THE TICKER: U.S. men draw Mexico, 0-0, get closer to Qatar ‘22; Worlds gold for Knierim & Frazier; FINA bans Russians from ‘22 Worlds, removes Short-Course Worlds

World Champions: American Pairs stars Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier! (Photo: International Skating Union)

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Plus: Russia: Griner visited by U.S. officials; EuroLeague basketball removes Russian teams; Russian sports minister wants to continue IF contacts = Paris 2024: Basketball prelim arena dropped = Los Angeles 2028: City Council asked to approve expanded adaptive sports program = Olympic Games 2030: Madrid drops out = Athletics: Los Angeles Marathon suffers death of charity runner = Football: Russia asks to host 2028 or 2032 European Championship! = Skiing: four-time Olympic cross country champ Cologna retires; U.S. Ski & Snowboard adds Patty as Chief of Sport and Rimi as Alpine Director = Tennis: What does Barty’s retirement at 25 say about Serena Williams? = Weightlifting: China hands back 2022 Worlds due to Covid = SCOREBOARD: Football: Shocker as Italy to miss FIFA World Cup again ●

The latest news, notes and quotes from the worldwide Five-Ring Circus:


The U.S. Men’s National Team did not win its fourth straight match against Mexico on Thursday evening, but it was more than happy to leave with a 0-0 draw and another points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying play.

The conditions were favorable at the Estadio Azteca – even at 7,350 feet – with 67-degree (F) temperatures to start the game.

The U.S. has a sensational opportunity in the 35th minute, as Timothy Weah sent a cross from the right of goal across to the middle of the field for a charging Christian Pulisic, who sent a left-footed shot forward, but saved by Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa, flying to his right and sending the ball out of bounds for a corner. Pulisic pounded the ground in front of the goal in frustration.

But the half ended scoreless, with the U.S. controlled 57% of the possession, but both teams had four shots.

Pulisic got another chance in the 49th minute, sending a diagonal ball across the box, with Ochoa making a left-handed save as it headed for the top corner of the net.

After a disputed ball deep in the U.S. end almost created a penalty against defender Walker Zimmerman, the U.S. almost immediately got a great chance, as Kellyn Acosta found Gio Reyna at the right side of the Mexican goal; Reyna sent a cross to a running Jordan Pefok in front of goal, but his shot went wide.

Mexican striker Hirving Lozano got more active in the final 15 minutes, sending three shots at U.S. keeper Zack Steffen, who tipped one over the crossbar and the other two were saved.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter used his substitutions in the final third of the game to compensate for the altitude effects and get fresher legs into the game, especially Reyna. The Americans played mostly on defense for the last 15 minutes of the game, including the five minutes of stoppage time. Mexico played in the U.S. end almost continuously and with desperation, with striker Alexis Vega earning a yellow card for a flop in the box in the 90th minute.

The U.S.’s defensive stance showed as Mexico ended the game with 63% of the possession, but the U.S. totaled 10 shots to nine for the home team.

In the other games, Panama and Honduras drew, 1-1, as did Jamaica and El Salvador. Costa Rica took a 1-0 lead on Canada in stoppage time at the end of the first half – after the Canadians had to play with 10 men after the 34th minute – and held on for the win. So, with two match days left, the CONCACAF contenders are (W-L-D):

1. 25, Canada (7-1-4: +13 goal differential)
2. 22, United States (6-2-4: +9)
3. 22, Mexico (6-2-4: +6)
4. 19, Costa Rica (5-3-4: +2)
5. 18, Panama (5-4-3: +1)

The top three teams qualify to the World Cup; the fourth-place team will go to a play-off against an Oceanian team. The U.S. plays Sunday against Panama in Orlando, Florida at 7 p.m. Eastern time, to be shown on FS1, Unimas and TUDN. A win would could clinch a World Cup berth, depending on the results of the other games.

Although missing multiple Beijing Winter Games stars and all of Russia’s skater, the International Skating Union’s World Championships in figure skating are ongoing in Montpellier, France with an astonishing result coming in Thursday’s Pairs final.

In Beijing, China’s Wenjing Sui and Cong Han won the Pairs gold, followed by three Russian teams and another Chinese team. Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier were an impressive sixth after just more than a year of working together. The Russians were banned and China withdrew, perhaps due to Covid outbreaks, perhaps for other reasons.

That left Knierim and Frazier as the class of the field and they became the first American duo to win the world title since Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner back in 1979. Knierim and Frazier led the Short Program at 76.88, ahead of fellow Americans Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc (75.85) and Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara (JPN: 71.58).

Knierim and Frazier won the Free Skate, scoring 144.21 for an overall total of 221.09, but Cain-Gribble suffered three falls and was taken to a hospital for further examinations. That allowed Miura and Kihara to take the silver (199.55 total) and Canada’s Vanessa James and Eric Radford won the bronze (197.32).

In the men’s Singles, Japan took the top three places in the Short Program with Beijing bronze winner Shoma Uno (109.63), Beijing silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama (105.69) and Kazuki Tomono (101.12). American Ilia Malinin, 18, scored 100.16 for a lifetime best by nearly 20 points to stand fourth.

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, the bronze medalist in Beijing, led the women’s Short Program at 80.32, ahead of Belgium’s Lorena Hendrickx (75.00) and American Mariah Bell (72.55). Alysa Liu of the U.S. stands fifth (71.91).


● Russia ● The U.S. State Department reported that two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner was visited by U.S. consular officials for the first time since her detention began February on Tuesday (22nd).

Spokesman Ned Price told CNN: “We were able to check on her condition, we will continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network, to see to it that she is treated fairly.

“Our official found Brittney Griner to be in good condition and we will continue to do everything we can to see to that it she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.”

Griner has been consulting with her legal representation, as she is being held on a charge of carrying a prohibited substance into the country (a vape cartridge apparently containing hashish oil). A Moscow court ruled that she will be held until at least 19 May and she faces a potential trial.

CNN noted that Americans Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed are also being detained in Russia.

The worldwide governing body for aquatics, FINA, announced Wednesday:

“[T]he FINA Bureau met today and confirmed that athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus will not take part in the upcoming 19th FINA World Championships Budapest 2022.

“Following these decisions, FINA was informed by the Russian Swimming Federation of the withdrawal of all Russian aquatics athletes from all FINA events for the rest of this year.”

FINA has been under public and private pressure to ban Russian and Belarusian participants, with Switzerland, Poland and Germany reported as stating they would not participate if either Russia or Belarus did.

Further, FINA finally announced the removal of the World 25 m Swimming Championships from Kazan in December; it will be relocated. A new host for the World Junior Swimming Championships in August – previously removed from Kazan – is expected to be Lima (PER). And:

“Separately, the FINA Executive confirmed that the FINA Disciplinary Panel has opened a procedure against Russian swimmer Evgeny Rylov for a potential violation of the FINA rules following his alleged participation in a pro-war rally at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The FINA Executive has requested that the Panel’s proceedings be expedited.

Rylov was one of many Russian athletes at the event; he was one of the swimming stars of the Tokyo Games, winning the 100–200 m Backstroke events and a silver on the 4×200 m Freestyle Relay. He told the Russian news service TASS:

“To be honest, I am very surprised that a disciplinary action was opened in my regard; it’s an unpleasant situation and we must deal with it.

“Perhaps, I need now to come up to arguments with FINA, filing a written protest, explaining and proving something to them. The whole world and FINA decided that I had no right of attending a concert event in the capital of my country – this is insane!

“I believe that they have opened a very queer disciplinary case.”

Imagine the Oklahoma City Thunder being suspended – as a franchise – from the National Basketball Association.

That’s essentially what happened on Tuesday, as Executive Board of the Basketball European League (EuroLeague) decided:

“To withdraw the participation of Russian Federation teams in both the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague (CSKA Moscow, UNICS Kazan, Zenit St Petersburg) and the 7DAYS EuroCup (Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar) for the 2021-22 season, as the situation in Ukraine has not evolved in a favorable way.”

Further, as regards the games already played against these four teams, “all regular season game results versus Russian teams will be removed from any calculation of EuroLeague and EuroCup team standings.”

Recalculated standings are now posted, removing the games played so far. Wow.

As Russian athletes, teams and officials have mostly been barred from international competitions, the country’s sports minister, Oleg Matytsin, told TASS:

“We believe it to be important not to severe contacts with international federations, to continue the dialogue and maintain diplomatic channels.

“We hope that this period will not be long, it is important to preserve bridges in order to reach the regular level on cooperation in line with the tournaments’ calendar. China has been and remains our main partner.”

It’s a good idea, but will be very difficult – at least publicly – in practice.

● Games of the XXXIII Olympiad: Paris 2024 ● The Paris organizers and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) have agreed to look for an alternative to the Arena Paris Sud – hall six of the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles convention center – for some of the preliminary-round games.

The facility meets all of FIBA’s technical specifications, but has been panned by players and commentators; French forward Evan Fournier, a Tokyo silver medalist who plays for the New York Knicks, complained:

“Is this a joke? … It doesn’t make any sense! The major sport of the Olympics is athletics. But as a team sport, basketball is number one. We are Olympic vice-champions, we are at home, and they do not guarantee a real room? Again, if so, they’re suckers and they’re kidding us.”

Basketball has apparently never been played at the proposed site and it has a ceiling height of 9 m (~29 feet) – pretty high, but far less than in an NBA arena. Other sites were considered, but ceiling heights of 11-12 m (~36-39 feet) are required for badminton or gymnastics; such are the tribulations of working with existing facilities. But:

“Following the most recent sporting and technical assessments, Paris 2024 and FIBA have agreed that this venue will no longer host basketball competitions due to its specificities.

“Paris 2024 and FIBA will continue working closely together to identify a new venue for the preliminary round, which will meet Olympic requirements whilst respecting Paris 2024’s guiding principles on environmental and budgetary responsibility.”

● Games of the XXXIV Olympiad: Los Angeles 2028 ● The Los Angeles City Council will consider a motion from its Arts, Parks, Health, Education and Neighborhood committee to use a portion of the $160 million in funding from the LA28 organizing committee to:

“develop a citywide adaptive sports program, including recommendations for physical accessibility infrastructure improvements to its existing or emerging facilities, with a focus on the expansion of services to transitional age youth (18 – 24), adults, and older adults, including equipment, staffing, training or other particular needs.”

The City’s Recreation and Parks Department is already planning to offer 10 sports for youth with physical disabilities: sitting volleyball, para equestrian, adaptive swimming, para surfing, wheelchair basketball, adaptive skateboarding, goalball, adaptive athletics, wheelchair tennis and para canoe. Five sports are being considered for future inclusion including judo, archery, boccia, tee ball, and climbing.

This emphasis on adaptive sports is noteworthy as the Paralympic Games are coming to Los Angeles for the first time. The 1984 Los Angeles organizers did include two wheelchair races – 800 m for women and 1,500 m for men – in the track & field portion of the Games, the first such races held as part of any Olympic Games.

● Games of the XXXVI Olympiad: 2036 ● reported:

“Spanish Olympic Committee (COE) president Alejandro Blanco confirmed Wednesday that plans for a Madrid 2036 Olympic Games bid have been abandoned on the advice of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who believe Spain will have a better shot at hosting the 2030 Winter Games instead.”

A regional bid for the Pyrenees and Barcelona has been in the works for some time, but has suffered from political infighting within the organizing effort.

The Spanish bid for 2030 appears to be behind the current level of detail achieved by Sapporo (JPN) and Salt Lake City in the U.S. Vancouver (CAN), host in 2010, is also in the development phase of a 2030 Winter Games bid.

● Athletics ● Sad news from Sunday’s Los Angeles Marathon, as 46-year-old Trisha Paddock of Rancho Palos Verdes collapsed at the finish line and died shortly afterwards.

She was running in the Charity Challenge Half Marathon, raising money for the Asian American Drug Abuse Program. She was treated immediately by the Los Angeles Fire Department and transferred to a local hospital, but passed away. It was the first death related to the race since 2007.

The race had 12,354 finishers, including 116 starters who had run all 36 prior L.A, Marathons; John Korir (KEN) won the men’s race in 2:09:08 (his second L.A. victory); fellow Kenyan Delvine Meringor won the women’s race in 2:25:04, and won the men vs. women’s challenge, crossing the line first after the women started with a 16-minute advantage.

● Football ● The Football Union of Russia declared its candidature to be the host of either the 2028 or 2032 UEFA European Championship, despite being banned from UEFA competitions! The deadline was set for 23 March for declarations of interest.

Bids for the 2028 European tournament have come from Turkey and a joint bid from Great Britain and Ireland, along with Russia. For 2032, Italy is a formidable bidder, along with Russia and Turkey once again.

The decisions on the hosts are expected in September 2023.

● Skiing ● Although announced last November, Swiss cross-country superstar Dario Cologna is now retired with the conclusion of the FIS World Cup season last weekend.

Now 36, he won the overall FIS World Cup title four times – in 2009-11-12-15 – with 26 World Cup wins and 73 (!) total medals. He won four Olympic golds in 2010 (15 km Free), 2014 (15 km Classical and 30 km Skiathlon) and 2018 (15 km freestyle), plus three World Championships medals, with one gold, in the 2013 30 km Skiathlon.

He competed at the Beijing Winter Games, finishing 44th in the 15 km Individual, 14th in the 30 km Free and seventh with the Swiss team in the 4×10 km relay. He said:

“The decision came within the last months and after the Olympics, it will be the perfect timing for me. I have achieved everything I ever dreamed of in the sport.”

U.S. Ski & Snowboard announced important senior hires in Anouk Patty as Chief of Sport and Patrick Rimi as Alpine Director.

Patty was a former member of the U.S. Ski Team in the 1980s and comes to the federation after most recently serving as Director of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships at Dropbox. Her charge will be to “develop and implement the organization’s athletic strategic plan working with the elite programs and pipeline development in all disciplines across the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Snowboard Team and U.S. Freeski Team.”

Austria’s Rimi returns to the federation, as he was a coach in 2001, served as the head coach of the women’s team in 2003-08 and was the Alpine Director from 2011-18. He is coming back to USSS after serving as the alpine director for Austria!

● Tennis ● Australia’s Ash Barty shocked the sports world on Tuesday with the announcement of her retirement from the sport at age 25.

She won the Australian Open in January, but cited injuries in withdrawing from the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California and the Miami Open in Florida. She finishes as a three-time winner of tennis majors, including the French Open in 2019 and Wimbledon in 2021.

“I’m so happy, and I’m so ready. I just know at the moment, in my heart, for me as a person, this is right,” she said during an interview posted on Instagram. “I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level any more. I am spent.”

Barty had taken leave of tennis before, for two years beginning in 2014 due to the stress of playing on the WTA Tour. She won 15 pro tournaments all told and had an outstanding career Singles record of 305-102. She was a Tokyo Olympian, but lost in the first round.

Observed: Barty has been widely saluted for her play, poise and sportsmanship. Her pro career lasted, with the sabbatical, from 2010-22, retiring at 25. It makes the astonishing career of Serena Williams, now 40, even more stunning and impressive, with 73 career tournament wins, 23 majors and four Olympic golds (one Singles, three Doubles).

● Weightlifting ● “After careful consideration due to the current COVID-19 situation in China, Chinese Weightlifting Association (CWA) have had to re-evaluate China’s ability to host the upcoming 2022 IWF World Championships.

“Given the much stricter COVID-19 prevention and control rules being implemented, which would mandate that all teams and officials would have to carry out a 21-day quarantine, CWA considered that it is no longer viable for the 2022 IWF World Championships to be delivered to the standard of the IWF requirements.

“Therefore, after careful evaluation, it is with regret that the CWA has had to withdraw from hosting this year.”

Olympics? Yes. Single-sport worlds? No. The International Weightlifting Federation is asking for a new host to come forward, with expressions of interest due in two weeks.


● Football ● In a truly unbelievable turn of events, European Champion Italy failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup for the second time in a row, losing to North Macedonia, 1-0, on Thursday in Palermo, Sicily.

The game was scoreless beyond 90 minutes, but Aleksandar Trajkovski scored in stoppage time to win the match, despite Italy piling up 32 shots to four for the visitors and enjoying 65% of the possession.

Italy finished second in the European Qualifiers Group C (4-0-4) and then was placed in a group with North Macedonia, Portugal and Turkey. Portugal defeated Turkey, 3-1, in Porto and advances to play North Macedonia for a spot in Qatar 2022 on the 29th.

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