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Doping, swimsuit farce and USOC network issues are back

July 28, 2009 |  2:00 pm


(Clothes make the man: Germany's Paul Biedermann in the soon-to-be banned suit he said was a key factor in beating Michael Phelps at the World Swimming SHAMpionships. Photo: Martin Bureau / Getty Images)

Back from vacation and catching up on new and ongoing stories.  Here are some of them:

1. Watching Universal Sports' live stream of the World Swimming Championships, with picture quality that is clearer than ever, also makes it clearer than ever that the U.S. Olympic Committee should have thrown in with NBC-owned Universal rather than create its own U.S. Olympic Network (referred to hereafter as USON).  Not only did the USOC get on the wrong side of the International Olympic Committee on the network issue, it likely will spend at least $25 million a year -- with no return in the near future, if ever -- on the USON.  That could quickly wipe out the $100 million cash surplus with which the USOC began the 2009-2012 period and be even more telling after 2012, when USOC revenues are expected to be substantially lower than the current quadrennium.
2. I asked USON major domo Norm Bellingham, the USOC's chief operating officer, for comment about the financial risk involved (and five other questions), and he politely declined comment on any of them in an effort to "work quietly and effectively with our Olympic partners.''  That clearly referred to problems with the International Olympic Committee, which had blasted the USOC for going forward with the network announcement after being told to hold off.  "Since the announcement of our network, there have been several conversations and exchanges of information between the USOC and the IOC,'' Bellingham told me in an e-mail sent the day before I left on holiday. "Both sides have expressed a determination to reach a solution that is in the best interests of the Olympic movement in the United States and worldwide.''

3.  More belated fence-mending attempts: The USOC leadership gave the National Governing Bodies no advance warning on the network announcement, but acting Chief Executive Stephanie Streeter sent those national sports federations an invitation a day later to be part of an "NGB Advisory Council'' to "assist the USOC in launching the network.''  Wrote Streeter in an e-mail to "NGB Leaders,'' a copy of which was sent to me: "Specifically, I view the NGB Advisory Council as a means to receive your ideas about the programming we can air; to discuss possible on-the-air talent; and to hear your thoughts about sponsorship issues and other commercial arrangements. I recognize that several NGBS have existing relationships with other media companies and we want to work together to answer any questions that may arise about these and any other issues.''

The sentence I underlined is the key one: all the big sports (track, swimming, gymnastics, figure skating) have such relationships, and they would be crazy to give up exposure on the likes of NBC and Universal Sports to be part of the USON.  If need be, those federations would stop calling their Olympic selection meets "Olympic trials'' (figure skating does that already) to avoid having to cede control over them to the USOC.

Gordy4. One of the major points former USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth stressed in the news conference announcing the USON was how it would provide exposure for sports that get little. But Gordy Sheer, the marketing director of USA Luge, which for years has been a management model for small sports federations, does not buy Ueberroth's argument.

"Personally, the network never really made sense to me from Day One,'' Olympic silver medalist Sheer, at left front, told me in an e-mail.  "I have always been a supporter of the USOC buying time on existing networks on a consistent basis rather than building a network of Olympic programming. Buying large blocks of time on an existing network (like NBC) would give the athletes more exposure and, if done properly, a new revenue stream for the USOC. The financial rewards might not be as high, but we'd get a lot more eyeballs, and the risk would be considerably less.''
5. The system is complicated, but the net result is simple:  Algonquin’s Evan Jager has qualified to run the 5,000 meters at next month’s World Championships in Berlin. Jager, who finished third at June’s national championships, made the U.S. world team when running mate Matt Tegenkamp surpassed the "A" qualifying standard at a recent meet in the Netherlands.
6. The positive doping tests -- for a stimulant -- of five Jamaican runners (sprinters and quarter-milers) Blake may wind up with nothing more than a public warning for all of them, but they have made the sport's leaders understandably nervous because one of the sprinters, Yohan Blake, pictured at right, is Usain Bolt's training partner. Bolt, not among those found positive, is far and away the sport's leading attraction. He and his countrymen and women were the sprint stars of the 2008 Olympics, where some of their performances were so unexpectedly brilliant it raised the usual suspicions in a sport where brilliance immediately leads to questions of "how?'' rather than expressions of "wow!''  If Bolt ever is found to have used banned drugs, a sport reeling from years of bad news involving U.S. sprinters (Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin, Tim Montgomery, Jerome Young and more) should begin looking for cemetery plots.
7. According to an e-mail from Balco's Victor Conte, who takes credit for creating doping programs he said were used by Jones and Montgomery, the key issue in the Jamaican cases will be the concentration level of the stimulant (methylxanthine), which Conte called "chemical relatives of caffeine.''  Because they are found in energy drinks, over-the-counter cold medicines and even chocolate, it would be easy for an athlete to ingest them inadvertently. But, as Conte noted, an amount substantial enough to be reported as a doping positive seems to indicate intentional use of the stimulant.
8. Craig Lord of swimnews.com said it all when he called the 2009 edition of the biggest global splashfest outside the Olympics the World Swimming SHAMpionships. World record after world record is being broken in high-tech suits that the boobs who run international swimming finally have banned, effective some time next year. The results of the SHAMpionships have been rendered meaningless by the suits, since some swimmers (Michael Phelps) are competing in lower-tech suits due to sponsor commitments.  And what will the international federation do about all the records set in the polyurethane suits everyone admits have been a dramatic aid to performance?  It may be years before swimmers wearing suits made of textiles, which the rules have mandated as of 2010, can approach the times posted in swimwear that has turned the athletes into jet skis.
9. Give Germany's Paul Biedermann credit for speaking the truth after he beat Phelps and crushed Phelps' world record in Tuesday's 200 freestyle at the SHAMpionships. Biedermann, whose time of 1 minute, 42 seconds was 0.96 under the old record, said, as reported by the New York Times, that the suits were worth, "honestly, about two seconds in the race.''  Added the German, who wore a suit that will be banned next year, "I think the suits are destroying the sport a little. It's just, you put on a suit, and you're really, really fast.''  To that, I would ask this:  Isn't it hypocritical for Biedermann to have worn the suit if he felt that way?
10.  I'm in post-Tour de France depression. I miss the incredible hi-def picture postcards of France (and pieces of Spain, Switzerland and Italy) that the Versus telecasts provided every morning for three weeks. I also miss my intermittent conversations with Lemont cyclist Christian Vande Velde, who once again provided Tribune and chicagotribune.com readers his incisive views (click for the final installment) on a race in which he finished an impressive eighth only two months after a terrible crash in the Tour of Italy.

-- Philip Hersh

Gordy Sheer and Chris Thorpe at 1998 Olympics photo by Don Tormey / Los Angeles Times; Yohan Blake photo by Simon Dawson / Associated Press