Though the International Olympic Committee’s more flexible approach for venues will help attract future bid cities, it’s too late for Oslo and Stockholm to get back into the race for the 2022 Winter Games after having withdrawn. So said IOC president Thomas Bach, who declared that Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, will remain the only two choices after next week’s application deadline.
“If you don’t stay in the competition, you cannot win,” declared Bach, who likened reentry for former bidders to runners who want to rejoin a 10,000-meter race after the rain stops.
Oslo and Stockholm, though, may well opt for 2026, when the field could be jammed. Sion, the Swiss municipality that lost out to Turin for 2006, may be a candidate, as could 1972 site Sapporo.
Denver, which decided not to host in 1976 after outpolling Sion, would be an exceptionally attractive contender with three ski sites (Vail, Aspen, and Beaver Creek) that will have hosted world championships, a 76,000-seat stadium (Sports Authority Field at Mile High) for opening and closing ceremonies, and two arenas (Pepsi Center and the University of Denver’s Magness Arena) for figure skating and hockey.
The option for future hosts to spread events across borders, which is more likely to happen in Winter Games where cities lack nearby mountains, isn’t new. Krakow, Poland, and Jasna, Slovakia’s, aborted 2022 joint bid would have shared the snow and ice disciplines. Italy, Austria, and Slovenia proposed an “Olympics Without Borders” for 2006, as did Finland and Norway. Besides introducing new diplomatic and logistical complications, a multi-country Games would water down the traditional appeal of bringing together the world’s athletes in one place and would make the Olympics into more of a collection of scattered world championships, where the skiers never see the skaters. Pyeongchang, which was urged by the IOC to hold the 2018 sliding events elsewhere to save $120 million in construction costs, is having none of it, especially since the most convenient alternative would be Nagano’s 1998 track in Japan. “Sharing the competition with another city is not an option we can consider,” declared Gangwon province governor Moon Soon Choi. “The [South Korean] people would never accept it.” Using existing facilities elsewhere in the country is much more likely. Sion would have the sliding events in St. Moritz 120 miles away while Almaty probably would stage some ice events in Astana, which is more than 725 miles distant.
Testing the limits
Reforming the bidding process was an easy task for the IOC compared with the new events-not-sports approach to the program, which will replace the 28-sport limit with a 310-event ceiling. While that would open the door to sports such as squash, karate, and wakeboarding that have been spurned in the past, it would downsize others such as track and field and swimming. Yet that format likely would do little to maintain the IOC’s stated 10,500-athlete cap, particularly if future hosts are allowed to add sports as Tokyo is expected to do by restoring baseball and softball for 2020. Those two sports alone account for more than 300 participants. Add rugby sevens, which will be contested in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and you’re talking 600. While track and field and swimming, which together account for more than 80 events, are attractive sports for the scalpel, slicing and dicing them wouldn’t reduce the numbers dramatically since athletes appear in multiple events. The most obvious candidates for a trim would be the team sports, which require anywhere from 260 competitors (water polo) to 504 (soccer). “You get big numbers in a hurry when you’re talking about team sports,” observed IOC member Dick Pound.
Cutting the costs
Among the changes to the bid process is a reduction of the costly globetrotting required of contending cities to make presentations before the Olympic family. Besides having fewer mandatory dog-and-pony shows, the IOC will pay expenses for half a dozen members of each city’s travel party to every meeting and 12 for the session where the host will be chosen. The IOC also will foot the bill for its own evaluation commission trips . . . How serious is the World Anti-Doping Agency about getting to the bottom of the alleged Russian drug scandal in track and field? WADA has named Pound, its original president, to head a special three-member commission that will investigate charges made in a German TV documentary that 99 percent of the country’s team is doping and that federation officials were involved in coverups like the one reportedly involving marathoner Liliya Shobukhova, the now-banned three-time Chicago and 2010 London victor who was said to have paid more than half a million dollars to have her biological passport altered so that she could compete in the London Olympics. Though Russian federation president Valentin Balakhnichev has denounced the charges as “a pack of lies,” WADA is examining approximately 3,000 doping samples for evidence.
After two false starts, Michael Phelps won’t get another. So said the Maryland district judge who sentenced him to 18 months’ probation. “If you haven’t gotten the message by now or forgot the message, the only option is jail,” Nathan Braverman told the Olympic swimming champ after he pleaded guilty to his second drunken driving offense. Phelps, who spent 45 days of inpatient treatment in Arizona and has enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous, can return to competition after his USA Swimming suspension ends March 6, in time for the final three Grand Prix meets . . . The US men’s downhillers are on fire after back-to-back World Cup victories on Italian snow by Steve Nyman in Val Gardena and Travis Ganong in Santa Caterina. That’s a good omen for the February world championships on the Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek, where Nyman made the podium at this month’s Cup stop. Bode Miller, the only Yank ever to win the global title (in 2005) and the last one to manage consecutive Cup downhill triumphs, could make his return in Wengen three weekends from now after coming off back surgery . . . Canada’s figure skaters made a big splash at the Grand Prix final in Barcelona, winning the pairs (Meagan Duhamel-Eric Radford) and dance (Kaitlyn Weaver-Andrew Poje) for the first time since 2001. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva became the first Russian women’s titlist since Irina Slutskaya a decade ago, while Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who barely qualified, retained his men’s crown. While the US failed to collect gold for the first time since 2007, Madison Chock and Evan Bates earned a dance silver while Ashley Wagner took the women’s bronze.
Though they ended up 15th and 16th in a 17-sled field in Calgary (the second Latvian entry crashed and didn’t start the second run), Canada’s Kaillie Humphries and US driver Elana Meyers Taylor made history by piloting entries in a World Cup four-man competition. “I hope someday a woman racing in four-man isn’t news,” said Meyers Taylor, who leads the female standings going into next week’s races in Germany with teammate Jazmine Fenlator tied for second and Jamie Greubel fourth . . . The US lugers made the most of their time on North American ice, grabbing four World Cup medals in Lake Placid and Calgary (one shy of last season’s total) as teenager Tucker West produced the first men’s victory since Wendel Suckow in 1997. Look for the Teutonic Empire to strike back next month, with the next three stops on German tracks in Koenigssee, Oberhof, and Winterberg . . . For the first time since 1976, the US Olympic gymnastics trials will be held in separate cities at different times, with the men competing in St. Louis in June 2016 and the women in San Jose in July. The reason: differing approaches to pre-Games preparation . . . Kosovo’s unanimous election by the IOC as the 205th entity on the Olympic roster brings to seven the number of former Yugoslav republics or provinces with their own teams, including Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Montenegro.
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.