If the International Olympic Committee is serious about looking favorably on bid cities with compact venue layouts and existing facilities, Almaty will have the advantage over Beijing for the 2022 Winter Games that will be awarded this summer.
The former Kazakh capital, which staged the 2011 Asian Games with new capital Astana and will host the 2017 World University Games, already has many of the key items in place or under construction, and its mountains are much nearer than are Beijing’s, the only other contender.
Almaty’s major drawback, other than its relative remoteness, is the repressive government run by strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev , who has run the country since the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991.
While Kazakhstan’s human rights record is abysmal, China’s isn’t markedly better. If the IOC doesn’t want to deal with Beijing’s pollution and traffic and the been-there feeling of returning to the 2008 summer site, Almaty might be an acceptable alternative, especially since there isn’t another.
Spreading it out
Tokyo, which sold its 2020 summer bid on a compact venue plan, has taken advantage of the IOC’s new flexibility for host cities and is spreading out to trim construction costs. By moving basketball an hour away to Saitama, whose 37,000-seat Super Arena hosted the 2006 men’s world championships, by shifting the equestrian events to Baji Koen Park, where the 1964 competition was held, and by relocating the whitewater canoe races, the organizers will save $1 billion. They’ll avoid even more expense if the IOC lets them move taekwondo, badminton, sailing, track cycling, and fencing. But that will mean that Tokyo’s original concept, which emphasized that 85 percent of the venues were within a 5-mile radius, goes in the dustbin . . . After waiting too long to step in and get Rio de Janeiro on the fast track for 2016, the IOC isn’t making the same mistake with Pyeongchang, the 2018 winter host whose sluggishness and intramural squabbling have set off alarm bells in Lausanne. “We can’t lose any more time,” said Gunilla Lindberg, who heads the coordination commission that is watchdogging preparations. Thus the new Integration Working Group, which includes members from the IOC, the international winter sports federations, and representatives from the South Korean and Gangwon province governments. They’ll meet monthly, if only by teleconference, to discuss venues, test events, and Pyeongchang’s paltry domestic sponsorships.
1-2 punchUS speedskaters Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson dialed back the Wayback Machine by finishing first and second at last weekend’s world sprint championships in Kazakhstan. It was the first time American women had gone 1-2 since Leah Poulos Mueller and Beth Heiden in 1979. More impressively, they placed 1-2 in that order in all four races over two days. Pavel Kulizhnikov dethroned two-time Dutch defending champion Michel Mulder to become the first Russian men’s champ since Sergei Klevchenya in 1997 . . . The Germans continued their icy grip on the planet’s luge runs, claiming the World Cup overall titles in all four disciplines. Felix Loch collected his fourth consecutive men’s crown. Natalie Geisenberger, who won her third straight women’s, ran her country’s skein to 17 years, and her teammates grabbed the top three places for the 15th time in that period. In men’s doubles, Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken dethroned two-time champs Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, while the mixed relay topped the table again.
Sliding to gold
US bobsled pilot Elana Meyers Taylor, who won this season’s World Cup overall title, added a golden exclamation point last weekend by becoming the first American woman to win the world championships. She and brakewoman Cherrelle Garrett not only finished ahead of three German sleds, they managed it on their rivals’ home track in Winterberg and became the first American entry of either gender in 56 years to win the gold medal outside of North America. The Teutons hit the double on the men’s side, though, as Francesco Friedrich and Johannes Lochner placed 1-2 in the two-man, with Latvia’s Oskars Melbardis sharing the silver for his homeland’s first medal in the event. US driver Steve Holcomb, who’d complained about the Germans having a private training session before the races, ended up 17th after winning bronze at the Olympics. He’ll get another chance this week in the four-man, where he has won two titles and made the last four global podiums . . . Latvia’s Martins Dukurs, who won his sixth straight World Cup crown in men’s skeleton this season, will be looking to reclaim his global title this week from Olympic champion Alexander Tretiakov in Winterberg. Olympic gold medalist Lizzy Yarnold will be vying to follow British countrywoman (and recent mom) Shelley Rudman as women’s titlist, while Austrian rival Janine Flock, fresh off her homeland’s first World Cup women’s crown, is hoping for an historic double.
An Austrian charge
The Austrian men, who won two gold medals at last month’s world Alpine championships in Colorado, have been burning up the World Cup circuit since, winning all four races and nine of 12 medals at the last two stops. Marcel Hirscher, who’s on track to win a record fourth straight overall men’s crown, all but wrapped up the giant slalom title with a whopping 3.28-second victory in Garmisch-Partenkirchen last weekend, the biggest gap in the event since Ingemar Stenmark in 1979. “It was not the greatest year, but we salvaged it with the world championship,” said American Ted Ligety, who won his third straight gold medal at Beaver Creek. “That’s at least one bright spot.” Austria’s Anna Fenninger, the defending women’s overall titlist who won both Sunday’s combined and Monday’s super G in Bulgaria, drew to within 44 points of Slovenian leader Tina Maze. With two speed races coming up next weekend in Garmisch, Fenninger could take over the top spot, but she’ll give up points later because she’s likely to bypass a couple of slaloms. Lindsey Vonn, who’s sitting fourth behind teammate Mikaela Shiffrin, was fuming because she felt that ski federation officials, impatient after scrubbing Friday’s and Saturday’s races because of fog, restarted the super G segment of the combined too early. “The fact that we were racing in those conditions was a joke,” said Vonn, who likened them to the day at the 2013 world championships when she blew out her right knee and missed last year’s Olympics . . . The breakthrough by the American women at the world Nordic skiing championships in Sweden was at least as significant as Bill Koch’s silver medal was for the US males at the 1976 Olympics. “To have two on the podium, it’s incredible,” declared Jessica Diggins after she and Caitlin Gregg finished 2-3 in the 10-kilometer freestyle cross-country race for the first medals by US females in a global distance event. “Just incredible.” While Diggins had won gold with Kikkan Randall in the team sprint in 2013, it was the first time that Gregg had cracked the top 10 at an international competition. As expected, the Norwegians cleaned up with 11 golds and 20 total medals, more than the Germans and hosts combined. Petter Northug pocketed four golds and Therese Johaug three.
The US women’s soccer team and goalkeeper Hope Solo will be out for redemption at this week’s Algarve Cup in Portugal, which will be the last major international tuneup before this summer’s World Cup in Canada. The Americans, who’ve won eight of the last 12 tournaments, missed the podium in 2014 for the first time after going three-and-out while giving up five goals to the Danes in the group finale. Solo, who was on the line that day, recently was reinstated after US Soccer suspended her after her husband borrowed the team van during training camp and was arrested for drunken driving with her alongside. “We should have called a taxi,” Solo said . . . Guadalajara, which was supposed to host the 2017 world aquatics championships, has opted out amid falling oil prices. That likely won’t be an issue for Kazan, the Russian city that will stage this summer’s biennial event, since president Vladimir Putin will tap whatever government coffers he has to. But unlike the track and field championships, the aquatics event, which includes swimming, diving, and water polo, is a guaranteed splashfest of red ink, which is why the US never has hosted it and likely never will. A possible alternate site is Budapest, which is scheduled for the 2021 championships.John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from Olympic committees, sports federations, interviews and wire services was used in this report.