#Followthesun, and other hot (maybe) takes


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

The LA24 logo

The Paris logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chuck Wielgus // photo USA Swimming

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Solo goes to Rio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medellín: a city transformed

MEDELLIN, Colombia -- High atop the Santo Domingo barrio in this city's First District sit, incongruously, three black slate cubes. This is the $4 million Spanish Library, opened in March 2007. The library features books, computers, community meeting rooms, art exhibits and, intriguingly, what's called a ludoteca, run by a public agency called INDER, staffed by a specially trained worker in a green-and-gold uniform. Always -- green-and-gold. That's the marker that it is official. That's the signal that it is safe.

A ludoteca is a mommy-and-me hang-out spot for moms and kids ages 1 to 5. There are balls and mats things to roll on and play with, an immersion in sports from the get-go. "This program is really great," says Ana Maria Acevedo, 32, who was there one day recently with her 23-month-old, Roxana Echavarria. "We feel we are working together."

Around Medellín, there are now dozens upon dozens of ludotecas. "Through sports," says a senior city spokeswoman, Paula Bustamante Jaramillo, "you remove them from conflict. You give them room. You give them tools. Violence is about easy money. If you change the context from the beginning, if you make it a family context from the beginning, then the whole context is different. It is so beautiful. And it is so simple."

Twenty years ago, Medellín was known as the most dangerous city in the world.

Now it is, truly, a city transformed.

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Now it is bidding for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, against Buenos Aires and Glasgow, Scotland. The International Olympic Committee will select the winner July 4 at an all-members assembly in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Medellín's candidacy poses a fascinating test for the IOC.

At issue, bluntly, are 20-year-old stereotypes of Medellín and, for that matter, all of Colombia -- cocaine, coffee, corruption -- amid the axiom that politics, especially sports politics, can sometimes be as much about perception as reality.

Reality check: the drug lord Pablo Escobar has been dead since December, 1993.

That is a generation. That is long enough to grow up in in Medellín and to get so good at bike-racing that you can go to the London Games and win a gold medal.

"I travel all over the world to participate in sport competition and I am always asked the question about safety in Colombia," said 21-year-old Mariana Pajón, the 2012 women's BMX London champion. "And I am constantly having to tell people, including my fellow athletes, that Medellín is not what people think it is."

The Youth Games is the pet project of the current IOC president, Jacques Rogge. It came to life midway through his term, in 2007, and was envisioned to be set in a city and country that was never going to be able to stage the full Olympic Games.

Thus, for instance, the inaugural edition of the Summer Youth Games went to Singapore in 2010. To win those Games, Singapore beat Moscow. Russia of course put on the 1980 Summer Games and will stage the 2014 Winter Games -- not to mention a raft of other events in the coming years, including the 2018 soccer World Cup and the 2015 swimming world championships.

To keep the project afloat, however, the second edition of the Summer YOG is due to go to Nanjing, China, in 2014 -- just six years after the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. The budget is believed to have soared to more than $300 million.

Within influential Olympic circles, there are concerns that already YOG has overgrown its original mandate.

Assessing the three 2018 YOG candidates:

In 1997, Buenos Aires bid for the 2004 Summer Games, eliminated in the first round, losing a run-off vote with Cape Town, South Africa. Buenos Aires also will play host to the IOC session this September at which the IOC will both elect Rogge's successor and select the site of the 2020 Summer Games.

Glasgow is not only bidding for 2018, it already has been picked to stage the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Moreover, Scotland is of course part of the United Kingdom, which obviously just last summer put on the Summer Games. The Glasgow bid file explicitly "seeks to build on the London 2012 Olympic Games and use the momentum to ensure a powerful and impactful YOG six years later."

That leaves -- per the original terms of what YOG is supposed to be all about, a city and country otherwise not in the running for the Summer Games -- Medellín.

If that weren't enough by itself, there's more -- much more -- to recommend Medellín.

In its evaluation commission report issued earlier this month, Medellín was said to present "minimal risk to the IOC."

In part, that's because of the experience the city gained from putting on the South American Games in 2010. The evaluation report praised the "compact concept and use of existing venues" and the depth of "good experience in hosting international and multi-sport events."

It's also because, practically speaking, all the venues are ready to go -- 20 of 24. Because most everything got built, and only three years ago, for the South American Games, the only permanent venue yet to be built would be a new BMX range. Three others would be temporary -- triathlon, sailing and road cycling. The Medellín 2018 operating budget: an estimated $170.5 million.

For good measure, in 2011 the IOC recognized Medellín with its "Sport and Environment Award" for its work at the 2010 South American Games, citing a variety of initiatives.

Others have also taken note of what is going on in Medellín.

In January, the New York Times devoted its "36 Hours" travel feature to Medellín. It cited, among other things, El Poblado, "a villagey part of town that is thick with bars and excellent restaurants."

In March, Medellín won the worldwide "Innovative City of the Year" competition, beating out New York and Tel Aviv, chosen in part for its modern transit system, environmental policies and network of museums, schools, libraries and cultural centers. The contest is sponsored by the non-profit Urban Land Institute in association with the banking concern Citi and the marketing services department of the Wall Street Journal.

Why else did Medellín win? Because, in part, the city averaged 10 percent growth for each of the 10 years between 2002 and 2011, an investment consultant telling the Financial Times earlier this year those are "Asian Tiger" numbers.

Medellín's metro system, incidentally, has its own unique way. Bogota, the Colombian capital, does not have a metro; Medellín does, repelte with cable cars to get to the city's high points. Thus it's a point of enormous civic pride. Stations and cars are spotless. There's no eating or drinking; no graffiti, either. It's all part of what around town is called "metro culture," and to underscore the point there's even a library at the Acevedo station.

This is all part of the transformation. Several years after Escobar died, a new mayor took over, Sergio Fajardo, now the regional governor. A mathematician turned politician, he promoted a wide-ranging agenda that linked education, culture, sports and community development with infrastructure and notable architecture such as the Spanish Library.

The facility that used to be a women's jail near the San Javier metro station? That's now a library, too.

In the Fourth District, near what used to be an enormous garbage dump known colloquially as "Fidel Castro," the architecturally notable Cultural Development Center of Moravia opened in 2008. A few months ago, a kindergarten opened across the way.

"If you build a beautiful library in a poor neighborhood, it gives people a sense of importance; it raises their dignity and gives them access to goods such as education," Fajardo, seen as a presidential contender by 2018, told the Financial Times earlier this month.

"It also brings visitors from other parts of the city -- something that encourages social integration."

The current mayor, Aníbal Gaviria, said in a statement, "Medellín stands today as an example for many cities around the world, because despite having lived through difficult times 20 years ago, we have undergone a true metamorphosis.

"We are now a city filled with life, thanks to the innovative approach taken at every step, both in social programs and urban development."

In April, the magazine U.S. News published a lengthy column entitled "Why Medellín, Columbia is a great retirement spot," citing the "calming and peaceful" red brick buildings and "swatches" of flowers, "friendly, helpful and hospitable" people, always-temperate climate and -- not to be forgotten -- the El Tesoro shopping mall, "as impressive … as you'll find anywhere in the world."

Colombia played host to the 2011 FIFA under-20 World Cup; Medellín staged some matches. Last month, FIFA, obviously satisfied, awarded Colombia the 2016 futsal World Cup.

Also last month, the international sportswriters association, AIPS, held a regional "Sports Games"  in Medellín; 164 journalists from South, Central and North America were on hand, and on May 21 a seminar brought together journalists and Olympic champions Jefferson Perez of Ecuador and Alberto Juantorena of Cuba.

Next year, the United Nations World Urban Forum will be staged in Medellín. Since its first meeting in Nairobi in 2002, the Forum has grown in size and scope as it has hopscotched around the world: Barcelona in 2004, Vancouver in 2006, Nanjing in 2008, Rio de Janeiro in 2010, Naples in 2012.

Some 4,500 people will be in Medellín for the UN event in 2014.

"This," said Juan Pablo Ortega, the chief executive officer of the Ruta N technology initiative in central Medellín and a Fulbright scholar at MIT in 2007-08, "is candidly part of the strategic view -- to be a city of big events."

No one, by the way, is pretending there isn't still crime in Medellín. In 1991, Medellín recorded 6,349 homicides. That number has since dropped by 80 percent.

In its evaluation, the IOC said, "In Medellín, crime is still a problem," then said in the very next sentence the city had made "admirable progress" to "significantly improve the standards of safety in the city." It also said the president of the country "guaranteed" that "all necessary measures would be taken to ensure the security and peaceful celebration of the YOG."

"Foreign investors are keen to do business with Colombia," the president, Juan Manuel Santos, said in a statement. "Over 640 foreign companies have come to Colombia since I took office," in August, 2010, "and they are now more concerned about legal insecurity than physical insecurity. Security is now a non-issue."

When it comes to crime -- there's crime in Buenos Aires and Glasgow. There's for sure crime in Rio and the Summer Games are going there in 2016.

Bottom line: would the UN be coming to Medellín if it weren't convinced the city wasn't just transforming but, indeed, transformed?

Want more evidence of how Medellín has been transformed?

Here's one point to consider:

If Medellín wins for 2018, the opening ceremony will be staged at the same 44,500-seat stadium where the bid committee now has its headquarters -- which, incidentally, is across the street from the aquatics complex with 10 pools. Across a cozy plaza -- where butterflies flutter and parrots, including brilliant macaws, chatter up on the trees -- are the environmental award-winning volleyball, basketball, gymnastics and combat sports buildings. Though they have lights, those halls were built to take advantage of natural lighting and, because the climate is so mild, don't need air-conditioning.

Last November, Madonna -- the Material Girl herself -- played that stadium. Not just one show. Two. Back-to-back.

Here's point two:

Steps away from where the "Fidel Castro" dump used to be sits a soccer field. In his time, Pablo Escobar put up towers and lights so that the people could play ball at night.

Now, that field has new lights and, moreover, new turf. It is run by INDER. The field is busy morning, noon and night.

"For us, the page is turned," the Colombian IOC member and the country's sports minister, Andrés Botero Phillipsbourne, said.

Added the 2018 bid chief executive, Juan Camilo Quintero, "The transformation in our city is huge. We have passed from the dark to the light through the last 20 years," adding a moment later, "The legacy is through sport, education and culture. That is the perfect fit for our city. This is the reason the Youth Olympic Games were created. This is the DNA of that."


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.

Fun is good

SINGAPORE -- One week down, one to go in the first-ever Youth Olympic Games. Courtesy of the internal Games News Service, here's just some of what they had to say that first week: "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."

- International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge on the traditional Summer Games and the Youth Games

"Friendship comes first. Results are secondary."

- China's 69-kilogram weightlifting silver medallist Gong Xinbin

"I am very disappointed I couldn't win a gold medal for India. I am sorry I let India down. Sorry India. Sorry parents. Sorry coach."

Pooja Dhanda of India, silver medalist in girls' freestyle 60-kilo wrestling

"I knew from the qualifications that my level was good enough for bronze, but I hoped someone would fall so I could have done better."

- Boys' trampoline gymnastics bronze medalist Ginga Munetomo of Japan

"The very top layer of the playing surface had peeled off due to the heat."

Tennis referee Nitin Kannamwar explaining why the boys' singles match between Venezuela's Ricardo Rodriguez and Argentina's Olivo Renzo had to be moved

"They are probably a little undercooked for London 2012, but have a focus for 2016 [Rio de Janeiro]. What we are asking all athletes [is] to focus on is the long haul and having an intermediary stop on that long haul is essential."

- London 2012 organizing committee chairman Sebastian Coe

"They play sport on computers. We see that kids are not active in sport anymore."

- Sergei Bubka, IOC member and legendary Summer Games pole vault champion from Ukraine

"Many children need to work to help their families, so there isn't much chance to play sport."

- Bangladesh team manager Niaz Choudhury on sports in that nation

"The secret to staying young is exercise. I am healthy and this is a great new experience for me."

- Tennis line judge G Ramanathan, who is 71

"Being an Aussie you always want to win -- even if it's your school spelling bee."

- Australian cyclist Kirsten Dellar

"It shows that females can be just as good as males [in shooting] or even better. So boys have to step it up."

Australian Emily Esposito on being the only girl on the Australian shooting team

"I want to be a world-class hurdler, the best and most remembered [who] ever lived."

- Jamaican hurdler Megan Simmonds

"This is a completely unpaid, cost-me-a-lot-of-money job."

- New Zealand badminton coach Peter Mundy

"He was focused and I was confused."

- Surinam's badminton player Irfan Djabar on why he lost in three sets to Canadian Henry Pan

"We've both got two arms and two legs, but maybe he prepared a little bit better."

- Ukrainian Olexandr Lytvynov after losing in the boys' 58-kilo gold-medal wrestling match to Urmatbek Amatov of Kyrgystan

"It's always better to dream big than to think you'll come in last."

- Singapore's Travis Joshua Woodward after the boys' cycling time trial finals, in which he finished 25th of 32

"My horse was afraid of something in the audience -- it started to behave very strangely."

- Equestrian Timur Patarov of Kazakhstan on his fall in round one of the jumping event

"I ran straight into someone head first. I couldn't feel anything, I just went numb. It was the end of the regular season, but I missed the play-offs. I wore a neck brace for four weeks and I haven't played contact sports since."

- Sprinter Brandon Sanders of the American team on why he gave up football to run track

"I say, 'I am going to get you, I am going to get you.' "

- Iranian weightlifter Alireza Kazeminejad's announcement to the barbell before going for gold in the boys' +85-kilo category

"I told you so."

- What the 16-year-old Kazeminejad said to the bar after becoming the Youth Games gold medalist

Teen team 32, Central African Republic 28

SINGAPORE -- If Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were to suit up and play a little three-on-three against the three best guys the Central African Republic had to offer, what would the final score be? Would the spectacle call to mind the routs the U.S. Dream Team laid on the rest of the world at the Barcelona Games in 1992? Would the spirit of Charles Barkley show up to elbow another skinny African?

Meaning no disrespect of any sort to Angelo Chol, Sterling Gibbs and Brandan Kearney, the three Americans who played Thursday  -- a fourth, Kyle Caudill subbing in for all of 37 seconds -- they were in no position to joke about anything after a preliminary-round game over the Central African Republic.

Final score: USA 32, Central African Republic 28.

This is already what it has come to, the Americans barely squeaking by a country most Americans have never heard of (landlocked, central part of the continent, bordered by Chad, Sudan, Cameroon and two other nations, both of which feature the word "Congo" in their names).

This is also exactly the kind of thing basketball's international governing agency, FIBA, was hoping this first-ever Youth Games 3-on-3 tourney would yield.

The only thing better would have been if the Central African Republic guys had actually won.

Mind you, at FIBA they're not rooting against the Americans.

They're rooting for the game.

And -- they can't, won't and don't say this, but it's incredibly obvious  -- the game wins when the Americans lose.

For the Americans, even allowing that it's American 17-year-olds, to beat the Central African Republic by only four -- that's a result that's "really great and that excites people," Patrick Baumann, the general-secretary of FIBA and an International Olympic Committee member, said.

"That excites the players. They will go back home and say, 'Yes, we can beat the U.S.' For everyone, the U.S. is the team to beat."

Prince Albert of Monaco dropped by the tourney venue, the *scape Youth Space, on Thursday. (That's the name: *scape. Cool space, with a skate park and other amenities. Dumb name.) He said of 3-on-3, "It's fast-paced. There's a lot of skill involved -- I mean, all the necessary skills and physical abilities for normal basketball. But it's just a shorter game -- but a very intense one …"

Absent the likes of Kobe, Dwyane and LeBron, in 3-on-3 pretty much anything can happen. The game is so fast -- two five-minute periods -- and so fast-paced that one scoring run can virtually seal the deal.

The four-point American victory, Baumann said, was "an amazingly exciting game."

As was Serbia's 31-30 victory over Puerto Rico.

And, also in the boys' preliminary round, Egypt's 33-31 upset over Lithuania.

Though there is still roughly a week to run in the Youth Games, it's already abundantly clear that 3-on-3 -- which coming in was one of the most intriguing YOG format experiments -- will be one of the major takeaways in all the Singapore debriefs.

"I think it's just what these Games needed," Prince Albert, who is also an IOC member and who took part in five Winter Games in the bobsled, said.

For one, the 3-on-3 game gives countries with little or no basketball heritage a chance against the Americans and Lithuanians, who do.

As Baumann said, it's one thing to expect India to find 12 guys with the skills to run with the NBA professionals in the Summer Games; it's quite another in a country of more than one billion people to find just three guys who can shoot jumpers and who thus might be able to give anyone a game.

Then there's this: Basketball is already popular worldwide. Why? In part because Michael Jordan and the other Dream Teamers helped make it so. Also, you can play without much of an investment. A ball, a backboard, a rim and you're good to go.

Even so, as FIBA figures it, there are fewer than 50 million people formally affiliated with clubs and teams; officials conservatively estimate there are 10 times that many people already playing, many in developing nations. The 3-on-3 format would seem a natural for drawing in all that new talent.

A game like 3-on-3 is played on a half-court and thus involves one net and backboard, not two; it requires only six players, not 10; and it's fast, so you can play it in the afternoon and still get home and do your homework at night. Or do your homework, eat dinner and go back out.

The rules are simple: Both teams score in one hoop. Ten-second shot clock. No time-outs. You can win before the end of the second five-minute period by reaching 33.

Baumann was asked Friday if 3-on-3 might someday be part of the traditional Olympic program. Not anytime soon, he made plain.

Then again, the odds are extremely good you'll undoubtedly see it in London in 2012, and probably in Rio in 2016 too, as part of the halftime shows, a FIBA effort to build buzz for the format. You're likely to see a boys' game at one end, a girls' at the other; you'll hear lots of loud rock music blaring away.

That's the action here.

Now: Can the Americans win out at these first-ever Youth Games? The boys get Spain in Saturday's quarterfinals.

Anything can happen. As Baumann said, "In this game, you have a chance."