Narrowing the contenders for the 2022 Winter Olympics to three candidates last week was a no-brainer for the IOC executive board since only three remained — Oslo, Beijing, and the Kazakh city of Almaty — after Stockholm; Krakow, Poland; and Lviv, Ukraine, all pulled out.
The challenge now is to persuade the Norwegian politicians and public to get behind the bid that the IOC would most like to approve. Oslo, the 1952 host that split the Games with 1994 venue Lillehammer, would be a dream destination with minimal challenges. Problem is, the government has yet to guarantee its financial backing and only 36 percent of the citizenry supports the bid according to recent polls.
The Games have grown much bigger during the past two decades — from 67 nations, 1,737 athletes, and 61 events in Lillehammer to 88, 2,873, and 98 in Sochi — and the cost has soared. And while the IOC would give $1 billion to the host, that’s only a fraction of the tab.
Both of the other bids have problems. Beijing, which would stage the skating and hockey events, would spread the others among Yanqing, which is more than an hour’s drive, and the mountain city of Zhangjiakou, which is nearly three hours away. And while lowest-ranked Almaty is more compact, it’s remote (more than 2,000 miles from Beijing and 1,900 from Moscow), has poor air quality, and limited hotel accommodations. So the realistic short list is one, and IOC president Thomas Bach, who has been sweet-talking the fretful Norwegians, likely will need to push through a reformed bidding procedure at the December special session in Monaco to convince them that they wouldn’t be signing on for a fiscal freefall.
If the USOC decides next year to bid for the 2024 Summer Games (Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are the remaining candidates), that would rule out a 2026 winter campaign. If the USOC decides to bypass 2024, though, it immediately will start looking at 2026. By then it will have been 24 years since Salt Lake City played host and the United States hasn’t had a candidate since. Salt Lake likely would be a contender again along with Denver (the original 1976 site), Reno-Tahoe (near 1960 host Squaw Valley), and Bozeman, Mont. . . . Now that the World Cup soccer tournament is over, the Brazilians finally can focus on the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Bach, who praised the “passion and efficiency of the Brazilian people,” immediately sat down with President Dilma Rousseff to make sure that the country goes all-ahead-full during the final two years. Bach noted the “great dynamism in their preparations” without saying that the IOC essentially is supervising them. Most notably, construction at the Deodoro Olympic Park, which includes seven venues, finally began after a two-year delay. “There is no time to lose — not a day to lose,” Bach warned. “But there has been significant progress.” . . . The Rio organizers haven’t yet built the course — the sodding of the Reserva de Marapendi layout started recently — but the qualifying format for golf’s return to the Games was announced Tuesday. The 60 men and 60 women who’ll compete in 72-hole stroke play for the medals will be chosen from the official global rankings. The top 15 (with a maximum of four per country) will be automatic. From there the max will be two per, with each continent plus the hosts guaranteed at least one entry. If the tournament began today, the US men’s team would be Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Tiger Woods, and Jordan Spieth; the US women’s team would be Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie, and Cristie Kerr.
Back making waves
Michael Phelps’s comeback picked up more steam at last weekend’s Bulldog Grand Slam in Georgia where he won the 100-meter butterfly and 100 backstroke and was touched out by France’s Yannick Agnel in the 100 free. “For what he’s been doing, it’s good,” reckoned Bob Bowman, his longtime coach. Phelps’s time in the 100 fly (51.67) was the world’s second fastest this year and sets him up to win the event at next month’s national championships in Irvine, Calif., which will determine the team for both this summer’s Pan Pacific meet in Australia and next year’s world championships in Russia . . . Four Olympians are among the 19 players from 18 NBA teams (no Celtics) invited to USA Basketball’s Las Vegas camp at the end of the month to prepare for the inaugural World Cup in Spain. Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, and James Harden, who all won gold in London two summers ago, will form the core of the squad that will be heavy favorites to retain its global title and earn an automatic ticket to Rio, where the US will be shooting for a third straight Olympic crown. The Americans will have tuneups against Brazil in Chicago, against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in New York, and against Slovenia in Gran Canaria before opening round-robin play on Aug. 30 against Finland in Barakaldo in Basque country . . . While the USOC wasn’t happy with the long-track speedskaters’ zero-medal showing in Sochi, their worst in 30 years, it’s not going to dictate how the next team should prepare for Pyeongchang. If the committee gets involved in Games prep decisions for every sport, “it’s going to lead to mass confusion,” said executive director Scott Blackmun. The federation’s own post-mortem ascribed the team’s woeful underperformance to the same reasons that critics listed at the time — too much travel before the Games, holding an altitude camp on an Italian outdoor oval, and using Under Armour skinsuits that were untested in competition. “We can look back with every sport and see things we wish we could have done differently,” said Blackmun, who says he feels “very good about the speedskating program going forward.”
The US women’s field hockey team made an impressive run to the medal round at the World Cup in The Hague, finishing fourth behind the Netherlands, Australia and Argentina for its best finish since its 1994 bronze medal. The Americans can earn their Olympic ticket either by winning next summer’s Pan American Games or placing among the top six in the World League semifinals . . . Olympic sculling champions Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand and Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic both breezed to their fourth titles at the recent Henley Royal Regatta. Drysdale, the five-time world titlist, won the Diamond Sculls final by 5 lengths over Roel Braas of the Netherlands while Knapkova took the Princess Royal Cup by 4½ lengths over Hungary’s Krisztina Gyimes . . . The 2008 US women’s eight, which won the Beijing gold medal to end a 24-year drought and set the stage for a 2012 reprise, was named to the National Rowing Hall of Fame. The individual inductees include Jamie Koven, the two-time Olympian who won world titles in both the single and eight, plus two-time Games veterans Porter Collins, Mike Wherley, and cox Yaz Farooq, and Garrett Miller and Tom Welsh from the 2000 eight . . . The US fencing team, which won a medal of each color (including an historic foil gold by Miles Chamley-Watson) at last year’s world championships in Hungary, hopes to match that in the event that began Tuesday in Russia, with the hosts expected again to dominate the proceedings. On the squad are Massachusetts natives Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn) and Andrew Mackiewicz (Westwood) . . . Alice Coachman Davis, who died Monday at 90, was a woman both ahead of and behind her time. The first American black woman to win an Olympic gold medal (1948 high jump) likely would have won in 1944 and possibly made the podium in 1940 had those Games not been cancelled by war. Growing up in segregated Georgia, Davis was denied access to public training facilities. At her homecoming ceremony in Albany after a 175-mile motorcade, spectators were divided by race.