On being Nadia: authentically herself in a world that loves her, and of course

On being Nadia: authentically herself in a world that loves her, and of course

MONTREAL — It was a hot and humid late afternoon 4th of July but no matter, because Nadia Comaneci was in town, and wherever Nadia Comaneci goes, there is light and love and joy, and people are drawn to her and she to them, and especially here in Montreal, because it was here, as a 14-year-old, way back in 1976, that she executed the Perfect 10, and nothing has been the same since, not gymnastics, not the Olympics and for sure not Nadia and the very many people who want to be around her.

Which is, truth be told, pretty much everyone.

Nadia was out for a brief stroll on what is now named Nadia Comaneci Plaza. Of course it is named Nadia Comaneci Plaza. She says now that she had no idea they were going to name it after her when they did so 18 or so months ago, and it was a huge honor because usually — in her telling — they only name things like plazas after people when such people are dead. 

Nadia is not only very much alive, she is a life force, and that is just one of the reasons people — in every country — want to be near, to feel what it must be like to be perfect, if even for a moment, because life is not perfect, as fate is glad to remind us all but, then again, as Nadia observes, if you work hard, maybe, just maybe, you, too, can be great, because everyone has it in them to be great. 

You know what great means? It hardly has to mean you are going to qualify for the Olympics, or even win a gold medal. Great means today is a little bit better in some way than yesterday, and by that same measure tomorrow is better than today. That for sure is great. Just ask Nadia.

No more 'losers': IOC vows new way to pick Games hosts

No more 'losers': IOC vows new way to pick Games hosts

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Thomas Bach is a winner.

From some, that sentence is likely to draw howls. What? Is this, like, sucking up, or what? 

Please — chill. Any objective, reasonable analysis of the International Olympic Committee president’s record would lead to that conclusion. The man is an Olympic gold medalist. A brainy lawyer. An adept businessman. Now in his sixth year as IOC president, he is all but a shoo-in for re-election to a second four-year term in 2021.

Perhaps twice in Bach’s career has he been a “loser.” Once, when as a champion fencer representing West Germany — he, like the outstanding middle-distance runner Seb Coe in Great Britain — campaigned to go to the 1980 Moscow Games amid the U.S.-led boycott. Britain went. West Germany did not.

The next time came in 2011. On that occasion, Bach was leading the Munich campaign for the 2018 Winter Games. PyeongChang won. And Bach was — not happy.

Of course, Bach rebounded two years later to become IOC president. But as the IOC session on Wednesday approved a plan to re-do the process by which it selects cities for the Summer and Winter Games — driven by Bach’s avowed concern that the current system produces too many “losers” — it’s perhaps worth wondering, why? And what of his own experience?

Breaking news: it's on for Paris 2024

Breaking news: it's on for Paris 2024

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — As expected, the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday gave approval to four sports to join the Paris 2024 program: surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and, quelle horreur for traditionalists, breakdancing, or in IOC jargon, breaking.

“More youth, more urban, more women,” Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet said of the organizing committee’s goals for its program — the four sports a one-time add not guaranteed to be listed as part of the so-called “core” Olympic program. 

Surf, skate and climbing will feature at Tokyo 2020, along with karate and baseball/softball. Breakdance made a breakthrough at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. 

Milano-Cortina for 2026, and seven years of ... adventure

Milano-Cortina for 2026, and seven years of ... adventure

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The International Olympic Committee turned 125 on Sunday. It celebrated by opening a new, $145-million headquarters on the shores of Lake Geneva.

In a news release commemorating the occasion, the current IOC president, Thomas Bach, said he saw “direct parallels’ between the IOC then and now.

“When Pierre de Coubertin founded the IOC, his vision and values at the time went against nationalism, against aggressivity among nations. It was about friendship and understanding. It was about bringing people together. It was about making the world less fragile.

“This is somehow a position we are in this moment with regard to the Games. We see this zeitgeist of rising nationalism. We see this zeitgeist of aggression. It is a great opportunity because we can demonstrate how relevant, how important our values are. We have to fight even more for understanding, for dialogue, for respect.”

On Monday, the IOC confronted its most consequential bid-city election in years, choosing the site of the 2026 Winter Games: Stockholm-Åre in Sweden or Milano-Cortina in Italy. A swirl of complicated dynamics framed the vote, including rising nationalism and aggressive anti-immigrant politics in Italy and, within the IOC itself, purported reforms designed not just to bring the organization into the 21st century but to underscore the import of its values. 

In a verdict seemingly at odds with all that lofty rhetoric, one that worldwide could well send taxpayer perceptions of the IOC’s self-proclaimed reforms — dubbed Agenda 2020 and the New Norm — all the way back to the last century, the members picked Milano-Cortina. The vote was not even remotely close: 47-34.

The 2026 election: change or be changed meets put up or shut up

The 2026 election: change or be changed meets put up or shut up

Is Agenda 2020 for real? Or is it really just so much noise?

The 2026 election for the Winter Games, coming right up in just days between Stockholm-Åre and Milano-Cortina, might as well be subtitled: change or be changed meets put up or shut up.

Thomas Bach was elected International Olympic Committee president in September 2013. The next year, in December 2014, the IOC enacted his 40-point reform plan, Agenda 2020, and it has since become – purportedly – the basis of IOC strategic thinking. Layered on top of that came the New Norm in February 2018, 118 more points purportedly designed to effect further change.

Now comes the 2026 election, the first to test the Agenda 2020 blueprint.

The IOC’s difficulty in attracting candidate cities is well known – referendums, anyone? It is enough to note that the IOC almost surely considers it a huge win that for 2026 it has two western European candidates in for a vote. 

That, though, is not enough.

In which transparency explains: there was no 'bullying'

In which transparency explains: there was no 'bullying'

To be honest, this space is having a very hard time understanding why Beckie Scott complained about being “bullied” and Edwin Moses said he was told to “shut up,” allegations found to be without merit in a lengthy report made public Wednesday about backstage World Anti-Doping Agency politics.

Politics involves some measure of rough and tumble. Sports politics is for sure politics. 

As a graduate of the Northwestern journalism school whose first jobs in the business were in Chicago, where politics are not for the meek, this whole thing has seemed like one big episode from the theater of the absurd. 

This episode at WADA has drawn worldwide headlines for months.

That’s perplexing.

It simply does not reflect well on what in a related context in the report, issued Wednesday by the Covington and Burling law firm, is called the “North American” perspective on the long-playing Russian doping saga.

Just because the sports car is red doesn’t mean it’s gonna go fast

Just because the sports car is red doesn’t mean it’s gonna go fast

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Along with death and taxes, we experience other certainties.

LIfe also brings us American DQs — and other gruesome weirdnesses — in high-profile relays.

Why this is so remains an enduring mystery. Well, not really. It’s institutional and cultural. But as Sunday night’s close to the fourth edition of the IAAF World Relays proved yet again, it is very much so — so much that after two more DQs and a loss in the men’s 4x1 the happiest person in the U.S. track and field scene, as the jest in the press room went, in a nod to the politics that chronically beset American relays, was assuredly Carl Lewis.

Good news:

It’s May. The world championships aren’t until the fall, in Doha, Qatar, and all of 2019 is but a prelude pointing toward the big show, Tokyo and 2020. t’s eminently possible this can — could, should — get sorted out by this fall and, presumably, by next summer. Ronnie Baker isn’t here. Christian Coleman isn’t here. 

Bad news:

When it comes to the United States in the relays, as literally episode upon episode has made plain, Groundhog Day can happen anytime.

Historic breakthrough: Iran judo to end boycott against Israel

Historic breakthrough: Iran judo to end boycott against Israel

For decades, Iran’s athletes have refused to compete against Israelis. No matter the sport, no matter the situation.  

In a historic breakthrough, on Saturday the International Judo Federation announced that for Iran’s judo athletes the boycotts would be no more.

Iran’s Olympic committee and its national judo federation, in a letter dated Thursday and made public Saturday, agreed to “fully respect the Olympic Charter and its non-discrimination principle.” 

In a statement posted on its website, the IJF said the letter came after talks that followed the “disturbing phenomenon” involving the “sudden ‘injury’ or failure of weigh-in of Iranian athletes,” a “phenomenon which is linked by many observers to the possible obligation of the given athletes to compete against certain countries.” 

The IJF, it said, “decided to step up in order to protect the right of athletes to fair competition.” 

World Relays: at an inflection point

World Relays: at an inflection point

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Journalism is storytelling, and storytelling necessarily involves tension, and from the get-go an irreconcilable tension dictated the way local organizers and track and field’s international governing body approached this fourth edition of the IAAF World Relays.

The Japanese hosts necessarily and understandably viewed these Relays at 72,327-seat International Stadium — site of the 2002 World Cup soccer final that saw Brazil defeat Germany, 2-0 — as a test event for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics. Tokyo is maybe 35 minutes away. At a Friday news conference, Hiroshi Yokokawa, president of the Japanese track and field federation and member of the IAAF council, said, “The road [on which] we are now standing is heading straight to the Tokyo 2020 Games.” Koji Murofushi, the 2004 Athens hammer throw gold medalist who is the Tokyo 2020 sports director, called the Relays a “milestone for the Tokyo 2020 Games.” Even the athletes understood the direction, Ryota Yamagata, who ran on the Japanese men’s silver-medal 4x100 relay at the 2016 Rio Games, declaring at that same briefing, “We want to have a good start to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and 37[-plus] seconds is a good benchmark.”

Compare to the words of IAAF president Seb Coe.

The Relays, Coe said at that very same news conference, make for a “suffusion of fun and innovation.”

In the matter of '46 XY DSD' cases: the IAAF is right

In the matter of '46 XY DSD' cases: the IAAF is right

In the complex, emotionally charged matter of 46 XY DSD cases: the IAAF is right.

There. I said it.

If you already feel like sending hate mail, roger. But, and for emphasis: the IAAF is right.

Let’s be straight-up: Caster Semenya’s many vocal supporters have sought to focus the story on Semenya alone. That’s not right or fair. There are others similarly situated, including for instance — as was recently acknowledged — the Rio 2016 800-meter runner-up Francine Niyonsaba. So the IAAF is hardly targeting Caster Semenya. 

What seeking to make this matter all about Caster Semenya does, however, is what a great deal if not almost all of the reportage about this matter has done: cast Semenya as the sympathetic if not profoundly empathetic protagonist in a classic narrative thread, the individual against the institution. 

What’s often missing completely from that storytelling — or buried way, way down at the bottom, because in today’s overheated social media-driven cauldron of outrage, very few want to speak up — are other voices, those who have their own dreams, too, literally millions of girls and women around the world, and here is where the IAAF is 100 percent dead-on right to go to court to ask, what about them?