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Archive for the ‘Olympics’ Category

New faces to watch in the pool on the road to Tokyo Olympics

July 28, 2019

GWANGJU, South Korea (AP) — An American named Michael. Teenage girls from three different countries. A Hungarian who took down Michael Phelps’ favorite world record. New faces emerged in the pool at the world championships a year out from the Tokyo Olympics. They all have potential to make the podium in what would be the first games for each of them.

Here’s a look at the talent pool:

MICHAEL ANDREW, United States

He has been generating attention since turning pro at 14 and skipping college swimming. Andrew is coached by his father using a method that emphasizes swimming at low volume all at race pace. The 20-year-old from Kansas reached his first worlds final in Gwangju and barely missed a medal in the 50 butterfly, finishing fourth with a personal-best time. Andrew has a win over Caeleb Dressel (50 fly, 2018 U.S. national championships) and remains poised to become a breakout star.

MAGGIE MACNEIL, Canada

She stunned four-time world and Olympic champion Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden to win the 100 butterfly in the biggest international meet of her career. The 19-year-old who swims at Michigan helped Canada to bronzes in the 4×100 free relay and 4×100 medley relay. She was a key part of the Canadian women’s team earning eight medals.

KRISTOF MILAK, Hungary

He turned heads by breaking Michael Phelps’ 10-year-old world record in the 200 butterfly with a time of 1:50.37. That bettered Phelps’ mark by 0.78 seconds in the American’s favorite event and was more than three seconds faster than the other medalists. Milak was already the European champion and junior world record holder in the event, but the 19-year-old’s fame shot through the roof after erasing Phelps’ mark. No longer is Katinka Hosszu the most famous Hungarian swimmer. How Milak copes with the increased attention and his ability to follow up with a medal in Tokyo will prove whether he has staying power or is a one-hit wonder.

REGAN SMITH, United States

The 17-year-old from Minnesota introduced herself to the world in the 200 backstroke, lowering the world record in the semifinals before nearly doing it again in the final. Smith won gold in 2:03.35, beating her nearest rival by a whopping 2.57 seconds. Her 100 back split of 57.57 seconds in the 4×100 medley relay set a world record, too. She qualified for only one individual event in Gwangju but figures to add several more in the Olympics, including the 100 back.

ARIARNE TITMUS, Australia

Nicknamed “The Terminator,” the 18-year-old from Tasmania upset Katie Ledecky to win the 400 freestyle, finishing a full second ahead of the American star. Turns out Ledecky was ailing throughout the world meet, but Titmus’ presence makes things interesting for Ledecky, who has trounced the competition since the 2012 Olympics. Titmus earned silver in the 200 free, bronze in the 800 free and gold in the 4×200 free relay at worlds.

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Swedish bid hopes Latvia link key to 2026 Olympics host vote

June 23, 2019

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The head of Sweden’s 2026 Winter Olympics bid believes having Latvia on the hosting ticket can sway Monday’s vote for the perceived underdog against Milan-Cortina. The Stockholm-Are plan to stage ice sliding sports across the Baltic Sea at a venue in Latvia avoids building a white elephant venue in Sweden — a key demand of IOC reforms to cut Olympic hosting costs.

Using the sliding track at Sigulda “adds enormous value” to the two-nation bid, Stockholm-Are chief executive Richard Brisius told The Associated Press on Sunday. “It will be very important for delivering the new transformative games that we want to do,” Brisius said.

The International Olympic Committee wants the 2026 Winter Games to help end skepticism about the cost of bidding and hosting the games, after potential bids in Canada, Switzerland and Austria dropped out due to local opposition.

Brisius argued the Latvian element in Sweden’s bid is the best example of living up to the IOC’s promise to be flexible with candidates aiming to be cost-efficient. “Are the IOC members ready for that? We are offering that,” the Stockholm-Are official said in a challenge to around 85 IOC voters.

“If we can do this, and we show that this is the way to do it, it will open up for more bid cities in the future,” Brisius said. “I would not say we are the underdog — I think we are the future.” One member of Sweden’s delegation who is more than happy with the underdog label is retired high jumper Stefan Holm, who has been an IOC member since 2013.

The 43-year-old Holm, who won Olympic gold in 2004, even drew comparisons with Sweden’s victory over Italy in the qualifying playoff for the 2018 World Cup. “Sweden is always the best when we’re the underdog,” Holm said after a bilateral meeting at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. “In the team sports we could beat Italy in football and we’re always the underdog against Italy, the same against Canada in ice hockey or whatever.

“So I think we’re in a good place.” Sweden has never hosted the Winter Games. It made numerous bids between 1984 and 2004, while it was also briefly in the race for 2022. “We are a stable country politically speaking, economically speaking,” said Holm, who has been an IOC member since 2013. “We have never held the games before and we really, really want it. We are a sports loving people especially when it comes to winter sport so hopefully it’s our turn this time.”

IOC members are famously discreet about their voting intentions ahead of a hosting vote, and more than one-third of this electorate is voting for the first time. A total of 35 members have joined since the last contested vote in July 2015 when Beijing edged Almaty to get the 2022 Winter Games.

“I meet people who are very keen to find out what is best for the (Olympic) movement,” Brisius said of the newer recruits. Two of those 35 are Italian — bobsled federation president Ivo Ferriani and Italian Olympic committee head Giovanni Malago — and so cannot vote Monday.

Malago is confident that the support for the Italian bid, from the government and the general population, will see it edge out Sweden. That support is a contrast to recent Italian bids — three years ago, Italy was forced to end Rome’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics because of staunch opposition from the city’s mayor. And in 2012, then-premier Mario Monti scrapped the city’s candidacy for the 2020 Olympics because of financial concerns.

“We have never received a critic. From any parties,” Malago said of the current bid. “The government and the opposition support this bid. I think it is a unique case not only in Italy but also in the world.”

The IOC president traditionally does not vote, though in an expected close race the winner is likely to be the candidate most favored by Thomas Bach’s office.

IOC’s Bach and Abe make brief visit to Fukushima region

November 24, 2018

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (AP) — IOC President Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a quick trip Saturday to the region northeast of Tokyo that was devastated by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed three nuclear reactors.

The Fukushima region will hold baseball and softball games during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The visit was intended to showcase a region that government officials say is safe, except for a no-go zone around the nuclear plant. Environmental groups have disputed some government claims and have raised safety concerns.

Neither Abe nor Bach took questions after visiting a baseball stadium and meeting with local residents and athletes. Government officials want the Olympics to convince a world audience that the region is safe.

Bach is in Japan for a week of meetings with Tokyo Olympic organizers and national Olympic officials for about 200 countries.

Olympic referendum: Shall it be ‘Taiwan’ or ‘Chinese Taipei’

November 22, 2018

Athletes from Taiwan compete at the Olympics under the name of a make-believe country: Chinese Taipei. They march behind an imaginary national flag and, if they win a gold medal, hear an “alternate national anthem” being played.

Imagine if France or Australia had to use an assumed name at the Olympics, or the United States and Japan were banned from flying their flags. A referendum to challenge this will be held in Taiwan on Saturday. It asks if the self-governing island should compete in international sports events — including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — as “Taiwan” instead of “Chinese Taipei.”

“We are the sole IOC member banned from using our own country’s name,” said Chi Cheng, a bronze medalist in the 1968 Olympics. “We are the only member who cannot sing our national anthem and fly our national flag. We are the only one. This shows how seriously China is suppressing us.”

No matter what voters want, nothing is likely to change. China’s authoritarian government has viewed Taiwan as a renegade province since the two separated in the 1949 civil war. The International Olympic Committee backs China, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics after spending $40 billion on the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

In a statement to the Associated Press, the IOC said it will not alter a 1981 agreement that Taiwan must compete as Chinese Taipei. Its executive board repeated that stance in meetings on May 2-3. “The agreement remains unchanged and fully applicable,” the IOC said.

That puts the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee in a bind. If the referendum passes, it could be required by Taiwanese law to go ahead with the name change pending approval from the legislature. But in a statement to AP, it said “we are bound by the Olympic Charter, the agreement we signed with the IOC in 1981, and also by the IOC executive board decision.”

Taiwan’s athletes are caught in the middle. Dozens protested Wednesday, fearing they could lose their chance to participate in the Olympics. Even if Taiwan was booted out, the IOC has frequently let athletes compete under an independent Olympic flag.

Jacqueline Yi-ting Shen, the secretary general of the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, declined to comment for this article. But she spoke about Taiwan’s predicament in an interview with the AP at the Asian Games in August.

“This gives us a chance to compete and make our strength known internationally, so we accept the pity that we have to compete under the name of Chinese Taipei,” Shen said. She added: “I’m sure that many people (in Taiwan) feel dismayed. But quite a lot understand that it is the reality in the international sporting realm. If we use our own name, we will lose the chance for our athletes. They will lose the playground, or the showcase they have. The right of our athletes to compete is our utmost concern. And I think most Taiwanese understand that.”

Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told a news conference this month that Taiwan was using the name issue to “politicize” sports. He said the referendum would damage Taiwan’s interests but gave no details of measures Beijing might take.

Earlier, China warned that Taiwan would “swallow its own bitter fruit” over the referendum issue. Taiwan’s ruling party, the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party led by President Tsai Ing-wen, has remained largely silent on the name change.

“There are international constraints on her (Tsai),” Dachi Liao, who teaches political science at National Sun Yat-sen University, told the AP. “She cannot speak out loudly on this; maybe doing something subtly, but never speaking out.”

Liao said the referendum is a proxy vote on independence, and China fears it could echo in the ethnic-minority regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. “People who support changing the name, many of these supporters are pro-independence,” Liao said. “The pro-independence people are feeling upset, so they try to find an opportunity to promote this kind of issue even though they know it may not pass.”

China has thwarted Taiwan’s every move to assert its independence, even in the sporting sphere. Earlier this year, Taiwan lost the right to hold the East Asian Youth Games, under reported pressure from China.

Taiwan held the Summer University Games last year with about 7,500 athletes. China skipped the opening ceremony, but competed in the events. Athletes from Argentina unfurled Taiwan’s real flag at the closing ceremony, waving an independence symbol that Taiwan athletes are forbidden from displaying.

The Argentines were reprimanded for breaking Olympic rules, but warmly applauded inside the stadium. China has warned international airlines and hotels not to use the word “Taiwan” on maps or other material.

The referendum needs one-quarter of Taiwan’s 19 million voters to be approved. Liao, the political scientist, doubts it will reach that threshold. If it does, the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee is likely to ask its membership what to do.

It risks IOC censure if it moves ahead. The IOC is reported to have warned it at least three times not to proceed. If it backs down, it’s thwarting the democratic will of Taiwan voters. “It’s insulting to us because everyone knows we are Taiwan,” George Chang, the former mayor of Tainan and a referendum organizer, told AP. “Chinese Taipei is not an area or a country. What is Chinese Taipei? Nobody knows. So let Taiwan be Taiwan.”

Taiwan participated in the 1972 games as the Republic of China. It boycotted the next several after its United Nations seat was handed to China, returning in 1984 after submitting to the name change and China’s rising clout.

Despite the roadblocks, the island of 24 million remains a regional power and placed seventh in the recent Asian Games, fielding a delegation of 550 and boasting stars like badminton’s No. 1-ranked woman Tai Tzu-ying.

Alexander C. Huang, who teaches political science at Tamkang University in Taiwan, said the island only faces more isolation if it challenges China. “Taiwan does not have much leverage or support our noble cause, to get our name right or to get our flag flying,” he said. “Maybe in the future … the atmosphere would lead us to that eventual goal. But not now.”

Associated Press video journalist Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan, and writer Chris Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

North and South Korea say they plan bid for 2032 Olympics

September 19, 2018

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a statement Wednesday that the countries planned to jointly bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics.

At a major summit, the two leaders gave no details of which cities might host certain events at the games, or how advanced the plans were. The International Olympic Committee traditionally does not announce host cities until seven years ahead of the games. That would give the Koreas until 2025 to put together a joint bid.

Germany, with a multi-city bid, Brisbane, Australia and Jakarta, Indonesia are among those who have indicated they would bid for the 2032 Games. The India Olympic Committee has also said it could bid for 2032, as has South Africa’s Olympic committee in an attempt to bring the Olympics to Africa for the first time.

A successful bid by the Koreas would mark the second time South Korea hosted or co-hosted the Summer Games, the first being 1988 in Seoul. South Korea also hosted the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February.

Asia features in the next two Olympics — the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, which also hosted the summer version in 2008. The joint statement Wednesday also said the Koreas would look to cooperate in major sports events such as the 2020 Games, also without elaborating.

Farewell, Korea: First of three straight Asian Olympics ends

February 25, 2018

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — It began with politics. It ends with … politics. In between, humanity’s most extraordinary feats of winter athletic prowess unfolded, revealing the expected triumphs but also stars most unlikely — from favorites like Mikaela Shiffrin, Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn to sudden surprise legends like Czech skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka and the medal-grabbing “Garlic Girls,” South Korea’s hometown curling favorites.

Pyeongchang closes its chapter of the 122-year-old modern Olympic storybook on Sunday night with countless tales to tell — tales of North Korea and Russia, of detente and competitive grit and volunteerism and verve, of everything from an uncomfortable viral outbreak to an athlete’s boozy joyride.

And above it all: unforgettable experiences for meticulously trained athletes from around the world, all gathered on a mountainous plateau on the eastern Korean Peninsula to test for themselves — and demonstrate to the world — just how excellent they could be.

“We have been through a lot so that we could blaze a trail,” said Kim Eun-jung, skip of the South Korean women’s curling team, which captured global renown as the “Garlic Girls” — all from a garlic-producing Korean hometown. They made a good run for gold before finishing with runner-up silver.

Other trailblazers: Chloe Kim, American snowboarder extraordinaire. The U.S. women’s hockey team and men’s curlers, both of which claimed gold. And the Russian hockey team, with its nail-biting, overtime victory against Germany.

That these games would be circumscribed by politics was a given from the outset because of regional rivalries. North Korea, South Korea, Japan and China are neighbors with deep, sometimes twisted histories that get along uneasily with each other in this particular geographic cul-de-sac.

But there was something more this time around. Hanging over the entire games was the saga — or opportunity, if you prefer — of a delicate diplomatic dance between the Koreas, North and South, riven by war and discord and an armed border for the better part of a century.

The games started with a last-minute flurry of agreements to bring North Koreans to South Korea to compete under one combined Koreas banner. Perish the thought, some said, but Moon Jae-in’s government stayed the course. By the opening ceremony, a march of North and South into the Olympic Stadium was watched by the world — and by dozens of North Korean cheerleaders applauding in calibrated synchronicity.

Also watching was an equally extraordinary, if motley, crew. Deployed in a VIP box together were Moon, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s envoy sister, Kim Yo Jong. The latter two, at loggerheads over North Korea’s nuclear program, didn’t speak, and the world watched the awkwardness.

What followed was a strong dose of athletic diplomacy: two weeks of global exposure for the Korean team, particularly the women’s hockey squad, which trained for weeks with North and South side by side getting along, taking selfies and learning about each other.

On Sunday night, the closing ceremony will bookend those politics with U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, in attendance as well as Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee and a man suspected of masterminding a lethal 2010 military attack on the South.

There’s no reason to believe that the uneasy VIP-box scene will repeat itself. There’s also no reason to believe it will not. But the outcome could provide a coda to an extraordinary two weeks of Olympic political optics — and offer hints of the Trump administration’s approach in coming weeks as it tries to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and deals with the North-South thaw.

That wasn’t all when it came to these odd games. Let’s not forget Russia — or, we should say, “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” the shame-laced moniker they inherited after a doping brouhaha from the 2014 Sochi Games doomed them to a non-flag-carrying Pyeongchang Games.

But two more Russian athletes tested positive in Pyeongchang in the past two weeks. So on Sunday morning, the IOC refused to reinstate the team in time for the closing but left the door open for near-term redemption from what one exasperated committee member called “this entire Russia drama.”

What’s next for the games? Tokyo in Summer 2022, then Beijing — Summer host in 2008 — staging an encore, this time for a Winter Games. With the completion of the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, that Olympic trinity marks one-third of a noteworthy Olympic run by Asia.

For those keeping score at home: That means four of eight Olympic Games between 2008 and 2022 will have taken place on the Asian continent. Not bad for a region that hosted only four games in the 112 years of modern Olympic history before that — Tokyo in 1964, Sapporo in 1972, Seoul in 1988 and Nagano in 1998. Japan and China will, it’s likely, be highly motivated to outdo South Korea (and each other).

Meantime, the Olympians departing Monday leave behind a Korean Peninsula full of possibility for peace, or at least less hostility. The steps taken by North and South toward each other this month are formidable but fluid. People are cautiously optimistic: the governor of Gangwon, the border province where Pyeongchang is located, suggested Sunday that the 2021 Asian Games could be co-hosted by both Koreas.

It might not happen. But it could. That could be said about pretty much anything at an Olympic Games, inside the rings and out. Corporate and political and regimented though it may be, that’s what makes it still the best game in town for an athletic thrill every other year — and yes, sometimes a political one, too.

Russian curler stripped of Olympic medal, country pays fee

February 22, 2018

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Within hours of curler Alexander Krushelnitsky being stripped of a bronze medal for a doping violation, the Russian Olympic Committee said it had paid a $15 million fee that was part of the criteria to have its team reinstated at the Pyeongchang Games.

Russia’s team was officially banned from the games because of widespread doping at the Sochi Olympics four years ago, but 168 Russians were allowed by the IOC to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under the Olympic flag.

The IOC is due to decide Saturday whether to formally reinstate the Russian team for the closing ceremony the following day. With the doping case against Krushelnitsky shaping as a potential impediment, the Russians moved to settle the matter quickly.

Krushelnitsky waived his right to a hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, despite denying that he knowingly took a banned substance, and agreed that his doping samples taken at the Pyeongchang Games contained meldonium.

On Thursday, CAS disqualified Krushelnitsky’s results from the Olympics, withdrew his credential and referred his doping case to the international curling federation to determine a suspension from competition.

The Russian Olympic Committee issued a statement saying it had returned the bronze medal which Krushelnitsky and his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova, won in the mixed doubles. It also confirmed an investigation into how the banned substances got into his system has been launched.

“The results of the doping samples taken at the Olympics are not challenged,” the Russian delegation said in a statement. “The follow-up investigation will be carried out jointly by the law enforcement agencies, the Russian Curling Federation, and the athletes to establish all the circumstances of this case.”

The Russian committee also outlined its push to meet the criteria for reinstatement that were set by the IOC’s executive board last December. “One of (the criteria) is the payment of the amount of $15 million for the development of the global anti-doping system and the facilitation of cooperation in this area between the IOC, the WADA and international sports federations,” the statement said. “As of now, the ROC has paid this amount in full.

“Thus, all the financial covenants toward the Russian Olympic Committee in order to lift its suspension have been fulfilled.” Discussions between Olympic and Russian officials have been going on behind the scenes at the Winter Games, including a meeting between IOC President Thomas Bach and Igor Levitin, a former Russian minister of transport and adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams confirmed the meeting happened but said it lasted four minutes and the main purpose was for Bach to wish Levitin a happy 66th birthday. Adams said Bach and Levitin “may have talked about something else,” but he declined to speculate what that might have been.

CAS said its decision was based on written evidence and Krushelnitsky accepted a provisional suspension beyond the Olympics, but “reserved his rights to seek the elimination or reduction of any period of ineligibility based on ‘no fault or negligence.'”

Norwegian pair Magnus Nedregotten and Kristin Skaslien, who placed fourth in the mixed doubles after losing 8-4 to the Russians, were expected to be elevated to the bronze. Russian curling officials have said they believe Krushelnitsky’s food or drink could have been spiked with meldonium either by Russia’s political enemies or by jealous Russian rival athletes who had not made the Olympic team.

Dmitry Svishchev, president of Russia’s curling federation, said he hoped the loss of the medal was temporary. “This is by no means an admission of guilt, nor an end to the fight for our guys’ honor,” Svishchev said.

Krushelnitsky and Bryzgalova became the first Russians to participate in the Pyeongchang Games when they competed in a preliminary-round game on Feb. 8, the day before the opening ceremony. A statement in Krushelnitsky’s name published by state news agency Tass said the curler accepted meldonium had been found in his sample but that he had not doped intentionally.

“I accept a formal breach of the current anti-doping rules,” he was quoted as saying. The statement said it would be “useless and senseless” for Krushelnitsky and Bryzgalova to fight the doping case during the Olympics but added that they considered themselves “clean athletes.”

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