Bearing down, Sochi-style, for volunteers

SOCHI, Russia -- For those of us lucky enough to live in Los Angeles,  it's both normal and yet incredible what inevitably happens when there's some sort of Olympic-themed event in town. It has already been 26 years since the 1984 Summer Games. And yet, whenever there's something Olympic going on, it's all but guaranteed that someone in the crowd will, unprompted, announce both that he or she was a volunteer at those 1984 Games and that it still ranks way up high there on the list of life's great experiences.

Which is why being here, in Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Games, is -- among many reasons -- so intriguing.

There's no real volunteer culture in Russia.

And that's a fact they're trying to change -- indeed, already making some small headway -- with the Sochi Games as catalyst. A "new page in our country," Dmitri Vityutnev,  the Russian official overseeing the volunteer effort, said in a speech  here Thursday.



That there is a Russian ministry official in charge of volunteering speaks to the nature of how things are different here than in, for instance, the United States, where the tradition is firmly established and is hardly considered a state function.

That there is a Russian ministry official in charge of volunteering also speaks, loudly and clearly, to how an Olympics can produce a legacy that extends beyond the construction of, say, a ski jump ramp -- and how that legacy doesn't have to wait until a Games is over to become real.

"The volunteers are a new generation -- like the generation in the mid-'60s called the baby boomers," said a 19-year-old university student, Ekaterina Tskhakaya, a volunteer at a 10-day workshop here for what's called Generations for Peace.

All six prior Generations for Peace workshops -- the outreach project aims to use sport as a means to defuse conflict -- have been held in the Middle East. The program was launched by Prince Feisal of Jordan and his wife, Princess Sarah, a couple increasingly influential in International Olympic Committee circles.

This seventh workshop is here, in Sochi -- in part a reflection of the growth of the Generation for Peace brand and in part a mini-model for some of the initiatives the Russians aim to promote before, during and after the 2014 Games.

Like the concept of volunteerism.

Most people in the world will never attend an Olympic Games in person. For that matter, even in a city staging the Games it may not be all that easy to score a ticket.

Those two reasons explain why the reach of the movement arguably finds its greatest one-to-one in-person connection in one of two ways:

The journey of the Olympic flame relay.

And volunteering.

An Olympics, Summer or Winter, is now such a grand-scale undertaking that it would be impossible to run a Games without volunteers. The London 2012 organizing committee volunteer effort, for instance, makes for Britain's biggest post-World War II volunteer recruiting campaign.

London 2012 organizers need 70,000 volunteers. They announced Thursday that more than 100,000 have already applied, 2012 Games chairman Seb Coe telling the Associated Press he is "thrilled with the response we've had."

A volunteer force that's sub-par can make for a major Games buzz-kill. On the other hand, a great volunteer crew indisputably makes a great Games great.

Wilfried Lemke, the United Nations' special advisor on the use of sport as a development and peace-building tool, said here earlier in the week amid a presentation to the Generations for Peace group -- 57 delegates from 11 nations -- that what he recalls most about the 2008 Beijing Games is the volunteer spirit.

"I might forget who won the 5,000 meters in track and field. But," he said referring to an 18-year-old volunteer, Wang Yang, who helped look after him in Beijing, "I will never forget the kindness of how she welcomed me with a ni hao every morning," Chinese for hello and welcome.

It's foolish to pretend that such one-on-one goodwill doesn't hold the potential for positive political, diplomatic and business consequences.

There are roughly 20-some million Australians and before the 2000 Sydney Games there were doubts in some quarters about the ability of a nation that small to pull it all off. Now those Games are remembered as one of the best-ever, if not the best, and in significant measure because the volunteers were so incredibly friendly and helpful.

"I've had successive prime ministers tell me that when they travel other world leaders want to talk to them about the Sydney Games," the head of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, said in an interview last month marking the tenth anniversary of those Games.

Vityutnev on Thursday handed out a passport-sized booklet to the Generations for Peace audience, and for the six Russians among the 57 it probably held extra significance -- Vityutnev saying the idea is that volunteers will fill the booklet just like you fill a real passport, and that a record of such volunteer service will be promoted as a career-builder.

Russia is hardly the only country in this part of the world confronting -- in some cases again, in some anew -- the concept of volunteerism.

In Serbia, "we have had to build it up again like a phoenix," said Andrej Pavlovich, one of the 57 in the audience. A 30-year-old English teacher, he served as a supervisor in the organizing of more than 10,000 volunteers for the 2009 University Games in Belgrade. A "milestone," he said.

They're looking for 25,000 volunteers for the Sochi 2014 Games.

There were 10 on hand here Thursday at the Generations for Peace workshop, identifiable in their white T-shirts with black sleeves or blue polo shirts.

"Hey, every1! I'm a Volunteer!" Dana Vorokova wrote in the volunteers' newsletter (already -- a volunteers' newsletter). "It's G8!"

Ekaterina Tskhakaya also contributed to the newsletter. She wrote, "The obligations of volunteers have no limits. You can never know what kind of situation you will face, and when.

"You must always be ready to take on any job and this is what makes our work exciting. It starts from stuffing refrigerators with water and providing delegates with pens to helping the lecturers make their presentations and translating to royal highnesses.

"You know, when sending applications to participation in the event you never know what surprises are waiting for you. I love this feeling of getting involved in all sorts of activity, gaining all-around experience, investigating and which is more important -- making your own contribution to the event."

It's supposed to be fun

Ted Ligety jumps cars in the summer, and it's funny, in the same way the "Jackass" movies are funny. Maybe some moms don't think "Jackass" and its ilk are all that funny. But pretty much most 14-year-old boys, and by extension most males -- hilarious. In a world of cubicle-dwelling, desk-jockeying, Power Point-presenting, 9-to-5 drudge, here's the Ligety alternative: You're in New Zealand for summer ski camp because it's winter down there. You're hanging out with a bunch of your good friends, who are also ski racers. Everyone loves skiing. But no one can ski all the time. So what to do in your down time?

You find an old car. Out in the sticks, you build a dirt ramp. You run the car over the ramp, again and again, thrashing it until, finally, it expires. You laugh and you laugh and you laugh some more, because it's fun and it's funny.

Is that living the dream, or what?

Click here to read the rest at TeamUSA.org.

U.S. women's water polo - a success story

You watch water polo, arguably the most difficult and demanding team sport in the Summer Olympics, and you see what looks more or less like a soccer or basketball game play out in a pool. And that's true enough. But so much more is going on below the surface, if only you know where to look.

It's a little bit like what's going on with the U.S. women's water polo team the past two years, one of the great success stories on the American scene -- to be clear, not just the Olympic scene but beyond, one of the best stories in all of American sports.

To read more, click through to teamusa.org: http://bit.ly/c3Uh1N

A win-win all around

Adorned with works by the famed glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, the bar at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Singapore sits just off the lobby, to the right as you walk in. Management insists on keeping the bar chilled to levels inspired by a meat locker. Drinks were crazy expensive ($13 for a pot of green tea). The piano could be just a touch loud at night. Even so, the bar was without question the place to see and be seen during the recently concluded Youth Olympic Games.

Some number from the United States Olympic Committee proved bar regulars during the Youth Games. Indeed, let it be noted that the USOC crew actually shut the bar down late one night.

So Thursday's announcement that the USOC and the International Olympic Committee had come to an agreement over the USOC share of what in Olympic jargon are called "Games costs" comes not as a surprise. Instead, it's the logical extension of what happens when you invest in relationships and in playing the game the way it has to be played within the wider Olympic movement.

Though terms were not formally announced, the USOC will pay about $18 million to help pay for anti-doping programs, operations of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and other administrative costs.

To be clear: the agreement is a win-win all around.

It's unequivocally a win for the USOC.

Why? Because it underscores the willingness on the part of chairman Larry Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun to reach out to the IOC. Each has said repeatedly in recent months that they would deal with the IOC in good faith; the deal makes real that talk.

Probst and Blackmun worked seamlessly as a team, and both deserve credit for that, too.

Probst, for his part, gets it now -- how he, as the chairman, and thus the senior American figure on the scene, is the one who absolutely has to be at certain meetings with certain IOC figures for any progress to be achieved.

Blackmun is the one appropriately hammering out the particulars.

Moreover, the USOC's annual assembly comes in two weeks, in Colorado Springs. Now Probst and Blackmun will get to stand up before the USOC's many stakeholders and announce they have delivered on their promise to make progress with the IOC.

At the same time, the announcement Thursday indisputably marks a major win for the IOC, too.

Why? Because it acknowledges that the Olympic movement is stronger and better off all around when the USOC and IOC are in it together, and that the IOC is -- without question -- committed to that proposition.

IOC leadership now gets to go to a major conference in October in Acapulco, at which its policy-making executive board will mingle with officials from the more than 200 national Olympic committees from around the world, and announce progress in the relationship with the USOC.

It's why the bar scene in Singapore proved so intriguing.

It's not that the deal itself was struck in the bar.

It's the recognition of how things get done in the Olympic scene, where relationships are everything.

Indeed, the deal that was announced Thursday marks the culmination of meetings that began in Denver in 2009, then continued in Vancouver at the Winter Games earlier this year, and then again in Switzerland earlier this summer, and then came together in Singapore.

The outlines of the deal were largely worked out in Vancouver.

Intriguingly, it's more or less a deal of the sort that could have been worked out five or six years ago -- which would have completely re-framed a great many things, including perhaps Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Games, an effort that all along had to contend with some level of contentiousness within the wider IOC membership about the USOC's finances.

Chicago was booted in the first round of IOC voting last October; Rio de Janeiro won.

So why did the deal that was largely framed up in Vancouver had to wait a few more months to be finalized?

The answer: to develop the two IOC top-tier sponsorship deals that were announced this summer, with Proctor & Gamble and with Dow Chemical, and in particular the Dow deal. P&G was already a USOC sponsor; adding Dow, though, gives the USOC new revenues, and allows for considerably more flexibility.

Now the focus shifts to Part Two of the USOC-IOC finances -- the USOC's 20 percent share of worldwide marketing revenues and 12.75 percent cut of U.S. broadcast rights fees.

The two sides agreed in Denver that they would commence negotiations in 2013 on a new formula that would kick off in 2020.

The announcement Thursday enables them to start those talks sooner.

And start sooner they must. It's in everyone's interest for Part Two to get resolved while Jacques Rogge is the IOC president; his term expires in 2013.

See you in the bar in Acapulco, amigos.

2018 Youth Games - calling Mr. T

SINGAPORE -- If it is at all possible that any of the movies in the Rocky series qualifies as cinematic achievement, then perhaps the line uttered by Mr. T, playing Clubber Lang in 1982's Rocky III, stands alone as one of the fine lines in movie history. It is, of course, "I pity the fool!"

These first-ever Youth Games, which closed Thursday to a resounding fireworks show, were by virtually every operational measure a resounding success. The next Summer edition comes in Nanjing, China, in 2014 -- where, as here, there will be little concern about spending money. The Singapore 2010 budget, in American dollars at current exchange rates: $285 million, three times the original estimate, the government's sports minister confirmed Thursday.

After Singapore and then China, who wants to put on these Games in 2018? The International Olympic Committee won't decide for a little while yet. But it is tempting even now to declare: I pity the fool!

Unless and until the U.S. Olympic Committee resolves its longstanding revenue-related dispute with the International Olympic Committee, there's zero reason for the United States to consider a YOG bid. Not that the USOC is asking for my advice but here it is: don't do it.

Plus, there's no reason for the USOC to get into the YOG game. Someone, somewhere will be only too glad to stand up and take on 2018. Better they do it than the U.S. run the risk of following 2010 and 2014.

Nothing is perfect, and these Singapore Youth Games weren't, hardly to be expected from a new initiative. Even so, the glitches were just that -- glitches.

As a consequence, it's almost too bad for the IOC that this first YOG, as it is commonly referred to in Olympic-speak, was held here.

Why? Because Singapore organizers set the bar so high that what's next may be all too predictable -- a rush by successive organizing committees to out-do the one before, and thus a challenge to the very ethos that animated YOG, and ought to keep doing so.

YOG is not the Summer Games. It is not the Winter Games.

It is, instead, a sports festival for teenagers overlaid with a cultural and educational program.

In these two weeks, it took huge steps toward creating an identity distinct from the traditional Summer Games.

It is, as the IOC and the international sports federations intended it, a laboratory for tinkering with various sports and formats -- everything from 3-on-3 basketball to the mixed team events that saw, for instance, an American and Cuban compete together in modern pentathlon.

The odds of seeing any of these experiments any time soon as part of the formal Summer Games program? Close to zero. You might, for instance, see 3-on-3 at the London 2012 or Rio 2016 Games but not as a medal event -- as halftime entertainment in the basketball tournament itself.

The IOC didn't keep a medals count in Singapore but everyone else assuredly did. Of course they did; the Olympic franchise means flags, anthems and medals, though some had suggested the Youth Games could do without. No way.

Fifty nations won at least one gold medal, among them Eritrea and Vietnam. Some treated YOG as a sort-of junior Games (China, with 51 medals overall). Some treated it as a developmental event, sending athletes who might or very well might not ever make it to the Summer Games  (the United States, which typically tops the Summer Olympic overall medals count but finished here with 25.)

Nauru, the world's smallest island nation, all of eight square miles out in the vast Pacific Ocean, won a medal here -- a silver in boxing.

A Saudi girl, Dalma Rushdi H Malhas, the first Saudi female to compete at an Olympic event, won bronze in equestrian.

Haiti's boys soccer team took silver. "Our countries are all united by the tragedies we have suffered," a 15-year-old girls' soccer player from Chile, Romina Orellana, said of the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and her own nation.

YOG was filled with such genuine, indeed lovely, moments and sentiments.

Unclear, though, from the start -- and still so -- is how to measure the import of the formal culture and education program.

Yes, some famous Olympic stars (Frankie Fredericks, Yelena Isinbayeva) came here for chats. And -- so?

Yes, a bunch of booths were set up in the athletes' village that depicted life in the various nations of the world -- Malaysia next to Lebanon next to Laos, for instance, each booth staffed by Singaporeans wearing costumes from whichever country it was. The booths seemed like something you might see at an American high school's version of International Day. It's entirely uncertain whether the booths were totally cheesy or because the target audience was, in fact, high-schoolers, pitch-perfect.

Many of the IOC members toured the booths, and the village. Within the IOC itself, YOG was a huge event -- 108 of the members, nearly all of them, made an appearance here.

Within Singapore, YOG was big news. It occupied several pages a day within the main local paper, the Straits Times.

Elsewhere, though, YOG proved a blip. If that.

Going forward, one of the key challenges YOG faces -- if not the main one -- is how to make this two-week event relevant to the young audience the IOC is seeking to reach.

Because it's in essence a high-school track meet (swim meet, gymnastics meet and so on), there's little to no interest from major broadcasters in televising significant chunks of it. Odane Skeen of Jamaica, who won the boys' 100-meter dash, was timed in 10.42 seconds. Usain Bolt's world record is 9.58. If it's at all possible for eight-tenths of a second to explain why broadcasters are highly unlikely to ever invest significantly in YOG, that's it in a nutshell.

The IOC is absolutely right, as it did aggressively here, to explore the potential of new media. Again, YOG is a laboratory for experimentation. As the IOC pointed out in a news release issued Thursday, videos on the Youth Olympic Games Channel have been viewed over five million times, and at one point it was the third most-watched YouTube channel worldwide.

The challenge is that as impressive as that sounds, it's really not -- at least not yet, in terms of global reach. That's because huge numbers of people in the world have access to a TV but not to a computer. How long will it be until that changes? A generation? Longer?

"You will be a Young Olympian for the rest of your life," IOC president Jacques Rogge said Wednesday when asked if the competitors could consider themselves "Olympic athletes." He said further, "You won't be young forever but being a young Olympian is something they can never take away from you."

Right. But what, exactly, does that mean?

Youth Games and the cousin you'd never met

SINGAPORE -- They say the Olympics bring people together. In this instance, literally.

Josh Hawkins is a 16-year-old hurdler from New Zealand. Devyn Hencil is a 15-year-old soccer player from Zimbabwe.

First cousins, they had never met.

Until they met here, at the first-ever Youth Olympic Games.

"Crazy," Josh said.

"Happy, crazy, everything," Devyn said.

"This is quite unique," the New Zealand team leader, Robyn Wong, said. "I've never heard of this happening before. It's fantastic that Josh is able to meet up with family. You think about the Olympics and the friendships you're able to make -- and now you can say the family you'd never been able to meet."

Josh's mom and Devyn's mom are sisters. The sisters are from Zimbabwe. Josh's dad is from New Zealand.

Josh has a younger sister and a younger brother. They live now in Auckland, on New Zealand's north island.

Devyn has two younger sisters. They live in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital.

Josh's mom is named Sharon, Devyn's Rachel. About three weeks before the start of these Youth Games, the two sisters were chatting by e-mail.

Guess what? Rachel was saying. Devyn is going to Singapore, to play soccer at this Youth Games thing.

That's funny, Sharon replied. Josh is going there, too, to run hurdles.

Devyn said Thursday, "When she told me, it was like, seriously?"

The two boys met up about four days into these Games, in the courtyard of the athletes' village.

Devyn recognized Josh from a photo of his New Zealand cousins that's up on a wall in his Harare home.

Josh recognized Devyn, too, from another family photo. But, he said with a laugh about Devyn, "His head looked bigger than it does in the picture!"

"I've never had family other than -- well, family," meaning his brother and sister and mom and dad, Josh said.

The Zimbabwe team finished sixth in the boys' soccer tournament. Josh made it into the consolation final of the 110-meter hurdles; in that race, he finished fifth.

So no medal for either. But you know what they also say -- when you've got your family, you've got everything.

"It's new generations, new beginnings and that's how life goes," Sharon Hawkins was saying Thursday on the telephone from New Zealand.

"I was over the moon. I cried when I heard Joshua was at the same games. My heart felt like it was going to burst," Rachel Hencil said over the phone from Zimbabwe.

"I've been phoning everyone," she said. "I think everyone in Zimbabwe knows."

Josh already stands an even six feet tall; Devyn is maybe 5-2. They laughed as they posed for pictures Thursday while relaxing in the village, telling their story to a reporter and to a Kiwi camera crew.

Only one word would do to describe it all, and Josh used it a lot Thursday. He kept saying, "Crazy."

American, Cuban make sports history -- together

SINGAPORE -- Fate threw them together. Together they made sports history.

They bridged 90 miles, 50 years and a raft of political complexities, two teenagers, both 18 years old, one American, the other Cuban.

In the mixed relay event that wrapped up the modern pentathlon competition at these first-ever Youth Olympic Games, Cuban Leydi Laura Moya Lopez and American Nathan Schrimsher competed together as a team. Two nations, one entry on the start sheet.

After a long day of fencing, swimming, running and shooting, they finished 16th of 24.

No one cared.

Just competing together was all that mattered -- their appearance, according to current and former senior U.S. Olympic Committee staff, believed to be the first time an American and Cuban had paired up as sports buddies in an Olympic-style event in decades.

"It was normal," she said. "In competition, all is beautiful."

He said, "She doesn't speak much if any English. I don't speak any Spanish. But we got along really well; we were high-fiving, giving each other hugs, encouraging each other. We both do pentathlon so we both speak pentathlon and understand each other -- our pains and groans and aches. So we were able to help each other."

Over the years that Fidel Castro has been in charge on the island nation, Cubans and Americans have of course competed against each other many, many times at untold number of events.  And some Cuban athletes -- think Major League Baseball -- have made it to the States to compete with Americans in professional sports.

But an American and a Cuban together, as teammates, on the Olympic scene -- that was believed to be a first.

It made for a study in the very essence of sport -- and a reminder that while sport hardly offers a direct path to world peace there are moments when sport can offer a dialogue and a path that virtually nothing else can.

The pairing in pentathlon, as it would turn out, came on the very same day that a Saudi Arabian girl, Dalma Rushdi H Malhas, the first Saudi female ever to compete at an Olympic event, won bronze in the individual equestrian event.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, on hand at the Singapore Sports School to watch the swim portion of the pentathlon, said, "Sure, sport is an instrument of change."

He cautioned, "We should not overload sport with potential that it does not have. Sport alone will not bring peace. Sport alone will not keep peace. It can contribute to other efforts -- by politicians, by public opinion, by non-governmental organizations -- to create a peaceful planet. We are participating in that effort."

These first-ever Youth Games now seem destined to be remembered for such sentiments, in part because the IOC and the international sports federations gambled on experiments such as mixed relays.

Some sports featured mixed events in which boys and girls competed together but still for their own country. The swim meet here, for instance, saw mixed 400-meter freestyle and medley relays; China won both.

Other sports mixed not only boys and girls but nations.

In archery, for example, the mixed event saw a girl from Spain and a boy from Bangladesh paired up. They finished fourth.

'It was fascinating," said Yasaman Shirian, a 17-year-old archer from Iran who teamed up with Ibrahim Sabry of Egypt in the team event. They finished 17th. She said, "It didn't matter whether you came first or last because you were enjoying being with another person. The best part is making good friends with people from other countries."

Track and field mixed it up by continents -- and, in a further quirk, by distance.

So, for instance, the line-up for the Americas boys' relay team looked like this: Brazilian Caio Dos Santos running first, for 100 meters; Jamaican Odane Skeen, the individual 100 gold-medalist, running the next leg in the relay, which was 200 meters; Najee Glass, a 16-year-old from Woodbridge, N.J., running the third leg, which was 300 meters; and, finally, Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic running the anchor leg, 400 meters. The Americas boys won handily -- and, to the relief of anyone who has seen a USA relay in recent years, Najee handled the baton smoothly.

Gilbert Felli, the senior IOC official who oversees the delivery of Olympic events, said in an interview with the Young Reporters program -- another Youth Games initiative, with more than two dozen aspiring journalists from around the world -- that the mixing and matching was highly unlikely to make its way into the traditional Summer Games program.

For one, he suggested, such mixed events can help the Youth Games achieve its own identity.

For another, he said, the competitive and commercial pressures of chasing a medal at the traditional Games are all but sure to prove far too intense to allow for such experimentation at the Summer Olympics.

"We have to look at the Youth Olympics as a special event," he said. "It is not a mini-Olympics."

The mixed fencing competition here last week split the Americas teams into two.

Americas 1, made up of four Americans and two Canadians, took bronze.

Americas 2 finished seventh of eight. That team included a Canadian, Argentinian, Brazilian, Salvadoran and finally, 17-year-old Redys Hanners Prades Rosabal of Cuba and Mona Shaito of the United States, a 16-year-old from Garland, Texas.

"I thought about it," Mona said. "I thought, wow. This is really weird, how nobody from the U.S. is allowed in Cuba, and here we are competing with somebody we're not allowed to get into their country with. It was amazing."

The pentathlon competition Tuesday took USA-Cuba one step further -- to a genuine partnership.

Nathan, who is from Roswell, N.M., was thrown together with Leydi by chance; their names were picked out of a glass bowl in a draw made Sunday evening.

Because she had won the individual gold, some had thought before the mixed event Tuesday that they might be medal contenders.

But no -- as she would acknowledged later, she was so tired from winning the individual event that she didn't have much left.

"The competition was good," she said. "Sports are sports. If I had to compete with the United States, I was happy about it."

He said, "Competing with Cuba was amazing. I don't know all the politics and everything. I know there's a lot of tension. Competing with her -- there wasn't any problem. We're just pentathletes. We're people, too. We enjoy what we do and had a blast doing it."

Americans 2-for-2 in judo gold

SINGAPORE -- When he was a toddler, Max Schneider was one of those kids who got bullied in pre-school. The normal stuff, he says now. Hey, kid, I want your toy -- and the next thing you'd know, Max would be on the floor. This would not do, Max's mom, Adelina, decided. She was concerned her son would always be on the small side and picked on. So she found a judo program in the neighborhood in Chicago where they lived, and put him in the class.

What do you know -- Max Schneider turned out to be a natural at judo, a sport that many Americans assuredly have heard of but couldn't tell you the first thing about.

A couple days ago here at the first-ever Youth Olympic Games, Max won gold in the boys' 66-kilogram class (that's 146 pounds). That was the first-ever gold medal for the United States in an Olympic-category judo event.

The very next night, Katelyn Bouyssou of Hope, R.I., won gold in the girls' 52-kilo class (114 pounds).

Two golds in two days -- the American team one of only two to win two gold medals in a sport in which nations were allowed here to enter, in total, one boy and one girl. South Korea was the other.

The Americans, though, will leave these Youth Games as the only judo team to hold opponents scoreless. Again: neither Max nor Katelyn gave up even a single point.

In judo!

American performance in judo over the years on the Olympic stage calls to mind the sort of thing a boy who lives on the North Side of Chicago would know a lot about -- the Cubs, and how they pretty much never win the big one.

American men have won nine Summer Games medals, American women one. The men have won three silvers and six bronzes;  Ronda Rousey won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the women's 70-kilo class (154 pounds).

That's it, and judo has been on the Olympic program now for two generations.

Judo is of course one of the martial arts. It's not taekwondo, where they kick each other. It's not boxing, where they slug each other with gloves. In wrestling, they wear tight-fitting singlets and grunt like forest animals.

In judo, the competitors wear a woven uniform called a gi. The point is to throw your opponent down or otherwise subdue him (or her) or force him (or her) to submit.

There's a bigber-picture ethos to judo. The point is to improve one's self physically, mentally, even emotionally.

It's something of a mystery how in a nation of 300 million people and who knows how many self-improvement gurus the United States holds zero Summer Olympics gold medals in the sport.

Then again, it figures that at these Youth Games the Americans would excel in something like judo.

These are the Games at which nations that traditionally have done well in certain sports haven't (United States, swimming) and nations that typically are extras on the Olympic scene are suddenly starring (girls' soccer final Tuesday: Chile v. Equatorial Guinea, boys' soccer final Wednesday: Bolivia v. Haiti).

The two American medals here perhaps signal something big come London and the 2012 Games.

Katelyn, who is 16, last year became the youngest U.S. athlete ever to compete at the senior world championships; she first won her class at the U.S. nationals as a 14-year-old.

Her father, Serge, is her coach. In the finals, Katelyn fought Anna Dmitrieva, a Russian. "We talked about her killing the Russian's grip, killing her right hand, and then staying on the offense," the father said later.

Max is 17. Along with being a world-class junior judo player, he has become a big-time high school wrestler. Two years ago, as an incoming freshman at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago, he approached the wrestling coach, whose name is Mark Medona. "And," as Max tells the story, "I said, hey, my name is Max. I won nationals in judo last year. And I would like to join the wrestling team.

"His first response was actually pretty funny," Max said. "He told me to take my cock-and-bull story to someone who believed it.

Then, Max said, coach Medona "went down and researched my name and found out what I said was true. And I kept coming back."

As a freshman, Max made it to the Illinois state high school finals. This past school year, as a sophomore, wrestling at 145 pounds, he enjoyed an undefeated season en route to the state championship.

That, though, was followed by shoulder surgery on April 12, just four months ago. Max didn't get cleared to play judo here until July.

In the final, Max faced Hyon Song-chol of North Korea; the two had never seen or fought each other before.

Serge, the American coach here who also coached the 2009 junior world team, said after Max's victory, "I'm fighting back tears, if that'll tell you anything."

Max said that "ever since I was a little kid" it had "been my dream to be the first to do it," to win an Olympic-event gold for the United States.

He said of his Youth Games gold, "This is as close as I've ever come to a real Olympic medal. On some levels it feels like it.

"On others, I know I still have a lot to overcome."

Not, though, at school. Nobody bullies Max Schneider. "No," he said. "Not anymore."

A gesture lifts South Korea

SINGAPORE -- Sometimes the smallest gesture tells you an awful lot about the essence of a person. Kim Dae Beom, who is 18 years old, had just won the boys' modern pentathlon here Sunday at the Singapore Sports School. He had made history. South Korea had never before won a pentathlon medal of any color at an Olympic event. Now, at these first-ever Youth Games, Dae Beom had just won gold.

It would have been all too easy for Dae Beom to make the moment all about him. It might even have been understandable.

Instead, in his moment of glory, Dae Beom had the presence to make it about something much more. A "precious opportunity," he had called the competition itself, and now he was about to make the most of another.

In so doing he would honor himself, his county and the sport itself. In taking one small step he made real the Olympic emphasis on excellence, friendship and respect.

They climbed onto the medals stand, Dae Beom along with runner-up Ilya Shugarov of Russia and third place-finisher Jorge Camacho of Mexico. Sir Philip Craven, along with Klaus Schormann, president of the modern pentathlon federation, appeared to hand out the medals. Sir Philip, president of the International Paralympic Committee, gets around in a wheelchair.

Dae Beom is only 5-foot-6; he was the shortest of the 24 competitors in Sunday's competition. Nonetheless, from the wheelchair to the top of the podium was something of a reach for Sir Philip.

Sensing that it might make Sir Philip slightly uncomfortable to have to reach up that far, wanting to honor Sir Philip even as Sir Philip was about to honor him, Dae Beom stepped down and off the podium, back onto the track.

There he positioned himself next to Sir Philip's chair, within easy reach.

And Sir Philip gently placed the gold medal around Dae Beom's neck.

Dae Beom declined to say anything later about the class and grace he displayed by the podium with Sir Philip. Again, the emphasis was elsewhere. "I am very happy to let people know about this sport," he said, adding, "Because not many people in Korea know about this sport."

Traditionally, pentathlon has been a European affair.

The sport combines five Olympic disciplines -- fencing, swimming, equestrian, running and shooting. It is has been part of the Summer Games program since 1912 in Stockholm; in those Olympics, an American army lieutenant, George Patton, would finish fifth.

The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, created the modern pentathlon. The idea is to replicate -- after a fashion -- the story of a soldier delivering a message. He has to ride an unfamiliar horse. He has to fight a duel. He is trapped but shoots his way out with a pistol. He swims a river. He completes the job by running a long distance through the woods.

Anyway, that's the idea.

After the Sydney Games, it wasn't clear that such an idea still had enough juice to carry on in the Olympic program. In 2002, in fact, pentathlon almost got the boot. Schormann, though, promised change, and the International Olympic Committee issued pentathlon a reprieve.

Two years ago, the pentathlon federation combined the running and shooting disciplines into one event. These Youth Games in Singapore saw the introduction of a further change -- the familiar air pistols were replaced with laser pistols.

"It's the way of the future," Prince Albert of Monaco, the federation's honorary president and an IOC member, said after watching the girls' event Saturday, won by Leydi Laura Moya Lopez  of Cuba.

The Koreans, Schormann asserted, have "always been my driving forces" to implement such changes. "The Europeans have always been complaining," he said. "The Koreans, Chinese and Japanese were forces for change."

If the Korean pentathlon record at the Summer Games has been oh-for-every-one-of-their-Olympics, the Korean record over the past two years at junior events hints at something very different soon enough, perhaps as soon as London and the 2012 Games.

Three of the top four at the 2009 junior worlds -- Korean boys. The winner of the 2009 junior world team event -- South Korea.

Two of the top three at the 2009 version of what in pentathlon circles is called the Youth A world championships, an event for 17- and 18-year-olds -- Korean.

At the 2010 Youth World A event, in June in Sweden, the Koreans won the team title; in the individual competition, Dae Beom won bronze.

And now, at the Youth Games, gold.

At the Youth Games, as at the youth world events, there is no equestrian portion -- meaning the pentathlon was something of a quadrathlon.

Dae Beom was seventh after the fencing portion. He moved into medal contention after finishing with the third-best time in the 200-meter swim.

As the run-and-shoot got underway, pentathlon experts were mostly watching Han Jiahao of China, the gold medalist at the 2010 Youth World A's. Jiahao's nickname is "King Kong," because, as he explains in a brief biography on the modern pentathlon website, "I think I resemble it."

Not this time. Jiahao faltered during the run-and-shoot. The laser pistols got him.

"I only [learned] about the usage of laser pistols when I came here," to Singapore, Jiahao said later, and a pause here to consider what the reception back home in China might be like for whoever it was that oversees -- perhaps now it's oversaw -- Jiahao's presentation.

How is it he or she or they, whatever, didn't know lasers were going to be used for the first time in pentathlon's 98-year history when everyone else knew?

Jiahao said, "I brought my own air pistols from China only to be informed that we are using laser pistols instead for the modern pentathlon."

Jiahao finished 11th overall.

Dae Beom, meanwhile, came on strong and steady during the run-and-shoot. After crossing the finish line, he staggered a few steps to the mixed zone, where athletes mingle with reporters. There, he collapsed to the track.

He got up a few moments later and said, "I didn't dream of this. It's a gift from heaven."

Joyful at the track

SINGAPORE -- Before the gun went off in the boys' 100-meter dash, Odane Skeen of Jamaica, standing at the blocks in Lane 5, made a motion with his hand like an airplane taking off. Then he flew down the track, and won. In the girls' 400, American Robin Reynolds turned it on down the homestretch for victory. She knew with 50 meters to go the race was hers: "I was just smiling and jumping for joy inside because I knew I would win gold."

In the high jump, an Israeli, Dmitry Kroytor -- an Israeli! -- won gold at these first-ever Youth Olympic Games. "It's a big deal," his coach, Anatoly Shafran, said. "We have so much problems in our country. We need something to be happy."

There are nights like Saturday when track and field is joyful.

And that's precisely the right word: joyful.

After she had taken fourth-place in the girls' 100 -- and fourth is the hardest place to finish, just out of the medals -- Annie Tagoe of Great Britain was the farthest thing from unhappy. She climbed into the stands and sat down, flashing a big smile while everyone around her applauded.

Australia's Brandon Starc took silver to Dmitry Kroytor's gold. Brandon said afterward, "I"m over the moon."

Makes you wonder, doesn't it, why it can't always be like this?

The talk before these Youth Games was all about how there were lessons for the young athletes here, 14- to 18-year-olds, to learn about cultures from around the world. Maybe the real lesson is for the senior officials of international sport, and in particular track and field's governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations.

Here's the lesson:

This is all supposed to be fun.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, speaking in a different context here the other day, said, "I think the Olympic Games are maybe a little bit too serious, there is too much gravitas. To introduce a little bit more of an element of fun would be good."

I second the motion, and when it comes to track and field in particular.

These have not been easy months for the sport.

Last summer brought the controversy at Berlin involving South African Caster Semenya.

This summer's inaugural Diamond League circuit was marked by injuries that limited Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Sanya Richards-Ross and others. Injuries happen. But track in particular is dependent on star power. Everyone everywhere is clamoring to see Bolt. They didn't get to see nearly enough of him this summer.

The sport's status in the United States is still second-rate. And just in the past few days, Scott Davis, one of the nicest men you could ever meet, a man who embodied all that was right in track and field in the United States, passed away.

USA Track & Field is consistently riven by factions and political infighting.

Worldwide, meanwhile, the IAAF's financial situation is a matter of some delicacy.

It is not, as was widely and erroneously believed in track and field circles a few weeks back, on the verge of collapse. The organization has reserves. It has guaranteed money from TV and sponsors which it can predict for the next four years. It expects a significant boost in the dollars it gets in connection  from the International Olympic Committee in connection with the London 2012 Games when compared with what Beijing 2008 brought.

The dollar's drop against the euro has helped the IAAF, too.

Even so, it has instituted some significant budget cuts, staff reductions (mostly due to attrition) are in the offing and, because of the way revenues come in during the four-year Olympic cycle, the IAAF expects to post an operating loss for 2010.

But -- it expects to break even, more or less, over the four-year 2008-2012 cycle.

Then there's what's going on at the top. Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, is 77. He has been president for some 10 years. He confirmed in an interview in his hotel room here that he's definitely running for election again next summer, at the IAAF's next regularly scheduled balloting.

Diack would seem likely to be elected again. The challenge for the organization is where that leaves Sergei Bubka, Seb Coe and others who might rightly be looking at the job.

It gets even more complicated, actually. Diack said the situation in his country, Senegal, is such that he may well be drafted to be a candidate for his nation's presidency. That would be in 2012. Diack would doubtlessly only agree to be drafted if he knew he was going to win; he certainly has the right, perhaps even the obligation, to respond to a call to serve his nation.

But if that scenario plays out -- where would that leave the IAAF?

It makes your head hurt to think of the various possibilities, and the ferocity of the political jockeying, that would seem all but likely to unfold if Diack becomes president of Senegal.

It would be a lot more fun all around if it there were a lot more nights like the scene Saturday before a packed house at Bishan Stadium.

Odane Skeen, for example, ran a personal-best 10.42 to win the boys' 100. He  posed afterward for pictures with elementary school kids, answered questions from the grown-ups patiently, said and did all the right things.

Undoubtedly, the "next Usain Bolt" stories are already being written.

Odane is just 15. There's a long, long way between 10.42 and 9.58. How about we hold off on Odane being the next Usain and just savor the moment? It was lovely. Joyful, really.