of a strike by migrant workers over unpaid wages in August 2019.” The appeals court reduced his sentence from five years to three.

● Swimming ● In addition to the World 25 m Championships and the surrounding Aquatics Festival, FINA held an Extraordinary Congress in Abu Dhabi (UAE), importantly approving the formation of an independent Aquatics Integrity Unit.

This new group will “protect our aquatics community from ethical and discriminatory violations, match-fixing and all forms of harassment,” and be operating as of 1 June, according to FINA President Husain Al-Musallam (KUW).

The Congress also approved the FINA Rules on the Protection of Harassment and Abuse and FINA Code of Ethics, both designed to reduce abuse and encourage whistleblowers.

FINA also named its annual awardees last Friday:

Men’s Swimmer of the Year: Caeleb Dressel (USA)
Women’s Swimmer of the Year: Emma McKeon (AUS)
Swimming Coach of the Year: Gregg Troy (USA)

Men’s Open Water Swimmer of the Year: Florian Wellbrock (GER)
Women’s Open Water Swimmer of the Year: Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA)

Men’s Water Polo Player of the Year: Filip Filipovic (SRB)
Women’s Water Polo Player of the Year: Maggie Steffens (USA)

≡ AT THE BUZZER ≡

In the U.S., the Biden Administration nominated two Olympic personalities for ambassadorial posts, with five-time World Figure Skating Champion and two-time Olympic medal winner Michelle Kwan, 41, tabbed to lead the U.S. post in Belize and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, 50, to be Ambassador to India.

Kwan has been involved with U.S. diplomatic efforts since 2006 and worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign for the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Garcetti has already his Congressional hearing, but will not be voted on until 2022.

A wild scramble in anticipated in Los Angeles for the mayoral race in 2022, with no clear front-runner at this point.

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