Ten thoughts on matters Olympic:
1. Los Angeles has an excellent 2024 Olympic bid. So does Paris. So the idea of having the International Olympic Committee vote in September for both 2024 and 2028 rather than just 2024 makes absolute sense. If both bids get to the day of reckoning in Peru, neither deserves to lose.
No one knows how the mechanics of an unprecedented IOC two-for-one deal might go. It carries the slight risk of a huge upset if, as expected, the vote for 2028 would occur after that for 2024, because there is a third 2024 finalist, Budapest.
Sure, it is a) highly unlikely that Budapest could beat either Paris or L.A. head-to-head; and b) if Paris gets 2024, marking the centennial of its last Olympics, it is also unlikely that the IOC would choose to put two straight Summer Games in Europe (that hasn’t happened since 1948-52.)
Paris 2024 – LA 2028 is the best scenario, since it assures the Xenophobe-in-Chief will be out of office when Los Angeles is host – even if there is a chance the U.S. president who follows Trump will be equally deplorable. (Or more deplorable, if that is possible.)
2. If Paris wins in a vote that is just for 2024, we will never know if what Trump has said and done was a deciding or significant factor.
IOC votes are secret. This is supposed to allow members to vote their consciences rather than cave to outside pressures were their votes to be made public. In reality, it is just another way for the self-elected, self-serving IOC to do business with no real scrutiny.
Some members admit or hint at their choices. Take those statements with a grain (or a bushel) or salt, given many IOC members’ consummate skill at dissimulation. (That's a polite word for lying.)
The IOC could wind up picking Paris just because it is Paris, no matter that recent, failed Paris bids have shot themselves in the foot by arrogantly insisting that “We are Paris, and you are not” was reason enough to choose the French capital.
3. If L.A. loses in a single 2024 vote, having the Trump factor as a possible reason will provide an out for the United States Olympic Committee to encourage another bid for 2028.
That would counter a feeling among some within the USOC that, even given the obvious appeal of Paris, if a candidature as good as this from Los Angeles is rejected, why should any U.S. city waste time and money on a future bid?
The idea that the IOC likes the billions of U.S. dollars (NBC, TOP sponsors) a lot more than it likes the U.S. is as valid as ever.
4. Is your heart in your throat now every time Lindsey Vonn hurtles down a hill at 70 mph? Mine is.
Pushing to the limit – and past – is what has made Vonn the greatest U.S. Alpine skier in history and the most decorated woman ever on the World Cup circuit. She would not be that Lindsey Vonn if she did not race right on the edge of crazy (a description I borrow from the title of a terrific book about ski racing.)
Yet her crashes lately have come with enough frequency to make one fear for her long-term health as she chases Swede Ingemar Stenmark’s record for all-time World Cup victories (86). She is currently nine wins away.
Vonn missed much of 2013 and 2014 with knee injuries from crashes. A terrible training crash in November shattered her arm.
Earlier this month, she won a World Cup downhill at Garmisch, Germany, in just her third race back after the arm injury. But last weekend, she crashed in the same spot on a downhill course at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, in both training and the race, winding up in the safety nets both times.
“I'm getting a little sore. I'm too old to be hitting the fence that hard,” Vonn, 32, told reporters after the second incident. “I'm happy to still be in one piece.”
In a telephone interview last February, Vonn insisted to me she was managing the risk better.
“It’s definitely a more mature attitude,” Vonn said. “I wouldn’t say I’m talking a lot less risk but definitely less risk than I normally would in those types of conditions.
“I understand the consequences more. I’m just not willing to risk three years for a few extra (World Cup) points.”
Easy to say, clearly harder to do for Vonn. And it may be that, at age 32, her reflexes have slowed just enough to make regaining control after a mistake and preventing a crash more difficult.
It would be nice if Vonn could end her brilliant career when she wants to, not when her body is in pieces.
5. I have often said that comparing scores in figure skating is a fool’s errand, because each judging panel has a different composition, and judges at national championships tend to be much more forgiving of errors and inclined to give high scores than judges at major international events.
That said, the comparisons still are fun.
So let’s take Nathan Chen’s winning score of 318.47 at the U.S. Championships and compare it with Javier Fernandez’ 294.84 as the Spaniard won a fifth straight European title.
Fernandez got 190.89 points for a badly flawed free skate at Europeans, with one fall so hard he had to forego the next day's exhibition. Chen got 212.08 as he made history with five quadruple jumps in a flawless free skate at nationals.
International judges would certainly not have given Chen the free skate component score (91) he received at nationals. Yet it is worth nothing that he received 84.42 on components from an international panel for a flawless, four-quad free skate at the Grand Prix Final, when he was first in the free and second overall to Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu. (Fernandez was fourth in both.)
And, as Jackie Wong of Rocker Skating pointed out to me, Chen’s fifth quad would have brought at least six more technical points than he received at the Grand Prix Final. That would have brought him within four of Hanyu – who had a poor free skate – in the overall standings.
Certainly, Chen cannot yet match the ice artistry of 2014 Olympic champion Hanyu, two-time world champion Fernandez and three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada. And, with reputation judging still very much alive in skating, a flawless Chen is likely to finish fourth at the World Championships in March if Hanyu, Fernandez and Chan don’t make multiple errors.
6. There may be a better sense of Chen’s medal chances at worlds after the Feb. 14-18 Four Continents Championships on the 2018 Olympic rink in Gangneung, South Korea. He, Hanyu and Chan all are currently in the men’s field – as is Japan’s Shoma Uno, who took third in the Grand Prix Final, and China’s Jin Boyang, who has struggled to regain the form that got him third at last year’s World Championships.
7. After Fernandez and Maxim Kovtun of Russia (who finished a distant second to Fernandez), the men’s singles performances at the European Championships were awful. And Kovtun was a disaster at the 2016 World Championships (18th).
8. With an overwhelming victory at Europeans, Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva now has won 11 of 12 events (and nine straight) in her two years as a senior-level skater. That includes a world title, two European titles, two Grand Prix Final titles and two national titles, the last over competition as good as she faces at worlds. Her only miss was a second at the Rostelecom Grand Prix last season.
How consistently good has she been this season? In eight programs at Euros and the Grand Prix circuit, she has received negative aggregate grades of execution on just three of 76 elements. Of her 684 individual judges’ GOE scores in those events, only 28 have been negative – none at the European Championships. She also did not have a single negative GOE of 171 scores at the Russian Championships.
9. U.S. speedskater Heather (Richardson) Bergsma goes into the Feb. 9-12 World Single Distance Championships at the 2018 Olympic oval in Gangneung with an unbeaten World Cup season record in the 1,000 meters (5-for-5) and two wins in four races at 1,500. She has yet to win either at the single distance world meet, taking three silvers and a bronze the past two seasons.
All that is good, but it will be a lot better if Bergsma can have that form at next year’s Olympics and help Team USA long trackers avoid another medal-less debacle like the one in the Sochi Games, where she had yet to reach her current level of excellence. Bergsma, then still Richardson (she married Dutch skater Jorrit Bergsma in 2015), had an eighth and two sevenths in Sochi.
10. Erin Hamlin practices a special form of alchemy that turns even seconds and thirds into firsts.
Hamlin’s silver medal in singles at last weekend’s World Luge Championships in Igls, Austria was just the second ever by a U.S. woman in that event in 63 world meets (she won the other, a gold, in 2009). It also was the first outside Lake Placid, where home-course advantage is substantial for U.S. athetes.
Hamlin, 30, also won gold in sprint singles, an event that debuted at worlds last year, and silver in mixed team. Her medals were the first by any U.S. luger since 2009, when a doubles team joined her on the podiums. At the 2014 Olympics, Hamlin’s bronze was the first ever won by a U.S. slider in Olympic singles.