When Borat’s homeland of Kazakhstan is considered the front-runner to host the 2022 Winter Games, you know it’s a weak field.
Each of the other four formal bids, though, has significant flaws. Lviv, Ukraine, soon could be part of a divided country. Krakow will have to stage its Alpine events across the border in Jasna, Slovakia. Beijing, the 2008 summer host, is 120 miles from Zhangjiakou’s Nordic sites. And Oslo’s government, amid significant public opposition, is reluctant to underwrite the costs even though they’d be a fraction of the $50 billion that Sochi spent.
So Almaty, which staged the Asian Winter Games three years ago, appears to be the best bet of the bunch at the moment. Problem is, the country’s former capital is nowhere near anything — it’s approximately 2,000 miles from both Moscow and Beijing.
The International Olympic Committee’s executive board will draw up a short list this summer and the full membership will choose one at the end of July next year.
Even with seven of the 12 Olympic medalists absent from last week’s World Championships in Japan, the US figure skaters, who were without dance titlists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, still missed the podium for the first time since 1994. They did, however, reclaim a third men’s spot for next year’s event in Shanghai thanks to Jeremy Abbott placing fifth after finishing 12th in Sochi. Japan, with Olympic champ Yuzuru Hanyu and Tatsuki Machida, became the first country to finish 1-2 in the men’s event since Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin in 2001. The Land of the Rising Sun also collected its fifth women’s crown in eight years (but its first since 2011) as Mao Asada won her third title . . . Kim Yu Na may have accepted the loss of her Olympic figure skating crown to Adelina Sotnikova in Sochi (“My words can change nothing’’) but South Korea’s Olympic committee and skating federation still are steaming over what they call “unreasonable and unfair’’ judging and are filing a complaint with the International Skating Union’s disciplinary committee. Since only the ISU knows how each judge voted and keeps the information to itself, the Koreans likely won’t get much satisfaction, particularly since they didn’t protest the result at the Games. Fact is, Kim had only the ninth-most difficult long program and still won the silver . . . The Russian pipeline in women’s skating keeps pumping out medalists, as Elena Radionova, Serafima Sakhanovich, and Evgenia Medvedeva went 1-2-3 at the recent World Junior Championships in Bulgaria. It was the Motherland’s fourth straight victory in the event and its second sweep in a row. The Americans missed the podium for the third straight year, their longest gap since 1986. The US did show signs of keeping its dance dominance going as Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker won the gold medal, and 14-year-old Nathan Chen, who won bronze, provided reason for optimism on the men’s side . . . Swiss skater Denise Biellmann and Canadian choreographer Lori Nichol are the newest additions to the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs. Biellmann, the 1981 world champion, popularized the acrobatic Biellmann Spin in which one skate is pulled above and behind the head. Had Biellmann been better at compulsory figures (she was 12th at Lake Placid), she would have claimed the 1980 gold medal after winning the free skate and placing second in the short program. Nichol, the choreographer to the stars, has crafted programs for 10 Olympic medalists (including Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek) and more than 30 world medalists. In Sochi, Nichol choreographed programs for 11 single skaters and one pair from seven countries.
An Austrian sweepAustria’s Marcel Hirscher didn’t win an Olympic gold medal in Sochi, but he claimed his third straight World Cup Alpine skiing title, becoming the first man to manage it since Phil Mahre in 1983. With countrywoman Anna Fenninger collecting the women’s crown (the first Austrian since Nicole Hosp in 2007), they produced the first same-country sweep since Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn in 2008 and the first by the Austrians since Stephan Eberharter and Michaela Dorfmeister in 2002. US aces Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin confirmed their five-ringed primacy, with Ligety winning his fifth giant slalom globe and Shiffrin her second slalom. Meanwhile, Kikkan Randall, who was shut out in Sochi, took the cross-country sprint laurels and finished sixth in the overall table . . . The Russians, who topped the table at the Sochi Winter Games, did the same at the recent Paralympics at the same venues, winning 80 medals, more than the next four countries combined. “This is just a fireworks of medals,” exulted President Vladimir Putin after his disabled countrymen set a record with 30 golds, 28 silvers, and 22 bronzes. The Americans earned 18, only two of them gold . . . US speedskaters Shani Davis and Heather Richardson didn’t grab their anticipated fistful of medals at the Games but they each earned a $20,000 consolation payday by clinching the Grand World Cup title at the season finale inside the Dutch oval at Heerenveen. Davis also won the individual men’s 1,000-meter title, with Richardson and teammate Brittany Bowe going 1-2 on the women’s side. As expected, they skipped the world all-around championships at the same venue where the Dutch completed their dream season by sweeping the titles for the fifth time in eight years as Ireen Wust claimed her fourth straight crown and Koen Verweij took the men’s.
While Nicklas Backstrom did get his Olympic silver medal after his doping case was dropped, he can’t go back and play alongside his Swedish teammates in the championship hockey final against Canada. The Washington Capitals center was removed from the team after testing positive for pseudoephedrine despite having disclosed his use of the over-the-counter allergy medication beforehand and being told by the team doctor that it wouldn’t be a problem. Had Olympic officials acted sooner (there were four days between the test and the final), Backstrom could have suited up . . . Russian transplant Victor An, who won three gold medals for his adopted country in Sochi, stuck it to his homeland again at the recent World Short-Track Speedskating Championships in Montreal, where he ended South Korea’s five-year men’s reign while winning Russia’s first crown. Finishing second was J.R. Celski in the best American showing since he was runner-up in 2009. The Koreans did manage their third women’s title in five years from Shim Suk Hee, while Jessica Smith placed a creditable fifth.
The US women’s curling team had nowhere to go but up after its rock-bottom finish at Olympus, so the sixth-place showing at the recent World Championships in New Brunswick was a reasonable upgrade. The Americans, who were skipped by Erika Brown in Sochi, used two-time Olympian Allison Pottinger this time in what was her 12th and final world appearance. “I’m going to try to do the Wayne Gretzky approach versus the Michael Jordan approach,” she said. The Swiss, who missed the Games podium, shocked Olympic champ Canada for the title by scoring 6 unanswered points to end the match. The US males, who also finished last in Sochi, are faring better under skip Pete Fenson, who directed the Yanks to their only Olympic medal in 2006 and is stepping in for John Shuster. They were 2-3 after Monday’s matches . . . Dartmouth grad Susan Dunklee capped her breakout biathlon season with a bronze medal in the World Cup finale in Oslo, the first by an American woman since Joan Smith in 1994. Following Lowell Bailey’s bronze in Finland a week earlier, that made three for the Yanks this season. France’s Martin Fourcade claimed his third straight men’s overall crown while Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen dethroned Norway’s Tora Berger for her second title. Darya Domracheva, who was third in the standings, was the season’s biggest winner — she collected a $450,000 bonus from her Belarus homeland for her three Olympic golds, the biggest payout of any Sochi competitor.