No surprise: Armstrong doesn't talk with USADA

Lance Armstrong declined Wednesday to tell what he knows about doping in cycling to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Because here is the critical part. USADA would have had him talk under oath.

So, really, who is surprised?

Armstrong faces potential criminal and civil exposure. No way he was going to talk -- at least not while the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth could be used against him.

Intriguingly, Armstrong -- who sought in his televised interview with Oprah Winfrey to appear at least a little bit humble, a little bit contrite -- seemed through his lawyer, Tim Herman, to revert Wednesday right back to the sort of language that had for years come to characterize his position in dealing with the anti-doping authorities, the press and virtually anyone who challenged him.

Herman's statement started off by saying:

"Lance is willing to cooperate fully and has been very clear: He will be the first man through the door, and once inside will answer every question, at an international tribunal formed to comprehensively address pro cycling, an almost exclusively European sport."

Lance willing to cooperate fully? That would appear so commendable, right?

If only it didn't also seem so disingenuous.

For years, Armstrong kept his doping and bullying secret. Now, though, he would now be willing to tell all? Conveniently, he would be doing so at an international tribunal, likely offshore, where the reach of American law would not extend -- and those comments presumably would not be used against him in the same way as if they were made, under oath, back home.

In that way he would be the "first man through the door" and answering "every question"?

Just one further issue.

There is no such international tribunal. None exists. Maybe one will one day or maybe one won't.

It's hard to know, given the complex relationships among cycling's governing body, the UCI -- for which Armstrong has said he currently has little love, given the way it dropped him last fall -- along with the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee.

So, again, what was this about?

And why the reference to cycling being a European sport? Why bring that up? Simply to play to what remains of Lance's American audience? Or -- to whom?

"We remain hopeful," the statement goes on to say, "that an international effort will be mounted, and we will do everything we can to facilitate that result. In the meantime, for several reasons, Lance will not participate in USADA's efforts to selectively conduct American prosecutions that only demonize selected individuals while failing to address the 95% of the sport over which USADA has no jurisdiction."

Demonize? Selected individuals?

To whom could those words be referring? Lance, obviously, right?

USADA's aim, of course, is full disclosure. It wants to know what he knows. That's just common sense. Wouldn't Armstrong stand to know as much as anyone about how to dope, and get away with it?

Plus, if ever there was a time to get him to talk, now would be it. Armstrong has finally been unveiled as a serial cheater. He has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

Moreover, WADA told Armstrong that coming in to talk to USADA was the appropriate thing to do if, as USADA chief executive Travis Tygart put it in a statement of his own Wednesday, "he ever wanted to be part of the solution."

Now, though, look at it from Armstrong's point of view. What did he have to gain from talking with USADA?

In October, in making public the scope and extent of Armstrong's cheating, calling it the "most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program the sport has ever seen," USADA imposed on Armstrong a lifetime ban.

Armstrong, 41, wants to run in sanctioned triathlons. Cooperation with USADA might -- that's might -- get that life ban reduced to an eight-year ban. That means he'd be almost 50.

For someone used to being in control, used to dictating the terms of how the deal is going to go down, it's hardly surprising Armstrong decided in the end not to talk.

"At this time," Tygart said in his statement, "we are moving forward with our investigation without him and we will continue to work closely with WADA and other appropriate and responsible international authorities …"

That's not surprising, either. This matter is a long, long way from over.


USOC's 2024 triple-play bid-city letter

Finally, a U.S. Olympic bid process that, from the outset, takes the long, strong view. It only makes sense.

The two people in charge of the U.S. Olympic Committee -- chairman Larry Probst and chief executive officer Scott Blackmun -- are themselves typically calm and deliberate. But also thoroughly in charge. So it only makes logical sense to see them working this way through the early stages of what might be an American bid for the 2024 Summer Games.

The USOC on Tuesday sent out a letter to the mayors of 35 cities that purports to gauge interest in each and any of their towns in making a 2024 bid.

The letter is a triple play.

It is, on one level, genuinely what it purports to be.

It's also a clever marketing and public-relations device that simultaneously buys time.

It keeps the notion alive in places like Tulsa or Minneapolis that the Summer Olympics might, just might, happen there in 2024. Which makes the USOC look really, really good in places like Tulsa or Minneapolis and everywhere else around the United States, which is really, really good for the USOC.

Never say never but -- let's be honest. The odds are long indeed of the Summer Games happening in Tulsa, Minneapolis or anywhere on that list but a handful of cities -- most likely San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York.

Chicago. the U.S. bid city in 2009 for 2016, would make anyone's short list as well, of course. But Chicago is not interested, the mayor's spokeswoman said Tuesday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

To win the Summer Games, it takes a combination of factors. It takes, for instance, name value. It takes resource. It takes the story that will convince the International Olympic Committee.

The USOC doesn't have to decide anything right now. The International Olympic Committee's deadline for applying isn't until 2015; the 2020 vote isn't until 2017. More to the point, the IOC vote for 2020 is this September, and that gives the USOC time enough to graciously let the good people in Indianapolis, Baltimore, Rochester, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Columbus and more down gently.

New Orleans -- which just hosted the Super Bowl -- is not on the list of 35. The USOC made it plain, however, the list is not exclusive nor exhaustive; officials said they would be glad to talk 2024 with any reasonable party in the 50 states.

Note that while the USOC had previously expressed interest in exploring opportunities for both the 2024 Summer and 2026 Winter Games, and that while those more interested in the 2026 Winter Games might say this letter merely is going out now because the 2024 deadlines are first -- that is probably not the case.

The better bet is 2024. That has been clear since the USOC and IOC last year resolved their differences over a longstanding revenue dispute over marketing and broadcast shares, a deal that essentially cleared the way for the USOC to again begin considering Olympic bids.

The USOC letter inviting 2024 interest spells out some of the basic requirements for hosting a Games: 45,000 hotel rooms, an international airport, an Olympic village that sleeps 16,500 and has a 5,000-person dining hall, a workforce of up to 200,000 and more.

It does not -- repeat, not -- touch on the sensitive issue of the government guarantee the IOC  demands from all bidders, a huge challenge for any U.S. bid given the complexities of the American local-state-federal private-public way. That's for way down the road.

Instead, it does broadly sketch out, albeit unmistakably and unequivocally, and to the USOC's credit, that the USOC is in charge.

"Our objective in this process," the letter says, "is to identify a partner city that can work with us to present a compelling bid to the IOC and that has the right alignment of political, business and community leadership.

"We are seeking a partner that understands the value of the Olympic Games and the legacy that can be created not only for their community, but for our country."


The USOC is seeking a partner that understands, fully and completely, that this is an Olympic bid campaign. This is not a campaign for school board, City Hall or even the U.S. Senate. There is nothing remotely like it in American politics.

In this niche, the USOC is the Olympic entity -- by order of Congress -- in the United States. If you, Mr. or Ms. Mayor, would like to play in the Olympic space, be crystal clear going in you will do so as the junior partner.

Politicians like credit and glory. There will be lots of credit and glory to go around if the bid wins. It may seem elemental but a bid wins by swaying votes within the IOC. There, success or failure truly rests with the USOC.

Also understand this: the United States has never put forward a truly national Olympic bid.

Such a bid holds the potential to be enormously powerful.

It's why, among other reasons, the USOC is taking its time now for 2024. Because it can.

"Now more than ever, we need to use the power of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to encourage our youth to be active and engaged in sport," the letter says.

That right there is a tagline, and it would be shocking, indeed, if that line, in some form, doesn't show up in one of the bid-city videos in the summer of 2017.  Whatever city it is.

U.S. Ski Team: on its game

There once was a time when the Europeans scoffed at the U.S. Ski Team. The Americans have the icy low hills back east and the amazing Rocky Mountains, Sierras and Cascades out west, and yet every winter the Americans would roll into the World Cup tour and maybe there would be the occasional breakthrough -- Phil and Steve Mahre in the 1980s, for instance -- but not the sort of consistent, across-the-board dimension that would make the Euros, the Austrians in particular, snap to and say, whoa, the Americans are so for real.

Ladies and gentlemen, that time is now.

Know, too, that the 2014 Sochi Olympics could well be the U.S. Ski Team's moment in the sun, testament to the culture behind its claim to be "best in the world."

Once, that notion seemed so audacious as to be absurd.

Now -- well, at the 2013 alpine world championships, which wrapped up Sunday in Schladming, Austria, the U.S. won more gold medals -- four -- than any other nation.

Ted Ligety won three gold medals, the super-G, super-combined and then his specialty, the giant slalom. Teen Mikaela Shiffrin won the slalom. Julia Mancuso, as ever a big-game racer, took bronze in the super-G.

Mikaela Shiffrin joins in at the closing ceremony of the 2013 world championships // photo courtesy Tom Kelly and U.S. Ski Team

The U.S. team's performance came even though Lindsey Vonn -- the Vancouver 2010 downhill winner and indisputably the best female skier the United States has ever produced, with four World Cup season titles and 59 World Cup wins -- tore a knee apart in the very first event, the super-G. She has vowed to be back for Sochi.

Further, Bode Miller -- before Ligety, no question the best American male skier of all time -- is taking the year off to give a knee time to heal. Nolan Kasper, who probably would have been a medal contender in the slalom, crashed in December and is out, too.

There are many, many reasons the U.S. team has risen to the top.

Among them: sponsor support; cutting-edge scientific and training methods; the opening of an early-season speed-racing training base in Copper Mountain, Colo.; a winter-time training base in Sölden, Austria, to reduce back-and-forth travel across the Atlantic; summer training in Portillo, Chile, and down under in New Zealand.

It all goes back, however, to culture -- the idea that the Americans not only can but should win and, moreover, that they're all in it together.

This is the notion behind the 85,000-square foot Center for Excellence, the ski team's headquarters in Park City, Utah, that doubles as world-class training center. It's not just the alpine team that works out there. The cross-country team, the freestylers, the Nordic combiners, the guys, the women, the teenagers, the athletes in their 20s and 30s -- everyone.

That was the idea when the place opened in 2009 -- it was where the U.S. Ski Team, all together and altogether, would work out. It's how culture happens.

Skiing is an individual sport. And yet the U.S. Ski Team has bridged the gap. It is, indeed, a team.

You see it now in small but utterly revealing ways.

After her divorce, Vonn found a welcoming home with the women on the U.S. team. There were hugs all around in a conference room in Lake Louise, Canada, when she said, simply, "I want to be your teammate," and from then on -- that's the way it has been.

Last month, the U.S. women were talking -- with admiration -- about Chip White, for 17 years a U.S. team coach, now in charge of the speed team (events such as the downhill).

"If we miss a day of skiing, he is so bummed," Leanne Smith said. "He is just sad and inconsolable and feels like it's his fault. He cares so much. He knows all of us at a personal level and wants to see us to what we are all capable of."

Vonn -- this was before her injury, obviously -- said, "He cut his finger off," with a table saw last fall, "and he was still out on the mountain. He had one hand all taped up and he was still carrying gates around and wrenching in gates and working just as hard as he always does, even though he was in excruciating pain."

Shiffrin and Vonn are now known to paint their fingernails together. Shiffrin is 17, Vonn 28. Vonn was one of Shiffrin's childhood heroes.

Ligety is also 28. It would be so easy for there to be a do-not-cross sign between the men's and women's teams, which travel all winter on different circuits. Instead, here was Shiffrin after her victory Saturday, underscoring the connection:

"Ted was so inspiring these world championships. It's really hard to have a good race every few days and that's what he's done. You get tired and you're trying to extend your mental capacity for an entire two weeks. He seems to have done it flawlessly."

The U.S. Ski Team is, of course, more -- way more -- than just the alpine team.

Even as the posters came down and the bags got packed in Schladming, consider what else was going on that was relegated to the back pages, if that, of America's newspapers -- the stuff that come next February will become front-page news at the Olympics:

At a test event in Sochi, American halfpipe freeskiers Torin Yater-Wallace and Gus Kenworthy went one-two. Seven of the 12 finalists: American.

Also in Sochi, Hannah Kearney -- the 2010 Vancouver champion -- won in moguls with Eliza Outtrim second; Heather McPhie took fourth on a tiebreaker. Six U.S. women made the round-of-16 semifinals. On the men's side, Patrick Deneen took second.

In Davos, Switzerland, at a cross-country World Cup sprint, the final tune-up before the Nordic world championships this week in Val di Fiemme, Italy, five Americans -- three women and two men -- qualified into the heats, with Andy Newell taking his best finish in three seasons, fourth in a classic sprint. He now stands second in the World Cup sprint standings. Kikkan Randall leads the women's sprint standings.

At another World Cup tune-up Sunday before the Nordic worlds, this one at Ljubno, Slovenia, American women ski jumpers finished third, fifth and seventh. Japan's Sara Takanashi won the event and clinched the World Cup title.

Does all this guarantee anything next February in Sochi? No.

Does it, however, mean things are headed in the right direction? For sure.

The U.S. Ski Team won 21 of 37 American medals in Vancouver. In 2010 there were 24 medal opportunities in snowboard and freeskiing; in Sochi, that number will be 48. It's easy to see: the action in Sochi figures to be up in the mountains.

"We had great success in Vancouver and we worked really hard to position ourselves to use that success and that platform to continue to push for another really successful Olympics," Bill Marolt, the president and chief executive officer since 1996 of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., said in a telephone call from Sochi.

"The momentum we are seeing this year is going to be really motivating. The success will focus the athletes and the coaches and I think we'll get a really good effort next summer, with a lot of really good hard work. I think it will go up a notch from what we've done. We'll go in fully prepared, with no stones unturned, and see where we are where it's over."


Mikaela Shiffrin's star turn


Mikaela Shiffrin was already a big deal in skiing circles. Now she is a full-fledged star. And still only 17. Her 18th birthday is next month.

With a fantastic second-leg charge, Shiffrin won the women's slalom Saturday at alpine skiing's 2013 world championships in Schladming, Austria.

Shiffrin became skiing's youngest world champion since 1985, third-youngest women's world champion in the event, eighth-youngest world champion in any event.

More: she also became the first American woman to win the slalom in either a world championship or an Olympics since Barbara Cochran in 1972.

The winning combined time: 1 minute, 39.85 seconds.

Michaela Kirchgasser of Austria finished second, 22-hundredths back. Frida Hansdotter of Germany took third, four-hundredths further behind.

The medal was the U.S. Ski Team's fourth gold, its fifth overall at the 2013 worlds -- more than any other nation.

Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States poses with her world championships slalom  gold medal // photo courtesy Mitchell Gunn ESPA and U.S. Ski Team

They talk about prodigies when it comes to the arts -- say, the piano or the violin.

Mikaela Shiffrin is a prodigy on skis.

Because the Winter Olympics will be on TV next February from Sochi and alpine skiing will be broadcast into living rooms across the country, everyone will get to see what it's like to watch Shiffrin do her thing.

They are in for a treat.

Skiing insiders have known for a long time -- a long time in teen years, that is -- that Mikaela Shiffrin could be something special.

In a question-and-answer in the fall of 2011, for instance, the Canadian ski expert Michael Mastarciyan asked Mikaela if she was ever afraid of failing or considered herself a perfectionist.

The reply:

"I don’t have a fear of failure in skiing. I don’t really want to make a fool of myself, but skiing is something I know by heart and failure isn’t really a concept for me, and it shouldn’t be a concept really for any skier, because you’re out there doing something you love so how can you fail at it if you love it?

If you could bottle that single sentence and sell it, you would be a gazillionaire.

When you think like this -- when you believe in yourself like that -- how can you not win?

There are, of course, other pieces to the puzzle.

Mikaela Shiffrin has great support: from her parents, Jeff and Eileen, and family; from the U.S. Ski Team; from her sponsors.

She's obviously in top-notch physical condition.

But, bottom-line, that passion for the sport and that no-fear approach is how you win.

At 15, Mikaela ran her first World Cup race. At 16, she won her first World Cup medal.

This season, in December, she won her first World race, in Are, Sweden. In January, she won two more, in Zagreb, Croatia, and Flachau, Austria. No other woman has won more than once; she leads the season World Cup slalom standings.

On Saturday, she ran third in the opening leg. In the second run, she charged the lower half of the course to take that 22-hundredth of a second advantage over Kirchgasser; Finland's Tanja Poutianen ran next but couldn't beat Shiffrin, ultimately finishing fourth; then came Hansdotter, who looked like a winner until the very end, when she faded to third.

On top of everything else, Mikaela Shiffrin is remarkably well-spoken, collected and poised for 17 going on 18.

In a news conference, she was asked whether the "fight with her emotions" she showed in the finish area was tougher than the fight on the hill itself.

The response?

"Doing what I did on the hill today, especially in the second run - skiing is like dancing or flying, there are so may ways I can describe it, but it just is. And it works for me.

"But coming down to the finish, just knowing it worked, and the whole day came together and I had all these opportunities and it worked out, is unbelievable. And I can't find an emotion to describe it. It's been 17 years in the making. I'm finally here and doing what I set out to do. And it's a really cool feeling. But when people ask me what I'm feeling and how do I do this - I just don't have an answer. I'm just doing what I do and I don't want to wait."

Mikaela Shiffrin angling toward victory in the women's slalom at the 2013 alpine championships // photo courtesy Mitchell Gunn ESPA and U.S. Ski Team

A few minutes later, in a conference call back to the States with a group of journalists who regularly cover alpine racing, referring to her gold world-championships medal, she said, "It's very hard to process. A lot of people never realize their full potential. Their dreams, in a sense, don't come true.

"I'm lucky enough to have gotten opportunities, amazing opportunities. I have a support system around me to help me capitalize on those opportunities. I have opportunities no other girl, no other athlete, might ever get a chance to have.

"It's really crazy. I could never say that I've done this alone -- because that's the opposite of the truth. I've had so much help. But it feels really good to know I've done what I could do to get to this point. It's really amazing, and I'm so grateful for everything that is happening to me."

Ligety: first to three

Ted Ligety didn't just win the giant slalom Friday at the alpine skiing world championships. He crushed it. Which means that in the way Lindsey Vonn was the It Girl before the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, Bode Miller the It Dude before Torino in 2006 -- America, you are going to be seeing a lot, and then a lot more, of Ted Ligety before Sochi next February.

Ligety's victory made for his third win at the worlds at Schladming, Austria. He already had won the super-G and the super-combined events.

He became the first man to win three titles in a single worlds since the legendary Jean-Claude Killy of France won four in 1968, when the Olympic Games counted as the worlds.

That's 45 years.

Ted Ligety skiing to victory Friday in the giant slalom at the alpine world championships in Schladming, Austria // photo courtesy Mitchell Gunn ESPA and U.S. Ski Team

Ligety is the first American skier to win three medals at a single worlds. He is the first non-European to do so.

His four career golds match Miller for most by a U.S. skier.

He is the first skier -- male or female -- to win the super-G, super-combined and giant slalom at a single world championship.

He became the seventh man to win the giant slalom at two worlds, and the sixth back-to-back.

All of this means a great deal, and at the same time very little, come Sochi.

It means Ligety, 28, of Park City, Utah, rocks.

Ligety is already an Olympic gold medalist. He won the combined in Torino.

To be hugely obvious, he is now more mature, smarter, better, totally on his game, and barring injury he will be a medal favorite in Sochi in the giant slalom, and perhaps other events as well.

But, because alpine racing is enormously variable, with course conditions, the course set, the light and more, it could all slip away -- literally -- in an instant.

He acknowledged as much Friday, saying, "Ski racing is such a tough sport. In a way -- it's hard to really replicate these kinds of wins. You've seen Lindsey. She was by far the favorite -- won a gold medal, for sure," in the Vancouver downhill.

"She had the ability to win far more. That's just the tough thing about ski racing. It's so far from guaranteed. It's not like running -- all you have to do is run. Or swimming. There are so many more variables than that. It's just so hard to replicate good performances. The hill changes every single guy. So it's not so easy."

Ligety in Schladming on his victory tour // photo courtesy Mitchell Gunn ESPA and U.S. Ski Team

Ligety said he is well aware that, for an American audience, he will now be The Guy heading toward Sochi.

"I don't know what it's going to be like," he said, adding in a reference to Vonn before Vancouver and Miller pre-Torino, "I know they had a lot of external pressures, a lot of things they had to go through for being the favorite -- we'll see how that goes. Hopefully, it doesn't take too much out of my summer. It should be fun."

Sochi will be Ligety's third Games. He said, "I'm always looking forward to the Olympics. It's a really cool experience. This has definitely set the bar high. I don't know if this is repeatable," adding the thing was to "maintain the same level of skiing and give myself good chances there."

Ligety admitted to feeling nerves before Friday's racing.

If so, it didn't show.

The giant slalom is a two-race affair.

In the first piece, Ligety went out and built a lead of 1.31 seconds.

In alpine racing, 1.31 seconds is huge.

In the second run, Ligety's primary rival, Austria's Marcel Hirscher, went out and threw the huge crowd -- more than 35,000 people -- into a roar by moving into contention.

"Running 30th," Ligety said, "it was really bumpy in that second run, and the light was pretty flat," adding, "I had to charge. I was making mistakes," including one that almost sent him, his left ski flying, off the course. "But that's part of ski racing. I had to charge through that. I was glad I had that buffer I did after that first race."

Ligety's combined winning time: 2 minutes, 28.92 seconds.

Hirscher finished 81-hundredths back. At one point, Ligety had increased that 1.31-second lead to 1.68, then slowed to make sure he got to the finish in one piece.

Manfred Moelgg of Italy finished third, 1.75 seconds behind.

Tenth place was another second back. Twelfth place was more than full three seconds back of first. In alpine racing, these sorts of differentials are ridiculous.

"This week has been the best week of ski racing in my life," Ligety told a news conference. "I still don't think I have recognized what I have done so far this week. It has been so phenomenal."


Oscar Pistorius charged with murder


Oscar Pistorius had a story he would tell. You, he would tell groups of people, wake up in the morning and put on your shoes. I wake up and put on my legs.

Each March for the past two years, Oscar appeared at the Global Sports Forum in Barcelona, Spain, a convention at which I served as the master of ceremonies. He brought his legs -- including the carbon-fiber blades he would run on at tracks around the world, like the ones that would go on to make him famous in London last summer. He urged everyone in the audience to hold them, touch them, pass them around. It was his way of saying, see, you're just like me and I'm just like you.

Now comes the news from South Africa that Oscar Pistorius is under arrest for homicide. His girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, is dead, shot in the pre-dawn hours in a Valentine's Day slaying at at his upscale home in a gated community in South Africa's capital, Pretoria.

The Associated Press reported that officers found a 9-millimeter pistol inside the home and arrested Pistorius on a murder charge, police saying they had received calls in the past about domestic altercations in the past at his home.

It's more than shocking and stunning that she is dead and that he is facing criminal charges.

Oscar Pistorius leaving a police station Thursday in South Africa // photo Getty Images

First and foremost, her life is gone. And for what?

His life, too, is forever changed. The man who became Paralympic champion and showed the world that, despite disability, you could run in the Olympic Games -- a guy who had it all now is looking at a life behind bars.

The last few weeks have seen the fall of Lance Armstrong and -- now this. Companies quickly moved to take down advertising and billboards featuring Pistorius, who had been a national hero in South Africa, and had inspired millions worldwide with his tale of overcoming adversity.

The police said, according to AP, that no other suspect is involved in Steenkamp's death.

They also said she was shot four times.

Four shots is horrifying.

Even if the shots come in rapid-fire succession, it takes time enough to understand what you are doing to fire four times.

Of course he is presumed innocent. Of course the legal process needs to play itself out.

But there are two obvious questions:

How could this have happened?

And, if indeed Oscar Pistorius fired those shots, what in the world was going on in his mind?

The Oscar Pistorius I came to know -- after our first meeting in Barcelona -- seemed like one of the world's genuinely nice guys. We saw each other again, for instance, at the Pre Classic meet in Eugene, Ore.; a few days later, he came down to Southern California and we talked on the phone, just chit-chat, just hey, how are you, great to see you again, that kind of thing.

At the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, we talked both on the phone and in the mixed zone about his successes and his frustrations.

Pistorius was left off the South African team 4x400 relay team for the final -- despite helping the team qualify in the early rounds. In our phone call then, he seemed depressed, a quality I would see in him again. But not angry.

Then again, who wouldn't be depressed to be left off the team for the big race? At the time, it seemed understandable.

You wonder now whether Pistorius suffered from depression of the sort doctors would understand. All the years that he was putting on his legs when he looked around and saw so many others putting on shoes -- how did that make him feel, really?

There's an explanation here that, in the coming days or weeks, we surely will learn.

Because a gun doesn't fire four times without reason.

Whatever the explanation, it's not reason enough to bring back Reeva Steenkamp.

So inexplicable.

So inexplicably sad, all around.


Tim Burke's historic silver medal


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrestling's Olympic future: now what?

So interesting, indeed, to bear witness to the emotional recoil to the move by the International Olympic Committee's policy-making executive board to cut wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games. When you strip that emotion out of it, and look at the cold logic of it, there's a compelling argument to be made in the IOC"s favor.

Not to say they're right. Just to say there is indeed some logic there.

There's also this -- this has nothing to do with being anti-American.

And this -- there's a sound argument to be made about how wrestling gets back onto the 2020 program. Which would also be logical. Though that would be rooted in politics, too, which after all is how wrestling got dropped in the first instance.

To begin:

This is, at one level, a math problem.

The IOC caps participation in the Summer Games at 28 sports.

In London last summer, there were 26. Golf and rugby are added for 2016 and 2020. That makes, obviously, 28.

After London, the rules were that one of the Summer Games sports was going to be dropped to form a "core" of 25. Doing some math here: 25 plus (golf and rugby) = 27.

So, for 2020, you add one to make 28.

That's assuming a big if -- if the IOC, at its all-members session in September in Buenos Aires, so chooses. It could choose to leave the number at 27. The 2020 Games site will also be chosen at that meeting in September; Madrid, Istanbul and Tokyo are in the running. The next IOC president, replacing Jacques Rogge, in office since 2001, will also be picked in Buenos Aires. It's a big meeting.

To its credit, the IOC has done a good job in the Winter Games of making the program way more attractive to a younger audience, adding events such as ski and snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle.

For the Summer Games, it has struggled to find a more current formula.

After London, each of the 26 sports was analyzed according to 39 criteria.

For weeks before Tuesday's IOC board meeting it had been clear to insiders that the two sports most at risk were modern pentathlon and wrestling.

As the Associated Press has reported, pentathlon ranked low in general popularity, getting a 5.2 on a scale of 10. It also scored low in TV rankings, with an average of 12.5 million viewers, a maximum of 33.5 million.

The modern pentathlon federation's governing body goes by the acronym UIPM; it has 108 member federations.

Wrestling's international governing body goes by the acronym FILA. It has 177 member federations.

Wrestling scored just below 5 on that 10 scale. It sold 113,851 tickets in London out of 116,854 available -- at a Games where most events were screaming sellouts.

It ranked low in the TV categories as well, with 58.5 million viewers max and an average of 23 million. Internet hits and press coverage also were ranked as low.

For all of wrestling's claims of "universality," moreover, the sport -- while immensely popular in places such as the United States, Japan, Russia, eastern Europe, former Soviet bloc nations, Turkey and Iran -- doesn't really offer up that many Asian, African or Latin athletes. Which longtime observers such as Harvey Schiller, the former baseball federation president, pointed out, also noting that it simply is "not great TV."

Moreover, the IOC report also observed that FILA has no athletes on its decision-making bodies, no women's commission, no ethics rules for technical officials and no medical official on its executive board.

There's this, too, though the IOC report doesn't mention it: FILA is virtually invisible on Facebook. In the year 2013, that is almost indefensible.

Pentathlon -- given a warning in 2002 -- got with the program, so to speak.

It cut its competition schedule from five days, to four, to one. It instituted the use of laser pistols instead of regular guns. It also played politics, an IOC essential, with UIPM first vice president Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. now sitting on the IOC board.

FILA did virtually nothing.

So why expect a different result?

Even so, the outcry, especially here in the United States, was predictable. Crowds of 18,000 at big-time meets are hardly uncommon. Wrestling, especially in high schools, is a feature of American life. Supporters of the sport felt, in a word, blindsided.

But, again, look at it from the IOC perspective. Not emotionally -- logically. How has the sport grown over the past 10 years?

USA Wrestling is a model federation. That is not the issue.

With the inclusion next year of Grand Canyon University in Arizona, there will be 78 men's Division I wrestling programs.

It has been eight-plus years since women's wrestling arrived on the Olympic program in Athens in 2004. In that time, universities, even big-time programs such as USC. have launched women's varsity programs in sports such as sand volleyball and lacrosse. By contrast, the number of Division I women's wrestling programs: zero.

In the United States, the social media response to Tuesday's announcement sparked, for instance, a Facebook save-wrestling page and an online petition that urged the White House to "please put pressure on [the IOC} to overturn this horrible decision to drop the oldest sport in the world."

With all due respect, and in particular to the 20,051 people who had signed the petition as of Wednesday afternoon California time -- keep in mind that the members of the IOC entertained the president of the United States in Copenhagen in 2009, as he was urging them to vote for Chicago for the Summer Games, and then voted Chicago out in the very first round, as he was flying back home on Air Force One.

Since that very day, the U.S. Olympic Committee, led by chairman Larry Probst and then by chief executive Scott Blackmun as well, has made great strides in doing what FILA should have been doing -- recognizing that Olympic politics is all about relationships.

Again, the IOC move to strike wrestling from the program is not directed at the United States. Want more proof? For all the great American gold-medal victories over the years in the sport -- Rulon Gardner in Sydney in 2000, for instance -- the U.S. won only four medals in 2012, two gold.

The biggest winner in wrestling in London, without question, was Russia, with 11 medals.

Overall, the Russians won 82 medals.

Again, math: wrestlers accounted for 13 percent of Russia's entire medal tally.

That is what is called incentive.

It's why the head of the Russian Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, was quoted by AP as saying they would use "all of our strength" to keep wrestling on the 2020 program.

The Russians are spending north of $50 billion readying for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games next February. When Vladimir Putin took over again as president of Russia, last May 7, the very first meeting he took that day was with whom? Of all the people and dignitaries in the world?


This is not a difficult triangulation: the Russians could bring a lot of "strength" and relationships to bear -- again, so to speak -- to this. In the sports sphere, this might help accelerate the end of the Cold War; the Americans might well be helpful supporters.

As it turns out, the next IOC board meeting, in late May, is in Russia -- in St. Petersburg. There the IOC board will decide how many sports the full IOC membership will get to consider in September for that 28th spot. Right now, the odds are good the number might well be three.

Wrestling is up against seven other sports, including a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash and others.

Rogge, asked at a news conference Wednesday in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC's base, whether wrestling had a 2020 life, said, "I cannot look into a crystal ball into the future. We have established a fair process by which the sport that would not be included in the core has a chance to compete with the seven other sports for the slot on the 2020 Games."

As for all the criticism from the United States and elsewhere? Before the London 2012 Games the IOC dealt with the feral British press for seven years. So this, too, shall pass.

"We knew even before the decision was taken," Rogge said, "whatever sport would not be included in the core program would lead to criticism from the supporters of that sport."

IOC throws wrestling to the mat

In Sydney in 2000, who can forget Rulon Gardner beating the Russian man-mountain, Alexander Karelin, for gold? Or in Beijing in 2008, the brilliance of Henry Cejudo, who came from the humblest of beginnings to claim gold?

Or last summer in London, the awesome ferocity of Jordan Burroughs? He had said beforehand that nothing was going to get in his way of his gold medal, and nothing did.

Wrestling has offered up so many compelling gold-medal memories  at the Olympics, in particular for the U.S. team.

And that's very likely what they'll be going forward: memories.

The International Olympic Committee's policy-making executive board, in what some viewed as a surprise, moved Tuesday to cut wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games as part of a wide-ranging review of all the sports on the program.

It's a surprise only to those who don't understand the way the IOC works.

"This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics," the IOC spokesman, Mark Adams, said at a news conference. "In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling. It's what's right with the 25 core sports."

Adams, as ever, is being diplomatic.

In fact, it's totally what's wrong with wrestling, and in particular its international governing body, which goes by the acronym FILA. Otherwise, the sport wouldn't have been cut. That's just common sense.

The IOC move came as part of a mandate to cut one sport to get to a "core" program of 25 sports. One sport of the 26 from London last summer had to go. Those were the rules.

Two sports were most at risk, as everyone inside IOC circles has known for weeks: modern pentathlon and wrestling.

All the sports on the program were subjected to a questionnaire from the IOC program commission purporting to analyze 39 different factors: TV ratings, ticket sales, a sport's anti-doping policies, gender issues, global participation and more.

The questionnaire did not include official rankings. It did not include recommendations.

Even so, it was abundantly clear that pentathlon was No. 1 on the hit list and wrestling No. 2.


Pentathlon has been at risk ever since the IOC's Mexico City session in 2002. The sport involves five different disciplines -- fencing, horseback riding, shooting, swimming and running -- and, obviously, there just aren't that many people in any country who do that. But it traces itself back to the founder of the modern Games, the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, and has waged a clever political campaign, instituting just enough modern touches, like the use of laser pistols instead of real guns, for instance.

Wrestling brought women into its sport at the Athens Games in 2004. It also has reconfigured some weight classes. But aside from those developments, it was pretty much the same as it ever had been -- pretty much the same as it had been in the ancient Games in Greece way back when. Ticket sales in London lagged, when virtually every other sport was a sell-out, a clear sign something was amiss.

Thus, heading into Tuesday's board meeting, the decision would be -- as usual -- subject to politics, conflict of interest, emotion and sentiment.

This is the way the IOC works. It may or may not make sense to outsiders that, for instance, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., a first vice president of the modern pentathlon union, sits on the executive board while the fate of modern pentathlon is being decided.

But this is the way it is.

The IOC voted Tuesday by secret ballot. We will never know whether Samaranch Jr. voted. Frankly, it doesn't matter.

What matters is that he is matters. The proof of that is his eminently convincing win last summer at the IOC session in London when he was elected to the board.

As an aside, it's early in the race for the 2020 Summer Games -- the vote won't be until September -- but Tuesday might be an intriguing indicator.  Madrid is, of course, one of the three cities in the race, along with Tokyo and Istanbul, and Samaranch Jr. is a key player for Madrid.

And pentathlon. And pentathlon surely proved to have political influence within the IOC.

The pentathlon World Cup next week in Palm Springs, Calif. -- featuring five Olympic medalists from London, including both the men's and women's gold medalists, now promises to be a celebration -- not a dirge.

"We are very open but we know where we have to go together," Klaus Schormann, the president of the modern pentathlon federation, said in a telephone interview from Germany.

Taekwondo -- seemingly forever battling for its place on the program -- also showed political smarts. A few days ago, IOC president Jacques Rogge traveled to Korea, where taekwondo was developed. Though the sport's medals were spread among a number of nations at the London Games, it still carries enormous prestige in Seoul, and when IOC president Jacques Rogge held a personal meeting with South Korea president-elect Park Geun Hye, what was one of the things she told him: keep taekwondo in the Games, please.

What was FILA's political strategy? Nothing, apparently.

Who was advocating inside the IOC board for wrestling? No one, seemingly -- of all the biggest wrestling countries, none have seats on the IOC board.

A belated, after-the-vote statement on the FILA website declared that it was "greatly astonished" by the IOC action and would take "all necessary measures" to try to get back on the program.

"Greatly astonished"? Like gambling in the movie, "Casablanca." Shocking, just shocking.

At the top of the FILA website -- it's Feb. 13, mind you -- the page greets you with "Season's Greetings!" and best wishes for a "peaceful and successful New Year 2013!" This is an international federation that just isn't up to speed.

The way this works now is that wrestling will join seven other sports -- the likes of wushu, squash, baseball and softball -- in trying to get onto the program for 2020.

Bluntly, the IOC move Tuesday probably signals the end for baseball and softball, which are trying to get back on as one entity, not two.

If the IOC is going to let any one sport back on, it might -- stress, might -- be wrestling. "I would have to think the IOC made an uninformed decision," Jim Scherr, the former USOC chief executive officer and Olympic wrestler (fifth place at the 1988 Seoul Games), said Tuesday, urging reconsideration.

The current USOC chief executive, Scott Blackmun, said in a statement: "We knew that today would be a tough day for American athletes competing in whatever sport was identified by the IOC Executive Board.

"Given the history and tradition of wrestling, and its popularity and universality, we were surprised when the decision was announced. It is important to remember that today's action is a recommendation, and we hope that there will be a meaningful opportunity to discuss the important role that wrestling plays in the sports landscape both in the United States and around the world. In the meantime, we will fully support USA Wrestling and its athletes."

To get back on the program now, though, the fact is wrestling faces considerable odds. This, too, is the way the IOC works.







Ligety wins second gold at 2013 alpine worlds

The last time Ted Ligety won what in alpine ski racing is now called the super-combined event  -- a race with downhill and slalom events -- was so long ago it was simply called the combined. Seven long years.

That was the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics.

He came through again Monday, and again on the big stage, at skiing's 2013 world championships in Schladming, Austria.

Truthfully, Ligety didn't just win, he dominated. The daylight downhill run left him standing sixth, in solid position to attack. Then, under the lights at night, he executed a slalom run that was both on-edge and safe to win it all by a whopping 1.15 seconds over Ivica Kostelic of Croatia. Austria's Romed Baumann finished another two-hundredths behind for third.

Ligety's total winning time: 2 minutes, 56.96 seconds. The downhill portion: 2:02.10; the slalom, 54.86 seconds.

Ligety's victory marked his second title at the 2013 worlds. He won the super-G last Friday.

American Ted Ligety stands alone as the winner of the super-combined at the 2013 alpine world championships // photo Mitchell Gunn ESPA, courtesy US Ski Team

Neither is considered his best event. That would be the giant slalom, which will be run this coming Friday. Ligety is widely viewed as the favorite in that event, having won four of five giant slalom races on the World Cup tour this season. He is a three-time World Cup giant slalom season champion.

Obviously, Ligety is on a huge confidence and momentum roll, the kind that sets you up to be -- at least on the men's side -- The Face of the U.S. Ski Team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Which, frankly, is at it should be.

That's no disrespect to any of the other guys on the U.S. team, in particular Bode Miller, who is taking this year off to let a knee heal. None whatsoever. If Bode comes back strong, all's the better. No one -- that's no one in the world, not just anyone in the United States -- has Bode's on-ski style and verve.

That said, Ligety is no longer the 21-year-old surprise of the 2006 Torino Games.

Sochi would be Ligety's third Olympics, and he is by now a team leader and proven big-time competitor. Now, too, Ligety is world champion in three different events -- giant slalom at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in 2011, and super-G and super-combined in 2013. Ligety also won bronze in the giant slalom at the world championships at Val d'Isere, France, in 2009.

Plus, in Sochi, Ligety would have something to prove, believe it or not.

His gold in the combined in Torino is his only Olympic medal. He was shut out in Vancouver in 2010.

Miller is a multiple Olympic medalist, in Vancouver and in Salt Lake City in 2002, and at the worlds did what Ligety has now done -- win two golds at the same world championships. He did it twice, in fact, in Bormio, Italy, in 2005 (downhill and super-G) and St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 2003 (giant slalom and combined).

That kind of range marks you as a great all-around skier.

Ligety has never -- again, never -- wanted to be considered as a guy who only skis the giant slalom.

"I never wanted to be a specialist," Ligety said Monday, adding a moment later, "To have three world championships in three different events is pretty surreal -- it's a pretty cool feeling."

When Miller won his combined titles, and when Ligety won the combined at the Olympics in 2006, the combined was one downhill and two slaloms. Now the super-combined is one downhill and one slalom.

The way Ligety positioned himself to win Monday speaks volumes about his maturity and race savvy.

Ligety said he had been puzzling over how to best ski the downhill. It wasn't so much that the mountain was so treacherous. In fact, it was comparatively easy. The challenge was finding speed -- meaning the right line.

In the race itself, he figured it out, finishing sixth. There are times when sixth can, as Ligety later called it, prove "awesome." This was one of those times, because he was less than a second out of first, behind Austria's Baumann, Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, Italy's Christof Innerhofer, France's Adrien Theaux and another Italian, Dominik Paris -- guys who, with the exception of Svindal, are generally more known for speed than technical slalom skill.

Ligety's concern, as he explained after the downhill, was Kostelic, in 10th, and Austria's Benjamin Raich, in 12th.

Svindal, Innerhofer and Theaux all failed to finish the slalom. Raich went out, too. Paris would finish ninth.

Ligety racing to victory in the slalom under the lights // photo by Mitchell Gunn ESPA, courtesy US Ski Team

Kostelic ran before Ligety, taking the lead -- but, in skiing the night leg in 55.36 seconds, gave Ligety a huge opening. It's not that Kostelic was particularly slow. It's just that he could have been faster. Which Ligety knew.

"I just tried to ski as smart as I can," Ligety said moments after skiing the field's second-fastest run of the night, that 54.86, pumping his fists after crossing the finish line, knowing he had the race won. "I'm not always that smart in slalom. I just tried to have a solid run the whole way down and not try to make too many mistakes.

"To see the green light at the bottom," meaning first place,"was a really sweet feeling."