Olympics

Like life itself, no one owes you anything

GettyImages-176461364.jpg

Welcome to 2017. My friend of many years, Gianni Merlo, the Italian president of the international sportswriters association, keeps telling me to write shorter. In that spirit, here are 12 three-sentence nuggets (OK, some of them are long sentences):  

1. The 2016 and 2012 Olympic decathlete champion Ashton Eaton and his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the Rio heptathlon bronze medalist, announce their retirement. Great athletes, better people and congrats to them and their world-class coach and first-rate human being himself, Harry Marra. The hug Ashton and Brianne shared after she won the pentathlon at the 2016 IAAF world indoors in Portland, Oregon, is the moment of the year in the sport, if not the entire Olympic scene.

2. Nick Symmonds, the U.S. 800-meter runner, announces he’s going to retire, too, and the likes of my longtime colleague Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated assert Symmonds’ activism will be missd in a sport that “has been ruled by bureaucrats and shoe companies that have successfully suppressed athletes’ earning power and voices,” Tim adding that Nick has been “the most willing to place his career and earnings at risk.” That’s one point of view, along with Tim’s assertion that Nick, sponsored by Brooks, was “excluded” from the 2015 Beijing worlds team amid a dispute over when and where to wear Nike gear. The truth: Nick opted out because he refused to sign and it’s far from clear how far, age 31 that summer, he would have made it in the 800 rounds at the Beijing championships.

Nick Symmonds after taking silver in the men's 800 at the 2013 IAAF world championships in Moscow // Getty Images

3. Symmonds is a relentless self-promoter and provocateur who has failed significantly at the core notion some percentage of those who cover track and field for some bizarre reason seemingly keep wishing (or at least suggesting) he is something of a success at: getting other national-team athletes to go along with his act or significantly and constructively influencing corporate or federation policy. Tim writes, “There is not another Symmonds on the horizon, and that is an enormous loss.” Hmm — maybe if more people thought Nick had a point worth pursuing, there would be lots and lots more Nicks on the way, the 2004 Athens shot put champion Adam Nelson telling the New York Times, “It would have been great if he had found more ways to involve more athletes.”

4. In 2014, when he switched from Nike to Brooks, Nick wrote this in a piece that was published in Runner’s World: “In the past few years I have been very vocal about athletes’ rights, and Brooks’ support of professional runners for the health of competitive running is squarely in line with what I have been advocating.” Fascinating — tell that to Jeremy Taiwo, the U.S. decathlete. In March 2016, Brooks announced it had signed Taiwo to a deal, declaring Taiwo was part of the company’s “Inspire Daily” program, a “group of athletes and coaches around the country who lead by example and inspire the love of running every time they lace up and head out”; after the U.S. Trials in July in Eugene, the company hailed “Brooks Beast Jeremy Taiwo” for his second-place finish, behind Eaton, saying, “Brooks sponsors athletes like Taiwo to inspire runners everywhere, and supporting them on and off the run is central to that goal"; in Rio, Taiwo finished 11th; a few days ago, Brooks acknowledged it had dropped its sponsorship of Taiwo, declaring it was a “running-only company.”

5. Here is the unvarnished truth about the economics of track and field (and by extension the Olympic movement) in the United States, as popular or not as it may be: like life itself, no one is owed anything. The athletes are independent contractors, there is no union, no collective bargaining agreement, no teams, no league. Indeed, track and field is the essence of what most Americans say since kindergarten is what they believe in: self-determination, becoming what you dream you want to be, in short the ability to make money off your own talent, skill and enterprise.

6. Track and field’s world governing body, the IAAF, says the new “Nitro Athletics” meet next month in Australia, featuring “Usain Bolt’s All-Stars” and other teams, is destined to be “the innovation [track and field] needs.” For sure the presentation of track and field needs innovation. Not clear if a Team Tennis-style format is going to be it.

7. The gymnast Simone Biles is fabulous. But how did the swimmer Katie Ledecky not win every U.S. female athlete of the year award for 2016? She won the 800-meter freestyle in Rio by 11 seconds!

8. The European Olympic Committees is due to make a decision soon on whether to keep next month’s Winter European Youth Olympic Festival (that’s the name) in Erzurum, Turkey. The concern, obviously, is the security situation in Turkey, which really makes it not a difficult decision. If you were a parent — under what theory would you permit your kid to go?

9. Ban Ki Moon steps down as UN Secretary General. He and the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, are close. Is Ban the next president of scandal-wracked South Korea, and just in time for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games?

10. A U.S. intelligence assessment says Russian president Vladimir Putin sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, asserting one of the motives was payback for, among other things, allegations of widespread Russian athlete doping, the report asserting that from a Russian perspective the doping scandal and Panama Papers were seen as “U.S.-directed efforts to defame Russia.” This is the best intelligence the U.S. can produce? Maybe this is why President-elect Trump has been publicly so unimpressed: pretty much everything in that report has been public knowledge for weeks.

11. Thousands of words in that report, yet not even one about President Obama’s politically driven move to very publicly stick it to the Russians on the occasion of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, nominating to the formal U.S. delegation a number of gay athletes amid the furor over the Russian anti-gay legislation? That is a material omission. Who are the geniuses, exactly, working for these “intelligence” agencies?

12. Here’s what, if you are American, you really ought to be upset about, and it’s not Russia and Putin, because you have to assume hacking is, and has been for years, a fact of life, and it goes both ways. Getting all sanctimonious over a Russian “influence” campaign, meanwhile, willfully ignores the many times the U.S. government has sought to “influence” affairs in other nations. Here’s the dilemma: are the Russians really that much better at cyber stuff than the Americans?

Olympic scene: reform plans, fairy tales and more

GettyImages-624632420.jpg

Stuff happens. A lot isn't by itself enough to justify its own column. Here goes a collection of stuff:

— From the department of decoding news releases:

The International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, and the World Anti-Doping Agency president, Sir Craig Reedie, held a meeting Monday at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, after which the IOC issued a statement that included remarks from both men. From Bach: “There was a very positive atmosphere in our meeting today, and I am very happy that any perceived misunderstandings could be clarified. We agreed to continue to work closely together to strengthen the fight against doping under the leadership of WADA.”

WADA president Sir Craig Reedie at a meeting last month in Scotland // Getty Images

Translation: Consider this a real step forward because it looks like WADA has been asked to drive how doping reform gets delivered.

— News: IAAF enacts wide-ranging reform plan at Saturday vote in Monaco. The count: 182-10.

The IAAF reform vote may have looked like an election result from the Communist days, with 95 percent in favor, but reality is that what the vote does is give IAAF president Seb Coe time and some structure to begin what is sure to be a lengthy, arduous and contentious process of reform.

The IAAF amounts to a classic business-school case — better, a book waiting to be told — about how to rip up one structure, the president-as-unchallengeable-king model by which the federation was run for more than 30 years, and replace it with a 21st century model featuring a president, an empowered chief executive officer and more. Change is never easy, no matter the scene, and it won’t come easily to the IAAF.

— How do you know change is going to be a slog? Because of the finest part of the IAAF meeting: the moment when the delegates realized that, yes, their votes were going to be made public and they were going to be accountable for pushing the electronic vote-system button. Yikes!

Even better: Ukraine abstaining. Home of Sergei Bubka, whom Coe defeated in 2015 for the IAAF presidency. Senegal abstaining. Home of Lamine Diack, the former IAAF president, now under criminal investigation in France. Jamaica abstaining? Seriously? When anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that doping protocols in Jamaica have over the years been, at best, lackluster? If you were a Jamaican representative to some IAAF commission or another, please consider handing in a resignation letter, and pronto. Before you get, and appropriately, kicked off.

— For the history books:

Coe at one point before the vote made like Winston Churchill or something, declaring, “The greatest symbol of hope for our future is the civilized discourse we have had, its firmness of purpose and its sense of justice.”

IAAF president Seb Coe at last Friday's federation awards ceremony in Monaco // Getty Images for IAAF

— That 95 percent vote? That is in large part due to Coe’s political skills. He knows how to close a deal. He also knows how to delegate his proxies, chiefly among them the American delegate Stephanie Hightower. He, she and others were working it, and hard, at the IAAF gala Friday night before Saturday’s vote.

Looking ahead: the IAAF is now mandated to have female vice presidents: at least one by 2019, two by 2027. In this context, it is worth remembering the — use whatever descriptive you want — observation of the-then IAAF vice president Bob Hersh at a public USA Track & Field board meeting not so long ago that it was unlikely a woman could be elected an IAAF vice president. He also said, “We need a seat on the executive board and I have a better chance of getting that seat than Stephanie and by a large, large margin.” As ever, time reveals all things. At the IAAF elections in 2015, Hightower was elected to the council as the highest vote getter for one of six seats designated to be filled by women. She got 163; next best, Nawal el Moutawakel of Morocco, an IAAF council member for 20 years and IOC member since 1998, with 160.

— It’s also worth recalling all the senseless outrage that attended the USATF board decision to put forward Hightower, not Hersh. The time is now for Mr. Hersh, as well as all the complainers, and in particular those in the media who gave undue weight to those complaints, to apologize — to say to Stephanie Hightower, hey, sorry, we were dead-on wrong.

Let’s review:

"But I do know that at this meeting she was full of shit, so that’s not a good start. She completely disregarded the wishes of the people she is meant to represent. She did not lose honorably" -- Lauren Fleshman in a post on her blog about the December 2014 USATF annual meeting, referring to Hightower.

For emphasis, more from Ms. Fleshman:

https://twitter.com/laurenfleshman/status/541051730016743424

So over the weekend Ms. Fleshman was voted onto the USATF board, as an athlete advisory committee member. Congrats to her. Maybe while on the board she will find renewed purpose in collegiality and an understanding that perhaps things aren't always as black and white, and given to outrage on Twitter, as they might seem.

Then there was this, from the distance runner David Torrence, part of a lengthy message string he put out on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/David_Torrence/status/541045226408665088

This would be the same David Torrence who ran for Peru in the 5000 meters at the Rio Olympics rather than take his chances at the U.S. Olympic Trials. In Rio, Torrence finished 15th. Behind three Americans, among them silver medalist Paul Chelimo.

As this space has advocated on many occasions, the level of civility in and around USATF needs to be ratcheted way up and the volume on complaints turned way down. This episode — Hightower and Hersh — offers compelling evidence why, and on both counts, civility and volume.  It's just way better policy for everyone to talk to and with each other instead of resorting to insults or epithets. As Coe put it: "civilized discourse."

— Mr. IOC President, please institute an IAAF-style transparent vote system for the bid-city balloting, and do so in time for the 2024 Summer Games election next Sept. 13 in Lima, Peru.

Otherwise, despite your assertions that the IOC’s own reform package, Agenda 2020 (approved by the members in December 2014, also in Monaco), is indeed meaningful, reality suggests its impact is minimal, and particularly if it can't own up to the acid test. What good is purported "reform" if  the most important election in the IOC system is consistently underpinned by a culture and protocols in which everyone lies, cheerfully, to everyone else, knowing there’s zero accountability?

— The IOC president, meanwhile, is now on record as saying that without Agenda 2020 there would have been no, zero, bids for 2024. This is absurd. Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest would all still gladly be bidding.

A skeptic might say: five cities started the 2024 race and, amid Agenda 2020, only three remain.

Hamburg’s voters turned down a bid. Rome is now out, too.

Meanwhile, a Tokyo government panel has said costs for the 2020 Games may exceed $30 billion, roughly four times the bid projection, unless cuts are made. At a conference last week, the IOC declined to sign off on a $20 billion Tokyo 2020 budget, seeking a lower number.

— Both Etienne Thobois and Nick Varley were key players in Tokyo’s winning 2020 bid. Nick was the 2020 messaging guy. Etienne served on the IOC’s evaluation team for 2016 — a race in which Tokyo came up short — before switching to the bid side and being involved on behalf of the winning Tokyo 2020 project in many key elements, including the bid’s finances and budgets.

Both now serve in key roles for the Paris 2024 campaign. Varley is playing a significant role in seeking to craft a winning Paris 2024 message. Thobois is the bid’s chief executive officer.

Here is where things get awkward.

Tokyo’s bid was centered on a plan to keep most of the competition venues within five miles of the athletes’ village. Confronted with spiraling costs, the organizing committee has since done a massive re-think, and several venues may now well move outside the city.

Thobois, in a story reported a couple days ago by the Japan Times, said this:

“I think Tokyo tried to win the Games at a time when Agenda 2020 was more or less not there. So you were trying to build some kind of fairy tale.”

What?! Fairy tale?! Seriously?

He went on:

“That concept that everything was within eight kilometers was leaning into a lot of constructions, and venues that turned out not to be needed. In our case it’s very different. So the delivery model is definitely very different and I don’t think you can compare the two situations.”

Actually, yes you can. And it’s illogical not to do so. The two guys who played leading roles in selling a “fairy tale” three-plus years ago are now trying to sell — what?

“We are talking about $3 billion for the Games, infrastructure-wise,” Thobois also said about the Paris 2024 bid, according to the Japan Times, “which is very modest.” The Paris budget proposal: $3.4 billion for operations, $3.2 for infrastructure.

Who can believe those figures? If so, why?

There’s also this, from a lengthy November 2013 Q&A with both Varley and Thobois, Etienne observing about the winning 2020 vote:

“Tokyo were able to secure some really heavyweight, influential votes — to me that was the key. Once you secure those big leaders, those influential voters within the IOC, then things start going your way quite quickly. [Olympic Council of Asia president Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad] al-Sabah is obviously a very influential vote to get, but on the doping issue a guy like Lamine Diack, president of arguably the biggest federation [the IAAF], quite a senior, well-respected figure, and he was clearly supporting the Tokyo bid and that was a very strong asset. There were others like that, too.”

Uh-oh.

Again on Diack, that "senior, well-respected figure":

Diack is now the target of a French criminal investigation, and primarily because of “the doping issue.” The authorities allege that as IAAF president he ran a closely held conspiracy designed to, among other things, collect millions of dollars in illicit payments in exchange for making Russian doping cases go away.

Another thought on Paris 2024:

If you asked someone, hey, do you want to go to Paris for, say, the weekend, the answer would of course be yes. Who wouldn’t? Look, I had one of the most glorious summers of my life there, as a student in the 1980s. But in the bid context, that’s not the central question. It’s, do you want to go to Paris and turn over your life — oh, and by the way, the future of the Olympic franchise — to the French authorities for 17 days? Answer away. No fairy tales, please.

Last Friday, the LA2024 bid committee released a new budget plan. It’s $5.3 billion with no surplus and a $491.9 million contingency.

Easy math: $5.3 billion is roughly one-tenth the figure associated with the Sochi 2014 Games. It’s maybe a quarter of what may be on tap in Tokyo.

A first pass at the LA 2024 budget, prepared in the summer of 2015, called for a $161 million “surplus.” That is Olympic talk for “profit.”

Let’s be real. Even if the bid committee can't and won't say so, any Games in Los Angeles is going to make a boatload of money. The only thing that needs to be built is a canoe venue. Everything else already exists; this means infrastructure costs would be super-minimal. The 1984 Games made $232.5 million. The last Summer Games in the United States was 1996. Economics 101: there’s huge demand, especially from corporate sponsors, and the supply has been cut off for going on 20 years now.

Further, California is now the world’s sixth-largest economy, with a gross state product of $2.5 trillion in 2015 — up 4.1 percent, when adjusted for inflation, from 2014. In August, California added 63,000 new jobs — that represents a whopping 42 percent of new jobs added in the entire United States.

This new pass at the budget eliminates the $161 million surplus. It throws all of it into “contingency.”

Now some first-rate analysis from Rich Perelman. Rich’s background in Olympic stuff goes back a long way. In 1984, for instance, he ran press operations at the Los Angeles Olympics; he then served as editor of the Games’ official report. This summer, he launched a newsletter called the Sports Examiner. In Monday’s edition, he offered this take on the LA 2024 plan:

“This is incredibly smart for several reasons. First, it eliminates any plans by outside groups to spend that surplus in 2025 and beyond before it is earned. Second, a zero-surplus budget looks good to the State of California, which has guaranteed to pick up any deficit of up to $250 million at the end of the Games. Third, having no announced surplus allows a clever organizing committee leadership to leverage the need to keep expenses down and obtain maximum outside support from both the private and public sectors in the run-up to the Games.”

Flashback to the SportAccord convention in Sochi in 2015. Then then-president of the organization, the International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer, called the IOC system “expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.”

Bach’s IOC proxies, led by Diack, mounted a furious response, and Vizer resigned from the SportAccord job about six weeks later.

Vizer, as many have since said quietly, was 100 percent right. And Diack now?

The anti-doping system currently allows athletes to use otherwise-banned products with a doctor’s note and official approval. That approval is called a TUE,  a therapeutic use exemption. The Fancy Bears hack suggests TUE use has been exploited if not manipulated.

Speaking to the British website Inside the Games amid the weekend Tokyo judo Grand Slam, Vizer suggested a novel approach to athlete TUE use — if you have one, you can’t compete.

“My opinion,” he said, “is that those athletes which are using different therapies should not be accepted into official competition during the effect of these products.”

Vizer’s comment is significant for any number of reasons. Here’s the most important collection: he’s almost always right, he isn’t afraid to speak out and, unlike many who just complain, he is consistently in search of and willing to suggest solutions.

News item: American and other athletes weigh boycott of 2017 world bobsled and skeleton championships set for Sochi.

Responses:

1. William Scherr, a key player in Chicago’s 2016 bid, said this the other day on Facebook, speaking generally about the Olympics, and it’s spot-on:

“The Olympics are the only time where the world gathers together, puts aside differences and celebrates those things that make us similar. We learn about people and cultures that we otherwise would never know, and we learn that despite being separated by distance, ethnicity and beliefs that we run, fight, swim and jump the same way.”

A boycott is just dumb. History has shown that the only people a boycott hurts are athletes. Those athletes weighing their 2017 worlds options might want to consider history.

2. No matter the context, neither sanctimonious righteousness nor rush to judgment rarely make for a winning play. If the Americans, for instance, think that doping is only going on in Russia — that’s funny. If the Americans, for instance, think that there is no link in many minds elsewhere between, on the one hand, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones and many more and, on the other, U.S. sports success — that’s funny. That we in the United States might go, wait, the allegation is that in Russia it was state-supported — that’s a distinction that in a lot of places many would find curious. The fact is, we don’t have a state ministry of sport in the United States. So of course world-class cheating would be undertaken in the spirit of private enterprise.

3. The allegations involving the Russian system are extremely serious, and the report due out Friday from Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, with yet more accusation, is likely to be even more inflammatory. But accusation without a formal testing of the evidence is just that — accusation. All the Americans claiming the moral high ground right now — if you were accused of something, wouldn’t you want the matter to be tested in a formal setting, meaning in particular by cross-examination? Let’s just see, for instance, what comes out — whether Friday, before or after — about the credibility of Grigoriy Rodchenkov, the former Russian lab director now living in the United States.

Thoughts at tax time of $26 million budgets

GettyImages-514195076.jpg

The mind wanders as our friends at the U.S. tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service, prepare to say thanks ever so much for the notion of taxes being the mark of civilization, or something. In that spirit, here are 10 things to think about: 1. You want to get serious, really serious, in the anti-doping campaign? Let’s see governments step up their financial support of the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA's annual budget is roughly $26 million. For comparison, that’s annual revenue of the sort the university athletic departments at Texas-San Antonio or New Hampshire work with, according to a USA Today survey. Let’s see what might happen were WADA to run with money along the lines of annual athletic department revenues at Oregon ($196 million), Texas ($161 million) or Michigan ($157 million), the top three in that survey. And here’s a telling stat: Ohio State’s athletic department received more in donations than WADA’s entire budget — $28.2 million of its $145.2 million annual revenue.

Maria Sharapova bidding to control the narrative at a March 7 news conference in LA, announcing her positive test for meldonium // photo Getty Images

2. Who believes the tennis star Maria Sharapova? Really? With now more than 100 positive tests for meldonium in all kinds of sports?

3. You hear over and again that the role of anti-doping agencies is to protect the rights of clean athletes. If that’s true: how do you bar the entire Russian track and field team from Rio when, presumably, some on that team are clean?

4. They open the Main Press Center in Rio. But — is this a sign of how these Games are going to go  — the press isn’t allowed in to cover the opening?

Kobe Bryant at the 2008 Beijing Olympics // photo Getty Images

5. Outside the 1992 Dream Team, is Kobe Bryant — whose last game as a Los Angeles Laker is Wednesday — the most important figure in USA Basketball’s Olympic history? Or is it Doug Collins, with those clutch free throws at the 1972 Games? Or — who?

6. With apologies to the creators, who purportedly have “poured their hearts and souls into their designs,” all four would-be Tokyo 2020 emblems are legitimately terrible. One looks like the conflation of hallucinogenic mushrooms and someone’s brain (“D,” “flowering of emotions”). One of the Paralympic logos evokes — unfortunately — nothing so much as Donald Trump’s hair (“B,” “connecting circle, expanding harmony”). Please, can the soulful designers keep at it?

https://twitter.com/Tokyo2020/status/719824639204012032

7. It is now a year since SportAccord imploded. Isn’t it time to acknowledge the obvious — that Marius Vizer was right? Disagree all you want — if you want — with the way he said what he said. But who quarrels with the substance?

8. The Australian swim Trials just went down. Look out, Rio: 21-year-old Cameron McEvoy went 47.04 to win the men’s 100, the fastest time ever in a textile suit. That is just 13-hundredths outside Brazilian Cesar Cielo’s world record of 46.91, set at the plastic suit-dominated 2009 world championships in Rome. Check out a video of the race:

9. Alysia Montaño, the U.S. 800-meter runner, went off at the recent U.S. Olympic Committee media summit, saying, “Once a doper, always a doper.” Then, when asked by the veteran Chicago-based sports writer Philip Hersh if Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay — both of whom have served time for doping — should be allowed to compete in Rio, she said, "No.”

Alysia Montaño surrounded by reporters at the USOC media summit // photo Getty Images

LaShawn Merritt posing for a portrait at the same USOC summit // photo Getty Images

Besides the sweet team spirit that ought to engender, there’s this: what about the notion of redemption? Further, doping matters tend to be complex; they do not necessarily lend themselves to a binary, all-black or all-white, sort of resolution. At issue, typically, are different — 50? — shades of grey. If it’s one thing for Athlete X or Y to do time for, say, illicit steroid use, what about the case of LaShawn Merritt, the U.S. 400-meter champion, who was busted for ExtenZe, a different sort of performance enhancer? He bought ExtenZe at a neighborhood 7-Eleven. “I spent $6 and it cost me millions of dollars,” amid a 21-month suspension, Merritt once said. Putting aside the legal formalities and the practical realities — these include double jeopardy concerns and human rights considerations noted by tribunals in rejecting the idea of most lifetime bans — there are moral and ethical matters, too: on what grounds should Merritt be out forever? Answer: none.

10. The underlying big-picture purpose of the Olympic movement is to move the world, little by little, day by day, toward peace. What does it say about the terrible, awful disconnect in our broken world when a teen-age suicide bomber blows himself up at a boys’ soccer game in Iraq? What, if anything, is sport to do when sport itself becomes the target? The death toll: 43, 29 of them boys who had been playing in the game or watching their friends. “It was a children’s soccer game. Of course he knew he was going to kill children,” said a local sheikh. Please read this harrowing account from the Washington Post. Then ask: how do we — all of us with a conscience — stop our children from killing and being killed?

Kobe, Tiger, Lindsey, Rita, First Amendment and more

461761520.jpg

A quick quiz. How are Kobe Bryant and I alike? For starters, let’s count the ways in which we’re not: he makes $25 million a year, has a cool nickname — Black Mamba — along with a way better jump shot and can dunk. The world has to be different for people who can dunk. I wouldn’t know. That two-handed dunk Wednesday night, in the second quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers’ loss (another loss) to the New Orleans Pelicans, apparently proved too much. Like me -- aha! -- he has a bad right shoulder. Him: torn rotator cuff. Me: torn labrum. Me: surgery last Thursday (thank you, Dr. Keith Feder). Kobe: got examined Friday, and now will be examined again Monday, probably out for the season if he, too, needs surgery.

Kobe, I feel your pain.

I can also recommend many excellent prescription drugs.

So many interesting things have been going on while I have been lying low. Tiger Woods flies to Italy, where he appears with a skeleton-patterned scarf and then a gap tooth. The Kenyan marathoner Rita Jeptoo shows up in Boston 2024 bid committee documents. Then there’s a crazy First Amendment issue in those same Boston documents.

And I’m the one who was on prescription meds?

Tiger Woods in the ski mask, all incognito-like in a skeleton-patterned ski mask, in the finish area at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy // photo Getty Images

Let’s start with Woods and significant other Lindsey Vonn. He flew to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, to “surprise” her on the occasion of her winning her 63rd World Cup victory, most-ever by a female alpine skier.

To be clear: Lindsey Vonn is an amazing athlete. She deserves rounds of applause for this accomplishment, especially coming back from two knee injuries that kept her out of last year’s Sochi Olympics.

Vonn had recorded career win 62, tying Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Pröll, in Sunday’s downhill at Cortina. Victory 63 came in Monday’s super-G.

Cortina has always been one of Vonn’s favorite spots, along with Lake Louise, Canada. Nothing — repeat, nothing — is a given in alpine skiing. But it was hardly a surprise that she would win there.

Vonn’s family, in anticipation, had come to Cortina to share in her success.

It would have been kind of weird if Woods hadn’t been there, too, wouldn’t it?

Here's the thing: Woods doesn’t go anywhere without a security presence.

So he shows up. "Surprise"! But only on Monday, and trying to be all incognito-like, but then with the look-at-me skeleton scarf.

Strange, strange, strange.

Then, somehow the scarf drops, and there’s an Associated Press photo of him with the gap tooth.

“No way!” Vonn exclaimed when she saw him, according to press accounts. She also said, “I knew it was him immediately. He loves that stupid mask.”

Immediately, the gap tooth took virtually all the attention away from Vonn, and her accomplishment. The spotlight shifted to Woods.

His agent issued a statement that, in its entirety, read like this:

“During a crush of photographers at the awards’ podium at the World Cup event in Italy, a media member with a shoulder-mounted video camera pushed and surged towards the stage, turned and hit Tiger Woods in the mouth. Woods’s tooth was knocked out by the incident.”

Seriously?

We are to believe that Tiger Woods showed up at an event jam-packed with cameras and videographers and no one — not one single lens — captured this riveting action? It hasn’t yet shown up on TMZ? For real?

What is this, Cortina by Zapruder? A gap in the teeth but are there holes in the story? What?

As the expert alpine ski writer Brian Pinelli wrote in USA Today, quoting race secretary general Nicola Colli, “If you look at the pictures, there was no blood, nothing of pain in his face. He was calm, he was quiet.”

As for the statement itself from Woods’ agent — that’s it? You go to the effort of issuing a statement to the hungry press but there are no words of congratulations from Woods to Vonn? Just: some cameraman knocked out my tooth?

Further, and more to the point: it might be understandable why Woods — or Woods’ people — would want to villainize the media.

But Lindsey Vonn? What’s in that sort of play for her? Or U.S. Skiing?

She is the one cross-over star in winter sports. She is the one who, after all, got hurt and seized the opportunity to make a documentary out of it, which is showing Sunday on NBC. Football players get knee injuries all the time. Do they make documentaries out of their rehab? Of course not. Lindsey Vonn? Why not?

So what’s really going on here?

Very strange.

As was the decision by Boston 2024 organizers to include the photo of the marathoner Jeptoo in their bid presentation, the one that purportedly wowed the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors.

Timeline: that presentation was made in December. Jeptoo, winner of the 2013 and 2014 Boston Marathons, among other major races, had tested positive in November for the banned blood-booster EPO.

Hard to understand how the USOC board could have been so wowed when her picture came up. Was anyone seriously paying attention?

Why didn’t Boston 2024 just go with Meb Keflezighi on that very same page, for goodness’ sake? After all, he’s an American, the 2014 Boston Marathon winner as well and the 2004 Athens marathon silver medalist.

Very strange.

The Boston 2024 documents, moreover, repeatedly observe that the city itself will be “Olympic Park” — for instance, “at the heart of the city, at its reinvented waterfront and in its cherished parks.”

It is understood that these documents are a “plan” and not a finished product. Even so, there is a real reason that in recent editions the International Olympic Committee has opted for real Olympic Parks.

The IOC has said time and again that security is priority No. 1. Olympic Parks are more easily, in a word, secure-able.

Think back to the last Summer Olympics in the United States, which featured tremendous open space in a major American city. Within the IOC, Atlanta 1996 is remembered mostly for its transport and technology woes, and for the bomb that went off in Centennial Park.

The less said here about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings the better. Just this: at this very preliminary stage, has anyone stopped seriously to think about the security implications of making the city of Boston “Olympic Park”?

Switching gears:

The provision that caused such controversy mid-week, when it was discovered that the USOC had included in its contract with Boston a non-disparagement provision — that is, city workers would not criticize the Games during the bid process -- this is very serious stuff.

Think back a year ago, before the Sochi 2014 Games, when much of the West was up in arms about a Russian law targeting “propaganda” aimed at gays.

Now the USOC writes into its deal with its chosen bid city a clause that would appear to fairly directly contravene not only the letter but the spirit of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights? The fundamental thing that makes the United States different from so many places around the world?

This is not, despite anyone’s best efforts to explain it away as “boilerplate,” anything of the sort. This is a deliberate attempt to chill speech. It is not, in any way, acceptable.

Granted, the parallels are hardly precise -- but if you were Mr. Putin, wouldn't you find some ironic comedy in this episode, in the effort by the U.S. Olympic Committee, of all parties, to restrict free speech? Wouldn't that seem to him a little bit like a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

The Boston Globe was absolutely right in an editorial to insist that Mayor Marty Walsh and the bid committee drop that ban. The mayor has since seemingly been backtracking.

While that gets sorted out, mark your calendars: IOC president Thomas Bach is due to attend the Super Bowl next weekend in Arizona.

It will be fascinating to see whether he meets with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft — assuming, of course, the NFL doesn’t do what it should do, which is disqualify the Patriots for deflategate. If this were the Olympics, there's a very good argument to be made that the Patriots should be out and the Indianapolis Colts in. The evidence would seem manifest that the Patriots cheated.

At any rate, it was always understood that while the USOC was always in 2024 for one thing only, and that was to win, at the same time any American bid for 2024 was going to travel a long road. In that spirit, Bach met Wednesday — at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — with the head of the Italian Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, and the Italian premier, Matteo Renzi, to discuss Rome’s bid for the 2024 Games.

Renzi: “We can say that after this meeting the bid for the 2024 Olympic Games can continue with more enthusiasm.”

Very interesting.

For the record, and with enthusiasm: Kobe has more gold medals than I do. He also speaks way better Italian.