Yang Ho Cho, 1949-2019 : an appreciation

Yang Ho Cho, 1949-2019 : an appreciation

Death is part of life. We all know. 

Still, when it comes so unexpectedly, it’s a shock.

All the more so in the case of a genuinely good person, a fundamentally decent human being who cared about things that matter and sought to make — in his years, too short — our broken world better. 

This was Yang Ho Cho. He died in Los Angeles a few days ago. He was 70.

There's only one story here and it's not a horse race

There's only one story here and it's not a horse race

Absent some freaky event between now and then, in late June, at its annual assembly the International Olympic Committee almost surely will award Stockholm the 2026 Winter Olympics. There’s a joke for this 2026 race that’s apropos. In the aftermath of this week’s news of government support in Sweden for the project, there now seems little sense in waiting more than two months to tell it.

So here goes: who does the IOC want to win for 2026?

1. Stockholm

2. Anyplace not named Milan

3. Milan

The problem with pretty much all the journalism on the 2026 Winter Games race is that it totally has missed the blindingly obvious point. Which is — see above. 

Cue the Vangelis: cross-country for Paris 2024

Cue the Vangelis: cross-country for Paris 2024

Yes, yes, yes, Chariots of Fire, the 1981 movie that won four Oscars in telling the story of track and field at the 1924 Paris Olympics, is all about the sprints, not cross-country. 

OK, OK, OK, Chariots of Fire is about the Olympics but something bigger. It’s a story about British athletes at those 1924 Paris Olympics, one who is a devout Scottish Christian running for the glory of God, the other an English Jew and what it takes to overcome prejudice.

People, we need not quibble here with details. 

When people think about Paris and the 1924 Olympics, what do they think of? The iconic beach running scenes from the movie, right? The sunlight! The sand! The sea foam! Especially since Mr. Bean — Rowan Atkinson — had great fun with the whole thing during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games.

Those beach scenes are, more or less, kinda-sorta, cross-country running. Good enough, anyway. At least for this point: 

The 2024 Games will be 100 years since the Games were last in Paris. As things happen, those 1924 Games were also the last time cross-county was on the Olympic program.

Paris 2024 organizers want cross-country back. So does track and field’s world governing body, the IAAF. 

Out of the game -- because, again, it seems too much to get in to the United States

Out of the game -- because, again, it seems too much to get in to the United States

The United States Olympic Committee has been all but consumed for months by the fallout from Larry Nassar’s crimes. 

Virtually every single person in the Colorado Springs leadership team is new. The focus has seemed to be primarily if not entirely on gymnastics and on other domestic matters.

Now comes a reminder that a significant part of the USOC’s work is outward-facing, too. And here it has a huge mountain to climb, complicated by factors both of its own doing and by those beyond its control — in particular to policy and perceptions attributable to the 45th president of the United States.

Indeed, huge might be an understatement. 

In the aftermath of last week’s World Youth Weightlifting Championships in Las Vegas, shadowed by visa issues that complicated entry into the United States for some and in other cases all but made entry impractical or impossible, USA Weightlifting has announced it is — at least for the near future — out of the bid game for high-level championships.

At the Olympics: no more guns

At the Olympics: no more guns

When the Olympic Games are on, Summer or Winter, it’s easy to declare that they are not just relevant but material — that is, they matter, and a lot. 

The challenge for everyone involved with the Olympic movement around the world is when the Games are not on, and that challenge is elemental: being relevant, especially to young people, and making a difference in their lives. 

When a teen activist from Swedish can inspire far-reaching school climate strikes — and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination — is it really too much to ask the International Olympic Committee as well to seek to make a difference, a really big difference, in our broken world?

Coming together in peace and unity — that is the entire point of a Games’ opening ceremony. It’s why it is the highlight of any Olympics, the world’s athletes gathering in what is both an expression of hope and a longing for peace — that maybe, just maybe, as the inadvertent soul poet Rodney King once put it, we can all get along.

The Games and the values for which the Olympics purport to be about — excellence, friendship, respect and, by extension, tolerance — are the very thing that stand in marked contrast to an abhorrent shooting spree like the one that ripped Thursday across two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The death toll now stands at 50.

Thus, this call for change:

At the Olympics, the guns have to go — that is, be gone.

What IOC should do: Salt Lake City for 2034, not 2030

What IOC should do: Salt Lake City for 2034, not 2030

In September 2016, this column was first in the world to declare that the International Olympic Committee ought to declare a historic two-fer and allocate the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games at a single stroke. 

The IOC did just that in 2017, though it reversed the order of the suggestion first made here — LA for 2024, Paris for 2028, instead awarding 2024 to Paris, 2028 to LA, the IOC’s Eurocentric sensibilities coming once more to the fore after a three-Games Asian swing (2018 South Korea, 2020 Tokyo, 2022 Beijing) even though LA is and will be all the more ready. In exchange for waiting for ’28, LA struck a killer financial deal.

Now the IOC’s so-called evaluation commission is on the ground this week in Sweden, the first of the two remaining candidates for the 2026 Winter Games — Milan is yet to come — and thus it is time for this column, taking stock of what is going on in Stockholm and beyond, and more generally in the Olympic bid process, to yet again be first-in-the-world with another so-clearly-obvious take of what-should-be:

Salt Lake City for 2034.

Not — repeat, not — 2030.

This after the IOC picks Stockholm for 2026.

And with Sapporo poised to emerge as front-runner for 2030.

Budapest rocks: its big win for the World Urban Games

Budapest rocks: its big win for the World Urban Games

Roughly 18 months ago the International Olympic Committee made a historical double allocation for the Summer Games, Paris for 2024, Los Angeles getting 2028. 

LA and Paris were the last two left in what had originally been a race only for 2024. Budapest withdrew earlier in 2017 amid local political complexities, clearing the way for the IOC’s 2024/2028 double-double, and ever since those in the know have wondered, because Budapest rocks: what if? 

On Monday, it was announced that the 2019 World Urban Games, which last fall were said to be going to Los Angeles, would instead be held in — Budapest. When? September 13-15. GAISF, the umbrella organization that represents international sports federations, said Budapest had also been offered the 2021 edition of the Urban Games, touting “both the city’s enthusiasm and its readiness and capability.”  

The project is likely to feature 3x3 basketball and BMX freestyle, both of which will be on the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games program, as well as breakdancing, the hit of the 2018 Youth Games in Buenos Aires that probably will be featured at Paris 2024, along with a full program of music, art and street-inspired culture.

Monday’s announcement resolves a drama that for months has been playing out behind the scenes. Big picture, first and foremost, it must be understood for what it is, a huge victory — another, that is — for Budapest, for Hungary and for Balázs Fürjes, state secretary for the development of Budapest and major sports events. He resolutely continued to press the case on behalf of his city and nation. Now all three — him, city, country — are big winners. OK, for emphasis, because it’s appropriate: really big winners. 

Breaking: not bad, all good for 2024

Breaking: not bad, all good for 2024

For many people, the announcement Thursday that Paris 2024 seems set to to include breakdancing as an Olympic sport was met with — say what?

No, for real. 

Let’s get real. 

If you are complaining that “breaking,” as it’s called in Olympic jargon, doesn’t belong on the Summer Games program but you swoon every Winter Games when the ice dancers do their luscious thing — come on.

Beyond that, and finally — the French finally did something right. 

Let’s give credit where it’s due: the French got this totally right. 

Playing soon in Tel Aviv: an extraordinarily normal tour stop

Playing soon in Tel Aviv: an extraordinarily normal tour stop

The prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, has declared that the two Israeli swimmers who have applied for visas for the World Paralympic Swimming Championships scheduled for the island of Borneo this summer cannot compete there: “We will not allow them to enter. If they come, then it is an offense.”

Meanwhile, the International Judo Federation next week kicks off its 2019 world tour in Tel Aviv. It’s a big meet, a Grand Prix with more than 50 nations and over 400 athletes, as well as the start to a key season aiming toward the world championships in late August in Tokyo, at the legendary Nippon Budokan, site of the first Olympic judo tournament in 1964.

The contrast could not be more obvious, nor more vivid.

The contrast comes after developments in 2018 that again saw judo, under the steady direction of the IJF president, Marius Vizer, take a lead in doing what sport should be doing: make sure the door is open, the rules are equal and nobody gets turned away simply because of who they are or what the flag on his or her uniform looks like. 

Less rhetoric. More rational, calm process. For everyone's sake

Less rhetoric. More rational, calm process. For everyone's sake

In Russian doping saga news: the 50-kilometer cross-country skier Alexander Legkov gets to keep his Sochi 2014 gold medal and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency almost certainly will not be declared non-compliant after World Anti-Doping Agency investigators finally retrieved computer data from the Moscow lab.

When the history of this Russian saga is wrapped, it really ought to be weighed against the sage counsel of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court justice, who in her 2016 autobiography wrote, “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance anyone’s ability to persuade.”

There has been so much — entirely too much — rhetoric in, around, enveloping this Russian saga, a great deal of it from people who know, or ought to know, the value of process but who have turned time and again to inflammatory bombast, pomposity and hyperbole in seeking to advance politically charged positions.

Not to mention just yelling at each other. Or someone.

As the Legkov case and the retrieval of the lab data prove, process — way more than rhetoric — matters.

Process often isn’t fun, or sexy, or thrilling, particularly in our world now, when it can seem so much more entertaining, or cavalier, or satisfying to the echo chamber to zip off a blasting tweet.

But process matters, and a lot. It matters to work through it. Heads-up: that’s what this column is about.