PANORAMA: FINA short-course Worlds end with four world records; no NHL players in Beijing; another win for Mikaela Shiffrin!

American skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin (Photo: Reese Brown/U.S. Ski & Snowboard)

Key status updates on the urgent stories in Olympic sport:


The 15th FINA World 25 m Championships in Abu Dhabi (UAE) ended with a bang as Tokyo Olympic open-water gold medalist Florian Wellbrock (GER) won the men’s 1,500 m Freestyle with a world-record performance to highlight the final session.

Wellbrock completed a wild double in Abu Dhabi, winning the FINA Marathon World Series open-water event earlier and then swimming 14:06.88 to claim the world record from Italian star Gregorio Paltrinieri, whose mark of 14:08.06 was set in 2015.

It was the fourth world record of the meet, to go along with Siobhan Haughey (HKG) in the women’s 200 m Free, Maggie MacNeil (CAN) in the 50 m Backstroke and Sweden’s equaler in the women’s 4×50 m Medley.

The U.S. women gold in the 4×50 m Freestyle to open the final session, with Abbey Weitzeil, Claire Curzan, Katharine Berkoff and Kate Douglass finishing in 1:34.22, not far from the American Record of 1:34.03 at the 2019 short-course Worlds.

Emily Escobedo followed up with a gold in the women’s 200 m Breaststroke, just 0.03 ahead of Russian Evgeniia Chikunova and 0.11 up on Britain’s Molly Renshaw: 2:17.85-2:17.88-2:17.96.

Canada’s MacNeil won her second gold of the meet in the women’s 100 m Butterfly (55.04), with Americans Curzan (55.39: World Junior Record) and Torri Huske (55.75) finishing 3-4.

Swedish star Sarah Sjostrom had a busy meet, but finally won an individual gold in the women’s 50 m Free in 23.08, just ahead of 50 m Butterfly winner Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED: 23.31). Sjostrom won the 100 m Free silver and 50 m Fly silver and four relay medals (2-1-1) for a total of seven in the meet!

American Nic Fink concluded a sensational meet with his second Breaststroke gold, this time with an American Record of 25.53 in the 50 m final, bettering his own record of 25.68 set in the semis. He won medals in all three Breaststroke events, as he took the 100 m bronze and the 200 m gold, and three more on relays for a total of six.

The U.S. also won silvers in three other men’s events: Ryan Held was second to Alessandro Miressi in the 100 m free (45.57-45.63); Shaine Casas took silver in the 200 m Backstroke as Poland’s Radoslaw Kawicki won the event for a fourth time, and the U.S. 4×100 m Medley was second to Italy, 3:19.76 to 3:20.50.

The meet saw five World Junior Records and 11 meet records and 28 countries won at least one medal, the most ever for a short-course Worlds. The 27-member U.S. team of mostly younger stars was superb, leading the medal winners with 30 total (9-9-12), ahead of Italy (16: 5-5-6), Russia (15: 4-7-4) and Canada (15: 7-6-2) and Sweden (12: 4-5-3).

Sjostrom (7) and teammate Louise Hansson (7) won the most individual medals at the meet; 10 swimmers won six. The top individual winners were Russian Kliment Kolesnikov and MacNeil with four golds each.

Observed: This was a very good World Championships for FINA, with its biggest-ever prize purse of $2.835 million, plus $200,000 in world-record bonuses, so the total payout exceeded $3 million. The added open-water and diving events were a plus and the approval of an Aquatics Integrity Unit was a welcome stamp of serious intent to step up its fight against cheating of all kinds.

The meet also saw the impact of underwater reviews of the two-hands-touch-on-turns rule in Breaststroke events, leading to a total of 24 disqualifications in the discipline. There were 12 disqualifications each for men and women, with 14 on the first day, and 16 total in the men’s and women’s 50 m events. The swimmers learned quickly to be observant.

The short-course Worlds was essentially a warm-up for the full World Aquatics Championships coming up in May in Fukuoka, Japan, hopefully with fans in attendance in the biggest international event to follow the Tokyo Olympic Games.


● XXIV Olympic Winter Games: Beijing 2022 ● Multiple reports today indicate that the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association have agreed not to have players compete at the Beijing Winter Games in view of a wide Covid outbreak among NHL teams.

CBC Sports noted that “Ten teams have been shut down amid COVID-19 outbreaks and a total of 50 games have been postponed this season.” The three-week Olympic break will have to be used to make up the postponed games. The NHL is facing a deadline of 10 January to withdraw from the Games without incurring a financial penalty.

NHL players participated in the 1998-2002-06-10-14 Winter Games, but the NHL did not allow players to go to PyeongChang in 2018. The NHLPA negotiated the opportunity to go to Beijing into the new labor agreement, but the Covid outbreak has apparently made that impossible.

News on the diplomatic boycott front has been fairly slow in recent days, with Austria and Belgium both saying they will not send any government officials to the Games. Belgium’s stance appears to be driven by human-rights concerns, but Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said, “This is not a diplomatic protest or boycott, but only due to the fact that the COVID restrictions in China are very high … We are against the politicization of the games and will coordinate within the EU.”

Russian sports minister Oleg Matytsin said Tuesday that more than 1.2 billion rubles – about $16.3 million U.S. – has been spent to support Russian athletes preparing for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

● Games of the XXXIV Olympiad: Los Angeles 2028 ● The floor of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will get a temporary, $1 million asphalt track installed for the season-opening NASCAR exhibition called the “Clash at the Coliseum” on 6-7 February.

The track will be 440 yards – a quarter-mile – just longer than the 400 m polyurethane track that will be used for the 2028 track & field competition, in a format similar to that used for the 2013 Stadium SUPER Trucks series. The 1984 Olympic track was removed in 1993 as the field was lowered for Los Angeles Raiders football games.

● Games of the XXXV Olympiad: Brisbane 2032 ● The Australian federal government named its four members for the board of the Brisbane organizing committee, including Sport Minister Richard Colbeck, special envoy for the Games Ted O’Brien, Swimming Australia Vice President Tracy Stockwell and Paralympics Australia board member Rebecca Frizelle.

The Brisbane 2032 board will be made up of 20 members, plus any Australian members of the International Olympic Committee, and the International Paralympic Committee.

Stockwell is better known to Americans as Tracy Caulkins, the three-time gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, in the 200 and 400 m medleys and 4×100 m medley relay. Now 58, she married Australian swimmer (and fellow University of Florida swimming alum) Mark Stockwell in 1991 and moved to Australia; the couple have five children. She received Medal of the order of Australia in 2008 “for service to sport as an administrator and proponent of sporting opportunities for women.”

● U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee ● The first-ever “Team USA Service & Hope Award” winners were announced last Friday (17th), with four athletes receiving $25,000 from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Foundation for service “in a volunteer role with charitable organizations whose missions focus on youth sport, physical activity, or health and well-being.”

The recipients were Shea Hammond (Para-soccer) working with CP Soccer US; wheelchair basketball star Darlene Hunter, with the National Wheelchair Basketball Association; sport climber Kai Lightner, working with Climbing for Change, and two-time Olympic fencer
Nzingha Prescod, with Fencing in the Park. Each of the non-profits they work with will receive 50% of the prize.

A total of 134 applications were made, 76% of whom were currently competing athletes.

● Athletics ● The second Wanda Diamond League meet in China was confirmed for the city of Shenzhen and the 40,000-seat Bao’an Stadium for 6 August. It will follow the 30 July meet in Shanghai as the first two meets following the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon from 15-24 July.

The training group formerly known as the Nike Oregon Project has been renamed. Continuing to train with coach Pete Julian, the Portland-based team will now be known as the Union Athletics Club.

Still sponsored by Nike, Julian has kept the group going in the aftermath of the suspension of former coach Alberto Salazar. Canada’s Running Magazine reported that the group still includes Shannon Rowbury, Raevyn Rogers, Jessica Hull, Donovan Brazier and Craig Engels, among others.

French coach and commentator P.J. Vazel tweeted on Monday that Russia’s Olympic women’s high jump winner Mariya Lasitskene may be delayed in starting her 2022 season in late January in Germany because the Russian Covid vaccine Sputnik V is “still not recognized in the countries hosting major indoor meets” and he added that this also applies “with Chinese vaccines, not only for Chinese athletes btw (for eg. 1/3 of vaccinated Ukrainian had Sinovac).”

Keep an eye on this story as it affects participation in the World Athletics Indoor Tour.

● Basketball ● USA Basketball confirmed that Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr has been named as the U.S. men’s national team coach from 2022-24.

Kerr served as an assistant coach on the 2019 FIBA World Cup team and on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic staff. He will be assisted by Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams (an assistant on the 2016 Olympic coach staff), Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Gonzaga University coach Mark Few.

● Football ● FIFA President Gianni Infantino (SUI) told reporters following Monday’s “Global Summit” that

“If I was going to a vote tomorrow, probably the majority would vote in favor of a World Cup every two years. But it is not the topic, we are looking at the entire calendar and how we can make football better and how many we can bring on board with a new way of organizing the future in football. …

“It is about getting the right decisions for football at the end of the day and we will take the time that it takes, to come to this decision. I will not commit to anything at the Congress [in March 2022]. Everything is open and flexible. We continue the dialogue, the analysis, we hope we can make progress, one way or the other, or some middle way, we will see.”

Mexico lost its appeal against sanctions for anti-gay chants by fans last October and will have its next two FIFA men’s World Cup qualifying matches held without fans.

FIFA imposed the two-match penalty and a fine of CHF 100,000 on the Mexican federation in November, and the Appeals Committee turned down Mexico’s request for change.

This means that the Mexican team will play home qualifiers without fans on 30 January vs. Costa Rica and 2 February against Panama.

Just eight days after FIFA announced separate rights packages for its women’s football and eSports programs, digital payments giant Visa announced it has become the first “Women’s Football Partner” for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023 in Australia and New Zealand.

Said Lynne Biggar, Visa’s Chief Marketing Officer: “Becoming the first FIFA Women’s Football Partner is part of a much larger investment in women’s initiatives to help recognize the limitless potential of women around the world.”

● Swimming ● China’s triple Olympic Freestyle distance champion Yang Sun, already serving a four-year suspension for violations of the World Anti-Doping Code, is accused of violating the terms of that suspension by training in a government-funded facility.

Britain’s The Times reported that he had been photographed while training in a “performance sport facility,” which would be against the terms of his sanctions. A World Anti-Doping Agency spokesman said:

“We are looking into the matter and, as part of that, we will follow up with the relevant entities, including the international swimming federation [FINA], to gather more information and to be in a position to determine whether the swimmer has breached the terms of his suspension, as per the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport of 22 June 2021.”

● Weightlifting ● The International Weightlifting Federation completed a meeting of its Congress in Tashkent (UZB) with 101 member federations attending in-person or online. The group completed the necessary procedures to move forward with an Extraordinary Congress on 30 January 2022 that will amend “the IWF Constitution aimed at speeding up the electoral process, on the basis that it will be repeating some steps that were recently undertaken.”

If passed, candidates can be nominated on 2 March and “vetting” of the candidates can be completed by 30 April. That would place elections potentially in May of next year.

This lengthy process, with starts, stops and re-starts, has irritated the International Olympic Committee to the point where it has left the sport off of the 2028 Olympic program, at least for now. The results of the elections will be an important step for the sport’s Olympic future.

On Saturday, an important election in the European Weightlifting Federation saw Moldova’s Antonio Conflitti elected President, over Britain’s Ashley Metcalfe. Russian Maxim Agapitov had been serving as Interim President and had suffered a no-confidence vote.

A 1997 World Champion at 91 kg, Agapitov had served a doping suspension from 1993-95 and has drawn the ire of the IOC, which tried to keep him from being accredited at the Tokyo Games as an IWF Board member, but ultimately failed after Agapitov appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Agapitov did not offer himself as a candidate for the EWF post and the ballot for the IWF elections will be watched closely by the IOC to see if Agapitov and others involved in the IWF during its period of corruption are allowed to run for office.


● Alpine Skiing ● The FIS World Cup circuit continued into the week with more racing in Italy and France.

In Courchevel (FRA), American star Mikaela Shiffrin won her third race – and second Giant Slalom – on the season, taking the lead after the first run and then getting the second-fastest time on the final run to win at 2:15.35 over Sara Hector (SWE: 2:16.21) and Michelle Gisin (SUI: 2:16.43). She now has 72 career World Cup wins, still no. 3 on the all-time list.

Another Giant Slalom will be held at Courchevel on Wednesday.

The men were in Alta Badia (ITA) for the second of two Giant Slalom races on Monday, with Switzerland’s seasonal leader, Marco Odermatt, winning his fourth race of the campaign. His combined time of 2:26.07 edged Luca di Aliprandini (ITA: 2:27.08) and Alexander Schmid (GER: 2:27.16). American River Radamus was 10th.

The men have a Slalom in Madonna di Campiglio (ITA) on Wednesday to end the pre-holiday schedule.

● Freestyle Skiing ● The FIS Freestyle World Cup Ski Cross racing concluded in Innichen (ITA) on Monday, with France’s Bastien Midol winning the men’s event over Swiss Ryan Regez and Tobias Baur (SUI) and Sweden’s Sandra Naeslund sweeping the women’s two-race series.

The women’s results were especially amazing, as Naeslund won for the fifth time in the six races held this season; Swiss Fanny Smith was second for the fourth time in a row and five out of six this season, and a Canadian skier – this time, Marielle Thompson – was third for the fourth straight race!

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