Whether or not he is convicted of murdering his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, Oscar Pistorius likely will be remembered more for his causing her death than for his breakthrough as a disabled athlete participating in the Olympics.
The “Blade Runner,” who ran on carbon-fiber prostheses after being born without fibulas, was the feel-good story of the London Games. Not only did Pistorius race in the 400 meters, a particularly competitive event, he beat a Russian, a Jamaican, and a Ukrainian to reach the semifinals and was tapped to run a leg on the South African relay.
His persistence and daring made him a hero at home and a role model around the planet, which is why news of his shooting model Reeva Steenkamp caused what International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven called “shock and disbelief” worldwide. Pistorius, who said that he mistook his girlfriend for an intruder, appeared in court for his bail hearing Tuesday, the day Steenkamp was cremated.
Though his trial probably will take months, his sponsors already are turning away. Oakley eyewear cut its ties with Pistorius, and Nike, which says it won’t use him in its advertising, has taken down an ad on his website in which Pistorius declares, “I am the bullet in the chamber.”
Wrestlers won’t submit
After its sport’s stunning takedown by the International Olympic Committee, the global wrestling community has linked arms to try to get the executive board to change its mind and recommend keeping what has been a core sport of both the ancient and modern Games on the 2020 program. USA Wrestling already has named a committee chaired by Olympic medalist Bill Scherr, who said that he warned international federation leaders several years ago that the sport was in danger of being dropped. Raphael Martinetti, who has stepped down as president of the international governing body, has been made the fall guy by critics who said it was blindsided politically after decades of assuming that wrestling’s position at Olympus was unassailable. Now it’s just one of eight sports on the waiting list, from which only one likely will be tapped at the IOC’s full session in September. Since a combined baseball/softball re-entry bid is one of them, that puts the USOC in a delicate position since it can’t be seen as lobbying for one popular American sport ahead of another . . . The Austrian skiers topped the overall table at the world Alpine championships on their home slopes in Schladming, but it was the Americans who turned heads with four gold medals: three by Ted Ligety in the men’s giant slalom, Super G, and combined, and teenager Mikaela Shiffrin in the women’s slalom. It was the best showing ever by the Yanks, who’ll have their best Olympics if they can match that haul in Sochi.
Nordic hopes high
The US Nordic types could come back with several medals from the world championships that begin Wednesday in Val di Fiemme, Italy. Kikkan Randall will be favored to become the first American to win a cross-country title (in the women’s sprint) and there are other podium possibilities in the women’s team sprint, women’s relay, men’s sprint (with Andy Newell), and women’s jumping (Sarah Hendrickson).
A hockey shutout
The Germans, who have competed in every Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament since 1952, won’t be in Sochi next winter. A home-ice overtime loss to Italy at the recent qualifying tournament proved fatal as the Austrians grabbed a spot for the first time since 2002 along with Latvia and Slovenia, which made it for the first time and will be grouped with the US, Russia, and Slovakia. Germany did qualify for the women’s tournament, as did Japan, which hasn’t been to Olympus since 1998 when it had an automatic berth as host country . . . Olympic champion Steve Holcomb, who had given up his two titles at the world bobsled championships, wrapped up a disappointing World Cup season last weekend by finishing 11th and 12th on next year’s Games track in Sochi. Holcomb, who won the first three two-man races, ended up fourth behind Canadian overall leader Lyndon Rush and sixth in the four-man behind Russia’s Alexandr Zubkov, who won five races. Elana Meyers, who was second in Sochi, ended up sixth overall behind Canada’s Kaillie Humphries, who medaled in all nine races and won six.
Though Latvia’s Martins Dukurs didn’t retain his world men’s skeleton crown, he claimed his fourth straight World Cup title by winning eight of the nine races, including the Sochi finale. John Daly, who ended up ninth overall, was the best of the Americans, who didn’t make the podium all season. The women’s chase came down to the wire with Germany’s Marion Thees winning by 4 points ahead of countrywoman Anja Huber. US sledder Katie Uhlaender, who was second to teammate Nicole Pikus-Pace in Sochi, was third on the table. Though Pikus-Pace competed in only six events after coming out of retirement, she won medals in five . . . Going into this weekend’s World Cup luge finale in Sochi, the Germans already have wrapped up all four event crowns, including the team relay. Natalie Geisenberger has clinched the women’s title, ending countrywoman Tatjana Huefner’s five-year reign. Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt have reclaimed their doubles title and Felix Loch needs only to place ninth to outpoint teammates David Moeller and Andi Langenhan. Maine slider Julia Clukey, coming off a silver medal in Lake Placid two weekends ago, has a good chance to finish in the top five in the overall standings . . . Though the Norwegians dominated the world biathlon championships that ended last weekend in the Czech Republic, winning eight of 11 events, the Americans dropped a calling card for Olympus as Tim Burke won a silver in the 20-kilometer event, their first medalist since Josh Thompson in 1987. Lowell Bailey also produced a couple of top 15 finishes and Susan Dunklee of Barton, Vt., added another, qualifying for the Olympic team . . . The US curling championships in Green Bay produced new champions in Erika Brown and Brady Clark, who’ll compete in next month’s world championships in Riga, Latvia (women), and Victoria, British Columbia (men).
Material from Olympic committees, sports federations, personal interviews, and wire services was used in this report.