Home 5-Ring Circus HEARD AT HALFTIME: No tickets, but “invited” spectators for Beijing Winter Games;...

HEARD AT HALFTIME: No tickets, but “invited” spectators for Beijing Winter Games; NBC showing 680 hours of Winter Games on TV; diving at the Pyramids?

Diving and artistic swimming at Egypt's iconic Pyramids? Yes, coming in 2023! (Photo: FINA)

(For Highlights of the weekend’s major competitions, click here)

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

≡ SPOTLIGHT ≡

“[I]t has been decided that tickets should not be sold anymore but be part of an adapted programme that will invite groups of spectators to be present on site during the Games.

“The organisers expect that these spectators will strictly abide by the COVID-19 countermeasures before, during and after each event so as to help create an absolutely safe environment for the athletes.”

With only three weeks remaining prior to the Beijing Olympic Winter Games, it’s no surprise that there will be no tickets sold, but an undetermined number of “invited” Chinese spectators. This is an outcome of the Chinese government’s strict anti-Covid policy, but also gives the government an opportunity to ensure it has spectators who will comply with its wishes for behavior as well as health.

No tickets were sold for the Tokyo Olympic Games last summer and the stands were empty as a Covid countermeasure. No indication was given of the number of invited spectators who will attend events in Beijing.

≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡

● XXIV Olympic Winter Games: Beijing 2022 ● Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod confirmed that Denmark will not send government officials to the Beijing Winter Games, in support of a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Games.

The Netherlands also declared it would not send a governmental delegation to Beijing, but as a precaution against Covid-19, rather than as a diplomatic boycott.

During a Monday news conference to promote the Beijing Games, Chinese basketball icon Yao Ming compared events like the Games to community temple gatherings in Shanghai in his youth, saying

“On that occasion, even with the neighbors I had bickered with, I would nod my head [as a greeting]. Then we went on with whatever we needed to do. I think we need more of this kind of temple gathering.”

He also noted his widely-seen appearance with tennis star Peng Shuai in December at another promotional event and thought she was “fine” at the time. The Associated Press also reported:

“Yao, who is 41, said society should embrace technology because it brings more convenience and promotes communication. But he started his answer by saying, ‘If you allow me to choose, I would rather go back to 10 years ago without these high technologies so I can move more freely.’”

The anti-doping agency in Germany, known as NADA, warned German athletes to be wary of Chinese meat during their stay at the Games due to the use of clenbuterol, a prohibited steroid which is sometimes used in feed.

“The consumption of meat should therefore, if possible, be avoided, and the alternatives should be discussed with the nutritionist,” according to a NADA newsletter issued last week.

A World Anti-Doping Agency spokesman added that athletes only “eat at places given the all-clear by event organisers,” that is, inside the closed-loop access system for the Beijing Games.

NBC unveiled its broadcast plans for Beijing, with about 680 hours of coverage on television and 2,800-plus hours of streaming coverage on its Peacock subscription service:

● NBC will show about 200 hours, with 18 nights in primetime, live in all time zones, at 8 a.m. six nights a week and beginning at 7 p.m. on Sundays. Programming will actually begin on 3 February in the U.S., as preliminaries in curling, figure skating and moguls skiing begin before the Opening Ceremony.

● USA Network will show about 400 hours of coverage, consuming most of the hours on the channel during the Games.

● CNBC will have about 80 hours of curling and ice hockey, shown after the daytime business reportage is concluded.

There will also be about 2,100 hours of streaming available on NBCOlympics.com, and a special NBCOlympics.com/Schedule page will be available to help viewers figure out what is on when.

Beijing is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Time in the U.S. and 16 hours ahead of the West Coast.

NBC also has the NFL’s Super Bowl on 13 February and host Mike Tirico will be in Beijing for the start of the Winter Games, fly back to host the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, and then return to Beijing for the final week of the Games.

The total broadcast hours are up from the 2,400 hours from PyeongChang in 2018, where NBC averaged 19.8 million viewers (total audience) for its primetime programming. The average primetime viewing audience for last summer’s Tokyo Games fell significantly to 15.1 million on average; the Beijing audience will be an indicator of the level of Olympic interest in the U.S. as the pandemic continues.

● International Olympic Committee ● The IOC announced the appointment of Vincent Pereira (FRA) as its new “Head of Virtual Sport,” to “contribute to developing virtual sport and to further engaging with videogaming communities, including leading the coordinated planning and delivery of the Olympic Virtual Series.”

Pereira was the head of digital ventures for France’s Amaury Sports Organization, which owns and operates the Tour de France among many other events, and has deep experience with other major events including the French Open tennis tournament and for UEFA, as well as Microsoft France.

Observed: His appointment is another building block in the IOC’s developing expertise in electronic sports and games. It’s worth noting that his title refers to “virtual sport” and not to e-sports in general, continuing to draw the line between digital versions of actual sports – which the IOC supports – and the quite violent online games which are widely contested.

The earliest that “virtual sport” events could be included in the Olympic Games would be as an added sport for the Los Angeles 2028 program. Guidelines for potential added sports are expected to be released in the spring.

● National Olympic Committees ● Two cross-country skiers from Belarus say have been shut off from the FIS World Cup circuit by having their registrations pulled by national coaches as part of a continuing crackdown against Belarusian athletes.

Agence France Presse reported that Darya Dolidovich (17) and Sviatlana Andryiuk (22) were both “de-activated” from the FIS registration system and as of Monday (17th), both are shown as “inactive” on the FIS Web site.

Dolidovich’s father, Sergey – a six-time Olympian in cross-country skiing – told the news service that he “believes that his daughter has been punished for his opposition views. ‘I’ve always said the country needs change,’ he said. ‘Everyone knows my stance.’”

Darya Dolidovich says she does not want to compete for Belarus any longer.

The IOC has imposed minor sanctions on the National Olympic Committee in Belarus amid the continuing unrest over the continuing rule of Alexander Lukashenko, especially a controversial re-election in August 2020.

● Anti-Doping ● The World Anti-Doping Agency removed 11 organizations from its non-compliant “watchlist” after each “after they successfully addressed non-conformities with the World Anti-Doping Code in advance of their respective four-month deadlines.”

These included three anti-doping organizations in Belgium and eight national anti-doping organizations, in Greece, Iran, Latvia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and
Uzbekistan.

The WADA announcement added: “There are currently four non-compliant [national anti-doping organizations]. They are from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Russia and Thailand. The NADOs from Indonesia and Thailand are currently engaged in the process of reinstatement.”

● Aquatics ● FINA announced a pretty wild promotional platform for events in diving, high diving and artistic swimming, with an agreement between the federation and the Egyptian Minister of Youth and Sports and the Egyptian Swimming Federation to hold annual competitions at the ancient Pyramids of Giza from 2023-26.

A FINA Diving World Cup, a FINA High Diving Grand Prix and a FINA Artistic Swimming World Series stop will be held in Egypt each year during the four-year term of the agreement.

How this will work – no doubt in temporary facilities – is yet to be worked out, but the effort to increase the profile of these usually modest-interest events is rather remarkable. It’s in line with Egypt’s desire to host more international events; it successfully hosted the International Handball Federation’s men’s World Championship in January 2021 in four cities, including Cairo. The final draw was held at the Pyramids site.

● Athletics ● Sunday’s startling American women’s marathon record by Keira D’Amato sounded a complete surprise, but was the outcome of a planned assault on the mark:

“I’ve had a very unique running career and my running has evolved throughout my life. I have experienced high school running and college running, I tried post-collegiate running a little bit and got injured. Then I quit running for a while and came in as a hobby jogger, a recreational runner, and somehow I got this second opportunity. It had been wild. I just can’t believe I’m sitting here as the American record-holder in the marathon.”

D’Amato ran 2:19:12 to eclipse Deena Kastor’s 2006 mark of 2:19:36, with that time as part of her race plan:

“With the pacers, we went out at American record pace and I really believed in my heart and in my legs, in my soul and in my brain, that I was capable of breaking the American record today. It never really felt that good, but I just tried to hang in there.”

D’Amato now ranks 21st on the all-time list, behind nine Kenyans, nine Ethiopians, Britain’s Paula Radcliffe and Kenyan-born Lonah Salpeter of Israel. Now 37, D’Amato ran for American University and won the Patriot League 1,500 m in 2006. She left the sport after 2008, re-emerging as a long-distance runner in 2017.

She made a major breakthrough in 2020, running 1:08:57 for the half-marathon, moving no. 11 on the all-time U.S. list. She improved that to 1:07:55 for equal-5th all-time U.S. last December in South Carolina.

In the marathon, she debuted in 2017 at 2:47:00, then improved to 2:40:56 in 2018, and 2:34:55 for 17th in the Berlin Marathon in 2019. That got her into the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in 2020, where she was 15th in Atlanta (2:34:24). But she blew up her personal best with a 2:22:56 for second at the marathon in Chandler, Arizona in December of 2020.

She ran one marathon last year, finishing fourth at the Chicago Marathon in 2:28:22, before a 3:44 PR to win in Houston on Sunday.

The USATF 35 km Walk Championships were held in Santee, California over the weekend, with Miranda Melville taking the women’s title in an American Record of 3:00.18. That was just slightly better than the 3:00.43 mark by Katie Burnett from 2017; the 50 km Walk is being discontinued in favor of the 35 km distance for both men and women.

Nick Christie defended his men’s title with a win in 2:48:48.

The Oregon22 organizers announced that more than 100,000 tickets have been sold for the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, including sell-outs of some sessions. Additional tickets to many sessions will be released in February.

There are 16 sessions scheduled over the 10 days of competition from 15-24 July, so this may be about a third of all possible tickets to be made available.

The USATF “Journey to Gold” indoor series was confirmed on Friday, including the Millrose Games in New York on 29 January (at The Armory), the Dr. Sander Invitational in New York (Armory) on 5 February, the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in New York on 6 February (Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex) and the USATF Indoor Championships in Spokane, Washington on 26-27 February.

Olympic silver medalist and former world-record holder Rink Babka (USA) passed away last Saturday (15th) at the age of 85.

He won the Olympic silver in the discus behind his friend Al Oerter in Rome in 1960 and held the world record in the event for a year between August 1960 and 1961, throwing 59.91 m (196-6) in a pre-Olympic meet at Mt. SAC. He had a career best of 63.94 m (209-9) in 1968, ten years after he (for USC) and Oerter (Kansas) tied for the NCAA title.

Per the USC statement, “Babka is survived by his partner of nine years, Sharon, three sons Kord, Dirk and Beau, and a daughter Tanja. He also has eight grandchildren.”

● Football ● Polish striker Robert Lewandowski and Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas were honored as the best men’s and women’s players for 2021 by FIFA.

The coaches for Britain’s Chelsea FC – Tom Tuchel for the men and Emma Hayes for the women – were recognized the best men’s and women’s coaches of the year.

The top keepers were Edouard Mendy (SEN/Chelsea FC) for the men and Christiane Endler (CHI/Olympique Lyonnais) was named The Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper.

The FIFA/FIFPRO World 11s were also announced, with Americans Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan selected on the women’s team.

● Swimming ● The American Swimming Coach Association (ASCA) issued a statement on Saturday asking for more work to be done on the transgender questions in the sport, including:

“The American Swimming Coaches Association urges the NCAA and all governing bodies to work quickly to update their policies and rules to maintain fair competition in the women’s category of swimming. ASCA supports following all available science and evidenced-based research in setting the new policies, and we strongly advocate for more research to be conducted.

“ASCA embraces and encourages diversity and believes all people should have the opportunity to participate in swimming. Transgender people belong in our sport and have every right to compete, and at the same time cisgender females have a right to a category of competition that is fair and meaningful.

“The current NCAA policy regarding when transgender females can compete in the women’s category can be unfair to cisgender females and needs to be reviewed and changed in a transparent manner.”

The topic is a hot one in swimming at present, with Penn’s Lia Thomas – formerly a male swimmer, in transition to being a female and following all current regulations – posting strong times in multiple events. Thomas has the top collegiate times so far this season in the 200-yard Free and 500-yard Free, is no. 4 at 1,000 yards and no. 6 at 1,650 yards.

The NCAA indicated it will consider the transgender issue at is Board of Governors meeting this week.

Swimming World reported that Olympic 400 m Free gold medalist Ariarne Titmus is not planning to swim the event in the 2022 FINA World Championships in Japan, missing a possible return duel with American Katie Ledecky.

Titmus said, “I want to be at my peak for Commonwealth Games; I want to be swimming very well there. I loved the Gold Coast Games in 2018. Those Commonwealth Games for me felt like a mini Olympics and I want to really be swimming my best that I can there.”

She will be defending Commonwealth Games titles in the 400 m and 800 m Frees and try for the 200 m Free gold as well in Birmingham (GBR) in late July.

≡ AT THE BUZZER ≡

Congratulations to Aaron Sher for his forthcoming induction into the USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame, as the latest legacy of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee from the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Sher was the competition director for field hockey in Los Angeles, and continued his devotion to the game, becoming one of a small number of Americans to serve on the Executive Board of an International Federation. Aaron served on the Federation Internationale de Hockey Executive Board from 2002-10 and on the Pan American Hockey Federation Board from 2005-15, including terms as vice president from 2007-11 and secretary from 2011-15.

He started as a coach with USA Field Hockey in 1980 and was the Secretary-Treasurer of the U.S. national federation from 1993-98. He was the Officials Coordinator for the Atlanta 1996 Olympic tournament and currently serves as an advisor to USA Field Hockey’s Los Angeles 2028 Task Force.

Born in South Africa, Sher is still playing in Masters hockey (!) and will be honored during the federation’s Hall of Fame ceremonies on 5 February in Philadelphia. Congrats!

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