Thomas Bach, who succeeded Jacques Rogge as International Olympic Committee president in September, already has been circling the globe while beginning his mission to reshape the Olympic movement.
The 59-year-old German visited Russia to inspect Sochi’s venues for next year’s Winter Games, South Korea to check on Pyeongchang’s preparations for 2018, and Japan to check in with the Tokyo organizers for the 2020 Summer Games, while also sitting down with the heads of state. He dropped by the Vatican to present Pope Francis with the Olympic Order, the IOC’s highest honor.
Bach will start moving on his agenda in earnest with a four-day retreat in Switzerland immediately after the executive board’s upcoming meeting. High on the list are reforming the bid city process and making the Games program more flexible. That could mean reinstating baseball and softball for 2020 after all, since those sports are popular in Japan, which consistently medaled in both before they were dropped after 2008.
Bach, meanwhile, has been urging potential contenders, notably the United States, into the 2024 race.
“It’s time for the United States to present a strong bid,” he said.
Bach also wants an entry from Paris for what would be its centennial hosting anniversary, while realizing that the French, whose last five campaigns for winter and summer have failed, are gunshy.
“It’s a sports competition, you can’t wait until you’re the only bidder,” he told them. “That’s never going to happen.”
Rome, which withdrew from the 2020 race after the government nixed its financial support, would be a natural candidate as well.
“People need to stop saying, ‘We can’t do it,’ ” said Mario Pescante , Italy’s ranking IOC member. “If we continue not to build anything because we’re afraid of the Mafia, the country will commit suicide. We need to offer a strong signal that this story is not finished, that we’re not a population of thieves.”
Holiday on hold
The Olympic torch has been to outer space and to the bottom of Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest fresh-water body. Now all Sochi organizers have to do is get the stadium finished in time for Russian president Vladimir Putin to open the Games. That means construction crews won’t be taking their customary New Year holiday. “For you, New Year will begin on March 18,” Putin told them during a recent visit . . . With the eight-year deadline coming up in February, the IOC will spend $500,000 retesting 350 samples from the Turin Games looking for cheaters who escaped the lab in 2006. An improved steroid test now can detect lower doses and earlier use. Only one athlete — Russian biathlete Olga Pyleva — was nabbed originally . . . Though the United States has only two qualifiers for this week’s Grand Prix figure skating final in Japan, both figure to make the podium. Ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White will be going for an unprecedented fifth straight crown, and Ashley Wagner, who took silver last year, will be bidding to be the first US woman to win since Alissa Czisny three years ago. With defending champion Daisuke Takahashi injured, Canada’s Patrick Chan is favored to win his third title in four years. Mao Asada , who’ll be on home ice in Fukuoka, is looking to be the first women to repeat since South Korea’s Kim Yu Na in 2007. She’ll be up against a quartet of Russian teens — Julia Lipnitskaia, Anna Pogorilaya, Adelina Sotnikova, and Elena Radionova — any of whom would be the first winner from the Motherland since Irina Slutskaya in 2005. With former Olympic champ Evgeni Plushenko nursing a wounded knee, Maxim Kovtun may well be Russia’s only male competitor in Sochi. That will be determined at next month’s nationals and European championships, where Plushenko, who has competed only once since January, will be gunning for his fourth Games. Kovtun is hoping he’ll be back in fighting trim. “If I win when he’s, to put it bluntly, sprawled about, then that’s not the same,” said the 18-year-old. “I hope he comes to the Russian championships on form and we’ll see what happens.”
Vonn within range
Even if she decides to skip this weekend’s World Cup races at Lake Louise to give her reinjured right knee more time to heal, Lindsey Vonn still will have a half-dozen other speed events in which she can earn enough points to secure a place on the Olympic Alpine team. All she’d need is to be among the top four in an event, which, given her teammates’ underwhelming showing last weekend at Beaver Creek, shouldn’t be too difficult. If Bode Miller’s re-entry is any guide, though, Vonn shouldn’t expect too much too soon. Miller was 16th and 23d in last weekend’s downhill and Super G in Lake Louise. The sole bright spot for the American men and women was Mikaela Shiffrin’s first career podium in the giant slalom, missing gold by .09 seconds . . . US cross-country skier Kikkan Randall’s quest for a breakthrough Olympic medal is right on schedule. After grabbing a sprint silver in last weekend’s World Cup opener in Finland, Randall went on to place fifth overall in the Ruka Triple, which included 5-kilometer classical and 10-kilometer pursuit races . . . The US speedskaters continue to pile up precious metal on the World Cup circuit with Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe finishing 1-2 in the women’s 1,000 meters, Bowe winning the 1,500, and Shani Davis claiming his third straight triumph in the 1,000 at last weekend’s stop in Kazakhstan. Going into this weekend’s Cup events in Berlin, the last before the Olympics, the Yanks figure to win seven medals in Sochi, three more than they did in Vancouver.
Push is on
After starting the World Cup bobsled season last weekend by hitting the double in Calgary, US pilot Steve Holcomb will get four more chances to pad his lead on home ice in Park City and Lake Placid this weekend and next. With Melrose’s Steve Langton pushing in both races, Holcomb took down the track record in the two-man that the Germans set eight years ago, then won his first four-man in three years. The US women, with Elana Meyers and Jamie Greubel , grabbed second and third behind Canada’s Kaillie Humphries . . . With just two more World Cup events before the US Olympic luge team is announced Dec. 14, Chris Mazdzer is the only slider to have clinched a spot. Former world champion Erin Hamlin is all but a lock. The rest of the spots will depend on performances in Whistler and Park City this weekend and next. The Americans finally managed a medal, taking silver in the team relay in Winterberg with Kate Hansen, Tucker West, and the double of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman. The Germans, who hadn’t missed the podium in 15 races, ended up last after world champion Natalie Geisenberger messed up her start . . . US skeleton sledder Noelle Pikus-Pace was beyond flabbergasted after her World Cup victory in Calgary last weekend was taken away when the British complained that she had an extra piece of tape on her handle. “People get away with whatever and I get disqualified for a piece of tape?” said Pikus-Pace. “A piece of tape they said was OK? It has no competitive advantage whatsoever.” Who claimed the title after she was disqualified? British rival Elizabeth Yarnold.
Terrific start to the World Cup biathlon season in Sweden by the Americans, who got a bronze medal from Tim Burke in the men’s sprint and top-20 placements from Lowell Bailey and Susan Dunklee. Had “tornado-like” winds at the Oestersund venue not wiped out Sunday’s pursuit races, the United States might have done even better . . . When Portland, Ore., hosts the 2016 world indoor track and field championships, it’ll be the first time the event is held in the States since Indianapolis staged it in 1987. The outdoor event has never been held in the States and has been held only once in North America (Edmonton, 2001) . . . A stone-sober Australian team? That’s what its Olympic committee wants for Sochi by forbidding the drinking of alcohol in the Olympic village and on the plane home. What will team officials use as evidence? “Swaying, staggering, or falling down” and “having rambling conversations.”
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com; material from Olympic committees, sports federations, personal interviews, and wire services was used in this report.