TO BAN OR NOT TO BAN

The International Olympic Committee is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place as it comes to its decision on the potential Russian Olympic ban for Rio 2016.  It’s one thing for the U.S. to lead a multi-nation boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, and for the Soviet Union to reciprocate four years later in L.A. But it is quite another for the IOC itself to say, you’re out, because who knows what may come from that?

Yet the likelihood of just such a decision was given impetus today when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the IAAF banishment of 68 Russian track and field athletes not implicated in a state-supported doping program uncovered in a series of independent investigations. The International Olympic Committee said earlier this week that it would use Thursday’s CAS ruling as a guideline on a total Russian Olympic banishment from Rio.

There is no easy solution here, and the IOC is trying to thread the needle between who it is and who it was, between just desserts and just money (cynical me). In a last ditch move Russian President Vladimir Putin entered the scrum yesterday.

‘Now we’re observing a dangerous relapse into the interference of politics in sport,” he said in a statement.  “Yes, the form of that interference has changed but the essence is the same, to make sport an instrument of geopolitical pressure and the formation of a negative image of countries and peoples.  The Olympic movement, which plays a colossal unifying role for humanity, could again wind up on the edge of schism.”

Really?  The old KGB operative is interested in a unifying movement?  Who knows. His recent annexation of Crimea sure unified some folks. But there is certainly no self-reflection about the mind-numbing corruption in his Sports Ministry, just indignity once they’ve been caught.

There are so many competing interests at play here. From a purely moral standpoint banning the entire Russian Olympic team for their uber-cynical doping program in Sochi 2014 and beyond seems like a no-brainer. Come on, let the punishment fit the crime.

But who amongst nations is innocent?  One would have thought, too, that some executives involved in the financial collapse of 2008 might have been brought before the bar and their institutions appropriately down-sized to avoid another such meltdown in the future. Yet as we soon found out too-big-to-fail meant just that. So how much weight does Russia still have left to push back with?  Continue reading

TIME FOR OLYMPIC PARENTS TO LAY DOWN THE LAW

Devon Allen takes Trials title in 110m hurdles

Oregon’s own Devon Allen takes Trials title in 110m hurdles

All that is good and pure about athletics (track & field) was on display in Eugene, Oregon at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.  The ultimate make-or-break meet showcased the glory of sport’s purest forms before a hard-core fan base in the sports’ one true competitive shrine in America. Yet all that purity and goodness was being presented against a political backdrop of muck and mud which has left the sport mired in a purgatory of its own construction.  Continue reading

CAN ATHLETICS BE MARKETED TO MATTER ANYMORE?

CROWD CHAOS AT TOUR DE FRANCE

Wild times on Mont Ventoux

Wild times on Mont Ventoux

“There’s no way to control a crowd like that if they don’t want to be controlled,” said former Boston Marathon race director Will Cloney after huge throngs on Heartbreak Hill forced runners into a single file as they climbed the iconic rise. The narrowed channel made for great excitement, great theater, but also dangerous racing conditions as it was all but impossible to pass anyone in the bedlam.

Accordingly, the Boston Athletic Association soon installed rope lines and finally snow fencing and barriers all along Heartbreak Hill and other crowded sections of the course to keep the crowds at bay in the name of race safety. 

DALLAS, BATON ROUGE & ST. PAUL

The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm

There’s a fear that’s come over the land like an ominous summer storm darkening the skies above the prairie. Even as the two major political party candidates jockey, attack and defend from 30,000 feet, at ground level the forces of law and disorder have come into direct opposition like two colliding weather fronts, most recently in the far-flung cities of Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas.

After all the progress the country has made over the last half-century in living up to its lofty ideals, not only has the forward momentum stalled, it feels like we’ve regressed 100 years in no time at all.  As always America’s most aggrieved minority is openly fearful of the law assigned to protect it, while the police are now publicly wary of the people they have been sworn to serve. And it’s all organized itself into in a swirling exchange of anger, blame and frustration now come into violent release. Continue reading

TO FEAR AND PROJECT

IN THE WAKE OF THE WOMEN’S 800

Symmonds, Wheating and Smith (diving) make 2008 800m team.

Symmonds, Wheating and Smith (diving) make 2008 800m team.

Eight years ago in Eugene the men’s 800m final was the defining race of the U.S. Track and Field Trials. It’s stretch run showcased all that was right and electrifying about the sport as three Oregon locals stormed down the Hayward Field track to earn berths on the team heading to Beijing. No stadium in track had ever been as thunderous. Even the heart-broken fourth-place finisher Khadevis Robinson showed the heart and dignity of a true champion though he failed to make the team.

Today, two days of rest loom in Eugene after the opening four days of competition at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, giving the rabid Hayward Field fans a chance to rest their weary throats and salve their pounded palms. But it also allows two more days to analyze the What-Ifs of what surely promises to be the defining race of these 2016 Trials, the women’s 800m final.

Anyone who has ever run the 800 knows that it’s like walking a tight rope. You’re high on your stride, vulnerable to any break in rhythm, no margin for error especially in the last 150 when lactic acid is coagulating like tar, space is limited and hearts are at full gallop. In the panic, frenzy and fatigue of a closely contested final racers jostle, feet get clipped, and entire bodies and dreams can come crashing down. It is part of what makes trials’ racing so utterly compelling.

Montano in meltdown

Montano in meltdown

Yesterday in the women’s 800 Trials’ final Alysia Montano put on a Golden Raspberry Award worthy performance down the homestretch. Unfortunately for the Cal grad her over-the-top performance wasn’t athletic as she had tripped and fallen on the Bowerman curve in the last 150 meters of a highly competitive race and had to watch helplessly as her chances to make a second Olympic team disappeared down the track. Continue reading