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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
Time for the top stories in Olympic sport during 2023, starting from no. 10 to no. 6:
10. Kuss stuns with La Vuelta a Espana victory
9. Russia x Ukraine: the Olha Kharlan incident
8. Chaos, Italian style: the sliding sports at Milan Cortina
7. Spain wins FIFA Women’s World Cup, and then, the kiss
6. Biles brilliant in return to Worlds with four golds
● Panorama: Paris 2024 (Bach does not foresee Ukrainian boycott) = Russia (4: Fencers who defected to U.S. in June now wanted on criminal charges; RUSADA working on legislation to comply with WADA; government pays Olympians for missed competitions; look for athlete parades in 2024) = Aquatics (World Aquatics sponsored 122 athletes in 2023) = Figure Skating (U.S. judge Williams warned on “national bias” in judging) = Football (FIFA warns Brazil on government interference on elections) = Gymnastics (Dolgopyat to auction Worlds gold in January for war relief) = Wrestling (Indian federation suspended over new chaos after elections) ●
The top stories of 2023, from no. 10 to no. 6
It was a wild year in international sport, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continued and brought sport and politics together and in conflict. Then the Hamas attack on Israel in October intensified feelings everywhere and athletes, officials, federations and fans all had to deal with it, and still are.
Our list of the top international sport stories this year starts today with no. 10 through no. 6:
Kuss stuns with La Vuelta a Espana victory
A talented climber, American cyclist Sepp Kuss had been a key player for his Dutch-based Jumbo-Visma team in 2023, helping teammate Primoz Roglic (SLO) win the Giro d’Italia (while finishing 14th overall) and teammate Jonas Vingegaard (DEN) repeat as Tour de France champion (while finishing 12th).
But during the Vuelta a Espana, the third Grand Tour of the year, Kuss, 26, broke through with a dominating, 26-second win in the 183.1 km sixth stage, with a misery-inducing uphill finish to the Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre.
That moved him from 12th to second overall and opened the possibility for greater glory. He took the race lead a couple of stages later, finishing two seconds back of Roglic in stage eight and had a 43-second lead on the field.
Not many expected him to stay there, and as Kuss had played a supporting role for Roglic and Vingegaard earlier in the year, would he again?
Kuss stayed in the lead and would not be deterred. On the mountain stages, he was at his best, finishing second, eighth, third and 10th on the mountain stages nos. 13-14-17-18. He clearly had a chance to win, with Vingegaard and Roglic his primary opponents. He had a 1:37 lead over Roglic and 1:44 over Vingegaard after stage 14, but that was down to eight seconds after the penultimate climbing stage (17).
Would Vingegaard pass his teammate? Nope; Kuss padded his lead on the 18th stage, the last climbing route, and held on, with Vingegaard and Roglic finally supporting him in the final stages and Kuss won by 17 seconds overall after the 21st and final stage on 17 September.
It was the first win for an American in a Grand Tour since Chris Horner in 2013, and he was the first rider since 1957 to compete in all three Grand Tours in a single season and win one. In a word, historic.
Russia x Ukraine: the Olha Kharlan incident
It had to happen, and it did. Despite all the assurances to the contrary, a Russian and a Ukrainian met in competition and it turned out badly.
After the International Olympic Committee issued recommendations that “neutral” Russian and Belarusian athletes be re-admitted to international competition in March, Ukraine initially boycotted any events with Russian “neutral’ entries. But eventually, the desire to qualify for the 2024 Paris Games won out and the Ukrainian government relented and allowed its athletes to compete without restrictions, even if it meant meeting a Russian or Belarusian “neutral” opponent.
Then came the World Fencing Championships in Milan (ITA) in July and four-time World Sabre Champion Olha Kharlan of Ukraine was matched against a lesser Russian, Anna Smirnova. Kharlan dispatched her quickly in the round-of-64 by 15-7. At the end of the bout, Kharlan moved to tap swords with Smirnova, as had been the custom during the pandemic. But Smirnova wanted a handshake – which was in the FIE rules – and when Kharlan would not oblige, sat on or next to the piste for 45 minute or more in a likely pre-planned protest.
The FIE – not the match referee – disqualified Kharlan, not only eliminating her from the individual Sabre tournament, but also the team event and seriously impacted her chances of qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Games. Moreover, Kharlan had asked FIE interim President Emmanuel Katsiadakis (GRE) prior to the bout if tapping swords would be permissible instead of a handshake and he said it would be. But she was out.
A day later, IOC President Thomas Bach (GER) – a fencer in his competitive days – wrote to Kharlan and guaranteed her a place at Paris 2024 if she did not otherwise qualify. Then the FIE – under IOC pressure – reversed its sanction and allowed Kharlan to compete in the Team event, where Ukraine finished fourth.
What a mess. The incident showed the FIE as incompetent, and that incidents between Ukraine and Russia could – and did – happen. There were no other incidents of this magnitude during the rest of 2023, but one was enough.
One concrete legacy of the situation was a change in the FIE rules adopted later in the year, allowing a salute of the opponent and dropping the handshake requirement. Call that the “Kharlan rule.”
Chaos, Italian style: the sliding sports at Milan Cortina
The winning Milan Cortina bid for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games included a plan to demolish the historic Eugenio Monti track for bobsled, luge and skeleton in Cortina d’Ampezzo and replace it with a new track that would be part of a larger amusement park.
The IOC was against the idea, especially since there was no firm plan on how to promote it, and as the Cesana Pariol track for the Turin 2006 Winter Games had to be abandoned six years later due to lack of use.
After delays brought the building concept into question, the Cortina concept completely fell apart in 2023. A summer request for proposal from the Italian government’s Olympic infrastructure agency – known as Simico – to build the facility for about €85 million, with a total, finished project cost of €124 million (€1 = $1.11 U.S. today), drew no bidders. None.
Re-use of the Cesana Pariol facility was also proposed, but it would also need to be refurbished , at an initial cost for 2025 of perhaps €20 million, then millions more to convert it from an ammonia-based system, consider environmentally unfriendly.
By the time of the IOC Session in Mumbai (IND) in October, organizing committee chair Giovanni Malago told his fellow IOC members that a track outside of Italy would be chosen soon. But the issue became entangled in Italian politics, with government ministers insisting the track had to be in Italy, and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini insisting on a somewhat scaled-down plan that would still build a new facility in Cortina!
The IOC tried to shut this down in early November and requests for proposals were sent out, asking for interested facilities to bid to host the 2026 sliding events. Four responses came in from existing tracks, from Austria (for Innsbruck), from Switzerland (St. Moritz), from Germany (Koenigssee) and even from the U.S. (for Lake Placid)! They are still waiting for an answer.
The IOC is demanding a resolution and a decision is now supposed to be made by the end of January, with Salvini insisting that a new track in Cortina is the best solution. Ah, politics.
Spain wins FIFA Women’s World Cup, and then, the kiss
By all accounts, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup was a smashing success. The tournament was expanded from 24 to 32 teams, and drew a sensational 1.978 million or 30,911 spectators per match in Australia and New Zealand.
The matches were taut, with an average of just 2.64 goals each, and the two-time defending champion U.S. team was eliminated – on penalty kicks – by Sweden in the round-of-16 playoffs. Australia’s Matildas became the darlings of the tournament, winning their group and then advancing with close wins over Denmark and France (on penalties) to reach the semifinals against England. That match drew an average viewing audience of 7.13 million, reportedly the largest in Australian history, peaking at 11.15 million!
England and Spain advanced to the final and in another tense encounter, Olga Carmona’s 29th-minute goal stood up for a 1-0 Spanish victory.
Then came the victory ceremony. Among other crude gestures, Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) President Luis Rubiales forcibly kissed star defender Jenni Hermoso, creating a huge scandal.
Rubiales tried to claim that the kiss was consensual, then released an apology video, then – under pressure to resign – insisted on staying in office and fighting any effort to remove him. Those efforts were quickly undertaken by multiple governmental, sports and football groups. A petition signed by 81 Spanish players said they would not play for the national team if Rubiales remained in office.
He was suspended for 90 days by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee, six days after the tournament ended, a Spanish government inquiry was opened and Hermoso filed suit against Rubiales on 6 September. He finally resigned on 10 September.
He was banned by FIFA for three years on 30 October, but the legal aspects of the case have yet to be concluded.
A great, historic tournament was tarnished at the end. But it was historic.
Biles brilliant in return to Worlds with four golds
No one would have blamed U.S. gymnastics superstar Simone Biles if she had walked away from the sport after her adventures at the Tokyo Olympic Games, withdrawing prior to the Team final due to spatial awareness difficulties (the “twisties”) and then returning to win a Beam medal.
But at 26, she was back, taking her eighth U.S. national All-Around title and moving on to the 2023 World Championships in Antwerp (BEL) … as good as ever!
Biles dominated the meet, leading the U.S. to a seventh straight women’s team title, then winning the All-Around, Beam and Floor titles, taking a silver in the Vault and fifth on her least favorite event, the Uneven Bars.
The five-medal performance confirmed Biles as the most decorated World Championships gymnast of all time, with 23 Worlds golds, four silvers and three bronzes for a total of 30 medals, from 2013 to 2023. The next closest is USSR/BLR star Vitaly Scherbo, who won 23 (12-7-4) in the men’s competitions from 1991-96.
And Biles is on track for a third Olympic Games, where she has won seven medals (4-1-2), including a Team silver and Beam bronze in Tokyo. With another five-medal output – or better, who knows? – she could move up to no. 2 all-time with 12 total medals, second only to Soviet Larisa Latynina, who won 18 (9-5-4) from 1956-64.
Surely, this will be the last Olympic appearance for Biles, who is now married and looking to the future … or is it? Could be consider one more appearance, in front of adoring home fans in Los Angeles in 2028?
Coming on Friday, from no. 5 to no. 1!
≡ PANORAMA ≡
● Olympic Games 2024: Paris ● International Olympic Committee President Bach said in an interview that he expects Ukraine to compete at the 2024 Olympic Games. He told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag:
“Why should Ukraine penalize its own athletes for the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army and deprive them of their dream of the Olympics?
“You are not a supporter of war just because you don’t fulfil Ukraine’s every demand, especially as we have supported the Ukrainian athletes with unprecedented solidarity since the start of the war.”
He said that the restrictions on Russian and Belarusian athletes and the elimination of national symbols would underscore the sanctions imposed; he noted the bitter criticism of the IOC’s position from both Russia and Ukraine as “That means we have obviously struck a good balance.”
● Russia ● “The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs has put the fencers Sergei and Violetta Bida on the wanted list for criminal charges, who took part in the US Championship without the consent of the Russian side.”
That’s from a story from the Russian news agency TASS on Monday, concerning the two Epee fencers, who now live in California and were entered in the USA Fencing National Championships last summer. The announcement from the Ministry noted “Sergei Olegovich Bida is wanted under an article of the Criminal Code,” and was apparently an active member of the Russian Guard; his wife was also, apparently, also listed as a member of the Russian military.
Sergei Bida competed as a neutral at the USA Fencing Championships, finishing 17th in the Division I men’s Epee tournament, but Violetta Bida did not compete.
Sergei Bida’s former coach, Alexander Glazunov – who was fired after the Bidas left the country – told TASS he does not expect to see them back anytime soon:
“Sergey got in touch, wished him a happy birthday, then we got in touch again. He’s doing well, what else can I say? He’s in California, fencing and coaching at a club in San Jose, competing in neutral status at the U.S. Championships.
“The man accepted such a life, such a decision, I don’t think he will be given citizenship so quickly, so I’m not sure about his performance at the Olympics, both the upcoming one and the next one in Los Angeles. He fences, trains children, advertises for his club. …
“An apology? Who am I to him? Yes, I was a personal trainer, but everyone chooses their own destiny. He wanted to completely change his life. As far as I know, he didn’t sign any declarations, at least that’s what he told me.”
Sergei Bida was a Tokyo Olympic Epee Team silver medalist and the 2019 Worlds Epee silver medalist, and came with his wife to the U.S. in June of 2023. She is also an Epee fencer and was a 2019 Worlds Team silver medalist. They are now affiliated with the Academy of Fencing Masters in San Jose, California.
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency is formulating legislative proposals which will meet the requirements of the World Anti-Doping Agency in order to lift Russia out of its non-compliant status. According to RUSADA Director General Veronika Loginova:
“[W]e do not have legislative initiative, but the development and approval of anti-doping rules is within our competence. RUSADA is ready to work towards amending the federal law, in developing formulations in order to our legislation has been improved. We conveyed our position on what points need to be changed in the law, this will help in our work and help make it even more effective. We asked once again to make changes to a number of points so that the legislation is harmonious and meets the requirements.
“There was a national anti-doping plan, there was a point of harmonizing legislation according to world standards. Now we are looking for compromises, as should be correctly spelled out in our law. The draft federal law that we discussed earlier will be withdrawn, there were comments [on it]. A new project will be prepared, which we will see in January.”
The Russian Olympic Committee distributed payments to 120 athletes in 15 sports who have missed international competitions in 2023 due to international sanctions.
The funds went to Olympians who are still competing, with RUB 500,000 for gold medalists (about $5,457 U.S. today), RUB 250,000 for silver medalists, RUB 150,000 for bronze winners and RUB 150,000 for Olympians who did not medal.
Look for athlete parades in Moscow in 2024, per Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin:
“Parades have always been held for some significant events for our country, initially they were dedicated to something. There was [an athlete’s] parade on August 12, 1945, all these parades demonstrated the power and restoration of our country, the diversity of the system of physical culture and departmental sports. When will we offer concept for approval by the president, we must keep in mind the current realities of life in Russia. This should be a parade not for the sake of a parade, but as a symbol of the importance of sports for our country.”
The new emphasis on parades is at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin, from a suggestion by International Boxing Association President Umar Kremlev (RUS).
Look for the IOC and those international federations who care to take a close look at any parades – one could come as soon as March – in vetting Russian entries for Paris 2024.
● Aquatics ● An interesting paragraph in the new-year message from World Aquatics President Husain Al-Musallam (KUW) on the federation’s outreach activities direct to athletes:
“2023 was also the 10th year of our pioneering World Aquatics Scholarship Programme. Across the year, 122 athletes participated in the programme in swimming, open water swimming and diving, at 69 training centres globally. A further 20 of our athletes benefitted from Artistic Swimming Grants through the programme. Additionally, new World Aquatics Training Centres were established in two locations; CN Antibes (Antibes, France); Bond University at Robina, a suburb in the city of Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. I am looking forward to seeing this programme continue to thrive in the coming year.”
Looking ahead to the 2032 Olympic Games in Brisbane with the Robina training center at Gold Coast is a great way to impress swimming-crazed Australia.
● Figure Skating ● American figure skating judge Doug Williams was given a warning by the International Skating Union for “national bias” in judging U.S. skaters at the 2023 ISU World Championships in March in Saitama (JPN).
The complaint was filed by the ISU Singles and Pairs Technical Committee, specific to his scoring for the women’s Free Skate; he was also a judge for the Short Program. In the Free Skate, he was considered to have inflated the scores of Americans Isabeau Levito, Amber Glenn and Bradie Tennell. As to Levito’s marks:
“While his marks were in the corridor, they were overall higher for her than for her close competitors”. Regarding components, “with a fall by this US skater, a mark of 9.50 given by Mr Williams was impossible and not near a 10.00. Conclusion: National Bias.”
The accusations, in a nutshell, were:
“The Complainants ([Technical Committee] and Vice President) analysed the marks of the Alleged Offender and concluded that he had acted with serious national bias. Mr Williams is accused that not only did he give higher marks to the three USA skaters than most other Judges, but that he also gave lower marks than the majority of all other Judges to those Skater’s strongest Competitors.”
Williams protested that he did nothing wrong and noted that he had never been warned or sanctioned for any of his scoring across many years. The ISU Disciplinary Committee determined that the request for a suspension was too much:
“That sanction would be overly punitive in the present circumstances. In cases of national bias, the [Disciplinary Committee] will only consider a suspension without any prior letter of warning/comparable intervention in exceptional circumstances, where the misconduct is significantly higher. That standard is not reached in the present case.
“Therefore, a warning is the appropriate sanction from the DC in this case.”
The decision is appealable to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
● Football ● FIFA has warned the Brazilian football federation (known as the CBF) that it could be suspended after a Brazilian court removed CBF head Ednaldo Rodrigues and his appointees and installed a temporary president and called for swift elections.
Rodrigues was removed on 7 December by a Rio de Janeiro court due to issues with his election and the decision was affirmed by an appellate court last week. Elections were required to be held within 30 days.
The FIFA letter included:
“FIFA member associations must manage their affairs independently and without undue influence from any type of third party. …
“FIFA and CONMEBOL will send a joint mission to Brazil during the week of January 8, 2024 to meet with respective stakeholders to examine the current situation and work together to find a solution to the current situation, in due respect for the applicable regulatory framework of the CBF and its autonomy.
“FIFA and CONMEBOL would like to strongly emphasize that, until such mission takes place, no decision affecting CBF, including any elections or call for elections, shall be taken. Should this not be respected, FIFA will have no other option but to submit the matter to its relevant decision-making body for consideration and decision, which might also include a suspension.”
Brazil’s men’s team is currently in the midst of 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches and Brazil is bidding for the 2027 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
● Gymnastics ● Artem Dolgopyat won Israel’s first-ever Artistic World Championships gold with his October triumph in the 2023 Worlds men’s Floor Exercise. Now he is auctioning the medal to raise money:
“What is a world champion worth if my country is hurting? For me, the State of Israel is in first place,” he told The Times of Israel. Bidding starts at $100,000, with the proceeds earmarked to aid towns close to the Gaza border that were attacked on 7 October.
The auction will be held on Sunday, 7 January at 9 p.m. Israel time.
● Wrestling ● More turmoil in India, where the Wrestling Federation of India was suspended by the India’s Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports on Sunday after new President Sanjay Singh announced that national junior championships would be held this week!
The wrestling federation has been in chaos since multiple wrestlers demanded the removal of the prior president, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexual assault. He left, but the election of close aide Sanjay Singh on 23 December triggered new concerns, with the ministry stating that the federation “appears to be (in) complete control of former office bearers in complete disregard to the Sports Code,” as evidence by the snap championships announcement, of U-15 and U-20 nationals “without following due procedure and not giving sufficient notice to wrestlers” for preparations.
Further, the Indian Olympic Association – the National Olympic Committee in India – issued a letter which included:
“The Indian Olympic Association has recently become aware that the recently appointed President and officials of the WFI have made arbitrary decisions in violation of their own constitutional provisions and against the principles of good governance espoused by the IOC and further without following due process overturned the rulings of the IOA appointed ad hoc committee.”
A three-member temporary committee has been formed to run the federation for now.
For our updated, 850-event International Sports Calendar (no. 4) for 2023 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!