Published on December 17th, 2013 | by Alan Abrahamson
President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
It is with great respect for you and your office that I write this open letter.
I have covered the Olympic movement for 15 years. The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics will be my eighth Games.
I will remind you that in 1980, the last time the Olympic Games were in what is now the Russia, what was then the Soviet Union, the United States team did not go amid intense pressure from the White House. Today, Mr. President, the official U.S. delegation to the Sochi Games that you have announced does not include yourself, the First Lady, the vice president nor any member of your cabinet.
Billie Jean King in New York last month at a 70th birthday party // photo Getty Images
This marks the first Olympics since the 2000 Sydney Summer Games that the president, vice president or a former president will not be a member of the American delegation for the opening ceremony. A White House statement said your schedule simply doesn’t allow your to travel to Sochi.
Throughout the 1990s, it was typical for First Ladies to lead the American delegations. In 1996, of course, President Clinton led the U.S. delegation at the Atlanta Summer Games.
Again with respect, Mr. President, what you have done today is disrespected the Russians — and in particular the Russian president, Vladimir Putin — big time.
Mr. Putin has for years taken a personal interest in the Sochi project. He even came to the International Olympic Committee’s all-members assembly in Guatemala in 2007, at which Sochi won the 2014 Games, to lead its campaign. When Mr. Putin became president again for the third time on May 7, 2012, his very first meeting that day was with the-then IOC president, Jacques Rogge.
To be obvious: Sochi matters, a lot, to Mr. Putin.
And Mr. Putin is a very big deal within the Olympic movement. The Russians are spending at least $51 billion to transform Sochi from a Black Sea summer resort to a Winter Games destination. That’s at least $10 billion more than the Chinese spent in 2008 for Beijing, and Beijing was a Summer Olympics. For $51 billion, you get a lot of attention.
Mr. President, you have also sparked potential problems for the athletes on the U.S. team and, looking ahead, for the possibility of an American bid for the 2024 Summer Games, because in this matter of protocol you have also made clear your disregard for the International Olympic Committee.
All of this in the name of politics. (more…)
Published on December 14th, 2013 | by Alan Abrahamson
There are two ways to look at the announcement Saturday from the International Olympic Committee that sports such as skateboarding and sport climbing will put on “performances” at next summer’s Youth Games in Nanjing.
If you are the sort who recognizes that the IOC is and always will be, no matter what, a traditionally minded organization, where change moves at a stately pace, the fact that these sports are being reduced to demonstrations doubtlessly will provoke, yet again, exasperation. It’s 2013, almost 2014. Come on, IOC. Get with the program. Skateboarding, right? And climbing is huge, particularly in Europe.
Then again, if you are the sort who sees that the new IOC president, Thomas Bach, has in three months launched an ambitious reform agenda designed to usher in change, and that getting skateboarding and climbing in particular before the members in Nanjing is a way to get them to see such sports with their own eyes so that both sports can get into the mainstream Games program sooner than later — ah, well, then you understand how he is moving.
The IOC executive board at its Montreux retreat // photo courtesy IOC
“We want to send a signal we are open for new and younger sports,” Bach said.
In a teleconference Saturday that wrapped up a four-day “brainstorming” session at the Swiss resort of Montreux, up Lake Geneva from IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Bach announced a string of initiatives that together fit together as part of what he is calling “Olympic Agenda 2020.”
In all, he intends to present a wide-ranging reform package to the full membership for discussion at the Sochi session in February and then for a vote at what the IOC is calling an “extraordinary session” to be held Dec. 6-7 in Monaco.
Published on December 12th, 2013 | by Alan Abrahamson
Eugene, Oregon, is a beautiful little town. It has many virtues. The issue at hand is whether it ought to be the track and field ghetto of the entire United States.
A more charitable way to put it, of course, would be to call it the track and field capital of the United States.
Decathlon champion Ashton Eaton practices earlier this year at venerable Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon // photo Getty Images
Because after the announcement this week that the NCAA Division I outdoor track championships from 2015 through 2021 will be held at venerable Hayward Field, there’s little doubt that Hayward, and Eugene, and for that matter, Oregon, are poised to be — if not flat-out are — at the epicenter of the track and field scene in the United States for essentially the next decade.
Query: is that a good thing? (more…)
Published on December 10th, 2013 | by Alan Abrahamson
LAUSANNE, Switzerland –Russian organizers will set up protest zones in Sochi, the new International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach said here Tuesday. Whether they will work, or anyone will have the courage to want to step into them amid what is expected to be a ferocious security presence, remain very much an open question.
The IOC president took the high road: ”It’s a measure we welcome,” Bach said of the protest area, “so that everybody can express his or her free opinion.”
With an emphasis on such immediate challenges and even a nod to ceremony, the first executive board meeting of Bach’s IOC presidency commenced here Tuesday and then, no surprise, broke up after a few short hours, the focus on Sochi, on the Rio 2016 project and even on a long-term plan that Bach has taken to calling “Olympic Agenda 2020.”
IOC president Thomas Bach at a news conference after chairing his first executive board meeting
The former president, Jacques Rogge, handed over the keys to the presidential office at the IOC’s lakefront headquarters, the Chateau de Vidy. Later Tuesday, the Olympic Museum, just down the road along the lake, was officially re-inaugurated.
But, first and foremost, Sochi. (more…)
Published on December 8th, 2013 | by Alan Abrahamson
All successful sports teams need stars. Quick. Name the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Easy. He’s the guy who did a hilarious interview a few days ago with that Ron Burgundy fellow. Now — who’s the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
The U.S. Ski Team’s alpine racers get noticed most — particularly when it’s almost Olympic time — when the likes of Ted Ligety, Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin are rocking it. Except for Shiffrin, the teenage slalom sensation who is newly showing promise across the board, the season had started slowly. Until Sunday.
Ligety and Miller went 1-2 in the giant slalom at the men’s World Cup stop at Beaver Creek, Colo., while Vonn, who had gone a cautious 40th and then 11th in the downhills Friday and Saturday in making her return to the women’s tour in Lake Louise, Canada, rocketed to fifth in Sunday’s super-G and afterward declared she was “ready for Sochi.”
Bode Miller, Ted Ligety, Marcel Hirscher after Sunday’s racing in Beaver Creek // photo Jesse Starr Vail Resorts courtesy U.S. Ski Team
Shiffrin didn’t race this weekend. She did, however, sum up the excitement that seized the scene.
“I’m crying right now,” she tweeted out. “My favorite racer is back on the podium. #gobode” (more…)