After Seoul hosted an impeccable Summer Olympics in 1988, the IOC figured that the South Koreans would be able to pull off their first Winter Games, even in a remote ski resort. But four years after Pyeongchang outpolled Munich in a landslide in the vote for the 2018 host, there’s increasing concern about whether the venues will be ready in time for the required test events.
“They have extreme delays and still a lot of unanswered questions, problems which are not solved and as it looks, not solved within the next year,” said international ski federation chief Gian Franco Kasper, adding that “we had all the promises but nothing happens. So we all have serious doubts.” The FIS wants to have a World Cup men’s downhill and super-G, a snowboard halfpipe and parallel slalom, and a freestyle event in Pyeongchang next year, and the organizers insist that everything will be ready.
A Paris bid for the 2024 Games became more likely last week when a positive feasibility study was presented to Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who’s warming to the idea while concerned about costs. Hosting the Olympics, the study suggests, would be “un grand projet” that could bring together a country whose polled state of mind recently was described as “gloom, weariness, and distrust.” Hidalgo said she’ll consult with the chiefs of the city’s 20 arrondissements and the Council of Paris and make a decision by June. Just as London did in 2012, Paris plans to stage events in iconic venues. Beach volleyball would be held on the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower, archery on the Esplanade des Invalides, and fencing at the Grand Palais . . . Valentin Balakhnichev, who has headed the Russian track and field federation since the Soviet Union broke up two dozen years ago, stepped down on Tuesday amid the ongoing drug scandal that’s being investigated by the World Anti-Doping Agency. At its center are the country’s race walkers, more than 20 of whom have been banned, most recently five Olympic or world champions. Vladimir Kanaykin, the global 20-kilometer record-holder, received a lifetime suspension, with Beijing 20K gold medalist Valery Borchin getting eight years. Olga Kaniskina, the Beijing gold and London silver medalist at 20K, London 50K champ Sergei Kirdyapkin, and Sergei Bakulin, the 2011 world victor at 50K, all were slapped with three-year bans. Of the country’s 22 track and field medalists from London, six have been banned for doping. Valentin Maslakov, who’d quit as the program’s head coach, inexplicably has been named senior sprint coach. Meanwhile, the international federation has come under fire for at best being oblivious to the extent of Russian drug use. “It is a difficult crisis but we will put it behind us by cleaning all this,” said Lamine Diack, the octogenarian president of the international federation whose term ends this year . . . Olympic pole vault champion Jenn Suhr, 1,500-meter runner-up Leo Manzano, two-time 1,500 world medalist Matthew Centrowitz, and five-time Olympic high jumper Amy Acuff will be among the notables at the US indoor track and field championships, which will be back at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury for the first time in six years from Feb. 27-March 1. Tickets may be obtained online at www.globalathletics/usindoors.
Peaking at right time
The Austrian skiers fared better atop American snow than they did on their own white stuff two years ago, winning nine medals (and five golds) at the Alpine world championships at Vail/Beaver Creek, one more than they managed in Schladming. Anna Fenninger was the star, winning the super-G and giant slalom and coming in second to Slovenia’s Tina Maze in the downhill. Their next challenge will be claiming the men’s and women’s World Cup overall crowns in successive years, last managed by the Swiss in 1988. Marcel Hirscher, who’s chasing his fourth straight title, leads the men’s table, while Fenninger, the defending champ, is second to Maze . . . The Norwegians, who topped the table at the last world Nordic championships two years ago, will be favored to do it again at this week’s event in Sweden. They’ve owned the World Cup cross-country season, winning 35 of 48 races. Marit Bjoergen, who won four golds last time, should be the queen again. The Americans, who didn’t come close to a medal at last year’s Olympics, will be happy to get anyone on the podium. Sarah Hendrickson, who won the 2013 women’s jumping title before tearing up her knee, finished sixth this time.
Figuring it out
Encouraging performance by the US figure skaters, who topped the table at the Four Continents Championships in Seoul, the last international competition before next month’s global championships in Shanghai. Polina Edmunds produced the first women’s victory by an American since Ashley Wagner (who opted not to compete this time) won in 2012. Josh Farris picked up a silver, the first men’s medal in three years, while Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Maia and Alex Shibutani finished 2-3 in the dance. Disappointing showings, though, by national champion Jason Brown, who placed sixth, and former titlist Gracie Gold, who ended up fourth after singling jumps in both programs . . . While it didn’t make up for their 0-for-Olympics last year in Sochi, the US speedskaters hit the jackpot at last week’s world single distance championships in the Netherlands, collecting four gold medals and seven in all. Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe went 1-2 in the women’s 500 meters, Bowe won both the 1,000 and 1,500, and Shani Davis, who’d made only one World Cup podium all season, came up huge in the 1,000. “I needed something to show me I still have what it takes,” declared Davis, who’d recently mulled hanging up his skates if his results didn’t improve. “I was crying I was so happy.” Next up at month’s end is the world sprint championships in Kazakhstan, where former titlist Richardson and Bowe will go head to head for the title. If they finish 1-2 they’ll be the first Yanks to manage it since Leah Poulos-Mueller and Beth Heiden in 1979 . . . The South Korean short-track speedskaters pulled off the World Cup double for the fifth time in 12 years with Sin Da Woon and Shim Suk Hee winning the men’s and women’s overall crowns. The males will be gunning for their 12th individual title in 14 years (not counting last year’s victory by Russia’s Victor An, a former Korean skater) at next month’s world championships in Moscow, while the women will be after their ninth in 13 years.
Driven to succeed
US bobsled driver Elana Meyers Taylor capped a stellar season by winning last week’s World Cup finale in Sochi and becoming the first American to claim the overall title since Jean Racine in 2001. Her next challenge will be to dethrone Canadian two-time defending champ Kaillie Humphries at the global championships in Germany at the end of the month. Latvia’s Oskars Melbardis pulled off the men’s triple, winning the overall, two-man, and four-man titles . . . Though Great Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold won last week’s World Cup skeleton season finale in Sochi, she fell 20 points short of catching Austrian rival Janine Flock, who won her country’s first overall women’s crown by placing fourth. While Yarnold won five of the eight races she lost precious points early in the season when she skipped the Calgary stop because of dizziness. While Martins Dukurs was edged by Olympic champion Alexander Tretiakov on the Russian’s home track, the Latvian already had clinched his sixth straight men’s crown ahead of brother Tomass . . . Russia’s Semen Pavlichenko dashed Germany’s realistic dream of a sweep at last week’s world luge championships in Latvia, edging Felix Loch, the four-time champ, by 71-100ths of a second for his country’s first men’s crown. Otherwise, it was a Teutonic party as Natalie Geisenberger and the double of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt retained their titles and the relay won its 11th straight. Former victor Erin Hamlin missed a bronze by 46-100ths, while Chris Mazdzer came in sixth, but less than a third of a second out of the medals.
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.