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Illinois runners chase future, Kwan goes back to it

July 7, 2009 | 10:54 am

Kwan

Ten things I know, and you should:

1.  Angela Bizzarri will take a shot at running fast enough to qualify for the August World Championships at a July 15 meet in Liege, Belgium.  The rising senior at the University of Illinois, a surprise third-place finisher in the 5,000 at the U.S. Championships last month, needs to top her personal best (15 minutes, 33.02 seconds) by 8.02 seconds to make the team.

2.  Algonquin's Evan Jager, in a similar position to Bizzarri after his surprise third at the same distance, is waiting for his Oregon Track Club coach, Jerry Schumacher, to pick a meet where he and OTC teammate Matt Tegenkamp can shoot for the time they need to assure participation at worlds in Berlin. Schumacher told me by e-mail, "We are still working out the details.'' Jager (13:22.18) and Tegenkamp (13:20.57) barely missed the qualifying standard (13:20) in the 5,000 final at nationals.

Hughes 3.  Good to see Michelle Kwan plans to return to skating for an audience after three years, even if it is only for a show in August with South Korea's Kim Yuna, the reigning world champion, in Seoul.   Both Kwan and Sarah Hughes, the 2002 Olympic champion, got their undergrad degrees this spring: Kwan from the University of Denver, Hughes from Yale.  In an e-mail Monday, Hughes said she has "no plans at this moment'' to skate in shows.

4.  I have yet to comment on what happened when the music stopped (for now?) in the California skate coach musical chairs game: Caroline Zhang joining Coach Charlene Wong, whose previous star, Mirai Nagasu, left to work with Frank Carroll, who coached Kwan through most of her brilliant career.  My first thought: good for Wong, who has -- like Carroll -- always been refreshingly honest in her interaction with the media. In two years, Wong helped Nagasu improve from a skater who could not get beyond the first level of qualifying for novice nationals to senior national champion.  Wong deserves another shot at having a skater in the 2010 Olympics, and Zhang definitely gives her that.

5.  Although I do not think the ice show will lead Kwan, who turned 29 Tuesday, to take another shot at the Olympics, it would be great if it did.  The sport needs all the attention it can get, and what would attract more than an Olympic trials (I know the U.S. Championships aren't designated as such, but they should be) with Nagasu, Zhang, Kwan, Sasha Cohen, Rachael Flatt, Alissa Czisny, Ashley Wagner and Kimmie Meissner shooting for the two U.S. women's places at the 2010 Olympics?   Should Kwan try and fall short, it would do nothing to diminish her past achievements.

6.  New Wimbledon champion Serena Williams wants to have the opportunity to play in a 2016 Olympics in Chicago, even if "by then I will be on one leg and going for it.''  Said Williams, as quoted by Reuters, after winning her third Wimbledon title Saturday:  "I am praying that they (Chicago) get the Olympics because I think it would be really special to play there.''  Serena and sister Venus won Olympic doubles gold medals in 2000 and 2008.

7.  Now that Mayor Richard Daley has said -- in an exclusive interview with me two weeks ago -- he would sign the host city contract "as is,'' thereby pledging the city would be the ultimate financial backstop for a Chicago Olympics, it has become fashionable to cite the London Olympics cost overruns as a cautionary tale for what could happen if Chicago wins its 2016 Summer Games bid. But the comparison is far from exact.  Most of London's huge increase from the originally projected numbers (from $4 billion to something upward of $13 billion) owes to costs related to the massive urban renewal project in east London that is a critical part of its 2012 Olympic plans -- site of the Olympic Stadium, aquatics center, basketball arena, two other venues and the Olympic Village.  The Chicago Olympic plan includes no such project.  But that does not mean the Chicago City Council and the citizens should simply accept the guarantees of no risk being offered by Chicago 2016 and the mayor.  Some of the financial issues haunting London -- tight credit, loss of pledged sponsorship money -- could also undermine Chicago's plans if the global economy does not recover dramatically by 2013.  Both proponents and opponents of a Chicago Olympics should demand full public accountability -- not just private meetings between Chicago 2016 and the aldermen -- and projections of what happens in worst-case scenarios before the mayor is to sign the host city contract the eve of the Oct. 2 vote on the 2016 host. (Maybe some of those answers will come in the series of public meetings Chicago 2016 announced Tuesday it will hold around the city.) After all, London got away with badly underestimating the costs of the urban renewal, and someone -- likely taxpayers -- will have to foot the bill.

Skate 8.  News of the complicated doping case against German speedskater Claudia Pechstein did not attract much attention on this side of the pond when it was announced July 3, but it should have: Pechstein is the first speedskating superstar and one of the most decorated athletes ever busted.  Beginning with two bronzes in 1992, Pechstein won five golds, two silvers and the two bronzes in five Olympics and is the greatest distance speedskater in Olympic history.  Her two-year suspension, based not on a positive test but abnormal blood values, has stirred allegations of a cover-up, with a German speedskating official saying the International Skating Union offered to bury the case if Pechstein, 37, retired.  ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta, in an interview published Tuesday in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, denied any such deal was made.  Pechstein, who posted a letter on her German website headlined, "I have not doped,'' is appealing her suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

9.  USA Track & Field's new boss, Doug Logan, deserves kudos for his willingness to innovate, a critical attitude for a sport struggling to retain -- and regain -- spectator interest.  But Logan's idea to have the 2012 Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., on successive weekends, with four "dead'' days in between, makes no sense for a number of reasons.   First, someone will have to pay room and meals for the athletes who want to compete in events that will take place on the separate weekends.  Second, it is hard to image that the large number of out-of-town spectators/family/media who spent 10 to 12 days in Eugene for the 2008 trials (and spent money in Eugene and Oregon during the meet's two "rest'' days) would be attracted by a schedule with four "dark'' days.  A sport desperately in need of media coverage (I was the only full-time newspaper reporter from outside Oregon covering the recent U.S. Championships) should avoid anything that makes it easier for print and digital media to say the expense isn't worth it.  Yes, I know television will be delighted by the two-weekend competition schedule, which is why U.S. Figure Skating has adopted a similar schedule for its 2010 championships.  Many major non-broadcast media already likely will cover only one weekend of the skating, another sport battling a decline in spectator interest.

10.  Props to sprinter Colin Hepburn, a rising senior at Glenbrook South in Illinois, for making the U.S. team that will compete in the World Youth Track and Field Championships, which begin Wednesday in Bressanone, Italy.  Hepburn, who won the state Class 3A title in the 100, will be running that event in Italy after finishing second with a time of 10.59 seconds to Prezel Hardy of Texas (10.48) in the U.S. trials for the world meet.

-- Philip Hersh

Top Photo: Michelle Kwan receives her undergraduate degree June 6 from University of Denver Chancellor Robert Coombe. Credit: University of Denver.

Middle photo: Sarah Hughes holds her undergrad diploma after Yale commencement exercises May 24. Credit: Courtesy of the Hughes family.


Bottom photo: Could that be a goodbye wave from Claudia Pechstein, winner of five Olympic golds, now suspended for doping? Credit: Peter Dejong / Associated Press
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