Max Cobb

'Unity in diversity,' and other wintry musings

'Unity in diversity,' and other wintry musings

For the last month, it has been all Winter Olympics in South Korea. Now, amid a blowing snowstorm in Birmingham, England, the world indoor track and field championships are on. All this cold, wind and snow — there’s time to think about this and that:

1. Of course the Russian Olympic Committee was reinstated just days after the close of the PyeongChang Games. 

To reiterate a point made in this space frequently, sports doping is bad. But sports doping is not the measure of all things. Also, sports doping happens in every country. 

It is way more important to the International Olympic Committee, and has been since the days when Juan Antonio Samaranch was president, to keep the so-called Olympic family together. This proposition is key. Indeed, when he was running for the office, the current president, Thomas Bach, made it his motto: “Unity in diversity.” 

Historic U.S. biathlon gold: family, team, community, country - and belief


Can we be honest with each other? For a great many people, what comes out of Washington, regardless of who is who there, is just noise. What matters is what, truly, matters: family and community.

Indeed, it is the day-to-day stuff of real life, the rituals, the joys and the heartbreaks, the ups and downs of the days that can seemingly take forever and the years that go by in a blink amid children and family and community that bind us all together: the crazy quilt, the rich tapestry that is the United States of America.

This is why Lowell Bailey’s victory Thursday in a 20-kilometer race at the biathlon world championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, is all the more special.

Bailey’s gold medal, in what in biathlon lingo is called the individual event, is the first — for emphasis, the first — biathlon gold for the United States at either the world championships (which date to 1958) or the Winter Games (1960, and see you next February in South Korea).

Bailey hit all 20 targets and, over the final four-kilometer loop, had to ski hard and fast to defeat Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic. The winning margin: 3.3 seconds. Martin Fourcade of France, in recent years perhaps the world’s best biathlete, took third.

What Lowell Bailey did Thursday is arguably the hardest thing to do in sports: to win when there is no evidence you can. When all you have is belief. And you, your family, your community, your team have had to sustain that belief — in this instance, on behalf of your country — for more than 20 years.

“It is a belief, a vision,” Max Cobb, the president and chief executive of U.S. Biathlon, said in a late Thursday phone call, “in the power of bringing the right people together and working as hard as you can to bring about something you really believe in and really want.

“All too often in life,” Cobb added, “we sell ourselves short by not daring to dream to do something great and trying to achieve something that seems unachievable — something that rationally seems unachievable.

“It is when you dare to do that great thing that great things happen. That is why today is so emotional.”

Lowell Bailey is 35 years old.

He has been at this biathlon thing a very, very long time. PyeongChang next year will be his fourth Olympics.

Bailey grew up around Lake Placid, New York. There are super-intense local rivalries — there is Saranac Lake, there is the farther-out hamlet of Paul Smiths, there is Lake Placid — but for the rest of us who are not locals there is, you know, Lake Placid, where 37 years ago this week they staged the Winter Games there. Eric Heiden raced and won five times. A pretty big deal hockey game went down between the Americans and Soviets.

That kind of thing, and to grow up in and around Lake Placid is to be part of that culture.

“It was such a thrill to see this,” Sue Cameron, who is literally Lowell Bailey’s next-door neighbor, said in an email.

“Everyone in Lake Placid is over the moon about his gold medal and so proud not only of Lowell but the entire U.S. biathlon team, athletes and coaches.”

Lowell Bailey grew up with a gang of kids that included, among others, Tim Burke and Billy Demong. And, as well, Haley Johnson (2010 Olympics), Annelies Cook (2014 Olympics) and Billy's younger sister, Katy.

"As young racers, all of them were obviously good and in some cases very good," said Kris Cheney-Seymour, 46, the group's first coach who now runs the state-owned nordic ski center at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

"They were by no means the Bad News Bears," he added, "but they also weren’t the prodigies. The dream was born. Probably they and their internal sport mechanisms bought into it first. Their parents were unconditional. And the community believed as well. Every step along the way was, in some ways celebrated, but also there was an inner belief that they could always do it."

Tim Burke, 35, is also a mainstay of the U.S. biathlon program. He has been to three Winter Games. At the 2013 world championships, he took second in this very same individual event.

At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Demong became the first American to win Olympic gold in a Nordic event, the 10km individual large hill. He then skied the final lap in a silver medal-winning relay.

Lake Placid back in the day -- purple suit: future world champion Lowell Bailey, No. 61 Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong, No. 37 world medalist Tim Burke // Helen Demong

Billy Demong and his wife, Katie, now live in Park City, Utah.

“It’s incredible,” he said in a phone call, “to look at the group we grew up with, in a small town, in a small area — and look at how much success came out of that group.”

He added a moment later, “I have always been a bigger believer in groups and culture. We had that when we were kids growing up. We showed up. We pushed each other.” And this: “Part of learning how to win back in the day and believing we could win was coming to grips with the fact that there was not something in the water in Norway that we didn’t have.”

He also said, recalling when his U.S. teammate Johnny Spillane won gold in the 7.5k sprint at the 2003 worlds, the first American to win a gold at the FIS Nordic worlds, that he — Demong — did not cry then. Nor did he — Demong — cry in 2010 in Vancouver.

On Thursday, Billy Demong, watching Lowell Bailey win via livestream on the computer, cried. In excitement. And joy.

He said he called Tim Burke’s mother — Billy, who is now 36 and the father of two young sons, could easily summon Mary Jean Burke’s landline in upstate New York from the memory bank — and “we chatted about how special it was, going back to all of our childhoods.”

He added, “This is what it’s all about.”

Lowell Bailey’s younger sister, Kendra Bailey Davis, 32, was home with her husband, Jeff, and their 6-month-old son, Milo. They were stuck to the computer, too.

“We were just tearing [up],” she said, “and the whole day has been a string of texts and phone calls and video links and social media and real media.

“I did get a chance to video chat with him,” meaning her brother, “after he got home from the medal ceremony and we just stared at each other in disbelief. It’s a pinch-me, when-will-I-wake-up kind of day.”

Lowell Bailey’s younger sister also said, “I know I keep saying it but I don’t have another word: it’s unreal. It’s a dream come true for him and for our family.”

When Lowell Bailey stepped onto the podium, there was a moment when his wife, Erika, and their 8-month-old daughter, Ophelia, joined him.

In Utah, Billy Demong got the screenshot, then immediately dispatched it across the wires to Europe, to Lowell with a message: “You’re gonna want this one.”

This season, Lowell, Erika and Ophelia Bailey have made the biathlon tour a family affair.

“Lowell has some unique qualities in that he can take on a lot of things and still focus on biathlon,” Erika Bailey said late Thursday. “This morning, before the race, he was getting ready to walk out to the race and changing Ophelia’s diaper back in the van. He was able to do that and not get stressed out.”

“For me,” Lowell Bailey said, “it has made all the difference. It is just so great to have Erika and Ophelia here. Biathlon is a brutal sport. You can be on top of the world one day and not the next. Knowing that my family is here, waking up in the morning next to them and seeing their smiling faces — that’s what is’s all about.”

This, too — the crowd cheering him on as the race drew to a close. He knew, everyone knew what was at stake.

Earlier in these 2017 worlds, Bailey had hit every shot in the sprint and finished fourth, just six seconds out of a medal. He missed once in the pursuit, finishing sixth.

Biathlon is incredibly, incredibly hard. You don’t have to understand the intricacies to draw this parallel:

Imagine you run a lap on the track at world-class speed. Say 60 seconds, maybe just under, for 400 meters. Breathing hard? Now go shoot two free throws. Now two more. And do that as quickly as you can.

After Bailey cleaned his final targets, here came this wall of noise — cheers from the stands for an American.

“It was surreal,” Bailey said.

“Until someone gets to see what this atmosphere is like, until you stand alongside the course with 30,000 people screaming, or you stand inside the stadium, you can’t describe how it’s possible in our world of NFL football fans, who doggedly support the home team, how it’s possible for an entire crowd dominated by Norwegians and Germans and definitely not Americans — that they can, in an instant, turn and throw all their support behind an American skier trying to win the first American world championships gold medal …

“Just even thinking back on it gives me goosebumps.”

He also said, “To have something like this happen when I am 35 years old — it’s an amazing thing, amazing for me to experience. I know that the only reason I have stayed in it this long is because I have enjoyed almost every minute of it from when I was 12 years old and picked up a rifle until now, and stepped on that podium.”

That is, really, what it’s really about.

How it, genuinely, works.

A group of kids, boys and girls, in Lake Placid, have big dreams. Some go on to be world-class athletes. Then the likes of Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke and Billy Demong win medals and they inspire young boys and girls now, wherever they might be, to try to be like them.

Just the way, way back when, when Billy made his first Olympic team, Lowell and Tim thought, hey, we can do that.

Liam Demong, 6 years old, already fully shredding it // Billy Demong

In Park City, Utah, on Wednesday, Liam Demong, who is 6, played hooky from kindergarten. Liam and Billy went skiing all day. They tore it up to the tune of about 14,000 vertical feet. For Liam, it was a super big day all around. He got to ride up on the chairlift by himself for the very first time, with some cool 10-year-old friends.

About 4:30 in the afternoon, father and son came in for a bit. Liam attacked a chicken pot pie. Then he went back out into the snow, for three hours of ski jumping, which he now says — dad is trying very hard not to be that kind of parent, you know — is his favorite sport.

“I love,” Billy Demong said, “that he loves it.

“I love that there’s a core group of friends he’s doing it with, including his next-door neighbor. It’s like watching the whole thing happen all over again.”

Let the Russians clean up themselves? No way


A first read of the communiqué issued over the weekend by the International Olympic Committee after president Thomas Bach's urgently taken meeting with Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov might well prompt the response, "Atlichna." That's Russian for "excellent." Indeed, in the statement, the IOC quotes Zhukov this way: "The Russian Olympic Committee is determined that the clean athletes should compete in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Anyone found guilty of using illegal drugs or anyone who facilitated or was complicit in their use must be punished.”

Atlichna, right?

US Biathlon's Max Cobb

Max Cobb wrote this guest column, published now at 3 Wire Sports.

Cobb is the president and chief executive officer of US Biathlon Association and the chairman of the International Biathlon Union's Technical Committee. He served as the technical delegate for the Biathlon events at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. He has been a part of every Winter Games since 1992, including serving as biathlon competition chief at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Gone are the denials of a problem and gone are the accusations of a western plot to embarrass Russia. The leaders of sport in Russia recognize there is a problem and are eager to fix it so they can participate in the Olympic Games just nine months away.

But history and the very roots of this, arguably the largest-scale doping scandal ever uncovered, should give pause to those responsible for protecting the rights of clean athletes: the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

It is they who must carry out a full and independent investigation into doping in all sports in Russia, not just track and field. It is they who must identify and hold liable all athletes, coaches, and others who violated the World Anti-Doping Code.

The matter carries all the more import with the full WADA board meeting Tuesday and Wednesday in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to consider next steps.

Why not let the Russians do it themselves?

First of all, the Russians have had 16 years -- since the creation of WADA -- to put in place a successful anti-doping program. They failed. Is it reasonable to expect them to reform the system in just nine months?

Given the governmental funding structures and the level of involvement of the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB, in the Moscow lab, there seems little question that the conspiracy to dope athletes and protect them from anti-doping controls was known and condoned, if not ordered, by those responsible for leading sport in Russia. That includes the Russian Olympic Committee and the Russian Ministry of Sport.

Neither WADA nor the IOC should accept this effort by the ROC as anything but a thinly veiled attempt to find scapegoats and preserve the structure and positions of the very leaders who oversaw the creation of the largest and most sophisticated cheating syndicate ever to plague sport, one that evokes memories of the notorious East German regime of the 1970s.

Secondly, it is not just those "found guilty of using illegal drugs” who need to be punished.

It is all those found guilty of violating the WADA Code who need to be punished.

This includes those who evaded anti-doping controls.

Process can be, to say the least, boring. But in the legal world that surrounds the efforts to protect the rights of clean athletes, process is critical.

Whistleblowers within the Russian anti-doping agency, RUSADA, which serves all sports in Russia, have indicated that it was not just track and field athletes who were protected from anti-doping controls.

The scale of what was done, in the words of RUSADA staff member Vitaliy Stepanov, reached as well to “swimming, cycling, biathlon, athletics, weight lifting, nordic skiing.”

Not only that, but the WADA-appointed independent commission report, published last Monday, reported both that RUSADA doping control officers routinely informed athletes days ahead of time that they would have a “no-notice” out of competition test, and then did not properly supervise the collection of a sample.

That means, simply, that athletes were given the opportunity to provide a stored clean sample, effectively avoiding the doping test.

RUSADA also failed to enforce the required reporting of accurate athlete “whereabouts” information, a requirement for all athletes in order to ensure that they are always available for no-notice testing. Repeated failure to submit accurate whereabouts information can result in a ban.

In short, the evidence strongly suggests that those who were doping in Russia colluded with RUSADA and the WADA-accredited lab in Moscow to ensure they would not “be found guilty of using illegal drugs,” Zhukov’s measure of guilt.

But all signs indicate guilty they are of serious violations of the WADA code.

As has been said again and again over this last week, track and field is not the only sport with doping issues; WADA must investigate the other sports as well to identify all those who violated the Code.

Failure to do so calls into question WADA's relevance and resolve to protect clean athletes.

As has also been noted repeatedly since the publication of the commission report, doping is not just a serious problem in Russia.

But make no mistake:

The shocking essence of this scandal is not that there was doping.

It is that the doping was thoroughly integrated into the elite sport culture in Russia, in a coordinated effort to perpetrate a fraud that anti-doping tests were being rigorously carried out, all the while using the most advanced scientific methods to dope the very same athletes to maximum effect.

And contrary to what Russian sport minister Vitaly Mutko has said, this was not a choice made by individual athletes. This was a system that compelled the athletes to dope or lose support of the sport organization funding their training and competition.

The WADA commission’s report strongly suggested that the doping program was “state-supported.” That means the Russian government.

The report also found that the FSB infiltrated the WADA-accredited laboratory in Moscow where the anti-doping tests were carried out during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. That means the Russian government knew about the conspiracy to systematically dope Russian athletes and fraudulently cover it up.

There is no credible way that any Russian sport or government organization can properly and objectively investigate this enormous corruption scandal.

The IOC and WADA should recognize the huge job they have in front of them. They should remember their pledge to protect clean athletes and dig deep into their war-chests to set up the independent commission needed to assess and punish those who have violated the WADA code in Russia while at the same time giving Russia the "road map" for clean sport they have asked for.

When this is in place, everyone will say, atlichna.

Then it will be time to welcome the clean athletes from Russian to compete at the Olympic Games in Rio.


Giving up a spot in the Games


What would it feel like to have a spot on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team and then, selflessly, give it up? It would be easy.

“Love,” Tracy Barnes said of giving up her spot on the U.S. biathlon team to her twin sister, Lanny, “is selfless dedication.

“Love means giving up your dream so someone else can realize theirs.”

Tracy (left) and Lanny Barnes at a biathlon event in Vancouver // photo courtesy US Biathlon/Nordic Focus

Understand the numbers. The U.S. Census population estimate for the start of 2014: just over 317 million. The U.S. women’s biathlon team that goes to Sochi in just a few weeks: five. Essentially, by the time it got down to Sunday’s final qualifying race, there was one spot up for grabs. One in 317 million. For comparison, your chance of winning the lottery on a single ticket is one in 175 million.

Really, Tracy Barnes said. It was easy.

“If I were to sum up the decision,” she reiterated, “it’s not hard to make a decision like that when you care about someone. Anyone who cares about someone can relate to making a sacrifice for someone they care for.”

Tracy and Lanny Barnes are 31 years old. This is, probably, their last best chance at the Olympic Games.

Biathlon is the ski-and-shoot combination. The United States has never won an Olympic medal in the sport. Many observers believe 2014 could well be the breakthrough year.

The twins are from Durango, Colorado. Their dad, Thad, is a contractor; mom, Deborah, was a long-time schoolteacher; older sister, Christie, who lives now in Burlington, Vermont, is on her way to becoming an ENT surgeon and, Tracy said, is “a big inspiration to us.”

Tracy is the younger of the twins by five minutes. Even so, she said, “Most people think I am the older one because I take on that role. I like to take care of her,” adding a moment later, “I think I have always taken on that motherly role. She would roll her eyes. I have always looked out for her in whatever way I can, the way an older sister or sibling would do. Just take on that role. I do what I can for her.”

The sisters didn’t get on skis, or even think about combining shooting and skiing, until they met a US Biathlon coach at a local competition.

When they were 18, they made their first junior world championship team. Two years later, Lanny medaled at the 2003 junior worlds.

Both made the 2006 Torino Games. At the time, they were 23. Lanny finished 64th in the 15-kilometer event, Tracy 57th. Tracy also came home 71st in the 7.5km sprint; the twins were part of the 15th-place U.S. finish in the 4x6km relay.

Tracy said: “We were so young and inexperienced. You always want to follow up with another Olympics. Your first one — just so you can have that first one under your belt so you’re not so green. There’s more to the Olympics than just going and competing. I think that’s a big part of it for me.”

In 2010 in Vancouver, Tracy did not qualify. Only Lanny. Her best individual finish: 23rd in the 15k.

As the Olympic qualifying season unfolded, two of the five spots on the Sochi 2014 team were locked up early, dictated by results on tour. They went to Susan Dunklee of Barton, Vermont, and Annelies Cook of Saranac Lake, New York.

Then Sara Studebaker of Boise, Idaho — like Lanny, a 2010 Olympian — and Hannah Dreissigacker of Morrrisville, Vermont, earned their spots.

Dreissigacker clinched her spot with 18-for-20 shooting, and a 10th-place finish, at an IBU Cup event Saturday in Ridnaun, Italy. She and Dunklee grew up skiing together in northern Vermont.

Thus it came down to Sunday’s racing, at that same IBU Cup in Italy.

Sunday’s race: a 7.5k sprint.

Tracy Barnes finished 10th. She shot clean — no penalties.

That clinched it for the committee, which by rule had a discretionary spot — Tracy Barnes was not just the U.S. athlete with the next-best record over the qualifying period, she seemed to be peaking, and just in time for the Games.

But — wait.

Before that race, Tracy had already made her decision.

During the final four team-selection races, Lanny had been sick, unable to compete in all but one.

Tracy knew the rules, her status and her sister’s, too — if she turned down the spot, Tracy knew Lanny had the next-best record over the entire qualifying period and thus would be the athlete the committee was all but sure to turn to.

“For me, this decision was pretty easy,” she said again.

“It’s a pretty heavy situation, I guess,” she said with a laugh. “I have been through a fair number of Olympic Trials in my career. I know they’re pretty brutal emotionally. I know there can be a chance where bad luck can on the side of an athlete. Just having watched Lanny through this week and how she even tried to race one race sick, that never works, even — especially — at the level we are trying to race at.

“I have trained with her almost every day now, almost half our life, 15 years now. I have seen her dedication. So I could definitely see she deserves to be on the team.”

After Sunday’s racing was over, the two sisters went for a walk -- actually more of a hike up into the mountains.

“I told her,” Tracy said, “I had something to tell her.”

She added, “Of course she protested.”

There were tears. A lot. On both sides.

“I told her,” Tracy said, “I had been inspired by her performances this year and I really think she is on a great path and I really want to see how far she can go.”

From high in the Italian mountains, Tracy then called Max Cobb, the president and chief executive of US Biathlon, at his home in Vermont. He ended up having to call her back from a landline. The cell reception was scratchy. Even so, he understood.

“It’s a remarkable thing, even for a sister -- even for a twin sister -- to be selfless enough to understand that another athlete would have a better opportunity to perform at the Games,” he said, “and give that away.”

He called it “one of the most inspiring gesture of sportsmanship I have ever seen. It is exactly what you hope Olympic sport inspires,” adding, “To see Tracy do this for Lanny speaks volumes about their character and what it means to represent the United States at the Olympics.”

“I can’t even begin to describe," Lanny Barnes said, "what it means to me that Tracy made such a huge sacrifice for me.

“It’s hard to put into words what she did and what it means to me.”

She added a moment later, “Often times during the hype of the Games we forget what the Olympics are really about. They aren’t about the medals and the fame and all of that. The Olympics are about inspiration, teamwork, excellence and representation. I can think of no better example of the true Olympic spirit than what Tracy did this past weekend. It took a lot of courage and sacrifice to make such a powerful decision.”

She also said, “It’s not every day that you are given a second chance like this. I thought my chance at the Olympics was over. But now I’ve got a second chance and will do everything I can to bring honor to her,” meaning Tracy, “ and our country in Russia.”

Probst up for IOC membership

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- It's nearly four years ago now that Chicago got thumped when the International Olympic Committee voted for the 2016 Summer Games host city. For the U.S. Olympic Committee, that was, indisputably, the low point.

It's worth bearing in mind all the time and miles in between then and now amid Tuesday's announcement by the International Olympic Committee of the nomination of nine new members, U.S. Olympic Committee board chair Larry Probst among them.

Probst's membership is for sure a milestone. Over time, it's likely to means more influence for the United States within the IOC, and as the USOC is considering bids for future Games -- in particular, as soon as 2024 -- that could be key.

At the same time, the United States still has a long, long way to go in becoming a power player in the IOC along the lines of, say, Switzerland, with five members.

For now, what Probst's membership marks is, simply, yet another step in the USOC's effort at quiet diplomacy.

He  -- and the other new members - will be sworn in at the end of the all-members assembly in September in Buenos Aires. They will not, repeat not, take part in the voting there.

At that September session, the IOC will elect a new president, replacing Jacques Rogge, who has been in office since 2001, as well as pick the site of the 2020 Summer Games. Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul are in the race. All three bid cities are making presentations here Wednesday in Lausanne to the full IOC. All six presidential candidates are likewise making presentations Thursday.

Four new athlete members, meanwhile, are due to be sworn in Wednesday. They were elected in voting from the London Games and will be eligible to vote in September.

When the nine new members are brought on board, assuming no other changes, that will bring the IOC membership to 113, spokesman Mark Adams said Tuesday.

Notable among the nine -- only one is from Asia, Mikaela Maria Antonia Cojuangco-Jaworski of the Philippines.

The list includes famed long-distance runner Paul Tergat of Kenya and Athens 2004 high-jump champion Stefan Holm of Sweden.

It also features the head of the Russian national Olympic committee, Alexander Zhukov. The next Winter Olympics, in February, will be held in Sochi.

Russia will then have four members.

The U.S., too -- when Probst is sworn in, the Americans will count him, Anita DeFrantz, Jim Easton and Angela Ruggiero.

Even so, the U.S. has for years lacked significant political influence within the IOC.

DeFrantz has been a member since 1986. She served on the policy-making executive board from 1992 to 2001. She has since run for office unsuccessfully; she is standing this September again for the board.

Easton has in recent years played a markedly reduced role.

Ruggiero is widely seen as an up-and-comer. At the same time, as an athlete member, she is already three years through her fixed term of eight years.

Thus Probst's entry is widely seen as an important step in bringing back a measure of American influence.

"The U.S. is a very strong and important partner of the IOC," Adams said at a briefing Tuesday at the IOC's Lake Geneva headquarters, the Chateau de Vidy. "Larry's nomination is a sign of that and a sign of continuing cooperation with the USOC."

For his part, Probst said in a statement released by the USOC, “I am truly honored to be nominated for membership in the IOC, and extremely grateful for the potential opportunity to serve the Olympic Movement."

Last year, the USOC and IOC resolved a longstanding dispute over certain television and marketing revenues. Probst's nomination is a reflection of that ongoing USOC-IOC "cooperation." It is by no means a quid pro quo for the deal.

Probst becomes the first USOC president -- as the jargon goes -- as IOC member since Sandy Baldwin. That's 11 years ago.

Bill Hybl served as USOC president and IOC member for two years, 2000-01.

Before that, you have to go back to Bob Helmick. He stepped down in 1991.

Again, Probst's entry is important. But it's just one step. It must be reiterated that the USOC has to be thinking in terms of the long run in assessing the political calculus of a Games bid.


There are 35 Olympic sports, summer and winter. The United States has no presidents among any of those 35 federations. It has one -- just one -- secretary general from among any of the 35, Svein Romstad, who runs the luge federation from, of all places, Atlanta.

Last year, American Doug Beal ran for the presidency of the international volleyball federation. The convention and election were held in Anaheim, Calif. Even so, he did not win.

The United States does, in fact, boast some international sports federation presidents. But they are not Olympic sports. They are in sports such as softball, surfing and cheerleading.

Then again, the situation now is better -- way better -- than in October, 2009, when Chicago got rocked.

U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati was elected in April to a four-year term to the FIFA executive committee.

USA Basketball chief executive Jim Tooley is in line to become FIBA Americas president for 2014-18.

Max Cobb, the USA Biathlon president and chief executive, heads the International Biathlon Union's technical committee.

These things, simply, take time.

This is what Probst came to understand in Copenhagen in October, 2009.

Before that, he did not totally understand how demanding the USOC board chairman's job was. Nor did he grasp fully how much time and how much travel it was going to take.

The next January, Scott Blackmun came on board as the USOC's chief executive.

Together, they vowed to repair the USOC's standing in international relations.

They said, privately and publicly, that relationship-building took time and effort. They said they were in it for the long haul.

Instead of sending staffers to meetings, Probst or Blackmun -- sometimes both -- started showing up.

Now, Probst and Blackmun serve on IOC committees. Probst is, as well, on the board of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees.

Blackmun, for that matter, is here in Lausanne for the second time in three weeks. He was here the first time for the ANOC assembly and is back now for an IOC marketing commission meeting.

It's active engagement. That's what it takes. That's what got Probst nominated Tuesday.

It's going to take more -- a lot more -- to win the United States an Olympic Games. Everyone should keep that in mind.

Dan Cnossen's journey


On days when it may seem grim, there is the quiet example of U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Dan Cnossen to give us all hope. Cnossen is a leading contender to make the U.S. Paralympic team at next February's Sochi 2014 Games in Nordic skiing. He has a real shot to win a medal in both cross-country skiing and in biathlon, the skiing-and-shooting sport.

It's not just that, though.

Dan Cnossen, a Navy SEAL, lost both legs just above the knees in an explosion in Afghanistan in September, 2009.

It's how he has come back, how he can walk and run, and ski, and how it's all a new normal.

This is the way it's going to be now for those wounded in the Boston Marathon bombings last month.

Dan Cnossen's tale can show the way.

"We are a high-performance sports organization, and that means we work day in and day out with a pretty remarkable group of people," Max Cobb, the president and chief executive of USA Biathlon, said.

"And then there are times when for a moment you reflect on an athlete like Dan Cnossen, and on his progress, on his story, on his phenomenal tenacity. It's emotional. Dan makes you proud to be an American, proud to be on his team."

Cnossen says about the suggestion that he might be an example, "It's pretty humbling," adding, "I hope it can help."

Dan was born and raised in Kansas, on the outskirts of Topeka. He and his sister, Leslie, are the fifth generation in his family to grow up there, on a family farm.

He went to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. The academy has a triathlon team that competes at the Olympic distance; he was on that team. Meanwhile, twice while in college, he ran the Boston Marathon. His best time, in 2000 -- 3:05.57.

After the academy, he made it into the SEALs. There can be no doubting his work ethic and mental toughness.

The explosion in Afghanistan took place on Sept. 8, 2009. Cnossen stepped on an IED, an improvised explosive device. He was unconscious for eight days.

When he woke up, in intensive care in Maryland, it was not much of a shock to realize what had happened. "I just kind of knew," he says now.

Dan's first year home is chronicled on a website that features a beautifully written collection of posts, many from his sister, Leslie. This one is from the first post, not even three weeks after the blast, from his mother, Alice:

"The medics who saved his life, the surgeons in Bagram and Landstuhl who stabilized him for transport to National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, the excellent medical teams who have cared for him daily since his arrival here -- all have converged to bring him to his destiny today: to embark upon many new adventures and turn over a new leaf in his life: healing, recovery, rehabilitation, reconnection with family and fellow wounded warriors, perhaps serving as an inspiration to many as he starts this long, arduous journey toward renewed health and joyful living."

The goal, Dan said, was not just walking. It was running. That was what he had done on the afternoon before the bomb blast that night in Afghanistan. That was what he had done on the beach in San Diego, training for and with the SEALs. Or on the many trails wherever he was. "I was," he said, "always a runner."

On Sept. 8, 2010, exactly a year to the day later, Cnossen ran four laps around a track in Rockville, Md. "It was," he said, "a struggle," adding, "I wanted to quit after two. But I got four in."

Part of the struggle had to do with the technology he was using. He switched prosthetic devices and learned how to run with a straight-leg style, with his hips out wide. That made him more stable, meaning he could run not just on a track but venture out into, as he calls it, "the real world," onto pavement.

The switch also made him a lot faster.

He has, he said, run five kilometers, or 3.1 miles, in 17:50.

"Now I'm at the point I can do 5:10, 5:15 [per mile] if I'm going hard," he said.

He also has gotten back to the marathon. At the 2011 New York Marathon, he hand-cycled the first 16 miles. Then he ran the final 10-plus. His finish time: 2:38.

At the 2011 Warrior Games, Cnossen won three gold swim medals and a bronze in the 800 in track and field.

The 2013 edition of the Warrior Games wrapped up Thursday in Colorado Springs, Colo.; Cnossen was not there; he is in Bend, Ore., at a ski camp.

The beauty of biathlon is that it involves, as Cnossen phrased it, "moving and shooting." That's the same principle that drives infantry and special operations.

"As a sport," he said, "I thought this might be a way to represent something a little bigger. The community I come from, and thanks to the complete support of my chain of command, I have been able to remain on active duty. And I have come to love it."

On skis, "I can cover 30 to 40 kilometers through trails in the woods, and it's hard to do that in any other way. For me, I had really liked trail running before my injury. I am a good runner but I need pavement. Cross-country skiing gives me the ability to do that, the ability to get out into the woods."

The challenge in biathlon for Cnossen -- who this past winter won a silver medal at an IPC World Cup biathlon event in Wisconsin and finished sixth at the long-course cross-country skiing championships in Sweden -- is both the shooting and the skiing.

Of course he learned to shoot in the military. But that's different than acquiring the pacing it takes to shoot after racing hard.

Then there's the skiing itself. And, as Cnossen notes, he has only been skiing for just a little bit over two years.

That's why he's in the Oregon mountains in May.

"In the scheme of things," he said, "I can become good enough at shooting to win. It becomes hard to develop strength and stamina to ski fast."

Of course, a 2014 Sochi medal is the goal. But so many things have to come together, cautioned James Upham, the U.S. biathlon team's Paralympic coach.

"It's about setting that goal that's a little beyond your reach and going for it and following the plan," Upham said, adding a moment later for emphasis that while winning would be fantastic it simply can not be -- in this arena -- the measure of all things.

"When you hear whatever national anthem it is that's playing, can you say, 'I had my best day? My best year?' Can you say you are satisfied in that deeply spiritual way you can be as an athlete?' "

If you had to bet on anyone to develop strength and stamina to ski fast, wouldn't you like Dan Cnossen's odds?

This next passage is also from the family website; it's included in the final post, written a year after the blast in Afghanistan. Dan's sister, Leslie, wrote:

"Dan has no solid plans for the future quite yet – he is just going one day at a time – but I know that wherever he ends up taking himself and the rest of his life will make these triumphs of the past year seem like just a small fraction of what he’s capable of."


Tim Burke's historic silver medal


There are moments in sports when all the hard work, the dreams, the belief without evidence -- it all pays off.

It finally happened Thursday for Tim Burke and the U.S. men's biathlon team at the world championships in Nove Mesto, in the Czech Republic.

Burke, 31, of Paul Smiths, N.Y., took silver in the 20-kilometer individual event, his first career world championship medal. The medal marked the first for the United States at a world championships since Josh Thompson's 20k individual silver in 1987.

Burke crossed in 50 minutes, 6.5 seconds, with one penalty. He finished 23.5 seconds behind the World Cup leader, Martin Fourcade of France, who won his first medal of the 2013 championships in 49:43 flat, with one penalty. Sweden's Fredrik Lindström took third, in 50:16.7.

Tim Burke skiing to a historic silver medal at the biathlon world championships in the Czech Republic // photo courtesy Nordic Focus and US Biathlon

The United States has never -- repeat, never -- won an Olympic medal in biathlon.

Thursday's race is of course no guarantee of anything at the Winter Games come next February.

But now Burke and the American team head to Sochi knowing with certainty that he -- and they -- are just as good as anyone else.

That is a huge emotional and mental barrier that just got crossed.


Two other Americans produced solid showings Thursday: Leif Nordgren finished 22nd, Lowell Bailey 29th.

Meanwhile, at last month's biathlon junior world championships in Obertilliach, Austria, Sean Doherty made U.S. biathlon history as well -- becoming the first to win three medals in a single championships, including gold in the 10k pursuit, emerging as a solid contender to make the 2014 U.S. Olympic team in the relay.

Suddenly, the Americans are no joke. They're for real.

"I don't look at it like building pressure," meaning toward Sochi, Burke said in a telephone interview. "I look at [the silver medal] as an awesome way of, 'I know I can do it.' It's not, 'Can I do it?' I know it's possible. I don't have to worry about that."

He also said, referring to the possibility of making the podium in Sochi, "I am not the only one who has been saying this. Max [Cobb, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Biathlon Federation], Bernd [Eisenbichler, the team's high performance director], everyone has been saying this to the U.S. Olympic Committee and to our sponsors: 'These guys can win medals.'

"Today proves what they have been saying is true."

It is also true that Burke's race -- and finish -- served as a reminder that sports still can, even on a day in which the headlines involving the South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius dominated so much, offer up a lesson in amity and goodwill.

Everyone in the tightly knit biathlon world knows the Americans have gone winless in the Olympics.

Everyone knows, too, that Burke wore the yellow jersey -- emblematic of the World Cup tour leader -- during the 2010 season but since then had to manage a comeback from a leg condition called "compartment syndrome" that's common to Nordic skiers.

A few weeks back, in December, at a World Cup in Slovenia, he took a third place in a 15k mass start -- his first podium finish since that 2010 season.

So he came to the worlds, which kicked off last Thursday, looking for big things. Then, though, his first two races didn't produce the results he was looking for -- tied for 28th in the 10k sprint, 32nd in the 12.5k pursuit.

The U.S. men's biathlon team celebrates Tim Burke's silver // photo courtesy Nordic Focus and U.S. Biathlon

This, though, is where the winning mental edge plays such a huge role in big-time sports.

Instead of sulking, or getting down, Burke stayed calm and focused on what was in front of him. He couldn't change what had already happened. He could only race the races still left to race.

"Today," he's said, "I felt like i was on a man on mission. I couldn't go through these championships -- after preparing all year -- and not show what I was capable of. Per [Nilsson], my coach, did a great job of shaking me up and telling me just to continue to believe in myself. He said, 'Don't you dare give up on these championships, things can change from day to day.' "

Burke drew a late start number -- 65 -- and so for most of the race he was able to shoot and ski without having any idea where he was in the standings. That also meant he didn't get caught up in his head in what was going on around him. It was just him, his skis and his gun.

It wasn't until his last time into the shooting range, when he heard the announcer say he was challenging for the gold medal, that he realized what was up. At that point, he said, "I tried not to think about it and stick to my routine." Laughing, he added, "I think I did a pretty good job. I was happy."

Out on the course, meanwhile, everyone else knew what was going on -- even if Burke didn't. Cobb, surrounded by well-wishers from other teams, could sense the excitement building as time kept ticking. As Burke skied near, and then across, the finish line, Cobb said, the scene was "just phenomenal."

Cobb said athletes, coaches and support staff from all over the world came over and high-fived the American contingent.

"It was one of those moments," Cobb said, "when you understand the role that sport can play, this notion that sport can bring the world together. That was in evidence today … in the finish line, and up on the course where I was, probably two dozen nations or more and they couldn't have been more excited for Tim and for us as this happened.

"It was," he said, "a really great moment."

Haley Johnson: content and thankful

To everything there is a season. The winter sports season is about begin again. Haley Johnson, a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic biathlon team who had both her most challenging and ultimately best season last season, who at 29 is in her prime competition years in a sport that rewards endurance, has contentedly called it quits. There's a terrific lesson in Haley's transition.

It takes great courage to go out on your own terms.

Oh -- and by, the way, you don't have to win Olympic gold to absolutely be a winner.

It's not that US Biathlon wouldn't want Haley back. She collected nine of her top 12 World Cup results in 2011; last spring, as the tour reached its end in Oslo, Norway, she finished 22nd in the sprint, 21st in the pursuit and 27th in the mass start, her best-ever weekend of racing.

All this after having started the year way back in NorAms in December.

In essence -- having worked her way back up one more time from double-A ball to the big stage.

In a lengthy letter she wrote that explained her decision to step away from competitive biathlon, Haley said, "My season could not have ended in a more exciting way as I crossed the finish line in the mass start competition in Oslo in March. Not only a personal best for myself, it was also a personal best for US Biathlon. I crossed the line with the truest sense of reaching my potential …"

That letter was addressed to US Biathlon's executive director, Max Cobb; to the federation's board of directors; and to the US Biathon foundation.

It goes on to say: "I am very glad to have grown up through the biathlon family and I appreciate all of my teammates and staff along the way. Upon returning home after the Mass Start race in Oslo I felt a great sense of completeness. Collectively, all of the people, places and experiences contributed to one of the greatest parts of my life. And for this I could not thank you all enough."

Some at the annual biathlon awards dinner -- which was held last Saturday in Park City, Utah -- admitted without shame that they cried when they read Haley's letter. She was among those honored at the ceremony.

In the letter, Haley also says, "I believe that my athletic potential has yet to peak and that it would be realistic to set my sights on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. However, my priorities have changed and I truly believe in the next pursuits of personal excellence in other areas of life."

For one, Haley and her fiancé, Dave Stewart, who is the head Nordic coach at the University of Denver, naturally have some details to attend to. They're getting married next August near her home town of Lake Placid, N.Y.

"A small wedding but we have big families," she said.

They met in 2003. It was love at first sight. "It was," she said, laughing. "It was pretty cool."

Haley is halfway through getting her college degree, finishing up at Denver after two years at Bates College, majoring now in public policy and social services.

"I felt all these stirrings not only the last year but the last couple of years," she said. "I couldn't just be an athlete."

At the beginning of last season, when she was back in the NorAm circuit after having been in the Olympics just months before -- that was because she simply wasn't shooting well. "It was just this one small piece I needed to fix, not this whole thing … that's why I never even thought about throwing in the towel.

"I had such a strong conviction I was going to set such a new track, I just let that go. I quietly reveled in my accomplishments. I knew I had a tall ladder in front of me. I never thought about which rung I was on and which rung I stepped away from. I tried to stay in the moment. I just stayed very much in the present."

The truth is, Haley wasn't even supposed to even be in Oslo.

She felt she had "missed that perfect little sweet spot that comes with peak performance" at the world championships, which had been held immediately beforehand in Russia.

The decision about who would go to Oslo was up to the U.S. coaches.

And then they said -- Haley, you're in.

"Then the magic began," she said.

"I basically seized the opportunity of being granted the gift of one extra week," with those best-ever results.

"I have been given that advice before," of treating every competition like a gift, "but it wasn't like that until [Oslo]," she said. "It can take an entire career to learn valuable things.

"Maybe," Haley Johnson said, contentedly, "I'll get to use it again in some other situation."

USOC's smart play: staying out of 2020

DAEGU, South Korea -- The president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, said here Friday, "Obviously we would love to have had a bid emanating from the United States for 2020," and, sure, no doubt about that. At the same time, the United States Olympic Committee unequivocally did the right thing by announcing earlier this week it would not be bidding. An American bid could not have won. If no one else is willing to be so blunt in saying so -- it says so here. Not now, no way, no how. Moreover, it's not clear when. Maybe 2022. Or maybe not. It's too soon to know.

You can believe there were a variety of interests urging the Americans to jump in to the 2020 campaign. Larry Probst, the USOC chairman, and Scott Blackmun, the USOC chief executive, deserve credit for having resolve enough to just say no. That's leadership.

Right now the IOC, and for that matter international sport, is in the midst of what the South Koreans, prompted by the first-rate American strategist Terrence Burns, cleverly termed the "new horizons" era. That slogan encapsulated Pyeongchang's winning bid for the 2018 Winter Games. That same sort of expansionist thinking won Sochi the 2014 Winter Games and Rio de Janeiro the 2016 Summer Games -- and, as well, brought Russia and Qatar the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Friday brought yet another "new horizons" twist -- one that makes Probst and Blackmun look even smarter.

After meeting all afternoon here at the Inter Burgo hotel behind closed doors, the IOC's policy-making executive board gave Doha the green light to launch an autumn bid for the 2020 Games, when it would be cooler in Qatar.

Later Friday, the Qatar Olympic Committee announced they were in the race. The formal entry deadline is Sept. 1.

Istanbul, Madrid, Tokyo and Rome have announced they're in, too.

There's no question, of course, that the United States has the facilities and resources to stage an Olympic Games. As Seb Coe, the leader of the London 2012 bid and now its organizing committee, has famously put it, that's the "how." What's now missing is the "why" -- the story of why the IOC would vote to send the Games back to the United States.

Until that "why" comes along, there's an incredibly strong argument to be made that it's best for the United States to remain a loyal, faithful and devoted Olympic partner but graciously permit others to shoulder the burden of staging the Games.  It currently costs $100 million, or more, to bid successfully, and in the United States, where all that money has to be privately raised, there has to be a return on that investment.

See New York 2012 and Chicago 2016.

Let's be perfectly clear. At least 20 years will have gone by from the last time the United States had the privilege of staging the Games until the next time, whenever that is; the last time was of course in Salt Lake City, in 2002. But it's not that the USOC, and the United States of America, haven't sought the Games. To the contrary.

Indeed, the next time a bid committee goes to the White House to ask the president of the United States for his (or her) personal involvement in the campaign -- again, it gets back to return on investment.

It is indisputably true that the IOC and USOC find themselves locked in a complex dispute over revenue-sharing over broadcasting and marketing shares. Solving that is a prerequisite for the launch of any American bid. It wasn't going to be solved by Sept. 1, and that's why the USOC was for sure out for 2020.

The two sides are currently negotiating; eventually, the matter will be solved. It's a contract dispute. Such disputes inevitably get solved.

That just sets the stage, though, for the real work.

Far too many people seem to have a grossly unrealistic expectation about the bid process, particularly in the United States, fueled perhaps by Atlanta's win for the 1996 Games.

That win, though, happened at a very different time in both American and Olympic history, when the United States was riding the boom of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Those days are long gone.

What Probst and Blackmun understand is that the USOC now is in the relationship business.

That is the real work.

The two most intriguing U.S.-centric bid-related news bits this week were not so much that the USOC opted out of 2020 -- the signals had been there for a long while -- but that Probst and Blackmun last week traveled to Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Chile, and that here this week Bob Hersh, the American delegate, was not only re-elected to one of the four IAAF vice-presidential positions but received the most votes among all the candidates.

First, the South American swing:

It is vital that the USOC play a key role in the western hemisphere. If you can't help lead in your own neighborhood, how can you lead anywhere else?

It's why Probst, in a statement released by the USOC, said it had placed a "high priority on being a trusted partner" in the Americas. Blackmun -- who, by the way, is also due into Daegu next week -- called the South American trip an "opportunity to learn from some of the smartest people in the Olympic movement and continue to build genuine relationships."

Hersh, meanwhile, offers a solid example of how Americans ought to -- no, must -- go about re-building their international relations effort.

Hersh has been active in track and field circles throughout his life. He was manager of his high school (Midwood High, Brooklyn) and college (Columbia) track teams; after law school (Harvard), he became an official at track meets; then he got involved with the body that pre-dated USA Track & Field. For chronological purposes, that takes us to the 1970s. He was elected to his first IAAF post, a technical position, in 1984.

That was 27 years ago.

Hersh has steadily worked his way up since, saying in an interview Friday, a couple days after receiving 175 votes for vice-president, "Work is the key word," adding a moment later, "The way you progress in most organizations is by doing work that is recognized. And it is work. No question about it. A lot of work. I am pleased, as anyone would be, when things come of it."

Dale Neuberger is a key figure in swimming. Svein Romstad is secretary-general of the luge federation. Max Cobb is a rising figure in biathlon.

Here, in addition to Hersh, three other Americans were also elected to IAAF posts, including David Katz, who led the voting to remain on the federation's technical committee in balloting that saw 12 elected from a field of 28.

The United States needs more such worker bees, and in considerably more federations. That's how networks get built. Over time, such networks build influence.

Again, give Probst and Blackmun credit. Rather than being rushed into a decision for 2020, they took their time.

"We respect and we understand the position of the United States Olympic Committee," Rogge also said here Friday, "and we hope there will be good bids in the future beyond 2020."

There's no rush.