The Sports Examiner

TSX REPORT: AIPS honors for The Sports Examiner; how AI will score gymnastics in the future; World Relays this weekend!

The AIPS Sports Media Awards for worldwide "Writing - Best Column" for 2023: Look who's no. 5!

The Sports Examiner: Chronicling the key competitive, economic and political forces shaping elite sport and the Olympic Movement.★

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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡

1. FIG chief Watanabe showcases AI future for gymnastics
2. Olympic-qualifier World Relays on in Nassau
3. IOC names third Refugee Olympic Team for Paris
4. Mammoth Seine River overflow reservoir opens in Paris
5. Belarus athletes on their own for Paris participation

A special thanks to the International Sports Journalists Association (AIPS), which honored The Sports Examiner with a worldwide fifth place in its 2023 AIPS Sports Media Awards for “Best Column.”

● International Gymnastics Federation chief Morinari Watanabe explained at the AIPS Congress how artificial intelligence will revolutionize scoring and training in gymnastics, a process which the federation has been working toward since 2017.

● The World Athletics Relays, one of the most fun events in the sport, is serious this time as Olympic qualifying is on the line. The U.S. has a strong squad in Nassau for the meet, with the emphasis on qualifying more than winning.

● The International Olympic Committee named its largest Refugee Olympic Team of 36 for the Paris 2024 Games, with a quarter of the squad returning from Tokyo 2020. The selected athletes come from 11 countries and will compete in 12 sports. Sadly, 14 of the 36 refugee Olympians were originally from Iran.

● The gigantic reservoir built to house rainwater and prevent wastewater flowing back into the Seine River – eventually allowing swimming once again – was opened on Thursday in Paris, one of the city’s signature initiatives related to the 2024 Olympic Games.

● The President of Belarus said that the decision on whether to compete in Paris as a qualified “neutral” would be up to each Belarusian athlete, mirroring the Russian approach.

World Championship: Ice Hockey (U.S. and Canada sweep on to semifinals at men’s U-18 Worlds) ●

Panorama: World Games (Karlsruhe confirmed for 2029) = Anti-Doping (USADA rips WADA Q&A document on 2021 Chinese swimming positives) = Memorabilia (Ingrid O’Neil auction 96 ends Saturday) = Athletics (2: Kenya names marathon teams, led by Kipchoge; Merber to help Johnson on new track league) = Cycling (2: Vollering takes over in Vuelta Espana Femenina; Pogacar a huge favorite in 107th Giro d’Italia) = Football (star U.S. defender O’Hara retires) ●

≡ THANK YOU! ≡

In a considerable surprise, my 24 February 2023 column, “With the best of intentions, the IOC has lost its way,” was awarded a worldwide fifth place in the AIPS Sports Media Awards for ‘Writing – Best Column” of 2023. The announcement was posted on Thursday.

In fact, the column, about the incomprehensible position of the International Olympic Committee to return Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competition despite the Russian invasion of Ukraine continuing without end, was actually ranked as the best of the year related to the Olympic world, as the four stories ahead of it were all about football.

I started The Sports Examiner in 2016 to create a site where the focus was on the competitive, economic and political aspects of Olympic sport, an area vastly undercovered by American media with the failure, implosion or merger of so many once-great U.S. newspapers.

This is, for the most part, a one-man operation of collecting, sifting, questioning and researching news and information about the Olympic Movement and Olympic sports. It is not easy and it is sometimes tedious, but it is always interesting and the stories are compelling.

All of the top four stories were by experienced journalists at major newspapers in Argentina, Spain and Egypt. The Sports Examiner was the sole online-only publication to be honored in this category for 2023, for which I am very grateful (and still surprised).

My thanks to the AIPS and its Sports Media Awards project, which includes eight professional categories in audio, photography, video and writing, plus three more for Young Reporters.

As our regular readers know, The Sports Examiner is a free site, but donations are welcome, and so grateful to have our first patron, the LA84 Foundation, supporting the site in 2023. If you would like to join in, don’t hesitate to let me know, so even better work will be ahead!

Rich Perelman
Editor

1.
FIG chief Watanabe showcases AI future for gymnastics

An important presentation by Federation Internationale de Gymnastique President Morinari Watanabe (JPN) showcased the place for artificial intelligence (AI) projects in his sport.

Speaking during the centennial AIPS Congress in Santa Susanna, Spain, Watanabe explained the three primary applications he sees for AI in gymnastics, already in development since 2017 with FIG supplier Fujitsu:

“1. Eliminating misjudging and harmonising judging standards

“In the history of gymnastics, there have been issues caused by misjudging. Such issues must never be repeated. The elimination of misjudging will be achieved through parallel use of human judging support by ‘shadow’ judging by AI.

“Currently, there is a gap between the scores that athletes get at national competitions and the scores that athletes get at the Olympic Games. The AI judging of gymnastics will be like the use of false start and photo-finish technology in athletics. It means that gymnasts will be scored by the same standard in all competitions.

“2. Helping to develop gymnastics as entertainment

“Spectators are wowed by gymnastics, but it is difficult for them to understand the differences between scores. Visualisation of the live score with the help of AI will help spectators and TV viewers to understand the scoring.

“Using AI in this way also helps to reduce the competition time, meaning that finals that currently take three hours could potentially be reduced to less than two hours, making them more appealing to TV broadcasters.

“3. Future development as an AI coaching system

“The time will come when AI will be able to point out athletes’ weak points and advise appropriate training methods to coaches. No matter where you live, on a small island or in a mountain jungle, no matter how poor you are, if you have a smartphone, you will be able to receive coaching from the world’s best.”

The “Judging Support System” is now available for all 10 apparatus – the six for men and four for women – as of the 2023 World Artistic Championships in 2023. The system uses three-dimensional sensors and converts the movements of the gymnasts into data, with the AI application tracking all movements and comparing them to the scoring database and rules to come up with an automated score.

Acknowledging that the project is at the beginning and will take time to be fully accepted, Watanabe followed up with the point that “I want to depart from the era in which only the wealthy in the wealthiest countries have access to training, and I want to ensure that children all over the world have equal opportunities to develop their gymnastics abilities.”

2.
Olympic-qualifier World Relays on in Nassau

What has been one of the freshest and most entertaining events in track & field is suddenly quite serious as the sixth World Athletics Relays returns to the site of the first three: the Thomas A. Robinson Stadium in Nassau (BAH).

At stake are Olympic qualifying berths in all five track relays:

● 4×100 m for men and women
● 4×400 m for men and women
● 4×400 m mixed relay

Per World Athletics:

● “The top 14 teams in each event at the World Athletics Relays Bahamas 24 will automatically qualify for places at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. The remaining two places in each discipline will be awarded based on top lists during the qualification period (31 December 2022 to 30 June 2024).”

● “Olympic places are up for grabs on both days of action in The Bahamas. On the first day, the top two teams in each heat will advance to the final on day two, while also securing their qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”

● “In the finals on day two, teams will compete for prize money and obtain Olympic lane seeding positions.”

● “All other teams will compete on day two in the additional round where the top two teams in each heat will also qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”

So for the U.S. – and everyone else – the key is to get the stick around and not to be disqualified or fail to finish. USA Track & Field announced a strong squad of 28 to compete in Nassau, including Noah Lyles, Kenny Bednarek, Kyree King, Kendal Williams, Courtney Lindsey and Pjai Austin in the 4×100 m.

The men’s 4×4 options include reigning U.S. 400 m champ Bryce Deadmon, plus Jacory Patterson, Champion Allison and Christopher Bailey.

The women’s 4×100 m group is interesting, with 200 m star Gabby Thomas the headliner along with Tamari Davis, who was with Thomas on the winning Worlds 4×1 last year in Budapest. Tamara Clark and Melissa Jefferson, who ran in Budapest in the heats, are also on the Nassau squad, along with Mikiah Brisco and Celera Barnes.

The women’s 4×400 team includes Alexis Holmes, the hero of the 2023 Worlds Mixed 4×4, when she passed a falling Femke Bol (NED) just before the line, plus veterans Quanera Hayes, Kendall Ellis, Jessica Wright, Paris Peoples and Na’Asha Robinson.

Matthew Boling, Brian Faust and Ryan Willie are in the Mixed 4×400 m pool, with Bailey Lear and Lynna Irby-Jackson for the women.

There is prize money for the top eight teams in each event, of $40,000-20,000-10,000-8,000-6,000-4,000-3,000-2,000.

In the U.S., Saturday’s heats will be shown at 7 p.m. Eastern on NBC’s Peacock streaming service; Sunday coverage of finals will be on Peacock and CNBC.

3.
IOC names third Refugee Olympic Team for Paris

The International Olympic Committee named its Paris 2024 Olympic Refugee Team on Thursday, with 36 athletes from 11 countries to compete in 12 sports “represent the more than 100 million displaced people around the world.”

This is the third Olympic Refugee Team, introduced at Rio 2016:

2016: 10 athletes from 4 countries in 6 sports
2020: 29 athletes from 11 countries in 12 sports
2024: 36 athletes from 11 countries in 12 sports

The breakdown by (original) country includes Afghanistan (5), Cameroon (1), Congo (1), Cuba (2), Eritrea (2), Ethiopia (2), Iran (14), South Sudan (1), Sudan (2), Syria (5) and Venezuela (1).

The breakdown by sport: Athletics (7) Badminton (1), Breaking (1), Boxing (2), Canoe (4), Cycling (2), Judo (6), Shooting (2), Swimming (2), Taekwondo (5), Weightlifting (2), and Wrestling (2).

Fully a quarter of the team are repeaters from Tokyo 2020:

● Aala Maso (originally SYR) in swimming
● Dorian Keletela (originally CGO) in athletics
● Jamal Mohamed (originally SUD) in athletics
● Tachlowini Gabriysos (originally ERI) in athletics
● Saeid Fazloula (originally IRI) in canoeing
● Muna Dahouk (originally SYR) in judo
● Nigara Shaheen (originally AFG) in judo
● Luna Solomon (originally ERI) in shooting
● Dina Pouryounes Langeroudi (originally IRI) in taekwondo

Said IOC President Thomas Bach (GER): “You are an enrichment to our Olympic Community, and to our societies. With your participation in the Olympic Games, you will demonstrate the human potential of resilience and excellence. This will send a message of hope to the more than 100 million displaced people around the world.”

No refugee athlete has won an Olympic medal; as yet.

4.
Mammoth Seine River overflow reservoir opens in Paris

One of the signature efforts of the City of Paris for the 2024 Olympic Games is to make the Seine River swimmable again, at least in specific areas. One of the key elements of this project, now costing €1.4 billion (about $1.5 billion U.S.) in all, opened on Thursday, the huge water-storage tank next to the Austerlitz train station.

With a capacity of 46,000 cubic meters of water (about 12.2 trillion gallons), the underground stormwater storage tank will remove rainwater and help to prevent overflows that would require discharging wastewater from the Paris sewage system back into the river.

This has been the key program to allow not only public swimming in the Seine – banned since 1923 – but to allow the use of the river for open-water swimming at the Games and for the swimming phase of the triathlon.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who was present for the ceremony on Thursday, and French President Emmanuel Macron have both pledged to swim in the river prior to the Games – possibly in June – as a symbol of the project’s success.

Hidalgo told reporters, “For more than ten years already, we’ve seen a very significant improvement of the Seine water quality and our river’s fishes and wildlife are back,” noting that about 35 species now populate the river vs. just three in the 1970s. The opening of the tank follows up on a new water-treatment plant east of Paris, which was opened in April.

The plan for the Games is for daily testing of the water quality at 3 a.m. to certify World Aquatics or World Triathlon quality levels that would allow competitions to be held. If the water is too dirty, the events can be postponed.

5.
Belarus athletes on their own for Paris participation

“This is the business of the athletes. Of course, I would like to have an anthem, a flag, etc. But I understand the athletes: this is their life. Understanding this, I do not insist on any of the options.”

That’s Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in a Tuesday interview, explaining that he will not interfere in the decision of individual Belarusian athletes to participate in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games as neutrals.

“But if you have already qualified and are going there in a neutral status, punch them in the face, show them that you are a real Belarusian. We will still understand that you are a Belarusian, and when you emerge victorious, this is a good topic for us to We also punched them in the face politically.

“Tomorrow we will return to this European, global family. And we will show them what we can. And let the athlete decide for himself: if he wants to go, let him go and perform, but only perform with dignity, so that we are proud of him. I won’t put pressure on anyone and I won’t insist.”

Lukashenko has adopted the same stance as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has also left any decisions on whether to compete in Paris as a “neutral” up to the individual athlete.

≡ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP ≡

● Ice Hockey ● The top seeds at the IIHF men’s U-18 Worlds in Finland, the U.S. and Canada, breezed into the semifinals with decisive wins in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

The defending champion U.S. took care of Switzerland, 4-0, breaking open a scoreless game with three second-period scores from James Hagens (7:11), Christian Humphreys (15:22) and Brodie Ziemer at 18:03. Hagens scored again at 10:27 of the final period and Nick Kempf handled 17 Swiss shots for the shutout. The U.S. finished with a 35-17 edge on shots.

Canada shut down Latvia, 4-0, with Maxim Masse scoring just 5:08 into the game and Ryder Ritchie adding a second at 12:12 for a 2-0 lead. After a Porter Martone goal for a 3-0 lead at 12:47 of the third, the issue was decided and Jett Luchanko got an empty-net finale at the 19:00 mark. Carter George got the shutout in goal for Canada, stopping 23 shots (to Canada’s 38).

Sweden surprised Finland, 2-1, in their quarter and Slovakia prevailed over the Czech Republic by 3-2, setting up Saturday’s semis:

● U.S. (5-0) vs. Slovakia (2-3)
● Canada (5-0) vs. Sweden (3-2)

Both are re-matches from group play, where the U.S. beat Slovakia by 9-0 in the opener, and Canada skated past Sweden, 6-3. The medal matches are on Sunday.

≡ PANORAMA ≡

● World Games ● As expected, Karlsruhe (GER) was named as the site for the 2029 World Games at the International World Games Association Annual General Meeting on Wednesday (1st).

Karlsruhe previously hosted the World Games back in 1989; for the 13th edition in 2029, about 4,000 athletes from more than 100 countries will contest 35 or more sports.

The IWGA also announced that full membership has been granted to the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), which was an added sport at Birmingham 2022 and will be on the program for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and to the International Cheer Union (ICU).

Both will be included in the 2025 World Games in Chengdu (CHN). The additions bring the IWGA federation total to 40.

● Anti-Doping ● The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency posted a scathing, 16-page review of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s question-and-answer document on the 2021 doping positives by 23 Chinese swimmers, who were not sanctioned due to contamination of their food. In short, the USADA’s view:

“WADA’s doubling down on half-truths and self-serving rationalizations for failing to enforce its own rules is deeply concerning, and those who value fair play remain completely unsatisfied by the answers being provided by WADA regarding its sweeping of 23 positive tests under the carpet. How much longer must we watch WADA dance around the truth, avoiding all accountability and responsibility?

“We echo athletes’ demands to create a truly independent investigation and let impartial experts and stakeholders participate in the process. We must get real answers, ensure accountability for any failures, and secure true reform at WADA to fulfill the promise we all have to clean athletes and the fairness of sport.”

The review also speculates that the case file received from the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency (CHINADA) was not provided to WADA’s own Intelligence and Investigations team:

“In its statement, WADA appears to acknowledge that it did not provide the case file to its investigators. How would its investigators know they have ‘no impetus to investigate’ as they told USADA in 2023, if WADA never provided them the case file?”

● Memorabilia ● Auction 96 from Ingrid O’Neil will end on Saturday (4th) at 8 p.m. Pacific time, with 478 lots on offer and an excellent selection of medals, torches and badges from the first modern Games in Athens in 1896 to the present.

A torch for the 1952 Olympic Winter Games in Oslo (NOR) – the first Winter Games torch relay – has already received a bid for $65,000 as the highest price recorded so far.

● Athletics ● Kenya named its marathon teams for the Paris Games, led by two-time Olympic gold medalist and former world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge and defending Olympic women’s champion, Peres Jepchirchir.

Kipchoge, now 39, won in Rio and Tokyo and will try to become the first to win three Olympic marathons. He will be joined by world leader Benson Kipruto (2:02;16), the winner of the Tokyo Marathon in March, and Alexander Mutiso, who just won the London Marathon in April (2:04:01).

Timothy Kiplagat, second in Tokyo and no. 2 on the 2024 world list at 2:02:55, was named as the alternate.

Jepchirchir proved her fitness with her 2:16:16 win at the London Marathon on 21 April and has won six of her last seven marathons, including victories in New York in 2021 and Boston in 2022.

She will be challenged by Hellen Obiri, new to marathoning, but already the Boston and New York winner in 2023 and Boston again in 2024 in 2:22:37. Obiri, 34, owns Olympic silvers from 2016 and Tokyo 2020 in the 5,000 m and will be a prime contender. Brigid Kosgei, the former world-record holder (2:14:04 in 2019) and Tokyo Olympic runner-up, is the third women’s team member.

The 2022 New York winner, Sharon Lokedi, who was second to Obiri in Boston this year (2:22:45), is the women’s alternate.

Latest sign of serious intent at the Michael Johnson venture to create a 2025 track “league”: hiring of Kyle Merber, 33, the 2015 Pan Am Games 1,500 m finalist with a best of 3:34.54, who has been a popular commentator, especially on his newsletter, “The Lap Count” – inaugurated in March of 2021 – and with Citius Magazine. He posted on X on Wednesday:

“I am excited to share that I will be the Director of Athletes and Racing working alongside @MJGold to help revolutionize track and bring it into the mainstream of sports.”

He won’t be doing The Lap Count any more, of course, but will be working on what hopes to be a game-changer for track & field in the U.S.

● Cycling ● Dutch star Demi Vollering, who won 13 Women’s World Tour races in 2023, won Thursday’s fifth stage of the X Vuelta Espana Femenina, sprinting away with 700 m to go to finish the 113.9 km route to Jaca in 3:09:52 and took the overall race lead.

She won by 28 seconds over countrywoman Yara Kastelijn and Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini, with prior leader Marianne Vos (NED) well back in 26th. With the race ending Sunday, Vollering – third in this race in 2022 and second last year – is up by 31 seconds over Longo Borghini. American Kristin Faulkner is fourth (+1:10) and Vos is ninth (+2:07).

One of the three annual Grand Tours, the 107th Giro d’Italia, begins its three-week trek across Italy on Saturday with a 136 km stage from Venara Reale to Turin and will finish in Rome on 26 May.

The overwhelming favorite in this year’s Giro is Slovenian star Tadej Pogacar, winner of the Tour de France in 2020 and 2021 and second the last two years. He also contested the Vuelta a Espana in 2019, finishing third, so he has medaled in all five of his career Grand Tours.

In limited racing in 2024, he won three of his four events: Strade Bianche and the Volta Ciclista de Catalunya in March and Liege-Bastogne-Liege on 21 April. He was third at Milan-Sanremo in March. He’s ready.

Geraint Thomas (GBR), the 2023 Giro runner-up and the 2018 Tour de France winner, also returns and may be Pogacar’s biggest rival.

The route of 3,400.8 km across 21 stages includes:

● 6 flat stages
● 8 hilly stages
● 5 mountain stages
● 2 individual time trials

The three mountain stages 15, 16 and 17 – held over four days – may decide the race, all three with uphill finishes, with a final challenge in stage 19, with four climbs finally ending at 1,235 m at Sappada.

● Football ● Star U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara announced her retirement on Thursday, finishing her career at age 35 as a two-time Women’s World Cup winner and as an Olympic gold and bronze medalist. She told U.S. Soccer:

“It has been one of the greatest joys to represent my country and to wear the U.S. Soccer crest.

“As I close this chapter of my life, I am filled with gratitude. Looking back on my career I am so thankful for all the things I was able to accomplish but most importantly the people I was able to accomplish them with.”

O’Hara was a fearless ballhawk and played in 160 national-team matches, with three goals and 25 assists. She appeared for the U.S. in the 2011-15-19-23 World Cups with two wins and a silver medal in 2011, and won Olympic gold with the American team at London 2012 and a bronze at Tokyo 2020. She played professionally in the short-lived Women’s Professional Soccer league and for four clubs in the National Women’s Soccer League.

She will officially retire following the end of the current NWSL season.

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