Serena Williams

Add it up: Shiffrin's 15, 36, 51 deserving of recognition

Add it up: Shiffrin's 15, 36, 51 deserving of recognition

No disrespect to Serena Williams — this space wrote 20 months ago that she ought to light the cauldron for a Los Angeles Olympics, and that was before the International Olympic Committee picked LA for the 2028 Olympics — but the fact that Serena Williams didn’t win a Grand Slam in 2018 and Mikaela Shiffrin on Saturday capped her best year ever by becoming the most successful slalom skier in the 52-year history of the World Cup, and Serena Williams was named Associated Press female athlete of the year and Shiffrin didn’t even crack the top five is just plain … 


And stupid.

Who should light an LA 2024 cauldron? Serena? Venus? Both?


There can be little doubt that Serena Williams is the best women’s tennis player of this and maybe any era.  

There could be no finer choice than Serena Williams to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony if Los Angeles wins the 2024 Summer Games. Now the dilemma. By herself? Because maybe there could be an even better choice: with sister Venus, too?

Both are Olympic champions. More, both have shown not just great but unwavering commitment to the Olympic movement and, indeed, the Olympic spirit. Most important: the Williams sisters are proof positive that you can dream and big dreams can take you anywhere and everywhere. Isn't that what the Olympics are about?

Serena Williams confirmed Wednesday she is 20 weeks pregnant. That means she was already close to two months pregnant when she won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, the Australian Open on January 28.

Understandably, the cauldron suggestion is maybe getting just a little ahead of things, because the International Olympic Committee won’t select the site of the 2024 Summer Games until September 13, Los Angeles and Paris the two contestants, and it’s hardly an overhead slam that LA will prevail.

But if LA wins:

The opening ceremony would be July 19, 2024. That's a Friday if you're, you know, a planner.

It would begin with a torch relay down the row of columns of the LA Memorial Coliseum, which played host to the 1932 and 1984 Games. About 70,000 people would likely be in the Coliseum for a Hollywood-style spectacle and virtual reality experience of what’s to come next.

Which is:

The relay would pass landmarks on the streets of LA until it reaches the new NFL stadium, which would hold 100,000 people.

Who, at the end, would light the cauldron?

Surely there are many — for emphasis, many — luminaries deserving of consideration.

Just for starters: Magic Johnson. Allyson Felix. Kerri Walsh. Michael Phelps. Ashton Eaton. Katie Ledecky. Mia Hamm. Abby Wambach. Apolo Ohno.

Serena and Venus Williams grew up Compton, California. The LA84 Foundation — the legacy initiative from the 1984 Games, which funds youth sports in Southern California — has underwritten the exact kinds of programs that helped give the Williams sisters their start.

Playing doubles together, Venus and Serena Williams won gold at the 2000, 2008 and 2012 Games.

Anyone who saw Serena Williams power to gold in the Olympic women’s singles tournament at Wimbledon in 2012 will tell you: it was a virtuoso performance.

In the final, Serena Williams thrashed — just crushed — Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-1.

The London 2012 victory made Serena Williams only the second woman to achieve a Golden Slam. Steffi Graf won at the Olympics in 1988 after sweeping all four major titles.

Remember the dance Serena Williams danced at that medal ceremony after she put on her Team USA jacket?

"I don't think I've ever danced like that," she said then. "I don't even know where the dance came from."

Remember last year in Rio? When a number of the world’s top golfers were, like, nah, don’t want to go? Serena Williams battled injuries throughout 2016. Where were the Williams sisters during the Rio Games? In red, white and blue, in Brazil, representing the United States. Where, it should be noted, Venus Williams won a silver in mixed doubles with Rajeev Ram, her fifth Olympic medal. Venus Williams is the Sydney 2000 women’s Olympic singles winner.

Serena alone at the cauldron? Serena and Venus together?

Both are great, and deserving, champions.

Both have answered the call for their country.

If this moment goes from possibility to reality, and again the disclaimer, it's right now just an if -- it would be a great call for their country, in service to the Olympic dreams of little girls and boys everywhere, to do the right thing on that Friday night seven years from now in July.

The 'Fancy Bear' bid to stir up chaos


Within hours after the release by Russian hackers of U.S. athletes’ doping results, Victor Conte, the Bay-Area based figure at the center of the BALCO scandal, a guy who knows what’s what when it comes to the doping scene, sent out a note Tuesday to a wide email circle. It said, in part, “This is gonna get ugly.” Gonna get ugly?! This is ugly from the get-go. And it’s likely to stay ugly for the foreseeable future.

WADA officials Olivier Niggli and Craig Reedie at a conference earlier this year in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC's home base // Getty Images

This hack operates on a staggering number of levels. There are so many threads to pull: here, there, seemingly everywhere. The whole thing is designed not just to stir public opinion but to stir up nothing less than chaos in world sport and, perhaps, more — to agitate and antagonize governments in public as well as private diplomacy.

The basics:

Following World Anti-Doping Agency reports over the past several months that asserted widespread and state-sponsored doping in Russia, about a third of the Russian Olympic delegation, including virtually the entire track and field team, and the entire Russian Paralympic squad ended up banned from Rio 2016. The Paralympics are still ongoing.

On Tuesday, WADA confirmed that its database had been breached. At issue: confidential medical records of athletes who took part in last month’s Rio Olympics.

WADA further said that hackers gained access via an International Olympic Committee-created account.

The perpetrators, accordng to WADA: Fancy Bear, a Russian entity suspected as well of breaching the Democratic National Committee’s computers.

On Monday, Fancy Bear released information on four American athletes: the gymnast Simone Biles, basketball standout Elena Delle Donne and the tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams.

The documents show that each of the four had permission to take prescription drugs. In some cases, those drugs were used during the Games.

Some of the drugs contained banned substances.

But nobody is facing a doping case.

The reason: the anti-doping rules specifically say that there can be exceptions for certain medicines. Athletes can use a variety of stuff that might otherwise lead to a positive test if, one, they get a doctor’s note and, two, they file the appropriate paperwork.

That paperwork is called, in the jargon, a “therapeutic use exemption.”

To emphasize: there is no suggestion that any of the four have done anything wrong.

U.S. officials have linked Fancy Bear to GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency. For what it’s worth, the Russian government said Tuesday it had no connection to Fancy Bear.

This is the backdrop. From there, the super-obvious starting place:

Within Russia if not elsewhere, many will be tempted to draw the conclusion that the Americans, who won the Olympic medals count in Rio going away, are doping.

It is already widely believed that considerable numbers of U.S. athletes take advantage of TUE exemptions.

To stress: obtaining a TUE is within the rules.

It is also the case that, as in many things, perception is as important than reality, if not more so. Indeed, a Fancy Bear statement declares that U.S. athletes “got their licenses for doping.”


Tension is high between the IOC and WADA over the Russians. This is sure to add to that. To reiterate: the hack came through an IOC-created account. If you want to appreciate the delicious irony there, or maybe the hackers’ knowing instigation, go right ahead — a WADA hack through an IOC account. Who to blame, and for what?

There’s this:

Legally, do any of the four athletes, American citizens all, have recourse in the U.S. or Canadian court systems (WADA is based in Montreal) for money damages now that private medical records have been breached? Who is responsible for not safeguarding the sort of records that everyone knows — if you have ever been to even one American doctor’s office — is supposed to be private? For this sort of breach, what might be an appropriate remedy?

Then there another super-obvious follow-on:

Every single sports federation and national Olympic committee anywhere and everywhere in the world ought to be wondering: is my data safe?

Then there is the timing:

In mid-August, details emerged about the hack of Russian athlete and whistleblower Yulia Stepanova.

Next week WADA plans a post-Rio “think tank” to explore how it is the anti-doping campaign got into this crack, as well as others. Fancy Bear: “We will also disclose exclusive information about other national Olympic teams later.”

But, to start, there’s the central fact: these are Americans.

So why these four? Could it have anything to do with the fact that three are African-American while Delle Donne earlier this month disclosed she is gay and engaged to be married? Maybe these facts mean nothing. Or maybe it's naive to pretend otherwise.

Biles, moreover, carried the U.S. flag in the Rio Olympic closing ceremony.

The Williams sisters? When Maria Sharapova, the Russian tennis star, who carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 opening ceremony, is in the midst of a two-year ban for meldonium?

Sharapova’s appeal is due to be decided in early October. And WADA has walked back the rules in a number of other meldonium cases because of uncertainty over how long the stuff, which is made in Latvia and is designed to help patients with certain heart-related issues, stays in the body.

Biles acknowledged after the leak that she takes Ritalin or its equivalent for ADHD. It is "nothing to be ashamed of,” she said in a tweet.


At the same time, it would be a huge surprise if hackers didn’t intend for a parallel to be drawn — and, importantly, distinctions, too — between her and U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin.

Gatlin has — unfairly — been made into the poster guy for U.S. Olympic scene doping. Truth: he is far more a victim of circumstance.

So: Biles takes Ritalin (or, again, its equivalent). Gatlin took Adderall for ADD. It’s naive once more to pretend someone looking for connection would not see something there.

At the same time:

She gets nothing. He got a year. Why the difference? How can any sort of “fair” system allow such discrepancies? Returning to the Sharapova matter and meldonium: same question.

This is not just about American athletes, meanwhile. It’s about the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, too.

USADA chief executive Tygart, who is a very smart guy, has arguably made himself over the course of this year into the loudest and longest voice for an outright Russian ban.

This would thus seem to be as much about an attempt to embarrass Tygart as it is the four athletes.

In a statement, Tygart said, “It’s unthinkable that in the Olympic movement, hackers would illegally obtain confidential medical information in an attempt to smear athletes to make it look as if they have done something wrong.”

Please. It’s not unthinkable. If revenge is a thing, it’s totally rational if not foreseeable.

Finally, this, and this is where you have to really wonder how this is going to end up.

If none of this had come to pass, if WADA had been left alone, WADA — this is the dead-bang truth — can help the Russians.

In the context of getting back onto the track, for instance: what do the Russians want if not need? Answer: to get complaint again with all the rules so that Russian athletes can compete normally.

For its part, WADA wants, maybe even needs, to get the Russians compliant. And as soon as possible.

The tough sell is getting the rest of the world to believe the Russians are compliant.

That just got a lot, lot tougher.

Speaking up about what is so obviously right


EUGENE — The women’s 100 hurdles here Friday at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track Trials proved one of those rare sports events that truly lived up to expectations. It was the race of the meet: Brianna Rollins winning in 12.34 seconds, the second-fastest Trials final ever.

The second- through seventh-place finishers made for the fastest finishes for place in Trials history. Kristi Castlin took second, in 12.5, Nia Ali — just 14 months after giving birth to a son, Titus — 12.55.

The immediate aftermath made the race all the more memorable. Castlin, given a moment on NBC, said this:

"I really just want to dedicate this race to every single family, every person who has to go on after losing someone they love to gun violence," adding,  "It really was heavy on my heart, so I really wanted to dedicate that to everyone in the world who's had to deal with that.”

Brianna Rollins, left, and Kristi Castlin in the instant after crossing the line in the 100 hurdles final at Hayward Field // Getty Images

Many will say that sports are, or ought to be, separate from politics. Indeed, it’s tempting here in snug little college-town Eugene -- and, more, within the track and field bubble that is historic Hayward Field, with a stadium-record 22,847 jammed in on Saturday -- to deem events in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas far away.

This ignores reality.

As the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach put it in a speech in South Korea in 2014, “In the past, some have said that sport has nothing to do with politics, or they have said that sport has nothing to do with money or business. And this is just an attitude which is wrong and which we can not afford anymore.

“We are living in the middle of society and that means we have to partner up with the politicians who run this world.”

He also observed, in a speech at the United Nations in November 2013, that it “must always be clear in the relationship between sport and politics that the role of sport is always to build bridges,” adding, “It is never to build walls.”

To that end, sports stars can have a powerful impact in advancing precisely the sort of dialogue we — all of us — need as we head further into the heat of a summer that, with two potentially volatile political conventions coming up, increasingly seems to evoke the discord and discontent of 1968.

Across the United States, Saturday saw protests tied to police shootings of black men: in Baton Rouge, San Francisco, Chicago, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Newport, Rhode Island.

The flag at the southern end of Hayward Field has been flying this second half of these Trials at half-mast — in unspoken testimony to our country’s unhealed wounds connected to race and policing.

The flag at half-mast

If anyone needs a living reminder of how far we have come and how far we have yet to go — John Carlos, whose black-gloved left fist along with Tommie Smith’s right made history at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, has been here in Eugene this week, a powerful reminder of how we can all do better.

If Friday's women's 100 hurdles was spectacular, so too was the bang-bang-bang sequence that closed Saturday's run: the men's 5000, won by 41-year-old Bernard Lagat; the men's 200, won by Justin Gatlin, who earlier in the meet had taken the 100, with 400 winner LaShawn Merritt running second; and the men's 110 hurdles, won by University of Oregon star Devon Allen.

Punctuating that brilliance: an appeal from Gatlin, over the Hayward loudspeakers that we all do better by each other.

"There is a lot that has been going on in America the last couple days," he said a few moments later, in the press tent. "It's sad that it happens around the 4th of July, when we should all be proud to be Americans.

"I just told everyone in the stadium, I said, I challenged them: 'Love someone. Leave the stadium, because there's so much love in this stadium the last couple days. Take that love with you. Just give it to somebody you have never loved before.' Go up to them and say, 'Hey, I love you for being an American.'

Justin Gatlin after the 200 // Getty Images

"We need that as Americans. When we are overseas, sometimes you don't see an American flag. Maybe sometimes you see one American flag. Those people holding up American flags are so proud to be Americans. And I want everybody to understand that when we go down to Rio, we are representing the United States of America. We want to represent with pride. It's just so sad to see everything that is happening right now. I just want everybody to be happy."

Gun violence has been a scourge on the American landscape for far too long.

In Kristi Castlin's case, the issue is deeply personal.

Her father, Rodney Castlin, was shot to death on December 7, 2000. He was the night manager of a motel in Kennesaw, Georgia, killed in a robbery that produced $304. He was just 36.

Just weeks ago, James Lorenzo Randolph, now 34, was convicted of multiple felonies in connection with the shooting, including murder, and sentenced to three consecutive life terms plus 35 years. He was connected to the case in 2012 by a fingerprint finally run through the FBI's national database.

Kristi Castlin turned 28 on Thursday. She was just 12 when her father was murdered.

"I definitely know first-hand now it feels, not just to be a child but to lose someone you love to gun violence," she said in an interview, adding, "Things that money buys, all the material things -- when you lose someone that you love,  it’s really hard. It’s just sad whether black, white or indifferent, people treating lives like they are disposable."

We need more of this.

More stories about the real-life impact of gun violence.

More real people -- and that includes athletes -- to speak up about what's so obviously right.

We need initiatives like the one the NBA launched last December — with stars such as Stephen Curry, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Joakim Noah lending their voices to a pubic-service announcement in support of Everytown for Gun Safety. It ends with Curry, the Golden State Warriors star, saying, “We can end gun violence.”

In the same vein, LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers star, has been outspoken on the matter. He took to Twitter Thursday with this:

Serena Williams, the tennis star, won the Wimbledon women’s singles title on Saturday, a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam; later Saturday, Serena and sister Venus Williams won the Wimbledon women’s doubles championship, a 14th Grand Slam doubles title together.

Here was Serena Williams a few months ago in Wired magazine:

"So to those of you involved in equality movements like Black Lives Matter, I say this: Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you. We’ve been through so much for so many centuries, and we shall overcome this too (see “Get Up, Stand Up”). To other people, I say: When someone’s harassing someone else, speak up! J.K. Rowling spoke up for me this summer, and it was an amazing feeling — I thought, 'Well, I can speak up, too.' ”

To be clear: it’s not that every athlete, whether on the Olympic team or not, has a responsibility to speak up.

No one is saying that is an imperative.

But it’s also the case that the U.S. track team, along with the U.S. basketball teams, makes for the picture of the diverse and multicultural America that we genuinely are in these early years of the 21st century.

With that comes opportunity.

"We have a voice," Gatlin also said. "We should be able to use that voice with love and caring."

And unlike the basketball teams — in particular, the NBA stars — track and field athletes are way more often built like most of us, meaning the intimidation factor for the average fan is way lower. Also, the track stars tend to be remarkably accessible.

Before Saturday’s action at Hayward, the distance standout Mary Cain was walking down Agate Street, stopping — just like everyone else — at the long light at Franklin Boulevard.

A few minutes later, Matthew Centrowitz — it would be shocking if he isn’t top-three in Sunday’s men’s 1500 final — went jogging by on Franklin, out for an off-day slow run.

DeeDee Trotter, the three-time Olympian at 400 meters, bronze medalist in 2012 and two-time gold winner in the relays (2004, 2012), saw her 2016 bid get as far as the semifinals.

On Saturday, she posted to Twitter:

Similarly, Hazel Clark, three times an Olympian at 800 meters, said on Twitter:

Michael Tinsley, London 2012 silver medalist in the men's 400-meter hurdles, said Friday after posting the top qualifying time, 49.15, in the event semifinals,  “I want to start off saying that black lives matter. My condolences to the people who lost their lives to cops and condolences go out to the cops that were killed in Dallas.”

Jason Richardson, London 2012 silver medalist in the 110-meter hurdles, gold medalist in the event at the 2011 world championships, took to Twitter earlier this week to tell a story about how, when he was 17, he was stopped by police and given a traffic ticket.

Richardson posted: “Only after closing the truck did I realize the officer was standing at his door, hand on gun …” And: DON’T tell me what to wear, how to speak, or what to do until something like this happens to you.”

And this:

The next day, Thursday, he posted a follow-up:

Like Trotter, Sanya Richards-Ross, the London 2012 400 gold medalist (five medals in all over three Games, four gold), saw her competitive career come here to an end. Battling injury, she started but could not finish the first round in the 400.

She has already made the smooth transition to broadcasting. On Instagram this week, she posted this:

The flag fluttered softly in the breeze Saturday at Hayward.

Before the Olympic Games in Rio comes the Republican convention, the week of July 18 in Cleveland, and the Democratic convention, the week of July 25 in Philadelphia.

We all — athletes and the rest of us — have the chance to speak up.

Just as Robert F. Kennedy did on April 4, 1968, in Indianapolis, upon learning of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Here is what the senator said, just two months before he himself would be killed by gun violence:

“Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love, and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are, and what direction we want to move in.

“For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

“We can move in that direction as a country and greater polarization, black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another.

“Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, [with] compassion and love. He died in the cause of that effort.

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

“So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that’s true, but more importantly, to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

“We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past but we — and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder; it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of nation we are.

“But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

“Dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world," a reference indeed to the Olympic ideal.

“Let us dedicate ourselves to that," Senator Kennedy said in conclusion, "and say a prayer for our country and our people.”

Maria Sharapova, common sense and "intent"


It verges on the comical to read Maria Sharapova’s indignant assertion, after she was tagged by an anti-doping panel Wednesday for two years for meldonium, that the decision is, in her words, “unfairly harsh,” and that she intends to appeal to sport’s top tribunal, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. Have at it. Indeed, it’s way more likely that the relevant authorities are going to want to appeal because, in a passage that surprisingly has drawn little attention in the avalanche of stories about Wednesday’s decision, the ruling threatens to blow a barn door-sized hole in the rules as they not only were meant to be but have to be in order to have any chance at working.

To begin:

Sharapova and her entourage got ripped by the three-member International Tennis Federation-appointed panel, and deservedly so.

Tennis star Maria Sharapova announcing in March in Los Angeles that she had failed a doping test for meldonium // Getty Images

Rarely in the anti-doping literature do you read a case that proclaims, as this one does of Sharapova, “She is the author of her own misfortune.”

At the same time, the ruling trips all over itself in seeking to assert that she did not “intend” to cheat.

There is no quarrel with the basics: an athlete is responsible for whatever is in his or her system.

The ruling declares: “She must have known that taking a medication before a match, particularly one not currently prescribed by a doctor, was of considerable significance. This was a deliberate decision, not a mistake."

Isn't that the classic definition of "intent"?

Well, the panel goes on to say, on the one hand Sharapova “did not appreciate” that meldonium, the substance she tested positive for, had since Jan. 1, 2016, been on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned list. She tested positive on Jan. 26, after an Australian Open quarterfinal match with Serena Williams.

On the other, the panel says, Sharapova “does bear sole responsibility … and very significant fault, in failing to take any steps to check whether the continued use of this medicine was permissible,” adding, “If she had not concealed her use of [meldonium] from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the [situation] would have been avoided.”

So which is it? Apples? Or oranges?

The stakes are considerable for all involved.

A two-year ban: sure, Sharapova would miss this summer’s Rio Olympics and the Grand Slams this year and next. But, like Nixon, she can come back tanned, rested and ready. She’s only 29. Williams is 34 and has come back repeatedly from time away owing to injury.

The way-more-serious risk, because it would be naive to believe that politics is not at work:

Sharapova is one of Russia’s leading athletic lights. Aside from her five Grand Slam titles, she won a silver medal at the London 2012 Olympics. More, she carried the Russian flag into the opening ceremony.

Being the flag-bearer at the Olympics is always fraught with political symbolism. In Russia, where Vladimir Putin has proven to be keenly and personally interested in the Russian team’s performance, all the more so.

A detail not addressed in Wednesday’s decision is why Sharapova, with her family — she came to Florida when she was a little girl and apparently now has a family doctor in California — felt the need in the first instance to go to a doctor in Moscow. Like, no one in American medicine was good enough? Or was there something else at work?

Beyond that:

There’s a fundamental financial risk to Sharapova’s endorsement career. For years, she was the highest-paid female athlete in the world. Forbes said she made $29.7 million in the 12 months ending June 2015. That’s more than the WADA’s 2016 annual budget, about $26 million.

Sharapova on May 24 in Chicago at the 'Sugarpova' chocolate launch // Getty Images

The endorsement angle is almost surely why Sharapova tried Wednesday to get in front of the story — a statement went up on her Facebook page literally within minutes of the ruling itself being made public — and why she is making it seem like she is the aggrieved party at the hands of a bunch of suits interpreting the anti-doping rules.

The challenge for Sharapova is akin to the situation facing the-then Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant after events in Colorado in 2003: how long, like Bryant and “Colorado,” before she gets reported about without the word “meldonium”?

The key issue at hand for WADA, the International Olympic Committee, the ITF and every other Olympic sports federation is to divine the common-sense meanings of the words “mistake” and “intent.”

Some background, according to Wednesday’s ruling:

Sharapova started started using meldonium late in her teens, prescribed the stuff by Dr. Anatoly Skalny of the Center for Biotic Medicine in Moscow.

Skalny put her on meldonium, which also goes by the brand name “mildronate,” among 17 other substances.

That’s not a typo: in all, 18.

Meldonium is a blood-flow drug. Its primary use is in addressing cardiovascular disease.

The scientific literature is filled with studies showing that it is good for — in the Eastern European vernacular — “sportsmen,” meaning big-time athletes. As a study from a 2012 “Baltic Sport Science Conference” notes, it “increases endurance properties and aerobic capabilities of athletes.”

Just a quick science note, as the ITF-appointed panel explained, reviewing the evidence of WADA’s senior science director, Olivier Rabin:

Meldonium works at the cell level. It inhibits the synthesis of a substance called “carnitine.” When that happens, the cells switch to generating energy from glucose, meaning blood sugar, instead of fat. That requires less oxygen to produce the same amount of energy.

By March 2010, according to the ITF ruling, Sharapova was up to 30 substances, including meldonium.

She began to consider 30 “overwhelming.” So at the end of 2012 she dropped Skalny. But she kept taking meldonium and two more substances, magnerot and riboxin, from the list of 30.

Did she tell the nutritionist she then hired that she was taking meldonium plus two? No.

From the start of 2013, with the exception of one 2015 visit with a Russian Olympic team doctor, did she tell any “medical practitioner” that she was taking meldonium? No.

Did she take meldonium on match days, typically 500 milligrams, in tournaments? For sure.

How many times did she take meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open? Five. Before each match.

How many times, for instance, at Wimbledon in 2015? Six.

Is there even one document after 2010 in her player records that “relates to her use of meldonium”? No.

Did she disclose its use to the anti-doping authorities on any of the forms she signed from 2014 to 2016? No.

Her coach, trainer, physio, nutritionist, WTA doctors that she consulted — did any of them know she was using? No.

Who knew?

Two people: her father and her manager since 1999, Max Eisenbud, a vice president at IMG.

This is where the story goes from the sublime to the absurd.

In a business generating the likes of $29 million in a calendar year, you would think that Sharapova would have assigned to someone two responsibilities: knowing what was on the WADA list and making sure she was in complete compliance.

As the panel put it, this is the “underlying factual puzzle.”

Eisenbud’s explanation for not reviewing the 2016 WADA prohibited list, and it should be observed that the panel notes "the evident implausibility of his account," calling the evidence he put forward "wholly incredible."

In 2015, he “separated from his wife, did not take his annual vacation in the Caribbean,” where he was in the habit of checking the list, ”and due to the issues in his personal life failed to review the 2016 prohibited list.”

In his testimony, Eisbenbud further said he had “no training” that would lead him to understand what was, and not, on the list. He also “professed not to have the basic understanding,” which every athlete subject to the WADA code is charged with, “of how the list works.”

As the panel notes, he did not explain why, among other matters, “it was necessary to take a file to the Caribbean to read by the pool when one email could have provided the answer.”

The panel, again: “The idea that a professional manager, entrusted by IMG with the management of one of its leading global stars, would so casually and ineptly have checked whether his player was complying with the anti-doping program, a matter critical to the player’s professional career and her commercial success, is unbelievable. The tribunal rejects Mr. Eisenbud’s evidence.”

As for Sharapova’s use of meldonium, it says:

“The manner of its use, on match days and when undertaking intensive training, is only consistent with an intention to boost her energy levels.”


“The facts are consistent with a deliberate decision to keep secret from the anti-doping authorities the fact that she was using mildronate in competition.”

The conclusion: “… she took mildronate for the purpose of enhancing her performance.”

In the pre-2015 WADA code days, Sharapova would have gotten two years. Bam. Thank you.

Now, the penalty is four years unless an athlete can show she did not intend to cheat. That can cut you a break.

In the same manner that President Clinton’s conduct prompted an assessment of what the word “is” is, the issue before the ITF panel broke down to what “intent” means amid a conclusion she took the stuff to enhance her performance.

“If the player was genuinely mistaken as to the rules,” the ruling asserts at paragraph 70 of 104, “then she did not intend to cheat.”

Consider that for just a moment.

All anyone now would have to do is say, oops, I made a mistake?

If allowed to stand, this would make for a gaping hole in the rules.

Not a chance.

Here is the deal with an appeal, and while Sharapova can appeal, so can the ITF, WADA or the IOC.

In legal terms, such an appeal would be what’s called de novo. That’s a fancy term that means Take Two. In essence, everything starts from scratch.

That two-year ban? It absolutely could be reduced to something less.

At the same time, and especially given the assessment the ITF-appointed panel made in reviewing the conduct of Sharapova and her team — blunt, candid, harsh, pick your word — she is at considerable risk of seeing a suspension max out.

As ever, meantime, there are always two cases ongoing in any legal dispute — the one in court, and the one in the court of public opinion.

There’s a solid argument that it is spin that got Sharapova in the dilemma she’s in now. Which makes her reaction on Wednesday all the more curious.

It was on March 7 that Sharapova, at a hastily called Los Angeles news conference, announced she had failed the Australian Open drug test. She sought to take responsibility. She said then that she had been taking meldonium for years for a variety of medical reasons.

Obviously, she was seeking not just to get ahead of the story but bidding to control the narrative.

What she almost surely did not count on was the meldonium deluge.

This year, more than 170 athletes, most Russians or Eastern Europeans, have been tagged for meldonium.

A number of meldonium-positive athletes have come out and said, more or less, I haven’t had any meldonium since taking some on, oh, New Year’s Eve.

Whether that is ridiculous or not:

If Sharapova had not admitted she was still using, she might well have put herself in that big New Year’s Eve meldonium boat.

Wait now to see the allegations from most or all of those athletes that the science of how long the stuff stays in your system is squishy.

For Sharapova, in this instance, getting out front got her, at least for now, a two-year time-out.

Continuing that strategy, however, this was her gambit Wednesday:

She put up on her Facebook page a note saying, among other things, “I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible,” signing it, “Love, Maria.”

An accompanying “short summary” purportedly prepared by “my lawyer” — she has two, so it’s not clear which — went after the doping results management process, saying Sharapova had “no input in the selection of the Tribunal which hears and decides her case, no say in how the hearing is conducted and no right to challenge the fairness of evidence admitted against her at the hearing.”

Say what?

Sharapova’s case included testimony from herself; Eisenbud; Skalny; coach Sven Groeneveld; and, as well, from two experts, Dr. Ford Vox, who reviewed Skalny’s “diagnosis and treatment,” and Richard Ings, a former chairman of the Australian anti-doping authority.

The hearing absolutely provided for cross-examination, including of Sharapova herself.

Documents, too: at the hearing, it was confirmed that Sharapova disclosed each and every document in her possession related to the use of meldonium from 2013 until Jan. 26, 2016.

She was afforded, in every regard, the process due her.

One final note:

Sharapova even argued that “any period of ineligibility” would “disproportionately affect” her, causing “a very substantial loss of earnings and sponsorships, exclusion from the 2016 Olympics and irreparable damage to her reputation.”

As if. That’s the risk you run when you don’t pay attention to the rules. No matter what you may, or may not, “intend.”

Time for IOC leadership, not lip service


Friendship, excellence and respect — these are the key values underpinning the mission of the International Olympic Committee, indeed the Olympic enterprise worldwide. Moreover, the IOC likes to say that athletes are at the center of everything everyone in the Olympic movement does. Two episodes over the weekend raise serious questions about whether both are true, or just so much lip service. And with the IOC’s policy-making executive board meeting later this week in Switzerland, the issue becomes what — if anything — the IOC is going to do about it.

A gas mask-wearing runner at Sunday's Beijing Marathon // photo Getty Images

The first:

Shamil Tarpischev, the head of the Russian tennis federation and an IOC member since 1994, got caught saying on a talk show that sisters Serena and Venus Williams were “brothers” and and “scary” to look at.

He denied any “malicious intent,” according to Associated Press and said his quotes had been taken out of context.

“The IOC will directly contact Mr. Tarpischev to ask him for a full explanation of his comments,” a spokesman said Monday in response to a request for comment.

The second:

Many runners at Sunday’s Beijing Marathon opted for particle-filtering surgical masks to cope with the oppressive smog blanketing the city. The smog was so bad the U.S. Embassy rated the air quality hazardous.

“Actually, on a normal day, nobody would run in such conditions," Liu Zhenyu, a runner and computer engineer, told Associated Press. “But the event is happening today, so what can we do?”

Even the People’s Daily China acknowledged conditions were bad.

To be clear, the IOC itself had nothing to do with the Beijing Marathon.

But — Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, are the only two cities in the world that are left in the race for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

So here are the choices:

Beijing, where the air is so bad — and this, six years after the 2008 Summer Games, amid promises then by the Chinese authorities that it was going to get better, instead of worse — that runners are wearing surgical masks to try to get through the running of a marathon?

Or Almaty, where remarks last week from the director of the ice rink in Astana proved unusually revealing. The Asian Winter Games in Kazakhstan in 2011 split time between Astana and Almaty; the 2022 plan, at least for now, is to focus solely on Almaty.

“We have to formulate our bid something like this: ‘The Olympic Games in Almaty — the cheapest, thriftiest, smartest Games,” said rink director Nail Nurov.

He went on to say, referring to the $51 billion figure associated with the 2014 Games, “What the Russians have done in Sochi is a serious problem,” because by spending so much, “they raised the bar to “unbelievable organizational heights.” The perceived “rule” that each edition of the Games must better the preceding one was, he said, probably why Oslo, Munich, Krakow, St. Moritz/Davos, Stockholm and Lviv had said no thanks to 2022.

Oh, and in 2013 voters in Austria said no to a 2028 Summer Games bid as well.

If you were writing a slogan, and at the risk of being perhaps overly glib, what would you have?

Beijing 2022: “Most Polluted Games Ever And No Mountains Remotely Close.”

Almaty 2022: “Cheapest Games Ever.”

To use an American saying: this is no way to run a railroad.

Three times in recent weeks, after Oslo dropped out, reducing the number of purportedly viable candidates from three to two, this space has urged the IOC to consider whether the 2022 campaign as it stands now is best practices, and to put the whole thing on pause for six months.

The IOC has said it is committed to its process.

In ordinary times, that would be a defensible position.

As this space has pointed out, however, this is an extraordinary situation, and extraordinary times call for an extraordinary re-think — and leadership.

Lest all this be seen as the promotion of a 2022 late-stage bid by the U.S. Olympic Committee from Denver and Salt Lake City — there is no signal that is in the works. The USOC is intent on 2024, if that still seems do-able after the IOC’s all-members vote on President Thomas Bach’s “Agenda 2020” review and potential reform plan in December.

What has to be asked, however, is why other cities aren’t even being given a chance to see if they might be interested. Is the IOC quietly doing due diligence? Shouldn’t it be?

To reiterate: the IOC has $880 million to give to the winning city, which would cover nearly half, if not more, of a prudent organizing committee’s operating costs.

When Oslo dropped out, the IOC said it intended “to communicate, to communicate, to communicate” about the advantages of bidding for the Games.

It has been nearly three weeks now.

There has been no such communication.

There has been an announcement that the IOC intends to meet with sports officials in Norway about what went wrong there.

Why meet with sports officials? If you want a debrief, fine. But in this context, what authority do such sports officials have? It was the government that pulled the plug. The politicians are the ones paying the bills. If you want to do something constructive, meet with the politicians, as awkward, weird, uncomfortable, whatever it might be.

Remember: the Lillehammer Youth Games are in 2016. Who’s paying for those?

As Bach said in September in South Korea at the Asian Games — and it is a profound mystery why more people have not picked up on this huge statement — sports and politics absolutely do mix.

Which leads, in its way, back to Tarpischev.

Tarpischev is close to Russian president Vladimir Putin. When Bach was elected IOC president, the very first call he — that is, Bach — took was from Putin.

So whatever is going to happen is going to be complex and layered.

Shamil Tarpischev at a 2013 Fed Cup match between Russia and Italy // photo Getty Images

Tarpischev, 66, has already been fined the maximum $25,000 and banned from the WTA Tour for a year.

According to, Tarpischev appeared Oct. 7 on a show called “Evening Urgant” — the host’s name is Ivan Urgant — with former WTA player Elena Dementieva.

This was part of the dialogue:

“I was at the Olympics and saw Maria Sharapova play her … him …," Urgant said.

“… One of the Williams brothers,” Tarpischev finished.

Can there be little question that his remarks were not only insensitive but also sexist and racist?

Serena Williams certainly thought so, adding, “I thought they were, in a way, bullying.”

Sharapova, who has played Fed Cup for Russia throughout her career, said of Tarpischev’s comments, “I think they were very disrespectful and uncalled-for, and I’m glad that many people have stood up, including the WTA. It was very inappropriate, especially in his position and all the responsibilities that he has not just in sport but being part of the Olympic committee. It was just really irresponsible on his side.”

Tarpischev said, according to, “I am sorry that the joke which was translated into English out of its context of a comedy show drew so much attention. I don’t think this situation is worth all the hoopla because those words were said without any malice.”

He also lamented, the website said, that the situation was “hyped to an absurd level,” adding that Russians do not file complaints when there are jokes elsewhere about “vodka, balalaika and bears.”

Friendship, excellence and respect is a long way away from vodka, balalaika and bears.

Tolerance and making the world even just a little bit better — this is what the International Olympic Committee, indeed the entire Olympic movement, piece by piece, day by day, person by person, is (supposed to be) about.

Whether or not Tarpischev intended to hurt anyone is not entirely relevant. In this case, the person whose feelings are at issue is Serena Williams. She is a big person and doesn’t need anyone to defend her in this sort of context but, honestly — four Olympic gold medals, three in doubles with her sister, and then of course the thrilling singles victory at Wimbledon in 2012?

Remember, the athletes are at the center of everything, right?

Tarpischev, whether he or Putin like it or not, has to be held to a higher standard. Too often the IOC is criticized for reaching for a utopia of sorts in which sport can not make a difference in showing the world how to get along. This incident offers a teachable moment.

To begin, the International Tennis Federation has been deadly silent on this issue. That is indefensible. The WTA has taken strong action. So should the ITF.

So, too, the IOC.

European soccer has been marked by ugly incidents of racism. Here is the perfect example for the IOC to demonstrate that words, even if meant in jest, which these arguably were not, can be just as hurtful as, say, throwing a banana on a soccer pitch.

In a world in which racism and sexism are regrettably yet virulent, the IOC can, and should, provisionally suspend Tarpischev.

You want the legal hook? He has brought the IOC into disrepute with his remarks. The IOC ethics commission can take it from there.

You want common sense? Everyone knows that hurtful words are the trigger for more.

And that saying something was just a joke is often just a lame way of covering up.

Again, extraordinary times call for extraordinary leadership. If the IOC means what it says, then there has to be more than just lip service.


USOC's Probst: "We do want to bid ..."

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The glow from the London Games still fresh in the minds of everyone in the audience, the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee's board got right to the question on everyone's minds right away. "Make no mistake," Larry Probst told the USOC's annual assembly here at the Antlers Hilton Hotel, "we do want to bid, and we do want to win.

"But we will only bid if the business logic is as compelling as the sport logic."

Probst's comments highlighted the remarks at a markedly low-key assembly in the wake of the high-octane American performance in London -- the 46 gold medals and 104 overall, both best in the world.

All along, Probst -- and USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun -- had been quietly confident that American athletes would perform well at the 2012 Olympic Games. Probst said Friday that "despite the naysayers and predictions of the end of Team USA's preeminence, our athletes rose to the challenge and demonstrated, once again, just how deeply the pursuit of excellence is ingrained in our character."

He said that one of his favorite in-person London moments was getting to watch Serena Williams defeat Russia's Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon for the women's singles gold medal, and said that Williams represents the "heart and soul" of the USOC's mission, to "produce sustained competitive excellence over time."

The obvious question, Probst said, having seen the excitement that the Games brought to London and Britain, is when the United States will be back in the bid game.

For those unfamiliar with the story, he reminded everyone that when he became board chair four years ago, the USOC was, as he put it, "engulfed in a period of challenge and turmoil."

New York was put forward in 2005 for the 2012 Summer Games. Chicago was the candidate in 2009 for the 2016 Games. Both lost, and lost big, because of the USOC's relationship with the wider Olympic movement.

As Probst put it Friday, the USOC needed a "major course correction."

That course correction came this past May, when the USOC and International Olympic Committee struck a deal that resolved a longstanding dispute over certain broadcasting and marketing revenue shares.

Friction over the current deal played a key role in the wider bad karma that helped sink the New York and Chicago bids.

The new deal runs from 2020 until 2040, and gives the USOC removes "the largest single impediment to building the kind of international partnerships we have always desired with the Olympic movement," Probst said.

The deal was negotiated by Blackmun and Fraser Bullock on the USOC side and by IOC members Gerhard Heiberg and Richard Carrion and IOC director general Christophe de Kepper. Probst said all "approached the final discussions with openness and an honest desire to move beyond the conflict."

A USOC working group on the bid process is due to report back to the full board in December. Up for study is either the 2024 Summer or 2026 Winter Games; the smart money, ultimately, would seem to be on a 2024 Summer bid, with San Francisco and New York atop the list of possible cities and Chicago sure to be mentioned again.

At a news conference later Friday, both Probst and Blackmun cautioned that the working group is not -- repeat, not -- going to come back with specific recommendations, Summer or Winter, this city or that.

Probst said it would focus on "guiding principles around the bid or next steps," with Blackmun emphasizing that budgets, economics and due diligence in a variety of areas are a must.

The IOC demands certain guarantees from a bid city. The nature of American federalism -- with the national government traditionally not involved in the bid business, leaving state and local governments on the hook -- makes those guarantees particularly difficult to satisfy. Both Probst and Blackmun said that issue deserves renewed study.

Both also cautioned repeatedly that a bid simply has to make sense, Blackmun saying at that news conference, "If we don't think we will win, we will not bid."

What they didn't say is what they didn't have to. The resolution of the revenue dispute, as well as the geopolitics of the 2000 (Sydney), 2004 (Athens), 2008 (Beijing), 2012 (London), 2016 (Rio de Janeiro) Games and the 2020 campaign (Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul) mitigate strongly in favor of a first-rate bid from the United States for 2024.

"We want the Games back in the United States, and we have a number of friends in the international community who want us to host the Games as well," Probst told the assembly, adding, "That's perhaps the best news I could possibly give you today."

Gymnastics: yeah, that's cool

Football players -- yeah, it can be cool to play ball. Basketball players -- yeah, that's cool, too.

Gymnasts -- um, all you football and basketball players: did you notice who it was doing handsprings on the runway and cuddling up later for snapshots with lingerie-wearing super-models at the Victoria's Secret 2010 fashion show Wednesday night in New York?

Did all you football and basketball players notice those ripped, buff guys with six-pack abs?

Those were, for the most part, U.S. Olympic and national-team gymnasts, past and present, and that -- at the intersection of sports and American pop culture -- makes for one of the best advertisements the sport could ever ask for, a reminder that men's gymnastics is for guys who are as tough as steel and that, too, men's gymnastics deserves way, way, way more attention than it usually gets.

Which is, to over-simplify, once every four years.

And, even then -- the men are often overshadowed by the girls.

Formally, that would be the "women's events,"  but as everyone understands those are -- with exceptions -- teen-age girls out there, not women.

The men -- they're men.

David Durante -- the 2007 U.S. all-around champion, he's a Stanford grad who just spent the last year burnishing his renaissance-man chops in Italy.

Morgan Hamm -- a two-time Olympian, now married, now in pharmacy school in Wisconsin.

John Macready -- the youngest member of the 1996 Olympic team, he has gone on to make a career out of hosting gymnastics and other events.  "I never dreamed gymnastics would take me to the places I've seen or the things I've done," he said.

The full list of the nine who now go down in Victoria's Secret, and gymnastics, lore: Durante, Hamm, Macready, Stephen McCain, Sasha Artemev, Alexei Bilozertchev, Chris Brooks, Wes Haagensen and Derek Shepard.

"This was definitely an opportunity that when I saw it, I thought, you're not going to get many of these types in your experiences in your life. I'm like, all right, I'm doing it," Hamm said.

And talk about an understanding wife -- asked how his bride of 18 months, Megan, reacted when she first heard about what was up, he said she responded, "Wow, cool."

"I heard that Blaine turned it down," Durante said, meaning Blaine Wilson, the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic-team mainstay, "and it will probably be the biggest regret of his life."

Because this is just a partial list of who else was at the show Wednesday night, which airs Nov. 30 on CBS:

Katy Perry, who arrived flaunting considerable cleavage and "looking eye-popping in pink," as one celebrity website put it. Akon, the R&B star. Tennis star Serena Williams. "Entourage" actor Adrian Grenier. "Blondie" singer Debbie Harry.

Oh, and did we mention there were scantily clad models?

"Obviously," said Shane Geraghty, the link between the show and the top U.S. gymnasts, "Victoria's Secret has the hottest models in the world. To have them interacting with these top gymnasts, and making the gymnasts sexy on the same level the girls are -- that was great.

"The girls would come down the runway and give the guys props, a wink or a high-five. They were very excited about it -- the girls, that is. All that makes gymnastics look cool."

Geraghty is now 37. In college, he was twice captain of the Syracuse gymnastics team. He and Jonathan Nosan, who has a theater and circus-training background, run a production and event-management company in New York City called Acroback.

Originally, Geraghty said, the thought was to recruit some local gymnastics-type talent for the Victoria's Secret show.

Quickly enough, though, it became apparent that they needed more. They needed guys who could handle the intensity of a demanding rehearsal schedule and still be able to go at show time.

They needed national- and Olympic-caliber gymnasts.

"The rehearsing was intense," Durante said. "We got there," to New York, "on Saturday night. We rehearsed all day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday," from 10 in the morning until 9 at night. "We went through two dry-runs Wednesday morning with the models. Then we had two shows Wednesday night."

Macready said, "We're coming back into the building for the second show, two or three of us, and I heard out of the side of my ear someone say, 'Those guys are the gymnasts who are so absolutely amazing.' To have someone in that environment make a comment like that -- it was like, wow, this is cool."

Macready also said, "When we first got there," for the first rehearsals, "one of the ladies who was a stage coordinator said, 'I bet everyone made fun of you in high school for being a gymnast. Now they're going to see you and say, I want to be a gymnast.'

"It funny," he went on. "When you're growing up in that environment," meaning high school, "it's all about what is cool and not cool, what is tough and not tough. When you get older, and I'm now 35, you have people who in football and other tough sports show you respect and show you how amazing they think your sport is."

All along, it was critical to Geraghty that stylistically the gymnasts be perceived on the runway as -- well, gymnasts. That is, not as dancers or Cirque du Soleil-style characters.

"It was such a great thing for the gymnasts to be able to do something on this scale," he said. "It was great to involve the male gymnastics, who can be overlooked outside of the Olympics. And I hope it gets boys excited to be involved in gymnastics."

You think?

As the Huffington Post reported: "Longtime model Isabeli Fontana did enjoy a fully engaging moment during this show when she strutted in a silver bra and sequin swim bottoms carrying an oversized barbell and tossed it to a group of bare-chested male gymnasts."

"Just being around such amazingly beautiful women and being able to perform on stage with them -- that was pretty exciting," Hamm said.

"The only way I can put it," Durante said as the sun came up on another morning and it was no longer a day in which he was hanging around a bunch of hot models, "is that it's depressing today."