Rome’s last-minute decision to drop out of the race for the 2020 Olympics was grounded in political and economic reality. With Italy teetering at the edge of fiscal disaster, Premier Mario Monti declared it would be irresponsible to ask taxpayers to underwrite a $12 billion undertaking that would be seven years in the making. There’s no doubt the Italians, who staged a successful Winter Games in Turin in 2006, could pull it off on the much larger summer scale. But given the country’s grave financial concerns, it made sense for Rome to withdraw its candidacy.
Madrid, meanwhile, has opted in even though Spain, with a massive 23 percent unemployment rate, is slipping back into recession. After finishing third in the 2012 race behind London and Paris and second to Rio de Janeiro for 2016, Madrid is hoping that the third time will be the charm, especially with its main European competitor out of the chase.
So the field is down to five - Madrid, Tokyo, Istanbul, Doha (Qatar), and Baku (Azerbaijan) - with the IOC making its choice in September of next year. Given the enormous cost of putting on the Games, the advantage now may be with Doha and Baku. Neither made the cut for 2016 but they have something their rivals don’t - the ability to write a blank check.
Doha, which will host soccer’s World Cup in 2022, is doing everything it can to erase the country’s two biggest drawbacks - its searing summer heat and suppressive approach to women. It would schedule the Games for October, when average high temperatures are a more “moderate’’ 95 degrees, down from 105 during the summer. Qatar also will send a token two female athletes - one swimmer, one sprinter - to this summer’s London Games. That leaves Saudi Arabia and Brunei as the only two all-male teams at Olympus.
Unless Jeremy Lin wants to apply for Chinese citizenship, he’ll be watching the Olympics from his couch.
USA Basketball made it clear from the beginning that its London team would be stocked with members of the teams that won gold in Beijing or at the 2010 world championships or who’d competed on other national squads.
“Everyone has to pay their dues,’’ said chairman Jerry Colangelo. “No exceptions.’’ (The only one among the 20 finalists is Blake Griffin.)
Lin might well be picked for the select team that will scrimmage with the varsity during its July training camp, which would be his first step toward 2016. Had Taiwan (Chinese Taipei in Oly-speak) qualified for the Games, Lin could have suited up for his parents’ homeland as Lin Shu-How. Since his maternal grandmother was born on the mainland before she fled to Taiwan, Lin conceivably could play for China, which could use a point guard. But that would mean renouncing his American citizenship, which the Chinese state news agency has urged him to do.
Think home ice isn’t a huge advantage in the sliding sports? The US bobsledders and skeletors cleaned up at last weekend’s world championships in Lake Placid, winning three individual gold medals and a bronze. Olympic champion Steve Holcomb, who wasn’t among the World Cup top six in either the two-man or four-man final standings, became the first American pilot to win both races, with Melrose native Steve Langton aboard.
Elana Meyers, who was only 12th on the women’s Cup list, edged out German defending champion Cathleen Martini for the bronze. And Katie Uhlaender, who was 11th in the Cup skeleton standings, won her first global crown.
“This is my moment,’’ declared Uhlaender, who finished 11th in Vancouver two years ago after sitting in medal position. “This is the way the Olympics should have been.’’
Uhlaender will take her shot at a rare double next weekend when she competes in the Olympic weightlifting trials in Columbus, where she’s a darkhorse to make the team for London.
Vonn nears title
Though she won’t have another speed race until the World Cup finale in Austria next month Lindsey Vonn is all but assured of winning her fourth overall Alpine crown in five years. With nine races to go, including three slalom events in Germany next weekend, she leads Slovenia’s Tina Maze by 528 points after winning the Super G last weekend in Bulgaria. Vonn, who already has clinched discipline titles in the downhill and combined, should grab the Super G as well. With Ivica Kostelic rehabbing from knee surgery Austria’s Marcel Hirscher has assumed the men’s lead but Swiss downhiller Beat Feuz figures to overtake him after this weekend’s three speed events in Norway.
Germans miss sweep
The Germans, who’d already wrapped up the men’s crown with Felix Loch, who dethroned Italian defending six-time victor Armin Zoeggeler, came close to sweeping all three titles at last weekend’s World Cup luge finale in Russia. Tatjana Huefner led a 1-2-3-4 women’s sweep with her record fifth straight triumph while Tobias Wendl-Tobias Arlt finished only 10 points behind Austrian rivals Wolfgang and Andreas Linger in men’s doubles. Except for Erin Hamlin, who won the team’s only individual medal all season, it was a lost winter for the US sliders, who finished 24th among the men (Chris Mazdzer) and seventh in doubles (Christian Niccum-Jayson Terdiman).
The Dutch hit the double for the first time in four years at the world all-around speedskating championships in Moscow with Sven Kramer winning his fifth men’s title and Ireen Wust her third. The top American finishers were Jonathan Kuck (sixth) and Jilleanne Rookard (11th). Former champion Shani Davis opted out in order to focus on the final two World Cup events and next month’s world single distance championships in the Netherlands . . . Heath McCormick pulled off a significant upset at the recent US curling championships in Pennsylvania knocking off five-time champion and former Olympic medalist Pete Fenson to earn the men’s spot for next month’s world event in Switzerland. Allison Pottinger, with fellow Vancouver Olympians Nicole Joraanstad and Natalie Nicholson and Turin competitor Cassie (Johnson) Potter alongside, won the women’s crown and will compete at their global event in Alberta . . . Paul Hamm got off relatively lightly in an Ohio courtroom last week, receiving a year’s probation after pleading no-contest to reduced charges in the wake of his alleged drunken assault on a Columbus cab driver . . . Flyweight Marlen Esparza, lightweight Queen Underwood, and middleweight Claressa Shields will form the US team for the first Olympic women’s boxing tournament in London after winning the recent trials, provided that they qualify at the May world championships in China. If they finish among the top eight there they’ll earn their tickets. Once they’re in the five-ringed ring they’ll have their option of wearing shorts, now that the international federation has backed off its original skirts-only edict.
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com; material from Olympic committees, sports federations, and wire services was used in this report.