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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
1. Eugene Worlds show modest attendance and lots of craziness
2. A Eugene legacy will be U.S. visa issues; Lake Placid is on the clock
3. Double Olympic gold medalist Hanyu retires
4. “Olymp’Arts” competition to be held in 2023?
5. Vingegaard maintains lead as Tour de France end nears
Halfway through the first World Athletics Championships to be held in the U.S., the competition has been sterling, with world-leading performances in 10 events, but the attendance has hardly been the sell-out that had been hoped for. And there has been some strange stuff going on, on and off the track. The issue of athletes being able to get U.S. visas to attend the Worlds will continue and the Winter World University Games in Lake Placid next January is next up. There is a strange “Olymp’Arts” event coming in 2023, and the International Olympic Committee is not involved. In the Tour de France, Dane Jonas Vingegaard is maintaining his lead and trying to become the first winner from his country in 56 years on Sunday. Plus, $3.05 million in grants made to 150 U.S. track & field athletes this week!
Eugene Worlds show modest attendance and lots of craziness
The ongoing World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon is, as SFGATE.com sports editor Dennis Young points out, “really is the first fully normal track meet since covid (hilariously stupid [s—] happening all the time for no reason).”
He was specifically referring to the oblivious triple jump cameraman standing in lane two while the men’s Steeplechase finalists had to run around him on Monday, but things got crazier on Tuesday.
Britain’s Jake Wightman won a shocker in the men’s 1,500, defeating Olympic champ Jakob Ingebtigtsen (NOR), 3:29.23-3:29.47, while Wightman’s father and coach – Geoff Wightman – was the public address announcer! Per Reuters:
“Wightman’s father and coach, used to the combination by now but never previously seeing such a victory, somehow kept his emotion in check as he called his son home, though he did allow himself a moment to announce to the Hayward Field fans: ‘That’s my son and he’s world champion’.”
It was Britain’s first men’s 1,500 world title since Steve Cram – at Hayward Field as a BBC analyst – won at the inaugural Worlds in Helsinki in 1983. Said Jake Wightman afterwards:
“I had such a disappointing year in Tokyo last year. I don’t think people realize how crushing it was to go in with such high expectations and come away hoping for a medal but end up tenth. I had to take the pressure off and the only thing that could happen was that it was a better run than last year.”
Lots of emotions in a high-stake meet like the Worlds; American vault silver winner Sandi Morris won her third Worlds outdoor silver to go along with Olympic silver last year and wrote on Twitter:
“Over the last 15 or so hours I think I’ve experienced just about every emotion the human brain is capable of. Happiness, sadness, pride in what I’ve accomplished but also a lot of dissatisfaction. I went out there to fight for gold, and that’s what I did, but I have to walk away with silver yet again. The Outdoor title continues to elude me. When I missed by last attempt at 4.90m [16-0 3/4], I walked straight to my husband and hugged him, a little bit tearfully, and said ‘it’s ok. I’m ok.’ Because, I AM!”
World 110 m hurdles champ Grant Holloway is done for the meet … or is he? He wrote on Twitter:
“I firmly believe I can be one of the most decorated athletes in Track & Field if I was on relays. Respectfully.”
Holloway was a demon on relays at the University of Florida, but high hurdlers are rarely considered for either 4×100 or 4×400 m duty. But he’s asking.
Then there is NBC reporter Lewis Johnson, who does the mixed-zone interviews, getting ripped on Twitter for his interview with women’s 100 m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (JAM):
“I think it disrespectful to ask woman about her hair in public let alone on national TV… Shelly may have answered your question with grace and class… but it is disrespectful…you went to far in asking how many [wigs she brought].”
Johnson replied with his typical grace and coolness:
“I typically don’t reply to criticism/praise, but as a husband w/2 sisters…I must. Please know I asked Shelly-Anne BEFORE the intv if she wanted to have a fun chat about her fashion/hair and she said, “sure!” Disrespecting women not in my DNA. Wishing you the best.”
In fact, Johnson was – without mentioning any names – helping Fraser-Pryce promote her hair products business, a remarkably supportive gesture by an American television reporter for the five-time World Champion.
Oh yes, and mascot Legend the Bigfoot had his “head” stolen and was using a replacement head on Tuesday. The original head has apparently been recovered, but showed up in multiple social-media feeds while at large. World Athletics statement: “We can confirm that an accredited photographer was removed from Hayward Field in connection to the investigation of a theft at the venue. This is now a police matter, and we won’t have further comments at this time.”
Folks, we’re only halfway through the meet.
The Oregonian reported on attendance at the Worlds through the first three days: “Ticketed attendance totaled 13,646 for the championships’ first day Friday, 19,543 on the second and 21,065 on Day 3, according to Oregon 22 organizers.”
That’s 54,254 in total, and with about 15,000 seats to sell per session, about 60% of capacity. However, assuming that twice as many people attended the evening sessions as came for the mornings – it sure looked that way – the three evening sessions averaged 80% full, which looked about right. Tuesday’s ticketed attendance was reported at 11,865, right around the 80% mark, with Wednesday less at 10,881 (73%).
Whether 12,000 fans in a 15,000-seat venue for the World Championships bodes well for the sport or not is a debate for next week.
A Eugene legacy will be U.S. visa issues;
Lake Placid is on the clock
One of the enduring issues that will come out of the Eugene Worlds is the process of getting entry visas to the U.S. for foreign athletes, coaches and officials, not to mention fans.
A total of 374 visa cases required intervention, with 255 reported resolved, 20 denied and 99 others in process as of last week.
Those concerned that the issue will crop up again at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games should know that the entry process is different and that athletes and legitimate coaches and officials – not known terrorists on the State Department’s no-admit lists – will be able to get into the U.S. without too much difficulty. Spectators are another story, as are news media.
Same for the 2026 FIFA World Cup that will be held in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.
But the immediate worry has to be for the folks in Lake Placid, New York, site of the January 2023 Winter World University Games. It’s a much smaller event, with most of the athletes and officials from Europe, but there will be questions about Chinese competitors and possibly Russians, if the International University Sports Federation (FISU) allows them to compete.
The Winter WUG is not a “National Special Security Event” as designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and therefore is on the clock to ensure its coordination with the U.S. Government is smoother than was seen for the World Athletics Championships in Eugene. This won’t be easy.
Also on the horizon, but a smaller event with some history and protocol behind it is the fifth World Baseball Classic, which will take place in Japan, Taiwan and the U.S. next March.
Double Olympic gold medalist Hanyu retires
Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu thrilled crowds for more than a decade with his artistry, technical skills and emotive presence on the ice, winning Olympic Winter figure skating golds in 2014 and 2018, but after a series of injuries, announced his retirement from competitive skating on Tuesday.
Still just 27, he told a news conference in Tokyo, “I’ll no longer be able to be compared with other competitors. But I’ll keep fighting my weaknesses and my past self.
“In terms of results, I’ve achieved everything I could achieve. I stopped wanting to be evaluated. …
“There are plans in progress but I’m holding back from giving you details. … I think there are more ways to exhibit figure skating befitting this time and age. I hope to make the fans who never came to watch want to come.”
He does have one more goal, however:
“I carried on until [Winter Games in] Beijing in pursuit of the quad axel, but I feel I can do it, not necessarily in competitions.”
In addition to his two Olympic golds, and a fourth-place finish in Beijing despite a right ankle injury, he won World Championship titles in 2014 and 2017, plus three silvers and two bronzes. He won four straight Grand Prix finals from 2014-17.
Hanyu also leaves behind a unique cultural legacy. His fans, having seen him in 2010 with a tissue box that featured Winnie the Pooh, famously threw Pooh dolls on the ice at the end of his routines at both national and international championships, which were collected and given to charities.
“Olymp’Arts” competition to be held in 2023?
To quote Stephen Stills, “there’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear …”
A group called the “International Olymp’Arts Committee” announced on 30 June that “it will launch the first Olympic Arts competition in Geneva, Switzerland, from 11-23 July 2023, hoping to provide an opportunity for talented artists worldwide to spread their message and become recognized global artists.
“With the theme of ‘Environment and Energy,’ ‘OLYMP’ARTS 2023′ plans to stage a ‘feast for the art’ that will gather the participants from all over the world in Geneva with their works of various forms, including dance, music, painting and photography, for exhibitions, Qin Wen [CHN], executive president of IOAC’s Executive Committee, told a press conference.
“She added that the Olympic Arts trophy will be awarded to the best works selected by the public.”
The “IOAC” was formed in 1995 as a French initiative through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by orchestra director Marc Verriere, but the 2023 event is apparently its first significant public program.
Asked about the IOAC, the International Olympic Committee’s press office replied: “This organisation and its current activities are not endorsed by the IOC.”
Arts competitions were held as part of the Olympic Games in 1912, 1920, 1924, 1928, 1932, 1936 and 1948, but discontinued as artists were – or were trying to be – professionals, then against the Olympic code. This 2023 festival concept is clearly separate from the Olympic Games, but is it a shade too confusing?
Vingegaard maintains lead as Tour de France end nears
Two-time defending Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar (SLO) was determined to make up time on race leader Jonas Vingegaard on Wednesday, but despite multiple attacks on the 129.7 km triple-climb-and-uphill-finish Stage 17, he gained just four seconds.
The two leaders battled together, one-on-one, on the final ascent up the Peyragudes in the Pyrenees Mountains with Pogacar getting the win in 3:25:51 and the Dane right behind. They both received the same time, but Pogacar received a 10-second time bonus for winning and Vingegaard a six-second bump for second. Net change: four seconds, with Pogacar now down 2:18 with four stages left.
He will attack again on Thursday, the last major mountain stage, with two major climbs and another uphill finish to Hautacam, over 143.2 km. Friday’s stage is fairly flat and then Pogacar will try for some magic in Saturday’s mostly-downhill Individual Time Trial (40.7 km). But he has a lot of time to make up before Sunday’s ride into Paris.
Third-place Geraint Thomas (GBR) is well back, now 4:56 behind Vingegaard and fourth-place Nairo Quintana (COL) is 7:53 behind.
Vingegaard – the 2021 runner-up – would be the first Dane to win since 1996, when Bjarne Riis won, Denmark’s only triumph in the first 108 editions of the race.
He and the other riders were relieved to hear from the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) that through the first 15 stages, 712 checks on bikes revealed no technical cheating. The test program included scans prior to the start of the races and 119 post-race X-ray inspections.
≡ PANORAMA ≡
● Olympic Games 2020: Tokyo ● Kyodo News reported that a former member of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee’s Executive Board was paid ¥45 million (~$326,000) by a Games commercial partner, clothing manufacturer Aoki Holdings, from 2017-21.
Hiroyuki Takahashi, a former senior managing director at Japan’s Dentsu advertising agency, was contracted by Aoki Holdings to work on new business plans for the company as a consultant. Takahashi claims there was no conflict of interest, but prosecutors are inquiring about the relationship between the agreement and Takahashi’s status as a member of the Tokyo 2020 Executive Board.
It never ends.
● Asian Games 2022: Hangzhou ● The massive 19th Asian Games, an event larger than the Olympic Games, was scheduled to be held in Hangzhou, China this year, but has been delayed due to anti-Covid measures in the country until 2023.
Dates have been announced as 23 September to 8 October with more than 11,000 athletes expected to compete in 482 events in 40 sports. That compares to 10,500 athletes and 329 events in 32 sports for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
● Aquatics ● FINA announced its qualification program for the Paris 2024 Games, which will see 1,392 athletes qualify in swimming, diving, artistic swimming and water polo, across 49 events. The number of participants is second only to track & field on the Olympic program.
Swimming has the largest share at 852 athletes, followed by 264 in water polo, 136 in diving, 96 in artistic swimming and 44 in open-water swimming. As had been predicted, relay qualifications will primarily come – 13 of 16 qualifiers – from the February 2024 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Doha (QAT), rather than from the year-before FINA Worlds, which in 2023 will be held in Fukuoka (JPN) and qualify only the top three.
● Athletics ● At the World Athletics Council meeting prior to the Eugene Worlds, Olympic relay qualifications were also determined to be fed through a federation-controlled event, the World Athletics Relays:
“Fourteen of the 16 places in the relay fields for the Paris Olympic Games will be filled at the World Athletics Relays 2024, with the remaining two teams to be identified from the performance list during the qualification window.”
This again is to put pressure on national federations to send their best athletes to the Relays and increase interest and value in the event.
On the Russian Athletics Federation, which has been on suspension since 2015, “the Council approved the recommendation that an independent audit of RusAF’s processes and progress against the reinstatement plan and [key performance indicators] should be conducted mid to late October 2022.”
The USA Track & Field Foundation announced, over two days, a total of 150 grants totaling $3.05 million to athletes: 50 will receive an $8,000 grant, and 100 will receive either $30,000 (65) or $20,000 (35) as Stephen A. Schwartzman grantees. The announcement noted that “Mr. Schwarzman has donated over $14 million to the grant program and with this year’s grants has distributed $8.4 million to support 455 elite athletes over the last 10 years.”
● Fencing ● At the FIE World Championships in Cairo (EGY), France won three titles in two days, taking the men’s Epee and Foil and the women’s Foil golds.
Two-time Worlds individual medalist Ysaora Thibus took her first Worlds gold in the women’s Foil, edging two-time World Champion Arianna Errigo (ITA) in a 15-10 final. Errigo had defeated Olympic champ Lee Keifer of the U.S. in a taut, 15-14 thriller in the semis; Kiefer and Maria Boldor (ROU) shared the bronze.
The men’s Foil final was another France-Italy contest, with Enzo Lafort winning his second Worlds gold – also in 2019 – with a 15-14 win over Tammaso Marini, winning his first Worlds medal. Lafort had barely gotten by American Nick Itkin (a Tokyo Team bronze medalist) in the semis, 15-14, while Marini edged Olympic champ Ka Long Cheung (HKG), 15-12.
France’s third win came from Tokyo Olympic champ Romain Cannone, who won the men’s Epee with a 15-12 win over Japan’s Olympic team gold winner Kazuyasu Minobe. Romania’s Neisser Loyola and Ukraine’s Igor Reizlin shared the bronze.
Japan did get a gold in the women’s Sabre, with first-time Worlds medalist Misaki Emura taking out European champ Anna Bashta (AZE) in the final by 15-10. Araceli Navarro (ESP) and Despina Georgiadou (GRE) won the bronzes. The tournament continues through the 23rd.
● Hockey ● The Netherlands women continued on top of the field hockey world, winning their ninth FIH World Cup last Sunday in Terrassa (ESP) over Argentina, 3-1, in a re-match of the 2020 Olympic final. That was also won by the Dutch, extending their dominance: three World Cups in a row and four of the last six, making the finals in all six, but losing to Argentina twice. No one else has won the World Cup title this century.
Australia won the bronze over Germany, 2-1, with the Aussies claiming their seventh World Cup medal and third in the last five tournaments.
Off the field, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) saw second-term President Narinder Batra (IND) resign, following his resignation as head of the Indian Olympic Association and as a member of the International Olympic Committee. He listed “personal reasons,” but has been under investigation for potential misappropriation of public funds. Batra has been leading the charge in India for a possible bid for the 2036 or 2040 Olympic Games.
Egypt’s Seif Ahmed, a member of the FIH Executive Board, was approved as Acting President with elections to be held in November. Batra was an emerging force in the Olympic Movement, but not now.
● Upcoming ● As if the 2022 World Games and then the World Athletics Championships – both in the U.S. – were not enough, there’s a lot more action ahead next week, with the start of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (ENG) from 28 July to 8 August, the USA Swimming National Championships from 26-30 July in Irvine, California and the Modern Pentathlon World Championships from 24-31 July in Alexandria, Egypt.
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