IOC needed to dump tennis, not add mixed doubles
The International Olympic Committee has made two more ill-advised decisions regarding the program for the Summer Olympic Games.
Today the IOC executive board went along with a recommendation from the International Cycling Union to dump what some call track cycling's iconic event, individual pursuit, beginning with the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Meanwhile, the IOC added mixed doubles in tennis, a sport which should not be in the Olympics in the first place.
First, the tennis decision.
Sports in which an Olympic gold medal is not the ultimate prize have no business in the Olympics. I would make a couple exceptions: men's basketball, because its presence in the Summer Games has played a dramatic role in expanding and improving the game worldwide; and men's hockey, because the Olympic tournament still means a great deal to countries like Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland, and the Winter Games program is not overstuffed, unlike the Summer Games.
Tennis does not need the Olympics, nor does the Olympics need tennis. The sport gets plenty of worldwide exposure from its Grand Slams, and the presence of its stars in the Summer Games drains attention from athletes whose only chance for exposure is at the Olympics.
(The same argument holds for golf, added to the program beginning with the 2016 Summer Games. Golf used Tiger Woods as a significant part of its argument for inclusion. Think that would play now?)
The Olympics would be better off without tennis, golf, boxing and men's soccer.
Then there is track cycling, where the argument for dumping men's and women's pursuit had something to do with short attention spans, according to what IOC President Jacques Rogge said at a news conference following the two-day executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Rogge said the executive board only was going along with a recommendation by the Cycliste Internationale that the track cycling program changes would be "more appealing and yield more audience ... There is a general shift from endurance events to sprint events.''
The men's 4000-meter individual pursuit lasts less than a minute more than the 400 meters in men's swimming and the 1,500 meters in track. Extending Rogge's logic, those events (and anything longer) should be eliminated as well.
And, in exact contradiction of the shorter-is-better argument, the IOC has added a cycling event called Omnium, which has six parts (including pursuit) and is compared to a decathlon.
Many of the world's leading cyclists, including Lance Armstrong, spoke out against eliminating individual pursuit. They got more than 4,000 signatures on a petition that asked the IOC to keep the event.
Rogge brushed off their concerns by saying, "You always have to distinguish the big picture from any particular country where some heroes win a lot of medals.''
(One of those heroes was likely to be U.S. cyclist Taylor Phinney. He is the reigning world champion in individual pursuit and, at 19, the sport's rising star whose personality and family story -- son of two Olympic medalist cyclists, whose father is battling Parkinson's disease -- made him a guaranteed attention-getter for track cycling.)
The UCI turned a deaf ear, and so did the IOC, which foolishly thinks these program tweaks are going to attract more interest from the Wii generation.
Yet the IOC lets out-of-fashion sports like equestrian, modern pentathlon and Greco-Roman wrestling remain in the Olympics, then tries to make them more relevant by compressing their competition into a much shorter time period so television might pay more attention.
To most track cyclists (and great road cyclists who also competed on the track), individual pursuit was the truest expression of their discipline.
The people who run international sports always say their first interest is doing right by the athletes.
Once again, their actions belie their lofty intentions.
-- Philip Hersh
Photo: Taylor Phinney in individual pursuit at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he took seventh place. Credit: Ricardo Mazalan / Associated Press