Milorad Cavic

FINA elections: a power-play clinic

FINA elections: a power-play clinic

BUDAPEST — Here is the short version of a contentious campaign that dragged on for months inside FINA, the aquatics federation, and that culminated in Saturday’s election:

A rival sought to execute an Olympic power play. In the end, though, it was like Milorad Cavic and Michael Phelps. A lot of drama, maybe. But you knew who was going to win.

Because when it comes to executing a show of authority in Olympic circles, you have to go a long way to get past the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, especially when what’s at issue is the power of the IOC president and his key allies.

#Followthesun, and other hot (maybe) takes


-- In advance of the publication in the coming days of highly technical planning details, it’s far-more-interesting logo-unveil time in the 2024 Summer Olympic bid game. Paris, for instance, came out a few days ago with a stylized Eiffel Tower. On Tuesday,  Los Angeles unveiled its logo and the tagline, “Follow the sun.” Reaction: let’s be honest here and admit that logos and slogans rarely play a huge role come voting time, with the exception perhaps of the incredibly on-point Pyeongchang 2018 tag, “New Horizons.”

The LA24 logo

The Paris logo

Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, with swim star Janet Evans and others applauding for LA24 bid leader Casey Wasserman

Following the sun: the wow factor from the 30th floor, looking west

At issue in this 2024 campaign is nothing less the fundamental direction of the Olympic movement: whether the International Olympic Committee is prepared to take LA mayor Eric Garcetti and bid leader Casey Wasserman up on what they said Tuesday to a fired-up crowd on the 30th floor of a downtown skyscraper, the sun setting gloriously to the west. The mayor: “Imagination is critical because it leads to hope. Hope leads to dreams. Dreams lead to innovation. That is the story of our city.” Wasserman said a "sense of relentless reinvention and new beginnings” anchor “LA2024’s distinctive value proposition for the good of the Games and the Olympic movement,” a bid with 97 percent of the venues already in place or planned (canoe slalom still to be figured out).

Let’s be honest some more, because at some point there has to be plain talk about this campaign, and it ought to start now, even though the vote isn’t until 2017 and lots can, and will happen. Right now, Europe — pretty much all of it — is a big question mark. As former U.S. treasury secretary Lawrence Summers wrote in Tuesday’s Washington Post, “These are difficult times in Europe with the refugee crisis, economic weakness, security issues and the rise of populist movements.” There’s LA, and then there’s Paris, Rome and Budapest. This campaign will doubtlessly feature any number of references to Paris mounting a fourth bid. At the same time, it needs to be understood that the LA effort is not just an LA, or SoCal, thing; it is America’s third bid, after New York in 2005 for 2012, Chicago in 2009 for 2016.

Straight talk, continued: logic and common sense say the IOC can hardly run the risk of turning down the three biggest cities in the United States in succession. (Of course, it can do so, and an IOC election can typically prove volatile.) But if LA does not win for 2024, it would be exceptionally problematic — and that is putting it gently — for LA to come back for 2028, or to see any other American city step up. It takes millions of dollars to run a bid, and in the United States that money has to be privately raised. The money is here and now for LA24. Imagine a 2024 loss — and then Wasserman going back to all those he hit up for $1 million apiece and saying, looking at 2028, something like, oh, well, now the IOC is going to treat us fairly. Not going to happen. The time is now.

-- IOC president Thomas Bach was in LA earlier this month, making the rounds after prior visits to Paris, Rome and Budapest, the other cities in the 2024 race. Bach then went up to Silicon Valley for talks.

Reaction: so curious that the far more important purpose of Bach’s California trip, the excursion to Silicon Valley, drew  minimal press attention. He met with representatives of Visa, Facebook, Twitter and Google, among others. The IOC needs big-time help in reaching out to young people; it is focused in particular on the launch of the Olympic Channel. If you’re an IOC member, looking at that line-up in California, and there’s a California bid, doesn’t that too comport with logic and common sense?

IOC president Thomas Bach, center, at Google HQ // photo IOC

-- One more LA note. The U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon went down Saturday on a course that wound around downtown and the University of Southern California campus. Galen Rupp won on the men’s side. Many in the running press (there is such a thing) immediately pointed to the possibility of Rupp, silver medalist in the 10k in London in 2012, running both the 10k and the marathon in Rio.

Reaction: let’s wait to see what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has to say in the coming months, if anything, about Rupp and his coach, Alberto Salazar. As Kara Goucher, the women’s fourth-place finisher, said after the race, "Justice is coming."

Kara Goucher near the finish of Saturday's U.S. marathon Trials // Getty Images

-- Speaking of the IOC’s purported youth outreach: the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer are on.

Reaction: did you notice? Did anyone — like, any teens or 20-somethings? The very best part about the YOG experiment is the Young Reporters program, which has produced a number of promising young stars. There’s also an argument that the Youth Games serve as a petri dish of sorts, allowing the IOC and, perhaps more important, the international sports federations to check out without real peril events such as skateboarding (Nanjing YOG, 2014) and, now in Lillehammer, parkour. Fine. But that’s not the point of YOG, expressed by former IOC president Jacques Rogge in launching it. It’s to connect meaningfully with young people. How’s that going?

-- Speaking of a way that actually works in reaching young people: kudos to organizers, and especially the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., for the Big Air event a few days ago at Boston's Fenway Park. It featured jumps and tricks off a 140-foot ramp set up on the field at the iconic baseball stadium.

Reaction: terrific idea, terrific execution. Great stuff, especially on TV.

Women's winner Julia Marino, 18, of Westport, Conn., during the Big Air event at Fenway Park // Getty Images

-- USA Swimming announces a contract extension, through the end of 2020, for executive director Chuck Wielgus.

Chuck Wielgus // photo USA Swimming

Reaction: USA Swimming is one of a handful of well-run national governing bodies, and that is in significant measure due to Wielgus, who is a fundamentally decent human being. Anyone who knows USA Swimming knows Wielgus has wrestled for years now with cancer; he deserves widespread admiration and respect for the soft-spoken courage he has repeatedly shown in public in dealing with significant medical issues. Switching gears: the well-publicized challenges sparked by sexual abuse of young swimmers are not — repeat, not — Chuck Wielgus’ fault. Six years ago, in particular in regard to the comments he made on an ABC 20/20 investigation, was Wielgus at his best when he said he didn’t feel the need to apologize? No. Does an 18-year tenure deserve to be judged by one moment? No. And, now, USA Swimming is way ahead of the curve with its SafeSport program. If you want to criticize Wielgus, he deserves credit, too, for realizing, perhaps belatedly, what was wrong and helping to craft an industry-standard response. What should be Wielgus’ next goal: effecting fundamental change in the USA Swimming governance structure. Simply, the board of directors has too many people; it’s too big and unwieldy. Better for USA Swimming to do what it does best, and be a leader in the field, meaning slim down the board, before something happens — whatever that might be — to compel change under pressure.

-- Michael Phelps shows up in a swim brief and has fun with the Arizona State basketball-game "Curtain of Distraction."

Phelps doing his thing at the ASU basketball game // screenshot Pac-12 network

Reaction: you can just tell the guy is happy. Which means: watch out, world. Prediction, absent a huge surprise at the U.S. Trials: five Rio gold medals (200 IM, 200 butterfly, 100 fly, 800 relay, medley relay), and that is no knock on his friend and rival, Ryan Lochte. As long as Lochte continues to pursue the 200 backstroke — at the Olympics, the 200 back final goes down before the 200 IM final on the same night — it’s a lot to ask, particularly of the legs, to go for gold in the 200 IM, too. As for the butterfly events, Chad le Clos of South Africa is a major talent. But in saying last summer after winning the 100 fly at the world championships (Phelps did not swim at the 2015 worlds) that Phelps could “keep quiet now,” le Clos awoke the tiger, and probably foolishly. Phelps has always done best when someone goes and trash talks — ask, in sequence, Ian Thorpe, Ian Crocker and, of course, Milorad Cavic. The x factor for Phelps in Rio: the 400 free relay, one of the signature moments at the Beijing 2008 Games, when Jason Lezak turned in an otherworldly last leg to beat Alain Bernard and the French. For the past couple years, the French have been the world’s best in that event, and it’s not clear, at least yet, that even with Phelps the U.S. has what it takes.

-- The Zika virus takes over the Olympic news cycle, and U.S. soccer women’s national team goalie Hope Solo, among others, expresses concern about being part of it all in Rio.

Prediction: Solo goes to Rio.

-- Two former officials with the Russian anti-doping agency, which goes by the acronym RUSADA, die within two weeks. Founding chairman Vyacheslav Sinev, who left RUSADA in 2010, died Feb. 3. Then this past Sunday, Feb. 14, the former RUSADA executive director Nikita Kamaev, died, just 52, of a “massive heart attack,” the agency said. Kamaev had resigned just two months ago, amid the doping scandal that sparked suspension of the Russian track and field program. That scandal is tied, in part, to a November report from a World Anti-Doping Agency commission that suggested state-sponsored doping. On Feb. 11, three days before Kamaev’s death, the Russian prosecutor-general’s office (predictably) rejected the WADA commission report, saying it held no concrete facts proving state-sponsored doping.

Reaction: it's like a Russian novel, full of twists and turns and who knows what. For that matter: who knows, really, what is believed to be real in Russia, and what is not? This prediction, though: like Hope Solo, the Russian track and field team will be in Rio. The IOC is super-big on a concept called “universality,” which means everyone in the entire world coming together. It’s actually a fundamental rationale for the Games. Given that, how possibly can officials — in particular track and field’s international governing body, the IAAF, or more, the IOC — keep the Russian track and field team away? Also: who really wants to challenge Vladimir Putin, given the potential for many uncertain ramifications?

-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dies over the weekend at a ranch in Texas.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia // Getty Images

Chuck Blazer, once a senior soccer executive // Getty Images

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the FIFA matter last December in Washington // Getty Images

Reaction: what might that have to do with sports? Turn to a case called Crawford vs. Washington, decided in 2004. The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that in a criminal case, the defendant “shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” What does that mean when someone makes a “testimonial” statement out-of-court but doesn’t (that is, can’t, for instance because of illness, or won’t, because of the assertion of privilege) testify in court itself? Writing for a unanimous 9-0 court, Scalia said the “testimonial” statement can’t be admitted as evidence — unless the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the person who made that statement.

So, again: sports? The U.S. Department of Justice inquiry into corruption at FIFA centers on Chuck Blazer, the American who was formerly a high-ranking soccer-world executive. Blazer reportedly has been ill for years with colon cancer. What if he dies before any trial? Would anything he had to say be admissible? For that matter, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has already been prominently mentioned as a potential Scalia replacement. Would the Justice Department be so interested in aggressively pursuing soccer stuff if someone else took over?

Michael Phelps as work in progress


Michael Phelps had it Friday morning, turning in a sensational prelim swim. He didn’t quite have it Friday night when it counted, losing by one-hundredth of a second in the 100 butterfly to Tom Shields at the U.S. national championships in Irvine, California. The upshot: Phelps is back on the national team. For him, for the U.S. team, for swimming in general, that’s all good. Now, though, the real work begins. As Bob Bowman, his longtime coach, said Friday night, “I think he needs to go home and put in some more practices.”

All that is going to have to wait until after the Pan Pacific championships later this summer in Australia, when the Phelps phenomenon goes overseas — in essence, more under-the-spotlight practice time for Phelps to work on his 100 fly, 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley. There may be moments of greatness. There also may be moments of, say what?

Remember, these nationals were only the fifth meet of the Phelps comeback after a 20-month competitive layoff.

Michael Phelps after finishing second in the men's 100 fly at the U.S. nationals // photo Getty Images

The race Friday night not only marked Phelps’ best chance to get back onto the international stage for the next two years — a quirk of the USA Swimming rules for this summer’s Pan Pacs and, presumably, next year’s world championships in Russia — it also underscored just how much more work lies ahead for Phelps himself before the 2016 Rio Olympics and, as well, how much better swimming itself has gotten in the two years since the London Games without him and, of course, directly because of him.

Phelps had finished seventh in the 100 free on Wednesday, missing the turn in the shadows.

He has other races on the program: the 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley.

Phelps is the London 2012 200 IM champion. But that race is altogether a different sort of test for someone who has been back at it for months, not years.

And the 100 fly has been one of his mainstays.

Phelps is the gold medalist in the 100 fly at the last three Olympic Games and, moreover, at the 2007, 2009 and 2011 world championships.

He is the world-record holder in the event, 49.82, set in a memorable duel at the 2009 Rome worlds with Milorad Cavic.

Phelps is of course the holder of 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold.

What gets obscured in the glare of all that gold, however, is what it took to get there, and an elemental premise:

Swimming is hard.

Not to say other sports aren’t.

But at the elite level, swimming always — to repeat, always — reveals whether a racer has put in the work.

This is what Phelps learned, to his detriment, at the Shanghai worlds in 2011. He had not put in the work. Ryan Lochte had. Lochte had an awesome meet. Phelps, to be gracious, did not. Phelps acknowledged as much, and put in just enough to come back in London to win six more medals, then go on his retirement tour.

Now he is back.

The Phelps who went eight-for-eight in Beijing was a guy who over the years put in ferocious amounts of work. He and Bowman famously did not take off weekends or holidays.

With two years now until Rio, the question now in front of Phelps and Bowman is elemental. The work is there to be done. Will it?

Phelps’ legacy is assured. He is the greatest Olympic athlete of not just our time but all time. What he chooses to do is up to him.

Before these recent meets, he has acknowledged nerves — very un-Phelps like. And he knows why, too, saying it’s because he hasn’t put in the training to feel ready to do what’s necessary. That training not only lends fitness, it gives him a feel for what’s what — so, for instance, he doesn’t glide turns, like he did in Friday’s final.

Shields, the winner already here of the 200 fly, finished the 100 in 51.29.

Phelps touched in 51.30, done in by nerves and by a crummy turn mid-way. Typically, Phelps takes 16 strokes in the first half of the 100 fly. This time, it was 16 strokes and a glide before the turn. That cost him.

After the race, Phelps said, “Bob and I were talking: if I want to go 50-point, or if I want to go better, I need more. I need more training. I need more endurance. I need to feel more comfort with my stroke. There are just a lot of things that need to happen. I understand that.”

Bowman: “It’s not fitness. It’s the knowledge that he’s getting up there against these other guys who are on fire and he knows what he has done to get here. And it ain’t what he used to do to get here.”

Phelps also said, “I just felt out of it, not my normal self at finals.

“Normally, I’m very relaxed, very ready. Like Bob said, it’s probably because I’m not used to being in this kind of shape, I guess, shape or this kind of feeling going into a meet. Normally, I can look back and say I’ve done all the training, I’ve done everything I’ve needed to do to prepare myself. You know, with having a year and a half off, and maybe not really going as hard as I probably should have at some of the parts during the year, it shows. And that’s something I understand.

“There are things like this that help me and motivate more than anything else. I’m somebody who can’t stand to lose. I don’t care if it’s by a hundredth or five seconds … I can not stand to lose. This will definitely motivate me … this will definitely be something that sticks with me over the next year leading up to, hopefully, world championships.”

Two years until Rio seems like a long time. It is. And yet — it’s not.

Before this meet, Phelps acknowledged that his swimming and fitness are still very much a work in progress.

When he got back into the water, he said, he was 30 pounds overweight. So he cut out red meat for six months. When did that end? “I pretty much just ended it.”

His freestyle had “been off over the last couple of weeks,” Phelps said, Bowman elaborating that “we always did everything for a 200 before, and then the 100 kind of came out of that, and now we’ve been really trying to do it for a 100 and it’s not — he’s just getting used to that, the tempo and stuff of it.”

Asked about doing a longer race, like a 200 free, Phelps said, “I’m not anywhere close to being able to swim that race at the level I would want to swim it at.”

The thing is, while Phelps is working his way back, the world is not going to be standing still. Shields said Friday night that he had grown up — nearby, in Huntington Beach, California — “worshipping” the likes of Phelps and Ryan Lochte, watching them on TV six years ago in Beijing.

Tom Shields, winner of both the 200 and 100 butterfly events at the U.S. nationals

Now he and many, many others are absolutely wanting to take down Phelps or, for that matter, anyone.

Five years ago, in Rome, 43 world records went down. This was at the height of the plastic-suit craze. The experts thought some records might stand for 20 or more years.

Now, it seems, each and every record is potentially at risk.


Because, in large measure, Phelps has inspired a huge new wave of talent.

And what did Phelps always say was his primary goal, above all else? To grow the sport. So he has only himself to thank for the enhanced competition.

Reading out the start lists from the 100 fly final: six of the eight guys swam lifetime bests in the prelims. Phelps and Lochte — who would finish fifth Friday night — were the only two who did not.

Phelps even noted it, saying after the morning swim, “As soon as Ryan and I saw those guys go 51, we were like, what is this? Can’t we have an easy morning? But I guess we just have to go every time.”

All Phelps did in the morning swim was go 51.17, the fastest time in the world in 2014 — 12-hundredths faster than Chad le Clos’ time at the Commonwealth Games.

For comparison, Phelps’ morning swim was faster than the 51.21 he went to win the London 2012 100 fly final.

Along the way, Phelps is going to throw out glimmers like this.

The trick for Phelps — as he and Bowman acknowledged Friday night — is for those one-offs to become consistent.

The plain fact is that Phelps makes everyone around him better. Most of the time that’s evident through the times themselves. Sometimes it’s simply race strategy and getting the opportunity to swim with the best swimmer in the world — the best of all time — just once.

That famous 10,000-hour rule? The one that says it takes you 10,000 hours to become an expert in something? In swim terms, swimming next to Phelps just once, either in practice or a race, and you experience the 10,000-hour rule in less than a minute.

Now it’s on Phelps to, once more, make himself better. This is the hardest trick there is. But also the most satisfying, the most rewarding.

“As he gets back into it, he’ll be good,” Bowman said. “As he does some more work, he’ll be good. More confidence. More prepared.”


USA Swimming's night to celebrate

NEW YORK -- Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps' coach, came first. At a filled-to-the-max ballroom here at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square, Bowman won USA Swimming's "coach of the year" award at its annual gala, called the "Golden Goggles," and when he took to the stage he had this to say: "Michael, it has been a privilege to be your coach. It has been even better to be your friend."

A few moments later came Phelps, introduced by the strange-but-awesome pairing of Donald Trump and Gary Hall Jr., the former sprint champion -- on a night when the invite said, "Black Tie" -- wearing, indeed, a funky black-and-white tie draped over a black T-shirt that blared out in pink letters, "Barbie," the ensemble dressed up with a black jacket.

Phelps, Trump allowed, was "a friend of mine." He riffed a little bit more, "You think he's going to win?

Of course he was going to win for "male athlete of the year," and when Phelps got to the stage, he said, referring to London 2012, his fourth Games, "This Olympics was the best Olympics I have ever been a part of."

No one in the American Olympic scene -- arguably not even the U.S. Olympic Committee -- puts on a show like USA Swimming. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also among the celebrity presenters. The comic Jim Gaffigan came out for a 20-minute riff that only marginally touched on swimming but did include references to Phelps and Subway sandwiches as well as Gaffigan's much-applauded routine on Hot Pockets, the microwaveable turnover.

Out in the hall there was a silent auction with all manner of stuff for sale -- including a framed picture, signed by both Phelps and Serbia's Milorad Cavic, of the 2008 Beijing 100-meter butterfly, which Phelps famously won by one-hundredth of a second.

It's not simply that American swimmers are so good.

It's that the culture of the U.S. swim team creates success.

That is what was fully and richly on display Monday night at the Marriott Marquis ballroom: a program that dares to dream big and that celebrates the role everyone plays in achieving those dreams, from support staff to coaches to athletes.

Indeed, when the night began with introductions across the stage, it wasn't the athletes or the coaches who came first. It was the support staff. And they got just as loud a round of applause from those on hand.

There are other well-run national governing bodies -- the ski and snowboard team, for instance, which claimed 21 of the world-best 37 medals the U.S. team won in Vancouver in 2010.

That said, virtually every other U.S. Olympic federation could learn a little something, or maybe a lot, from how the swim team gets things done. In London, the swim team won 31 medals -- 16 gold, nine silver, six bronze.

As good as the U.S. track team was -- it won 29 medals -- the numbers don't lie. The No. 1 performance in London came in the water.

It was observed by NBC's Bob Costas, the night's emcee, that if the American swim team had been a stand-alone country it would have finished ninth in the overall medals table -- and fifth in the gold-medal count.

When the 49 athletes on the London 2012 team were introduced, two by two, they showed just how much they genuinely liked each other -- the fun that was so vividly on display in the "Call Me Maybe" video they had produced before the Games, which became a viral internet sensation.

Ricky Berens and Elizabeth Beisel didn't just shake hands when they met at center stage; they executed a chest-bump. Missy Franklin did a twirl, courtesy of Jimmy Feigin. Cullen Jones and Kara Lynn Joyce struck "007" poses.

Time and again, the winners Monday took time to say thank you to their families, coaches, staff and teammates.

"It's just -- just amazing to be here," said Katie Ledecky, the Maryland high school sensation who took home two awards, "breakout performer" and "female race of the year," for her dominating 800 freestyle victory in London. She said of the London Games, "I just had a blast … I got to be inspired by all of you."

Nathan Adrian, the "male race of the year winner" for his one-hundredth of a second victory in the 100-meter freestyle, said, "One last note. Thank you to my mom. I know you're watching online. I love you."

"I've never been on a team that was a close as this one," Dana Vollmer, the 100 fly winner who swam in the world record-breaking, gold medal-winning 4 x 100 women's medley relay, along with Franklin, Rebecca Soni and Allison Schmitt, said.

Of the relay team, she said, "We were called the 'Smiley Club.' "

Echoed Franklin, "My teammates are the best people you would ever meet in your entire life." She also said, "With Thanksgiving coming up, I realized I don't have a single thing in my life not to be thankful for."

Phelps provided the valedictory. He was up for "male athlete of the year" against Ryan Lochte (five medals, two gold), Adrian (three medals, two gold) and Matt Grevers (three medals, two gold).

Phelps followed up his eight-for-eight in Beijing with six medals in London, four gold. He became the first male swimmer to execute the Olympic three-peat, and he did it in not just one event but two, the 200 IM and the 100 fly. His 22 Olympic medals stand as the most-ever. Eighteen of those 22 are gold.

Trump, ever the sage, opined, "No athlete has ever come close," a reference to the arc of Phelps' dominating career, adding, "I don't think they ever will."

All of that is why Phelps, who has repeatedly announced that London marked his last Games as a competitive swimmer, had to be the slam-dunk winner. And if it felt Monday like USA Swimming was maybe -- if reluctantly -- turning the page from the Phelps years, there was that, too.

In London, Phelps embraced his role as veteran team leader. He showed anew Monday how much that meant to him.

The others in the "male athlete" category? "We were all in the same apartment in the [Olympic] village," Phelps said, making it clear that while they might sometimes be rivals in the pool, they were, beyond that, teammates, now and forever.

And, he said, as for that "Call Me Maybe" video: "At first I didn't want to do it. And now I'm really glad I did it because," like the swim team's Olympic year and the celebration Monday of that season, "it turned out to be something really special."

Phelps doubles up on three-peats with win in 100m butterfly

LONDON -- He was seventh at the turn. Once again, just as in Beijing four years ago, Michael Phelps was seventh after 50 meters of the 100-meter butterfly.

For those who don't understand the Michael Phelps way, this must be sheer agony to watch. It's tough to watch even for those who understand it completely, like his mother, Debbie, her arms draped over the railing in the stands. The 100 fly is such a short race. To be seventh of eight halfway through, and with his Beijing arch-rival Milorad Cavic leading the race at the halfway mark-- surely that is tempting fate, right?


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