The deadly Boston Marathon bombings, allegedly carried out by ethnic Chechen brothers, have reaffirmed warnings about next winter’s Sochi Olympics given by security experts when the Black Sea resort was awarded the Games in 2007 while the Caucasus region still was in turmoil.
“The Olympics would make a highly desirable goal for terrorists, offering the maximum publicity,” Alexander Konovalov, head of the Institute of Strategic Assessment and Analysis, told the Associated Press last week. “The media effect and panic would hugely multiply the impact of even a small explosion.”
Indeed, Russian anti-terrorist authorities last year thwarted a plot by Islamic militants from the adjacent Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia, confiscating an arsenal of weapons and explosives that included surface-to-air missiles, grenade launchers, mines, and TNT.
The plan was to disrupt not only the Games themselves but also this winter’s test events at the venues that attracted a global array of athletes, including the top Americans. Predictably, security at the test events was heavy, with soldiers armed with assault rifles and accompanied by dogs.
And while Alexander Zhukov, head of the Russian Olympic Committee, said last week that the measures “are already quite serious,” sports minister Vitaly Mutko acknowledged that the Boston bombings, which apparently were carried out by a couple of amateurs, were “a grave signal.”
While the NHL and the international ice hockey federation had hoped to reach an agreement on the league’s participation in the Games before next month’s World Championships in Sweden and Finland, the parties still are haggling over issues ranging from video rights to player insurance to guest accommodations. Meanwhile, with only four days between the end of the NHL regular season and the global opener, the 16 countries involved in the tournament will be scrambling to fill their rosters. The Americans, hoping to improve on last year’s seventh-place finish, will use their usual blend of NHLers from non-playoff clubs and minor leaguers. Joe Sacco, the Avalanche coach, Medford native, and Boston University grad who played on the 1992 Olympic team in Albertville, France, and six world squads, will be behind the bench. The Yanks, who play their prelims in Helsinki, drew the more challenging of the two groups with defending champion Russia, runner-up Slovakia, and fourth-place Finland.
The US women’s ice hockey team, which ended one jinx by beating the Canadians on their home ice at a World Championships for the first time in six tries in Ottawa, will be looking to avoid another at Olympus, where the Americans will go in as world champions for the third straight time. In 2006, they had to settle for bronze after being upset by Sweden in the semifinals and in 2010, they were blanked by Canada in the final. The US squad, directed by Harvard’s Katey Stone, won the crown for the fourth time in the last five tournaments and derived satisfying payback after their northern neighbors knocked them off last year in Burlington, Vt. . . . Maybe the Canadians, who outscored their rivals, 41-2, in the Olympic prelims in 2010, didn’t get the hint from the IOC that they should ease up a bit on the pushovers if women’s hockey wants to stay on the Olympic program after 2014. After burying Finland, 8-0, with four goals in the third period, they waxed the Swiss, 13-0, popping in five in the final frame. Then they conked the Russians, 8-1, in the semis. The US scores were 4-2 over the Finns, 5-0 over the Swiss, and 3-0 over the Finns in the semis. Had they wanted to, Stone’s sharpshooters probably could have run up the meter as well but were sufficiently savvy and sportsmanlike to keep things reasonable. “I cannot imagine that an IOC president would kick women’s hockey out of the Olympics,” mused international federation chief Rene Fasel. “I can’t imagine that. But you never know. They kicked wrestling out, so . . . ”
A skating preview
Even without global dance champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the US figure skaters claimed the World Team Trophy ahead of Canada and Japan in Tokyo in a sneak preview of the event that will make its Olympic debut in Sochi. Madison Chock and Evan Bates stepped up to win the dance while Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold finished second and third behind Akiko Suzuki in the women’s competition. Max Aaron came fourth on the men’s side while Skating Club of Boston pair Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir chipped in points as well . . . Boston, which was nominated last week as the US candidate for the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships, will benefit from favorable timing in its bid. Three European cities (Turin, Moscow, Nice) have had the event since Los Angeles was the last American city to get the nod in 2009 and the next two are scheduled for Japan and China. The Hub, which never has played host to the event, will be the site of next year’s US championships at TD Garden that will determine the Olympic team. Detroit will put on Skate America, the Grand Prix opener, at Joe Louis Arena in October.
Work to do
Unlike the US women, who finished fourth at their world curling championships and qualified for the Olympics, the men missed out by placing ninth at theirs under rookie skip Brady Clark and will have to compete for one of two spots at December’s last-chance qualifier in Germany to avoid missing the Games for the first time. Earning berths are Sweden, Canada, and Great Britain (i.e. Scotland), which finished 1-2-3, as well as Norway, Denmark, China, and Switzerland, and host Russia . . . Missy Franklin recently won the Sullivan Award as the country’s top amateur athlete, the first swimmer to do it in an Olympic year since Debbie Meyer in 1968. Though Mark Spitz (1971) and Michael Phelps (2003) both earned the honor, each was outpolled by a fellow Olympian: marathoner Frank Shorter in 1972 and gymnast Shawn Johnson in 2008. Franklin, who won four golds and a bronze in London, has passed up millions of dollars by not accepting endorsements. “This award means a lot to me because of how much I’ve given up to be amateur,” said Franklin, who will attend Cal-Berkeley in the fall.
Quite the site
The US, Russia, and Iran, who have linked arms in their quest to keep wrestling on the Olympic program, will have at each other on the mat in a most intriguing setting: Vanderbilt Hall inside New York’s Grand Central Station. The “Rumble on the Rails” May 15 will feature the first appearance of the Iranians in the States since the 2003 World Championships in the Apple. The event will come a fortnight before the IOC’s executive board revisits the issue at its St. Petersburg meeting . . . Off to next autumn’s World Boxing Championships in Kazakhstan is Holyoke native Geremias Torres, who won the light heavyweight crown at the US championships after a four-year hiatus from the sport. Though Lynn welterweight Rashidi Ellis was beaten in the quarterfinals, his sister Rashida, a strong candidate to make the 2016 Olympic team, won the youth lightweight title while Burlington bantamweight Amanda Pavone was eliminated by eventual champion Christina Cruz. Collecting his third superheavyweight title but his first as Cam F. Awesome, his new vegan identity, was Lenroy Thompson, who is coming off a year’s suspension after missing several doping tests . . . USA Gymnastics wasted no time electing last year’s Olympic women’s champions to its Hall of Fame. The Fierce Five of Needham native Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross, and McKayla Maroney will be joined by the the 2007 squad that was the first to win the title at an overseas World Championships. That team, which was captained by Winchester native Alicia Sacramone and included all-around champion Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Samantha Peszek, Shayla Worley, and Ivana Hong, formed the core of the 2008 Olympic squad that won silver in Beijing. Bridget Sloan, who was a 2007 alternate, made the 2008 team and went on to win the 2009 world all-around title. Last weekend she won the NCAA all-around title and led Florida to its first team title.
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.