Olympics Blog

News about the Summer and Winter Games

Category: Lance Armstrong

It figures for Kim, Lysacek to take golden parachute

Skating Ten things I know, and you should:

1. I hope I'm wrong, but my gut feeling is 2010 Olympic figure skating singles champions Kim Yuna of South Korea and Evan Lysacek of the United States are done with competitive skating.

2.  Both Kim, 20, and Lysacek, 25, always will be remembered for having given a career-defining performance to win the gold medal.  Not a bad way to go out, if that's what either decides.

3. Helene Elliott's column about Michelle Kwan in Wednesday's Times reinforced my conviction that while Kwan never won an Olympic gold medal, she rapidly is becoming one of the greatest Olympians ever -- a person of so many more dimensions than she showed us in her extraordinary skating career.

4. The U.S. Olympic Committee should step in if USA Track & Field's board decides to dump CEO Doug Logan after this weekend's meeting in Las Vegas. Logan deserves to get through at least the 2012 Olympics.  Blaming him for a poor showing in Beijing two years ago is ridiculous.  The guy was on the job about 12 minutes before the 2008 Summer Games.

5. Ice Wars: Kim Yuna (Pyeongchang) vs. Katarina Witt (Munich). The two Olympic champions are big names on their country's bid team rosters in the effort to bring home the 2018 Winter Games.  The winner of the International Olympic Committee's vote next year?  Kim and South Korea.

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The buzz: Is Landis the fly who can finally sting Armstrong?

Land-Arms

A colleague from my journalistic past, former newspaperman Dan Barreiro, e-mailed out of the blue yesterday to ask if I would go on his radio show (KFAN in Minneapolis) to talk about the Floyd Landis doping revelations and accusations.

As I did the interview late Thursday afternoon (click here for the audio, in the middle of the segment), a little voice in the back of my head kept repeating Capt. Renault's words from the movie "Casablanca'':  "I'm shocked, shocked to find out that gambling is going on in here!'' just before a croupier hands Renault his winnings.

Anyone who has followed professional cycling -- or, in fact, any sport -- the past 15 years would be painfully naive to be shocked by Landis' admission of having been a previously unrepentant doper or by the idea that there could be truth in the doping accusations he has leveled at Lance Armstrong and the other members of a former cycling team, Motorola / U.S. Postal, that already had several riders connected to doping.

It's hardly novel for athletes to proclaim their innocence loudly for several years and then suddenly admit to having lied about doping.  Marion Jones did it.  So did Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte and Mark McGwire and many East German swimmers.

The difference between all of them and Landis is they were compelled into confessions by the feds or Congress or irrefutable evidence uncovered when the Berlin Wall fell or, in McGwire's case, the desire to get back into baseball as a coach. 

Landis did it to clear his conscience, according to Bonnie D. Ford's exclusive interview on espn.com with the defrocked 2006 Tour de France winner.

In the process, he chose to sling mud at other cyclists, including Armstrong, the one name guaranteed to get attention, the only one with name recognition beyond his sport.

The best efforts of amateur psychologists notwithstanding, it remains unclear why Landis chose to implicate Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie and a few others.

Was Landis trying to assuage his suddenly clear conscience and minimize the guilt he admitted by showing he was not alone?  Is he simply an embittered, broken (and reportedly broke) man looking to extract several tons of flesh from the sport that had rewarded and then rejected him?

To Armstrong, the charges leveled by Landis are merely a couple of new flies in the gigantic swarm that has buzzed around him since his first of seven straight Tour de France victories in 1999.  Over those years, Armstrong has either brushed away the pesky buggers, as he did in comments Thursday, or swatted them with threats of legal action.

But the buzzing won't stop, as if this is a special breed of fly attracted to suspected liars.

(Interestingly, Landis claimed in 2007 the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had offered him a shortened ban for his 2006 Tour de France bust if he would pass on information that could help make a doping case against Armstrong, which Landis apparently refused to do. A few months earlier, Armstrong had said of Landis, "I don't think he did it [doped}.  That's always my position and still is today.'')

So far, what Landis has said in recent e-mails to cycling officials about Armstrong and others falls into the "he-said, she-said'' category.   Whether Landis can provide documented evidence -- or get others to corroborate details of his allegations -- may determine whether this is the fly that will give Armstrong's reputation an incurable infection despite his repeated denials about use of performance-enhancing drugs.

There already is a body of evidence to suggest Armstrong was a doper, some purely intuitive, some by implication, some "he-said, she-said,'' some scientific, even if he never has had an officially positive doping control.  (A positive in 1999 for a banned corticosteroid was dismissed when Armstrong belatedly produced a therapeutic use exemption, reportedly backdated, for the substance.  And not having failed a drug test hardly is proof of righteousness in an era when athletes find undetectable substances and masking agents and other ways to beat testing.)

The intuitive: In an era when cycling was rife with doping, as revealed by test results, police raids, trials and subsequent confessions, Armstrong crushed admitted dopers over and over again in the Tour de France.  Too good to be true or a one-in-a-million talent?

The implication:  U.S. riders Landis, Tyler Hamilton and Frankie Andreu, and Spaniards Roberto Heras and Manuel Beltran, all former Armstrong teammates, either have admitted to or been caught for doping.  Andreu admitted to doing it in 1999, which is significant because of ...
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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.

Taylor 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 


Philip Hersh: Lewis-Powell long jump -- the best in my quarter-century of globetrotting

For a quarter century, I have had the best job in the world. It began when I convinced the sports editor who brought me to the Chicago Tribune, Gene Quinn, that the success of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics (which, in many ways, represented the real revival of the modern Olympics) and the fact the next Games were in North America  (1988, Calgary) meant the newspaper would benefit by having a full-time Olympics/international sports reporter.

The reporter I had in mind was, of course, me.

Thus began an adventure that has taken me to 12 Olympics (plus two more before I joined the Tribune), seven soccer World Cups (four men, three women), dozens of world championships and other major sporting events and more than 40 countries.

It is a journey that will continue at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and, I hope, for  many more years to come.

The editors at the Tribune, and their cohorts at the Los Angeles Times, have allowed me not only to cover great sporting events and to profile hundreds of athletes, foreign and domestic, but to use the Olympics as a prism through which to explain politics (sports as an expression of a political system) and culture (for example: why 1992 Olympic host region Catalonia isn’t really Spain).

While the actual 25th anniversary of my Tribune tenure was April 1 (insert joke here), I was too involved in covering Chicago’s eventually unsuccessful Olympic bid to note it then.

Now that the bid already seems like ancient history, I have the time to mark my own, in what will be three blogs.

In the first, below, I pick the 10 most remarkable athletic performances I have seen while on the international beat:

1. The Carl Lewis – Mike Powell long jump competition at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.  Lewis showed why he is the greatest jumper ever – by a long way – with four jumps of 28 feet, 5 ¾ inches or more, including two over 29 feet.  Powell improbably became the longest jumper ever, breaking Bob Beamon’s 23-year-old world record, then the oldest record in track and field, with a jump of 29 feet, 4 ½ inches.  "The numbers had stood for more than a generation as a touchstone, out there on the distant horizon of man’s physical limits," I wrote of Beamon’s 29-2 ½, which had bettered the previous record by nearly two feet.  Lewis had won 65 straight long jump meets over 10 years before the 1991 worlds, and Beamon’s record had become his white whale.  Powell’s mark has now lasted nearly a generation itself.  "I am living a fantasy," Powell said that night.  So was everyone who watched it.  "The whole thing," I wrote, "was, appropriately, about as astounding as Beamon’s world record had been 23 years ago.'' 

Lance22.  Lance Armstrong’s first Tour de France victory in 1999.  I flew to France with a week left in the race and, only hours after I arrived, Armstrong invited the handful of U.S. print journalists covering the event to an interview that lasted more than an hour.  He was yet to become a celebrity, and there had yet to be serious questions about whether he was just another cycling doper.  It was, back then, one of the all-time feel-good stories: a man who survived being gravely ill with cancer, an innocent abroad on the first U.S.-sponsored team to win the Tour, a victory his oncologist described as nothing short of miraculous.  I wrote this:  "Willful, opinionated and driven, he challenged doctors as he challenged himself to be a better rider than he was before the illness . . . Maybe that is why Armstrong said 'Not really' to a TV interviewer who asked during the triumphant ride up the Champs-Elysees if this were the greatest day of his life."

3.  The women’s figure skating final at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.  Never in the era when a passel of triple jumps became de riguer have two women skated so well under so much pressure.Tara2 No runner-up (and almost no winners) in Olympic history has done a better free skate than Michelle Kwan, and Kwan's grace in defeat contributed significantly to her becoming the most beloved figure skater in U.S. history.  At 15, Tara Lipinski became the youngest athlete ever to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics.  What she lacked in sophistication, she made up for with such infectious, unfettered delight – including a smiling scream after hitting a difficult combination – that the judges exulted right along with her.  The lead of my story:  "She had sat through 18 minutes of Beethoven’s 'Ode to Joy' at the Opening Ceremony, and it obviously gave Tara Lipinski some ideas.  Lipinski would turn the next two weeks into an ode to her joy over being at the Winter Olympics."   

4.  Diego Maradona’s second goal in the 2-1 quarterfinal win over England at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.  "The second goal," I wrote, "was a thing of such rare beauty that English coach Bobby Robson called it as 'a miracle.' " That was not an understatement.  Taking the ball just beyond midfield, Maradona dribbled from his left foot to his right and back to his left, leaving the first English defender flatfooted.  He would touch the ball nine more times during a 60-yard run through four more defenders, including the goalie, before tapping in the eventual game-winning goal for an Argentine team that went on to win the title.  Seeing the man justify his reputation as one of the greatest players in history was a privilege.

Bolt2 5.  Usain Bolt in the 100 meters at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.  A year earlier, at the Olympics, Bolt’s competition had been seriously diminished by the injury to 2007 world champion Tyson Gay.  At Berlin last summer, Gay was back in full stride, as his U.S. record time of 9.71 seconds would prove.  And yet Bolt still had no competition as he lowered his world record to 9.58, a performance that I said had "redefined the standards of the most basic human athletic pursuit, running as fast as one can over a measured distance."

6.  Joan Benoit Samuelson’s victory in the 1985 Chicago Marathon.  This was – and still is - - the greatest women’s marathon ever, matching the 1984 Olympic champion (Benoit), the 1984 Olympic bronze medalist and eventual 1988 Olympic champion (Rosa Mota of Portugal) and the world-record holder (Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway).  The indomitable Benoit gave Kristiansen a lesson in race tactics, varying her pace enough to confuse the Norwegian’s attempts at a metronomic run.  Benoit won in a time of 2 hours, 21 minutes, 21 seconds, that would stand as the U.S. record for 18 years.

7.  Brian Boitano’s gold-medal figure skating performance at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.  So few skaters ever have delivered their best when the lights are brightest, but Boitano did.  "It was the best performance I’ve ever seen a skater do," said his teammate, Paul Wylie.  The amazing thing is that the sport’s judging was (still is?) so corrupt that Boitano’s virtually flawless performance (one two-footed jump landing) beat Brian Orser’s, which had significant mistakes, only by the slimmest of margins:  one-tenth of a point on one of the nine judges’ cards decided, by a 5-4 decision, what should have been a clean sweep.Strug2  

8.  Kerri Strug’s vault in the team gymnastics final at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.  This was serendibity:  At the last minute, after I finished covering an event at the nearby Georgia Dome, I suggested to my editors that I go to the gymnastics in case the U.S. won the gold medal, which would make the paper want a second story, or "sidebar." The headline on my story said it all:  "Vault Belongs to the Ages; U.S. Gymnast Leaps in Pain, Lands in Glory."  Vaulting on a badly sprained ankle, thinking the gold depended on her as 32,040 fans at the Georgia Dome screamed encouragement, she landed on both feet before hopping and collapsing in pain.  The U.S. had clinched its first team gold in women’s gymnastics.

9.  The men’s 400 freestyle relay at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.  So many subplots – the Michael Phelps eight-gold-medal quest; the French overconfidence and controversy about its relay order, the impossible task anchor Jason Lezak faced even with 50 meters left; French anchor Alain Bernard’s mistakes (out too fast, swimming too close to the lane line so Lezak could surf on his wake); the moment everyone realized Lezak had a chance to catch Bernard.  It would not be a stretch to call it the most exciting race in the history of swimming.

10.  Michelle Akers in the final of the 1999 Women’s World Cup at the Rose Bowl.  Many think Akers, not Mia Hamm, is the greatest player in the history of women’s soccer.  It was Akers whose two goals hard beaten China in the World Cup final eight years earlier. Akers2 In 1999, at 33, it was Akers in a different role – that of defensive midfielder – who repeatedly kept China from scoring the goal that might have prevented the overtime drama in the most watched women’s team sport event in history. Despite chronic fatigue syndrome, Akers flung her body relentlessly all over the field in 90-degree heat before dehydration and dizziness forced her to the locker room after 90 minutes.  As the crowd chanted her name during the medal ceremony after the U.S. victory, Akers tottered back onto the field to accept her prize.  "The fans today were treated to witnessing one of the greatest women athletes in history, a true champion leaving everything on the field," U.S. coach Tony DiCicco said.  "She inspires me."  I saw Akers as the paradigm for the modern woman athlete: supremely talented, fiercely competitive, tough as nails.

-- Philip Hersh

(Coming next: My 10 most memorable trips)

Photos, top-to-bottom:  Mike Powell's world-record leap (Associated Press); Lance Armstrong after his first Tour de France victory (Associated Press); Tara Lipinski exults in the 1998 Olympics (Don Tormey / Los Angeles Times); Two fast cats:  Usain Bolt and cheetah he met, now called "Lightning Bolt," in Kenya this fall (Karen Prinsloo / Associated Press); Kerri Strug hobbles after her historic vault (Associated Press / Joe Ledford via Kansas City Star); Michelle Akers leans on coach Tony DiCicco for support after 1999 World Cup Final.  (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times).

  


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