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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
1. Unstoppable: Shiffrin wins fifth straight, within one of Vonn
2. Ukrainian Foreign Minister invites Bach to see destroyed arena
3. USATF announces “LA Grand Prix” meets in May
4. U.S. Soccer investigating Berhalter “blackmail” threat
5. Pele laid to rest in Santos; Infantino calls for stadium namings
Four-time women’s World Cup champ Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. is on a tear, winning her fifth World Cup race in a row and moving to within one victory of fellow American Lindsey Vonn’s women’s career record of 82 World Cup wins. And Shiffrin has four more technical races coming over the next week, including a second Slalom in Zagreb, Croatia on Thursday! Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted a message to those considering a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete internationally once again: photos of a popular but now bombed-out ice arena in the Donetsk area, the fifth arena to be destroyed by Russian attacks during the war. USA Track & Field provided some details on a two-day “LA Grand Prix” meet at UCLA’s Drake Stadium on 26-27 May, with distance races on Friday and the rest of the meet on Saturday, echoing Al Franken’s famed Pepsi Invitational held there from 1978-87. An ugly situation is being investigated by U.S. Soccer, in which a decades-ago incident between now out-of-contract men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter and his then-girlfriend – and now wife of 25 years – was exposed to the federation’s senior management, causing Berhalter and his wife to describe it in detail in a Twitter post. The disclosure was apparently caused by the lack of playing time for midfielder Gio Reyna at the FIFA World Cup. Brazilian football legend Pele was laid to rest in Santos, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino calling all 211 member federations to name a stadium in their country in his honor.
Unstoppable: Shiffrin wins fifth straight, within one of Vonn
American skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin isn’t on a roll, she’s on a sleigh, winning her fifth straight Alpine World Cup race, a Slalom, in Zagreb (CRO) on Wednesday, taking the lead in the first run and never looking back.
She had a healthy 0.23-second lead after the first race and then extended her advantage with the fourth-fastest second run, finishing in 1:36.42 to 1:37.18 (+0.76) for Olympic champ Petra Vlhova (SVK) and 1:37.63 for Swede Anna Swenn Larsson. Said the winner:
“I’m really happy with how my skis felt in these conditions. I think that was the most exciting thing of the day, that I felt so good skiing when it’s a bit softer. …
“Nothing less than the best is going to work and I was taking all the risks I needed and then nailed it on the finish.”
The victory is Shiffrin’s seventh of the season and fifth in a row – now two Slaloms, two Giant Slaloms and a Super-G – with more technical races coming up:
● 05 Jan.: Slalom in Zagreb (CRO)
● 07 Jan.: Giant Slalom in Kranjska Gora (SVK)
● 08 Jan.: Giant Slalom in Kranjska Gora (SVK)
● 10 Jan.: Slalom in Flachau (AUT)
Shiffrin has been on a streak like this before – at many of the same sites – in the 2017-18 season, when she won eight races out of nine (and was third in the race she didn’t win) in December and January. She won five in a row then, too, in Oslo (NOR), Zagreb, Kranjska Gora and Flachau!
She now has 81 career World Cup wins, one behind fellow American Lindsey Vonn for the most all-time by a woman and just five behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time victory total of 86.
Shiffrin could make more history on Thursday.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister invites Bach to see destroyed arena
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) has said again and again that while sanctions against Russian and Belarusian athletes must continue in view of the invasion of Ukraine, he would like to find a way to have some participation by athletes from those countries, perhaps those who do not support the war.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, referring to Bach’s comments, tweeted:
“I invite all sports officials who want to allow Russian athletes to compete in international events because, as they say, ‘politics should be kept out of sports’, to visit the Altair ice arena in Druzhkivka ruined by Russia’s ‘politically neutral’ shelling.”
On Instagram, he added:
“It was not just a sports facility, but one of the key arenas for the development of Ukrainian sports and the largest hockey and figure skating school in Ukraine. The only strikes that ever took place here were hockey bullies, until ‘politically neutral’ Russian bombs landed at the arena.”
An AIPS story from Ukrainian journalist Dmitry Klymenko quoted the Ukrainian ice hockey federation’s report:
“Since the beginning of the war, the Russian occupiers have already destroyed five ice stadiums: the Donetsk ‘Druzhba’, the arenas in Mariupol and Melitopol, the Ice Palace in Siverskodonetsk, and now ‘Altair’.”
There was only one positive note, from Oleksandra Pakhomova, the deputy head of the Druzhkivska city military administration:
“The ice arena guard was saved by the fact that he went outside to smoke. If he hadn’t gone out to smoke, the epicenter of the explosion would have fallen on his guardhouse.”
USATF announces “LA Grand Prix” meets in May
Although already on the schedule, some of the details of two May track & field meets to be staged in Los Angeles were announced on Wednesday, with superstar coach Bobby Kersee helping to coordinate the program.
The “LA Grand Prix” will be staged at UCLA’s Drake Stadium on 26-27 May, with the USATF Distance Classic on Friday evening and the LA Grand Prix meet itself on Saturday from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Pacific time, to be shown live on NBC (4:30-6 p.m. Eastern).
The primary financial backer appears to be Internet Brands/WebMD Impact Fund, with USATF chief executive Max Siegel stating, “Partnering with Bob Brisco from Internet Brands and others, we’re viewing the LA meet as an incubator of exciting new approaches for engaging our athletes, fans, and communities. We’re back in LA to stay in a big way.”
Kersee is, of course, more than familiar with the 11,142-seat facility, having served as the UCLA women’s head coach from 1985-93 and for many years since as a UCLA assistant and more recently for his own training group, headlined by the iconic Allyson Felix. He currently coaches Olympic champions Athing Mu (800 m) and Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (400 m hurdles), among others.
A “USATF Legends Jam” is slated to follow at UCLA in the evening, with music and salutes to track & field stars of past and present.
The USATF Distance Classic has been held in the Los Angeles area since 2011, mostly at Occidental College, as a developmental meet and a setting to get qualifying marks for the national championships.
Staging a world-class invitational meet at Drake Stadium harkens back to some of the halcyon days of track & field in Los Angeles and the Pepsi Invitational staged by Al Franken beginning in 1978. Franken, who passed away at age 96 in December of 2021, was the driving force behind the Sunkist Invitational (Los Angeles) and Jack in the Box (San Diego) indoor meets and created the Pepsi meet at UCLA after a couple of tries at a meet at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum had only tepid success.
The first Pepsi meet on 7 May 1978 drew 10,009 – close to a sell-out – and featured an American Record in the men’s triple jump by James Butts at 56-5 1/2 (17.20 m) and Patty van Wolvelaere in the women’s 100 m hurdles (13.21). The next year, Franken somehow arranged for the first U.S. appearance of double Olympic gold medalist Alberto Juantorena of Cuba, but high hurdles star Renaldo Nehemiah stole the show with a 13.00 world record. In 1983, American javelin star Tom Petranoff set a world mark of 327-2 (99.72 m) with the old-style implement. The meet ended with the 1987 edition.
The most recent high-profile, nationally-televised meet in the L.A. area was The Home Depot Invitational in 2003 and 2004 at what is now the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. Adidas bought the meet in 2004 and continued it through 2007 as the Adidas Track Classic.
U.S. Soccer investigating Berhalter “blackmail” threat
U.S. Soccer announced that it had commissioned an independent investigation of Men’s National Team Head Coach Gregg Berhalter following an 11 December incident which Berhalter – whose contract as coach has expired – explained on Twitter:
“During the World Cup, an individual contacted U.S. Soccer, saying that they had information about me that would ‘take me down’ – an apparent effort to leverage something very personal from long ago to bring about the end of my relationship with U.S. Soccer.”
Berhalter further explained that, as an 18-year-old, after meeting his future wife Rosalind in 1991, they had an altercation that ended their relationship:
“One night, while out drinking at a local bar, Rosalind and I had a heated argument that continued outside. It became physical and I kicked her in the legs.”
Seven months later, they reconciled and eventually married and recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. They jointly decided to detail the situation and are cooperating in the inquiry.
The federation statement included:
“Through this process, U.S. Soccer has learned about potential inappropriate behavior towards multiple members of our staff by individuals outside of our organization. We take such behavior seriously and have expanded our investigation to include those allegations.”
Multiple reports have cited Danielle Reyna, mother of current U.S. National Team midfielder Gio Reyna and wife of former U.S. star Claudio Reyna – as having contacted U.S. Soccer Sporting Director Earnie Stewart and informing him of the 1991 incident involving the Berhalters. Goal.com summed up the situation:
“What was once a World Cup feud about on-field friction has now become a tale of betrayal, friendship and, ultimately, heartbreak
“The Reyna family, one of the most beloved in American soccer, dug up 30 years of trauma and grief because U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter didn’t play their son enough at the World Cup.”
On Wednesday, U.S. Soccer named Men’s National Team assistant Anthony Hudson to lead the team’s January training camp. The U.S. men will play friendlies against Serbia on 25 January and Colombia on 28 January, both in the Los Angeles area.
U.S. Soccer stated that it will make the results of the investigation public once completed.
Pele laid to rest in Santos; Infantino calls for stadium namings
The world’s greatest football player, Brazil’s Pele, was laid to rest in Santos in a private ceremony after thousands of people visited him for a final time at the Urbano Caldera Stadium, where he played for Santos FC, on Monday and Tuesday.
Pele, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, passed at 82 on 29 December and was buried on the ninth floor of the Memorial Necropole Ecumenical, a 14-story vertical cemetery in Santos, with a clear view of the stadium from his final resting place.
The memorial service at the stadium was attended by FIFA President Gianni Infantino (SUI); the FIFA report included:
“Gianni Infantino said that FIFA had asked each of the 211 Member Associations around the world to hold a minute’s silence at every game in Pele’s memory. He said he would also suggest that FIFA ask every MA to name at least one stadium in their country after Pele:
“I think the young people around the world, the future generations, have to know and remember who Pele was, and the happiness he gave the world.
“In 20, 30, 50, or 100 years’ time, when goals are scored in the Pele stadium in any country in the world, and people ask who he was, [they will hear] he was a great, great player who brought excitement to us all.”
≡ PANORAMA ≡
● Errata ● Thanks to Tom Kelly of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games (and others, but Tom was first), who corrected a note in yesterday’s Lane One about the selection of a host for the 2030 Olympic Winter Games. In fact, the International Olympic Committee will not select a host in 2023, but likely now in 2024.
● Alpine Skiing ● Finally, a win for Norwegian star Henrik Kristoffersen in the FIS World Cup men’s Slalom in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GER) on Wednesday.
Kristoffersen had been second in three straight races in late December, but got his first win of the season – and 29th of his career – in 1:48.37, ahead of Austria’s Manuel Feller (1:49.59) and France’s 2022 Olympic Slalom gold medalist Clement Noel (1:49.83).
Austrian star Matthias Mayer, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in the Downhill (2014) and Super-G (2018-22) suddenly announced his retirement last Thursday in Bormio (ITA) just prior to the World Cup Super-G race that ended the year’s schedule. He said:
“Last season was fantastic with the third Olympic gold medal and I have started well in the new season and I’m satisfied. But it’s enough.
“I’ve done my last course inspection today and that’s it. I don’t have that fire anymore. The sport is very important for the people and it should go on, but for me it’s OK.”
Mayer, 32, finishes with 11 World Cup wins and 45 World Cup medals over 13 seasons.
It’s the second announcement of a mid-season retirement as Beijing 2022 Olympic Downhill winner Beat Feuz (SUI) said he would close his career at 35 – after 14 World Cup seasons – following the racing in Wengen (SUI) on 13-14-15 January:
“Pushing limits and risk has been my passion in skiing for years. My emotion has often been the key to success. Now my feeling tells me: the physical limits have been reached.”
● Archery ● Montreal Olympic women’s gold medalist Luann Ryon of the U.S. passed away at age 69 on 30 December. She virtually came from nowhere to win the Pan American Games women’s gold in 1975 and then set an Olympic Record of 2,499 in the Double FITA Round (144 arrows) in 1976.
She won the FITA World Championships gold in 1977 as well and was a Team gold medalist at the 1983 Pan American Games, but did not get back to the Olympic Games a second time.
● Athletics ● Sad news from Turkey, as Nejat Kok, one of the world’s foremost track & field statisticians, passed away at 83 in Aydin in late December.
The President of the Turkish Athletics Federation in 1974-75, Kok was by trade a professor of civil engineering at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, where he lived for much of his adult life.
His reputation as a statistician was so outstanding that he was recruited by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to come to Los Angeles for nine months in December 1983 to head up the first-of-its-kind biographical database for the 1984 Olympic Games. Kok and a small team produced detailed biographies for more than 2,400 of the highest-profile athletes that accredited media could retrieve themselves on AT&T’s Electronic Messaging System.
Kok contributed to his beloved sport of track & field as a journalist, technical advisor and especially as a statistician; he was an Executive Board member of the worldwide Association of Track & Field Statisticians for decades.
● Boxing ● A tragic death in Greece, of 16-year-old Vassilis Topalos, the European Junior Lightweight (60 kg) Champion in 2022, from injuries suffered during sparring and then from a fall in a nearby restroom.
Topalos was training at a gym in Tavros on 16 December, but felt sick, went to wash his face and then apparently fainted and fell to the floor, hitting his head again. He was taken to a nearby hospital and underwent surgery, but passed away on Monday (2nd).
As American fans watching NFL Football can attest, sports is not always safe.
Russian Umar Kremlev, the President of the International Boxing Association, has reinforced his status with the appointment of former Russian Abdulmutalim Abakarov as a Vice President of the federation.
Under the new IBA Constitution passed at the recent Congress, the IBA President may appoint up to four Vice Presidents, who will not have the status of a Director. Abakarov, 49, was a Vice President of the Russian Boxing Federation from 2011-17, but became a Serbian citizen and the Chair of the Supervisory Board of the Serbian Boxing Federation in 2021.
He is listed as having been sanctioned by Ukraine since May of 2021, relating to the Russian invasion.
For our updated, 929-event International Sports Calendar for 2023 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!