Now that Lance Armstrong has admitted what he’d denied for years about being doped, the biggest unanswered question is whether he and the international cycling union (UCI) colluded to cover up a positive drug test that would have gotten him banned.
Though Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey there was no such deal, former teammates Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis both testified to the US Anti-Doping Agency that Armstrong gave the federation $125,000 for that purpose.
Though Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, the present and former UCI presidents, proclaimed Armstrong’s denial as vindication, an independent commission appointed by Court of Arbitration for Sport president John Coates may find otherwise. The three-member panel of retired British judge Philip Otton, Australian lawyer Malcolm Holmes, and former Welsh Paralympic wheelchair racer Tanni-Grey Thompson is beginning its investigation into the coverup allegations.
The panel will hold hearings in April and issue its findings in June.
If the commission concludes that there was a quid pro quo between Armstrong and the federation, it would be embarrassing for the International Olympic Committee, which recently stripped the cyclist of his 2000 bronze medal, since McQuaid and Verbruggen are current and former IOC members.
Ice in their veins
If defending champion Jeremy Abbott wins his fourth men’s title in five years at this week’s US Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, he’ll be the first to do it since Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano won four in a row from 1985-88. Ashley Wagner is bidding to be the first woman to repeat since Michelle Kwan in 2005, while dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White are going for five straight titles, which would match predecessors Naomi Lang-Peter Chernyshev and Tanith Belbin-Ben Agosto. Ross Miner of the Skating Club of Boston should make the men’s podium for the third straight year, and clubmates Christina Gao and pairs skaters Gretchen Donlan-Andrew Speroff and Marissa Castelli-Simon Shnapir have good medal chances as well. Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, who’d hoped to make his re-entry in Omaha after two seasons off, had to withdraw because he wasn’t ready after November surgery for a sports hernia. Missing, too, is two-time champion Alissa Czisny, who was runner-up last year but dislocated her left hip earlier this month . . . Kwan’s wedding in Providence last weekend to Clay Pell attracted fellow Olympic royalty with the presence of champions Dick Button, Dorothy Hamill, and Boitano. Kwan has turned her globetrotting and a graduate degree from Tufts’s Fletcher School into a State Department post as senior adviser for public diplomacy and public affairs. Pell, a Harvard grad and grandson of late Rhode Island senator Claiborne Pell, is a Coast Guard lieutenant and the director for strategic planning on the White House’s national security staff.
After two head-scratchingly poor efforts at last week’s World Cup stop in Austria, US bobsled driver Steve Holcomb thinks that his ride is the problem. “I have a great crew and I can’t imagine I suddenly lost my touch with driving,” said the Olympic champ, who will be defending his two-man and four-man titles at this week’s world championhips on St. Moritz’s natural track. “My guess is that something is going on with the sled.” Holcomb, who won the season’s first three two-man races on North American runs, could shrug off his 14th place in Igls since he was trying out a BMW prototype. More baffling was his 17th in the four-man, the first time Holcomb had been out of the top 10 in the event in five years. “I am dumbfounded,” he said. Though Canada’s Kaillie Humphries will be favored to retain her women’s crown, she’ll get a battle from the Germans. The Americans, who have made the podium at six of the last seven global championships, have a good chance to do it again with Elana Meyers, who won bronze last year . . . While Latvia’s Martins Dukurs, who has been beaten only once in eight World Cup skeleton outings, is odds-on to win an unprecedented third straight men’s title at St. Moritz, the women’s chase us up for grabs. Though Katie Uhlaender is the reigning champ, US countrywoman and former victor Noelle Pikus-Pace has medaled at the last three Cup events, including her first victory in nine years, and Germany’s Marion Thees leads the Cup circuit.
Gold rush expected
The German lugers figure to grab an armful of hardware at next week’s world championships in Calgary. Not only should they collect all four golds with Felix Loch, Natalie Geisenberger, the double of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, and the team relay, the Teutons figure to sweep the men’s and women’s singles and go 1-2 in the double. The Americans haven’t made the podium all season and don’t figure to, but Julia Clukey of Augusta, Maine, could crack the top six . . . Slovenia’s Tina Maze, who leads the World Cup alpine standings by a whopping 718 points over Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, figures to pad her lead this weekend on her home slope in Maribor. While defending champion Lindsey Vonn can’t catch Maze and has fallen behind her in the Super G standings, Vonn still leads the downhill race, as does teenage ace Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom. Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, who is 188 points ahead of Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal on the men’s side, figures to hold his own at Kitzbuehel this weekend . . . Heather Richardson, who’s atop the World Cup ranking at 1,000 meters and is third at 500, should make the podium at this weekend’s world sprint speedskating championships in Utah. If she does, she’ll be the first Yank to manage it since Jennifer Rodriguez won in 2005.
Kicking things off
Tom Sermanni will begin his tenure as US women’s soccer coach with a couple of friendlies against his native land. The Americans will take on Scotland in Jacksonville Feb. 9 and again in Nashville four days later. Their big test comes in March at the Algarve Cup in Portugal, where Japan handed the Olympic champions their only loss last year . . . This year’s Boston Marathon will feature 14 runners who competed in last summer’s Olympics, including five Americans. Besides Meb Keflezighi (who was fourth), Ryan Hall, Abdi Abdirahman, Shalane Flanagan, and Kara Goucher, there will be Ukraine’s Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko, Ethiopia’s Aselefech Medessa Mergia, Portugal’s Ana Dulce Felix, Poland’s Karolina Jarzynska, Colombia’s Yolanda Caballero, Burundi’s Duane Nukuri-Johnson, Australia’s Jeffrey Hunt, Canada’s Eric Gillis, and South Sudan’s Guor Marial . . . Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, the three-time Olympic champion who won gold and bronze in the 10,000 and 5,000 meters in London, will take on Mary Cain, the Bronxville, N.Y., teenager who’s the most promising US female distance runner in decades, in the women’s 2-mile run at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix Feb. 2 at Roxbury’s Reggie Lewis Center.
The Olympic gymnastics cycle will begin anew in Worcester with the American Cup March 2 at the DCU Center. Olympic all-around medalist Danell Leyva and team champion Kyla Ross headline the US team, which includes Jake Dalton and alternate Elizabeth Price from the London squad. The international field includes three of the Olympic top 10 women’s all-arounders in Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari, Japan’s Asuka Teramoto, and Romania’s Larissa Iordache, as well as four of the top 12 men in German silver medalist Marcel Nguyen, Great Britain’s Kristian Thomas, Brazil’s Sergio Sasaki, and Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev . . . Omaha, which staged the last two Olympic swimming trials, will have to compete with five-time host Indianapolis for the 2016 version, as well as with St. Louis, San Antonio, Jacksonville, and Greensboro, N.C. The federation will announce its choice in April.John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from Olympic committees, sports federations, personal interviews, and wire services was used in this report.