Bruce Springsteen

Time for this 9-second reminder: Justin Gatlin is real, and genuine

Time for this 9-second reminder: Justin Gatlin is real, and genuine

SACRAMENTO, California — Five years ago, on the last night of July, Bruce Springsteen played an epic show in Helsinki, more than four hours, his longest show ever.

He and the E Street Band played 33 songs, one of which, My City of Ruins, ran to 18 minutes and 26 seconds. That song, as Bruce describes it that night, was originally written about his New Jersey hometown “trying to get back on its feet” but had since become about so much more: “what you lose, what you hold onto, the spirits that remain forever and the things you have to let go.”

Land of hope and dreams -- believe it


At his show Sunday in Perth, Australia, with the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen sought to honor the Women’s Marches Saturday back home in the States. Here are his remarks, in their entirety:

“The E Street Band is glad to be here in Western Australia. But we're a long way from home, and our hearts and spirits are with the hundreds of thousands of women and men that marched yesterday in every city in America and in Melbourne who rallied against hate and division and in support of tolerance, inclusion, reproductive rights, civil rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, the environment, wage equality, gender equality, healthcare and immigrant rights. We stand with you. We are the new American resistance.”

It's the last bit in particular that hits the wrong note. 

Look, I have been a huge Springsteen fan for more than 40 years. I have happily been to more than three dozen of his shows, in North America and in Europe. I listen, maybe obsessively, to E Street channel on Sirius XM satellite radio.

It’s easy to understand that Springsteen is giving voice to the fear and anger many, many like-minded people feel right now, as Donald Trump takes over the U.S. presidency. No retreat, baby, no surrender. Sure. 

Moreover, President Obama recently awarded Springsteen the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and it turns out, according to the Springsteen website Backstreets, Bruce without publicity played a January 12 acoustic show at the White House for more than 200 White House staffers in the East Room, a thank-you for their service.

Springsteen also has been remarkably outspoken about Mr. Trump over the past few months, in a September interview with Rolling Stone calling Mr. Trump a “moron” and declaring the United States in “crisis,” which is hardly the case. You want crisis? Check out the west African republic of The Gambia. Washington just executed yet another peaceful transition of power.

You want hate and division? Pretty confident that nickel in your pocket features Thomas Jefferson, the third president. He’s one of the greats, right? Up on Mount Rushmore. In the Declaration of Independence, he wrote “all men are created equal.” He kept slaves, believed blacks were “racially inferior” and is now assumed to have had several children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.

Of course it can be problematic to judge behavior in the 18th and 19th centuries by 21st-century standards. Even so, there can be no debate that slavery is and was flat-out wrong and having sex with a slave is just — all the more horrifying.

Deep breath, everyone, before we go off about anything and everything with Mr. Trump.

Campaign rhetoric is rhetoric. Hillary Clinton appeared at the inauguration. If she can show that measure of class and respect, maybe we can all take a lesson and, as well, a deep breath.

As Mr. Obama said in his final news conference as president: “… At my core, I think we’re going to be OK.”

Springsteen, if you really want to get to it, is trying to have it both ways. In that September Rolling Stone piece, he said, "I think you have a limited amount of impact as an entertainer, performer or musician,” adding, “… I haven’t really lost faith in what I consider to be the small amount of impact that somebody in rock music might be able to have. I don’t think people go to musicians for their political points of view.” Yet Sunday in Perth it was, “We are the new American resistance.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not the 1930s or 1940s. People are not being rounded up and being sent to internment or concentration camps. Perth is not Vichy France. Neither is Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Nowhere in the United States is. We don’t need a “new American resistance.”

We need — see the example of Hillary Clinton, as hurtful as it must have been for her — to look for common ground.

We need to recognize, as Bruce Springsteen makes plain in so many of his songs, that we are all in this together.

Bad Scooter is all alone, you know, until the change is made uptown and the Big Man joins the band. Only then do they bust the city in half.  


One of the perils of the moment: there is way too much disagreement in far too many forums that is laced with entirely too much vitriol and rancor. We need way more disagreement with respect. This column is intended to mark disagreement but in every regard with respect. We are all in this together.

What does any or all of this have to do with the Olympics or international sport? What are these words doing in this space?

There are, in our fragile world, three universal languages: music, sport and math.

Math, especially higher math, is elegant, according to those who understand it.

Maybe in another lifetime.

So it’s music and sport.

There’s a great argument to be made, amid the populist movements in our world that have produced Brexit and the election of Mr. Trump, that — now more than ever — the world needs the message of the Olympics.

If you’re so inclined, it needs the Games more than ever as soon as possible in the United States, perhaps both as rejoinder and affirmation.

The International Olympic Committee, a few years back, used a great tagline that sums it all up: celebrate humanity.

Indeed, that’s what the Games — with all their flaws, like each of us — are about, and that’s why the opening and closing ceremony of an Olympics always sounds with music.

That music speaks to who we are at a particular moment:

The Russian Police Choir performing a rousing version at the opening ceremony in 2014 in Sochi of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” The Australian band Midnight Oil rocking out “Beds Are Burning” at the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Games. Lionel Richie in that awesome sequined jacket-and-shirt combo at the closing ceremony of the 1984 Los Angeles Games, doing “All Night Long.”

The basic principle that the Olympic movement celebrates is simultaneously simple and yet incredibly profound.

It’s the very thing that Springsteen probably learned in high school in New Jersey in the ‘60s and for sure I learned at Northmont High School in rural Ohio, near Dayton, in the ‘70s: each and every person deserves to be treated with dignity, respect, civility, decency and tolerance and, as much as possible, every interaction with everyone you meet should be marked by humility and humanity.

And good manners.

Really, this is not that difficult.

If we all did this, instead of assuming the worst about each other or worrying that the sky is going to fall or that campaign rhetoric inevitably translates into destructive action, maybe we could do a lot better at talking with instead of at each other.

Like Bruce Springsteen says in many of his songs.

From 2007, and “Long Walk Home”:

“Here everybody has a neighbor

Everybody has a friend

Everybody has a reason to begin again

“My father said, ‘Son, we’re lucky in this town,

It’s a beautiful place to be born.

It just wraps its arms around you

Nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone

“Your flag flyin’ over the courthouse

Means certain things are set in stone

Who we are and what we’ll do and what we won’t.”

One of Springsteen’s criticisms of Mr. Trump, as Springsteen also told Rolling Stone in September, is that “Trump’s thing is simple answers to very complex problems.”

Yet sometimes deriving simplicity from complexity is indeed just the thing. Maybe the one math lesson that sticks with everyone from high school: e = mc2.

The Springsteen catalogue runs to more than 300 songs. Arguably, the essence of it all springs from just two:

In “Born to Run,” from 1975, Springsteen asks the question that’s central to all of our lives: “I want to know if love is wild, babe I want to know if love is real.” Then: “Oh, can you show me.”

With love, we can all make our way. Together. Through fields where sunlight streams, as Springsteen sings in “Land of Hope and Dreams,” a song that dates to 1999 and was re-worked in 2012.

In this song, everyone is welcome to get on the train: saints, sinners, losers, winners, whores, gamblers, lost souls, the broken-hearted, thieves, sweet souls departed, fools and kings alike. Everyone. Just get on board. You don’t need no ticket.

On this train, dreams will not be thwarted. Faith will be rewarded. And, people, bells of freedom. they will ring.

More of that, please.

From and on behalf of each and every one of us.

Kenya super, US again kryptonite in steeple


BEIJING — Amid keen anticipation that this would finally be the year an American man would medal in the steeplechase at the world championships, Evan Jager headed into the bell lap in the lead.

And then came a fleet of Kenyans. Jager could not keep up. The Kenyans went 1-2-3-4, the master Ezekiel Kemboi winning in 8:11.28.

You’d say it was incredible but, for about 30 years, this is what the Kenyans have been doing in the steeplechase.

The master. Ezekiel Kemboi, leads the Kenyan continent to the line // Getty Images

The Americans could take some consolation in a 5-6 finish — Daniel Huling passing a weary Jager down the homestretch for fifth.

Or you might say that the steeplechase is, for some inexplicable reason, the American track and field version of kryptonite, for generations now warding off any and all big-meet success.

Or it’s like the summer sport version of biathlon. Lots and lots of smart people, hard work, real promise — and then, regrettably, nothing.

To quote Bruce Springsteen, how can a poor man stand such times and live?

“Our plan was to go for gold, silver and bronze,” the second-place finisher, Conselsus Kipruto, said afterward. “I am happy that I was able to assist my team. I sacrificed myself for the team. We have a lot of experience but we are still young. Now we want to prepare well for the Olympic Games next year.”

Brimin Kipruto, in third, said, “We could not hope for a better result. I am so proud of my country and my team.”

In other action Monday, the U.S. woman recorded a best-ever finish in the 10k, 3-4-6, Emily Infeld going by Molly Huddle at the line for third; Shalane Flanagan took sixth. Infeld’s third matched the best American worlds finish in the event, Kara Goucher’s Osaka 2007 bronze.

Goucher may be in line for an upgrade to silver for that 2007 race. The second-place finisher, Turkey’s Elvan Abeylegesse, has been linked in recent weeks to doping reports.

Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot took gold Monday night, in 31:41.31, Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka silver, 46-hundredths back. Huddle appeared to celebrate too early, raising her arms as she approached the line, Infeld kept going. Infeld: 31:43.49, Huddle nine-hundredths behind.

What the Seiko camera saw at the end of the women's 10k // photo courtesy Seiko

Colombia’s Caterine Ibarguen affirmed her standing as the world’s best female triple jumper, winning in 14.09 meters, or 46 feet, 2-3/4 inches.

The men’s pole vault saw a shocker: 21-year-old Canada’s Shawn Barber, the 2015 Pan-Am Games champion who attends the University of Akron, winning with a jump of 5.90 meters, or 19 4-1/4. Germany’s Raphael Holzdeppe, the Moscow 2013 champion, took second, at the same height. Renaud Lavillenie of France, who has for the past several years dominated the event, finished in a three-way tie for third, at 5.80, or 19 0-1/4.

And, finally, in the women’s 100, the stellar Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, twice an Olympic champion, the reigning world champion at 60 meters, 100, 200 and in the 4x100 relay, did it again. She overpowered a strong field to win in 10.76, green hair flowing behind her, right arm up in triumph as she crossed the line.

The former heptathlon standout Dafne Schippers of Holland took second, in a national-record 10.81. American Tori Bowie got third, in 10.86.

Fraser-Pryce in the 100 at major championships: 2008, 1. 2009, 1. 2011, 4. 2012, 1. 2013, 1. 2015, 1.

"My message always is: no matter where you are from, no matter which past you have, it is all about your future and your goals," Fraser-Pryce said afterward.

A few moments later, she said, "When I ran the heats, I remembered when back in 2008 at the Olympic Games, I was 21 years old -- I expected nothing then. And I came out here tonight -- with a gold medal. Every championship is different. I am really excited."

Two notes of intrigue from the field in that women’s 100: the Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown, with seven medals across four Olympics, including three golds, finished fourth, in 10.91. And Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, who excels in both the sprints and the long jump, ended up last, in 11.02.

In the American camp, meanwhile, there had been such considerable hope before the men’s steeplechase that Monday, finally, be the night.

Some history:

With the exception of two wins — Paris 2003, Helsinki 2005 — by Saif Saaeed Shaheen representing Qatar, a Kenyan runner has won every worlds steeplechase since Tokyo 1991.

For those not up to speed on the details of the sport, Shaheen was born in — Keiyo District, Kenya. As Stephen Cherono, he ran for Kenya until 2002; he still holds the world record, 7:53.63, set in September 2004 in Brussels.

Every year, worlds or Olympics, the Kenyans seemingly just re-load.

Jairus Birech came into Monday night’s final as the world No. 1, winner of the final six Diamond League steeples in 2014 and three more this year. He has a 7:58.83 to his name.

Consensus Kipruto, the Moscow 2013 silver medalist, had been the only guy to have beaten Birech this summer — in London on July 25. He’s only 20 years old.

Brimin Kipruto is the 2008 Olympic champion (he fell on the sixth lap in London in 2012). Four years ago, at the Monaco Diamond League meet, he missed the world record by one-hundredth of a second. This year, he had run 8:10.09, No. 5 in the world.

And then there is Kemboi.

Kemboi is now 33. He used to be Shaheen’s apprentice.

But for nearly a decade he has been the master of the steeplechase.

Kemboi finished second at the worlds, behind Shaneen, at Helsinki and Paris and then again, behind another Kenyan, Brimin Kipruto, at the Osaka 2007 worlds.

He won at the 2004 Athens Olympics (8:05.81, a Kenyan sweep, Kemboi, Brimin Kipruto, Paul Kipsiele Koech).

Kemboi finished seventh in 2008 here at the Bird’s Nest, his worst international performance.

At major meets since, Kemboi has since been virtually unchallenged — winning the last three world championships, in Berlin 2009 (8:00.43), Daegu 2011 (8:14.85) and Moscow 2013 (8:06.01).

He also won at the London 2012 Summer Games (8:18.56).

Kemboi is not just a winner. He is what you might gently call a character.

After he won in Moscow, for instance, amid a dance-filled victory lap, he showed off his Mohawk haircut and a message on his T-shirt that said his victory was dedicated to the Kenyan president and deputy, “my heroes/my kings/I love Kenya.”

Kemboi in winning form in Moscow two years ago // Getty Images

In Daegu, he partially shaved his hair. After he won, he threw his singlet into the stands and took his victory lap with the Kenyan flag tied, sweatshirt-style, around his waist.

In 2002, after winning his first major medal, a silver at the Commonwealth Games, Kemboi was so moved that he named his son (he is now the father of two boys) after the venue: Manchester.

And so on.

As a retort of sorts, Jager has a blonde man-bun.

The Kenyan domination over the years in the steeplechase has been matched, if you will, by American futility.

The American medal record in the steeplechase at the Olympics — in all, five:

Silver, 1920 (Patrick Flynn); bronze, 1932 (Joe McCluskey, and a historical note, in 1932 the race was 3460 meters long, not 3000); gold, 1952 (Horace Ashenfelter, who worked for the FBI and beat the Soviet Vladimir Kazantsev for the win, the only U.S. gold in the event); bronze, 1968 (George Young, behind two Kenyans); and bronze, 1984 (Brian Diemer, the winner, Julius Korir, of course Kenyan).

The American medal record at the world championships: zero.

Again, dating to the first world championships in Helsinki in 1983: zero.

Diemer took fourth at the edition in Rome in 1987.

Overall, before Monday night, Kenya at the worlds: 25 of 42 medals. United States: only seven guys to finish, ever, in the top eight.

As recently as four years ago, the United States did not qualify a single guy for the steeplechase final at Daegu.

Three guys then emerged:

Donn Cabral, the 2011 NCAA champ from Princeton; the next year, he dropped 12 seconds off his personal-best.

Dan Huling, 10 seconds off the final time qualifier in Daegu, endured a dismal two years — he didn’t break 8:20 from 2011 to 2013 — but came back strong this year. His last two races: 8:14 and 8:15.

Two years ago in Moscow, meanwhile, Jager took fifth.

In Paris earlier this summer, Jager set an American record, 8:00.45; he looked set to break eight minutes, saying afterward he thought he was on 7:56 pace, but while ahead fell over the last barrier.

The race is designed to be a physical and mental test. There are 28 hurdles, four each lap, and seven water jumps, one per lap. For those super-interested in the IAAF technical manual, the water depth at the barrier must — repeat, must — be 50 to 70 centimeters, 19.7 to 27.6 inches.

Why is the race called the “steeplechase”? Because, as the story goes, it was first run from the church steeple in one village to the church steeple in the next village.

Saturday’s heats underscored the different ways the race can play out — fast, slow, tactical or not.

— One, Conselsus Kipruto won in 8:41.41. Jager, fifth off the final turn, had to turn on the burners to finish second, one-tenth back. The European champion, France’s Yoann Kowal, took fourth — out of the finals.

If Jager had run just 15-hundredths of a second slower, he would have been out — watching the final on TV or somewhere.

— Two, a much-faster heat. The leaders reached two kilometers in 5:43.18, more than 20 seconds faster than heat one. Birech won, in 8:25.77, followed by Bilal Tabti of Algeria and Cabral.

— Three, Kemboi sat back and waited until the last 200 meters, then kicked to victory in 8:24.75, followed by Brahim Taleb of Morocco and Brimin Kipruto.

The strategy going into the final looked straightforward: four Kenyans against the one American, Jager.

They went through the first 1k in 2:49, Cabral second, Jager fourth, Conselsus Kipruto in front.

At 2k, it was Conselsus Kiputo at 5:36.77, Cabral 12th, Jager cruising along in the pack at 10th.

At the bell lap, it was 7:14.07, and Jager in front.

And then the Kenyans took off, as if lit by rocket fuel, and Jager faded.

Kemboi’s last lap made for what would have been an incredible stand-alone 400 hurdles. He sprinted to the finish in 8:11.28.

Consensus Kipruto took second, a tenth of a second back.

Sixteen-hundredths behind that, Brimin Kipruto.

Fourth: Birech, eight-hundredths out of the medals.

Jager could not keep up the pace. He slipped to sixth, 8:15.47.

Huling passed him down the homestretch. He grabbed fifth, in 8:14.39.

Afterward, Kemboi again wrapped the Kenyan flag around his waist and danced. Ever-so-briefly. And he kept his shirt on.

Kemboi, left, after winning again in Beijing // Getty Images

Kemboi now in major meets: 2003, 2. 2004, 1. 2005, 2. 2007, 2. 2008, 7. 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015: 1.

Huling would say later that his race aim was “sixth or seventh,” a medal “probably outside my talent level, my fitness level, obviously.

“So I wanted to run for sixth to seventh and if I did that and it gave me the opportunity to pick off someone, unfortunately, like Evan. I’m really gutted for him, I really wanted for him to get a medal. He probably spent a lot more energy to try and get a medal today. He probably had a better race than me.”

Jager, referring to the Kenyans, said, “Those guys are so freaking tough over the last lap, running extremely fast over barriers. It’s something that I haven’t figured out yet; I’m working on my entire career how to handle that. It’s definitely different than having a fast last lap in the flat race. It’s just a different element to it. There’s a reason why the Kenyans have won every single steeple world championships they’ve competed in the last 12-13 years. So it’s really tough. I have to figure out something for myself.”

He also said, "I’ll go back to the drawing board.”

Kemboi, meanwhile, got to bask in victory, as ever: “I am so happy about my fourth consecutive world title. It was a strong race. We maintained the pace but I never went in front — only [over] the last 400 meters.”

He also said about that killer kick, “On the last lap nobody could follow me. I will be celebrating tonight with my teammates.”

LA 2024's new bid team, many rivers to cross


EUGENE, Oregon -- When the four American cities still in the would-be race for the 2024 Summer Olympics head to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a U.S. Olympic Committee workshop later this week, the Los Angeles bid will have a new face. Casey Wasserman, 40, one of Southern California’s leading businessmen, has over the past few weeks quietly — in keeping with his style — assumed leadership of the bid.

Wasserman’s arrival onto the public Olympic stage, in tandem with 43-year-old Mayor Eric Garcetti, is a strong signal on many levels, the emergence of a new generation of Los Angeles leadership that for 2024 could bring new energy and new thinking, one that can obviously pay homage to the power of the 1984 Games but would no longer be beholden to them.

The mayor, who is fluent in Spanish, keeps a 1984 torch in his downtown office.

Casey Wasserman // photo courtesy Wasserman Media Group

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti // photo courtesy office of the mayor

At the same time, this must be emphasized: strong signals guarantee no one and no city anything.

San Francisco, Boston and Washington already had strong business leaders aligned with their bids, San Francisco with Giants president and chief executive officer Larry Baer, Boston with construction magnate John Fish, Washington with financier and philanthropist Russ Ramsey.

Moreover, it’s far from clear the USOC is even going to launch an American bid.

USOC chairman Larry Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun have said many times they are on a holding pattern through 2014, waiting until the International Olympic Committee and president Thomas Bach complete their review and potentially far-reaching reform process, dubbed "Olympic Agenda 2020."

An all-members IOC assembly has been called for Monaco in early December. The USOC is due to make a 2024 go-or-no-go decision in early 2015. The IOC will pick a 2024 city in 2017.

The list of potential international contenders is fluid, indeed. Paris, Berlin, Doha and others routinely surface on most rumor lists.

Making matters more complicated for Los Angeles, everyone tied to the USOC process is well aware that LA played host to the 1932 and 1984 Summer Games and, moreover, that Anita DeFrantz is the senior IOC member to the United States, with offices at the LA 84 Foundation, just west of the University of Southern California, and that Jim Easton, another IOC member, has a place near UCLA. Their IOC membership makes them USOC board members as well.

Thus, the USOC has gone out of its way — as board minutes make explicitly clear — to kick DeFrantz and Easton out of the room whenever 2024 discussions come up.

Los Angeles sought the 2016 Games, losing out to Chicago, which of course ended up coming up way short in October, 2009, to Rio de Janeiro.

The USOC stayed out of the 2020 contest, which went last September to Tokyo, Probst and Blackmun intent on building relationships rather than running through another expensive bid cycle.

Recent LA Olympic strategies have been overseen by Barry Sanders, now a retired lawyer who since 2002 has been chairman of what is called the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games.

In Los Angeles, the figurative passing of the torch, if you will, could hardly seem more symbolic: Wasserman is off Thursday to Colorado even as final preparations are being made for a party next Monday, at the stately LA 84 Foundation grounds, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1984 Games. Peter Ueberroth, who ran those LA Games and then served as USOC chairman from 2004 to 2008, which included the 2005 campaign that saw New York bid, losing to London for the 2012 Games, is expected at the party.

Ueberroth, since stepping down from the USOC post, has discretely stayed out of the Olympic spotlight.

Meanwhile, in the fabric of civic life in Los Angeles, there is always a connection to be found to the Olympics and to 1984.

For Wasserman, the connections are many and layered. He has been powerfully tied his entire life to the city, business, the media, sports and the Olympic scene. Everyone in Los Angeles who mattered, it seemed, knew Casey’s grandfather, Lew, of MCA fame; one of Lew’s closest friends was Paul Ziffren, one of the big-time lawyers in town who helped bring the 1984 Games to LA; Casey is married to Paul’s granddaughter.

Casey Wasserman is chairman and chief executive of Wasserman Media Group, the company he founded 12 years ago. Its now-global practice ranges across fields as diverse as athlete management, corporate consulting, sponsorships, media rights and corporate consulting.

As just one example of the company’s got-done list: in 2011, it brokered naming rights to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, site of the 2014 Super Bowl, in a 25-year arrangement for a reported $400 million, among the biggest stadium-rights deals in U.S. sports.

Wasserman is also president and CEO of an active private family charitable trust, the Wasserman Foundation; among other boards, he is also a trustee of the William J. Clinton Foundation.

In the Olympic sphere, relationships matter, and Wasserman’s Rolodex — to use a term that might have been more celebrated in 1984 — is formidable.

With disclosure of what was afoot in Los Angeles circulating this week among the in-the-know here in Eugene at the 2014 world juniors, speculation immediately ignited about the possibility of a track and field world championships -- 2021? 2023? -- at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

What, if anything, that might mean for Eugene's 2019 world championships bid -- it's up against Doha and Barcelona in a contest to be decided this fall -- is entirely uncertain.

Earlier this year, USA Track and Field announced LA would play host to the men's and women's U.S. marathon Trials for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, on Feb. 13, 2016.

Of course, at this point all this is -- to reiterate -- sheer conjecture. To quote from the ballad the great Jimmy Cliff wrote in 1969: many rivers to cross.

"Casey Wasserman is one of our city's most creative and innovative business leaders, and he has built one of the world's leading sports companies here in LA because our city is the worldwide capital of the sports industry," Garcetti said. “And Casey is at the heart of thoughtful, focused philanthropy, determined to make our city even greater.

“It is only natural that Casey is my partner in leading LA's efforts to explore an American bid for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I look forward to working closely with him."

For his part, Wasserman said, “The USOC is committed to putting forward the best of our U.S. cities, so it is a real privilege to join forces with Mayor Garcetti to steer Los Angeles’ bid for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics. I hope our ideas, partnership and involvement can contribute to the committee’s greater mission.”

Bill Johnson off life support

If indeed the end is near for Bill Johnson, who nearly 30 years ago brashly predicted that he would win the Olympic downhill in Sarajevo, and then went out and did it, it has to be said that he is, to the last, as always, being true to himself, with spirit and soul. Johnson, now 53, had been hospitalized in Oregon with a severe infection. He elected to "shut himself down," his mother, DB Johnson-Cooper, said Tuesday in a telephone interview, removing himself Sunday from all life-support systems.

Johnson went into the hospital June 29, spending 11 days in intensive care. Doctors "gave him multiple antibiotics and quite frankly have run out of ideas of what to do," his mother said. He's due to go back now to Gresham Regency Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, where he has been living since suffering a major stroke three years ago. She said she was making hospice plans.

"He has no quality of life from this point on and never will," she said, adding, "It's a tough one."

In 1984, Bill Johnson was a genuine badass. He said he was going to win the Olympic downhill, and did, by 27-hundredths of a second, over Switzerland's Peter Müller. That made him the first American to win gold in an Alpine event. Sports Illustrated put him on the cover -- "Flat out for glory," it said.

As Bruce Springsteen once wrote about glory days, however, they pass you by, and in Johnson's case -- though the telling of what happened after Sarajevo has been told many times and in many ways, it nonetheless remains so, so sad.

In 1992, Johnson's toddler son, Ryan, just 13 months old, drowned in their home's hot tub. The door to the room housing the tub had been left open by a friend.

By 1999, his wife had left him. She took their two other boys.

The next year, he decided to try a comeback. He thought he might win back his ex-wife. He had the words "Ski to die" tattooed on his arm.

Near Whitefish, Mont., on a stretch of mountain called Corkscrew, he caught an edge and crashed, at 60 mph, into the safety netting. For three weeks, he lay in a coma.

He was never really right afterwards and in 2010 suffered the major stroke.

Now -- this huge infection and the decision to take himself off life support.

In a note sent Sunday to family and friends, DB wrote, "The doctor was very frank with him and Bill knew exactly what he wanted. He shed a few tears, which was a very hard thing to see."

On the telephone Tuesday, she said, "He has no physical use of any part of his body. He has difficulty even raising his head. His mind is still very keen but his body has literally shut down."

She said, "It's very sad, very sad. He is having a hard time."


Madrid: Games as hope to city, country that needs it

MADRID --- Despite the economic hammering this country has taken, an International Olympic Committee survey indicates 76 percent of local residents want the 2020 Summer Olympics and 81 percent throughout Spain, the Madrid 2020 bid team saying at a Tuesday evening news conference that such figures show the Games offer a measure of hope to a city and country that wants and needs it. The poll numbers stayed relatively even from from IOC survey results released last May, which showed 78 percent support for the Games in Madrid and the surrounding area. That polling remained consistent, even as the Spanish economy remains mired in recession, Spain's second in three years, with the nation's unemployment rate at one in four, is proof indeed of the power of the Olympic spirit, bid leaders asserted.

"During a crisis," said Alejandro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee and Madrid 2020, as "everything is being questioned," when "you see a poll that says 81 percent of all citizens in Spain support this and 76 percent of Madrid residents support it, that's not to be laughed at."

The bid, he said, has three easy-to-understand big-picture non-sports goals:

One, to improve the image of Spain. Two, to attract foreign investment. Three, jobs. "Keeping that in mind," Blanco said, "looking at the support we are receiving -- it's major."

Madrid is competing against Tokyo and Istanbul in this 2020 race. The IOC will select the winner Sept. 7 at a vote in Buenos Aires.

Tokyo's poll showed 70 percent support, up 23 points from 47 percent last year, the evaluation commission said when it was there two weeks ago.

Current public support levels in Istanbul will be released next week when the IOC commission visits there. The IOC poll last year showed 73 percent support for the Games.

Margin of error, survey methodology and other data are due to be outlined when the evaluation commission report is made public in advance of the IOC's July all-members meeting on the 2020 race at its Lausanne, Switzerland, headquarters.

The release of the poll results came as Spain's IOC executive board member, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., walked the commission Tuesday through perhaps the key element in the Madrid bid, the financial details underpinning what they are calling here their "prudent" and "financially responsible" Games model.

Because this is Madrid's third straight bid, and because so much that would be needed to stage the Games has already been built, construction costs are -- by Olympic standards -- a relatively low $1.9 billion. Tokyo's estimated construction bill: $4.9 billion. Istanbul's: $19.2 billion, or a full 10 times Madrid's.

Over the course of those three bids, Samaranch said, Madrid has spent perhaps $100 million. Further, billions have been spent in infrastructure in and around the city. "Madrid's transformation has been considerable," Mayor Ana Botella echoed.

Of course, Samaranch said, everyone knows the Spanish economy is having it rough. But, Samaranch said in an interview with a small group of international journalists, "The truth of the matter is that ...  for Spain to continue bidding for the Games -- it is an act of responsibility.

"We have put in the money. It would be hugely and vastly irresponsible to walk out now and not wait there and get the financial and economic and social return of all the money we have invested and paid for already.

"Contrary to other bids, to other cities, like Rome that said we can't afford it," bowing out of the 2020 race last year, "in our case, we can not afford not to continue. You have invested all that money and you are ready to walk out and let go before trying to get what it brings, the windfall? We believe it's our perseverance, financially and from an economic point of view -- [to continue] is an act of responsibility."

photo courtesy Madrid 2020

Meanwhile, as a steady rain lashed the city Tuesday, the evaluation commission toured what would be Olympic Stadium, the aquatics center and several other sports pavilions.

The mayor said later, with a smile, "It's good news that it's raining. The level of the dams has risen. Therefore the visit of the evaluation commission has brought us the rain which is always good for our city."

Blanco, also smiling, said, "We scheduled the rain as of 6:30," meaning p.m. "It started as of 1:30. We got it slightly wrong."

Madrid 0319-3

Here is the what the inside of the stadium -- built in 1994, site of a Bruce Springsteen show in May, 2003 - looks like now:

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The bill to re-do the stadium for Olympic purposes: $210 million.

And here is the aquatics center, just a few steps away:

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The aquatics center up-do would cost about $70 million.

"We have done [the] investment [and now] we need to see if we can put into value -- know, it's billions of dollars. Building an airport, extending the subway system, building the stadiums, building the Magic Box [stadium] for tennis, all that investment that has been done," Samaranch said.

"Many candidates, they think that if I get the Games I will do the improvement. Madrid did it the other way around -- continue to improve the city in order to get the Games."


Jean-Claude Killy meets the press

ANNECY, France -- Jean-Claude Killy met the press here Friday night, about 10 writers, most international reporters, a few locals. "We have come a long way," Killy said, referring to the Annecy bid for the 2018 Winter Games. To be emphatic: There is still a long way to go.

Indeed, perhaps a long, long way to go for Annecy, which by virtually all accounts started the International Olympic Committee's visit here this week in third place in a three-city race and almost surely ends the visit still looking up.

There are still five months to go before the IOC picks the 2018 site; Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Munich are the other two cities in the contest.

"I would say Annecy is back in the race," Killy asserted, and it's true: in five months anything can happen.

Now the question for the next five months: can Annecy 2018 make something happen?

Killy's comments late Friday capped a day of enormous symbolism that highlighted both the opportunity here and the real-world challenges the Annecy campaign must confront.

The opportunity:

The countryside is, in a word, magnificent. To see Mont Blanc and Chamonix on a day like Friday, when the sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the brilliant blue sky, is to be reminded of a simple truth: it can be spectacular here.

The skiing is great. The food is great. The wine is great. The cheese -- it may well have been made by the gentleman standing behind the counter himself and he can tell you which cow you ought to thank.

Where else in the world do you find that combination?

Killy, at ease, penciled in for 20 minutes with the press, stayed for 30, the last couple devoted to the reading of a quote he attributed to the artist Paul Cézanne, the great 19th-century French post-impressionist, about the beauty of Lake Annecy, Killy saying he intends to read the words Saturday to the IOC committee as they prepare to depart:

"It is a temperate area. The surrounding hills are of a reasonable height, the lake, narrowed at this spot by two gorges, seems to lend itself to the linear exercises of young ladies."

"See," Killy said, letting the words settle, laughing, "everything in France ends with the love."

If only the Annecy 2018 bid committee could count on the IOC to be so tender.

To paraphrase the more modern American artist Bruce Springsteen -- the French had better start working harder for the IOC's love.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, flew down to this part of the country Friday to meet with the IOC commission. Sarkozy did not meet with reporters covering the IOC's visit.

But, according to an Associated Press account of a tourism and economics conference in La Clusaz, the proposed venue for the cross-country and Nordic combined events, Sarkozy said it would be tough to overcome Annecy's "extremely powerful" rivals.

Sarkozy said, "You have got a very good bid book. Your region is absolutely beautiful. You want to host those games. We are going to fight together to have them."

On the one hand, it's imperative for the bid that Sarkozy make his manners with the IOC over lunch and stump for Annecy 2018 at such conferences.

The IOC demands unqualified support from national governments. It wants to know, reasonably enough, if something goes wrong that the government -- of whatever country it is -- stands ready to guarantee the Olympic project's finances.

"Whether it's a plus or not it's a disaster if it doesn't happen," Killy observed later in the day, referring to such guarantees, which France has emphatically offered, adding, "It's going to happen in Korea, heavily, and in Germany, I am sure."

The challenge with Sarkozy may well be -- Sarkozy.

It is hardly forgotten within the IOC that in late March 2008 Sarkozy became the first world leader to suggest he might boycott the Beijing Olympics as a means of ratcheting up pressure on China over Tibet.

Ultimately, Sarkozy relented. He attended the epic ceremony.

Also not forgotten within the IOC: the tortured path the Beijing torch relay took through Paris in April, 2008, when the flame was extinguished several times, Chinese organizers canceling the last leg through the French capital as well as a stop at City Hall where a banner read, "Paris Defends Human Rights Everywhere in the World."

If it seems unfair to conflate free speech in Paris in 2008 with a bid in Annecy in 2011 for the Winter Games in the mountains in 2018 -- well, c'est la vie, right?

Which had to have been -- or surely should have been -- evident to anyone and everyone in France when the subject of an Annecy bid was undertaken in the first instance.

Compounding the challenge was the way the bid was initially drawn up, with way too many venues.

This past June, the IOC said, no, that's way too many venues. Come back with a different plan. A "black eye," Killy said, adding a moment later, "The bid started very poorly."

The new plan, centered on Annecy and Chamonix with the sliding sports at La Plagne, is better, he said. Credit for that, he said, is due Edgar Grospiron, the then-bid leader who resigned in December amid concerns the project was under-funded.

Killy said of Grospiron: "He did a wonderful job."

Such comments from Killy are powerful, indeed. Killy is not only a French ski legend but arguably the single most important winter-sports figure within Olympic circles, co-chair of the 1992 Albertville Games, the IOC's link to the 2006 Torino and 2014 Sochi Games. He knows sports, politics, business. He knows real when he sees it, and when he doesn't.

So his distance from the Annecy 2018 bid over the past months had been thoroughly obvious.

What, then, to read into his meeting Friday with the press? A rapprochement of sorts, certainly, with the 2018 effort.

But read into this what you will, Killy saying of Charles Beigbeder, the new bid leader, "I don't know him very well, I have seen him two days -- that's all."

Or this, Killy asked how much he expects to pitch in from here on in and answering, "I have my own business. I have Sochi for fun," laughing and adding, "I'm choosing my words properly. And I will help Annecy as much as I can, as much as I can, because I am from this region."

It will be spring soon, and the linear exercises of young ladies will commence in earnest along lovely Lake Annecy. And then summer, and an IOC vote July 6.

"There is no perfect bid," Killy said. "I have been in this business for 30 years.

"There is no perfect bid," he repeated. "The outcome is not known to no one."

Martina: 'The only failure in life is the failure not to try'

The only time I could talk to Martina Navratilova, I was told, was 2:45 in the morning. Okay.

She was in France, having flown there from Kenya. I was in California. 2:45 in the morning was 11:45 in Paris, where Martina was. Take it or leave it, I was told.

I took it, because what she did over the last couple days is the essence of what life is about. She set out to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. She had undertaken the climb for charity, for the Laureus Sport for Good foundation.

She didn't make it to the top. In fact, she had to be carried off the mountain, fluid in her lungs making it tough to breathe.

Kudos to Martina.

The point is she tried.

Bruce Springsteen likes to say at his shows that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive. The point of life is the trying.

The greatest athletes among us, and by any measure Martina Navratilova ranks in that group, understand that innately. That's what makes them champions. That's what makes them different from you and from me. They readily embrace the sort of risk and the sorts of challenges that the rest of us don't, or can't.

The thing that makes Kilimanjaro different, though, is that it's the kind of challenge the rest of us ordinary mortals can undertake.

I'm never, for instance, going to win Wimbledon.

I'm never, regrettably, going to win an Olympic medal.

I'm never going to climb Everest.

But I can make it to the top of Kilimanjaro.

In fact, in 1998, I did, along with one of my very best friends, Logan Faust, a doctor.

Kilimanjaro is a trek, not a technical climb.

That said, it's hugely demanding. The summit is about 19,340 feet high. There are a variety of ways to go; our way meant climbing up for four and a half days and racing down for one and a half. The reach for the summit itself, at least in August, meant climbing overnight on the last of the going-up days; we started at midnight at 15,000 feet and reached the peak just past dawn.

Dawn is critical because at that hour the sun hasn't had a chance to melt the snow, meaning it's still packed hard enough so you don't fall through it.

On the trek up, you move through an amazing variety of climates. Jungle gives way to big boulder zones. The boulders turn to loose rock. Then the air gets thin and very, very cold.

How cold? I went to college at Northwestern, just north of Chicago along Lake Michigan. My junior year, we had a snowstorm that dumped 27 inches of snow on us; the windchill during that event, as I recall, reached to minus-83 Fahrenheit. Yet the coldest I have ever been is at the crater rim with an hour yet to go to reach the Kilimanjaro summit.

I had six upper layers on to hike through the night and was still bone cold. As the sun started to illuminate the seemingly unending African plains far below, our guide suggested we duck into a cave he knew at the crater rim. Let's have a cup of tea, he said. Tea! Logan and I almost screamed out the same response. Tea! What? Screw the tea! Dude, let's keep going!

At 19,000 feet, you are almost crazy.

Of course, our patient, knowledgeable and experienced guide knew full well what he was doing. We needed the liquid, and the heat, and a dose of good sense. We made the summit about an hour later.

Only about half of all those who set out for the Kilimanjaro summit make it. In our group of eight, four made it. In Martina's group, 18 of 27.

Martina said by phone from Paris that she's going to be fine. The doctors have told her there won't be any lasting effects from the experience. "I've been better but I'm on my way," she said, adding, "We all gave it 100 percent."

There has been enough time now since leaving Kilimanjaro for Martina to ruminate now on the experience. It wasn't particularly fun, she said, and in particular the weather for the Laureus climbers proved consistently miserable. "From the second day, I felt like I couldn't take a full breath of air. I felt like there was somebody sitting on my chest," she said, adding, "I got to the point when I was going to the bathroom and the rock to go to was 20 meters away and I was like -- I can't do that.

"I should have known something was seriously wrong when I didn't want to eat. That," she said, laughing, "is not me!"

Four Swahili-speaking porters got Martina off the mountain. They brought her down in a wheelbarrow-like litter, one guy in the front, one in the back, one on each side. It took four and a half hours, she said.

The important thing is they got her down. Literally, they saved her life.

Nothing about any of it says failure. Martina doesn't think so, and neither does anyone else.

As she said, and after all this is the entire point, "The only failure in life is the failure not to try."


For those who may be interested, here is the link to donate to Martina's Laureus fund.