My New Year's Wishes for Tokyo 2020
Bring on 2021!
Along with millions of Olympic and sports fans, I'm wishing for a successful, smooth, and healthy Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021. After this year's postponement, there are still serious lingering concerns on participant and spectator Covid-19 protocol, which likely won't be answered until the springtime at the earliest. But we do need a "beacon of hope" to help frame a pandemic recovery. And, today, I choose to look at the glass half-full to start off the year.
I certainly am an Olympics fan. I have been since first falling in awe with the spectacle at Los Angeles 1984. From tradition of ceremony, to compelling competition, and from unsung heroes to the camaraderie of various athletes coming together, I am all in.
That said, my fandom doesn't mean that I don't have some recommendations. So, in honor of the new year, here are Games and Rings' top ten wishes for the Olympics in 2021.
Let me know what your own wishes are in the comments.
Run, Caster, Run
Middle-distance runner Caster Semenya has one more appeal up her sleeve, to the European Court of Human Rights. Double Olympic champion in the 800 meters, Semenya is currently blocked from defending her title unless she takes testosterone-inhibiting measures, under somewhat arbitrary and selectively exclusionary new World Athletics rules.
As argued a few months ago, World Athletics is on the wrong side of history's trajectory toward human rights in this case. Semenya was born female and is female. She - like some others - is just a female with elevated - but natural - testosterone, and who happened to win the genetics lottery suited for a career in athletics. Why should she be punished for that? Let her run.
Protest for Change
Team USA recently announced not only that "It is a human right to peacefully call upon racial and social injustices during the...Games" but also that "denying the right of respectful demonstrations...runs counter to the Olympic...values."
Wow. This doesn't just run counter to Team USA's own recent actions - just ask fencer Race Imboden and hammer thrower Gwen Berry for their thoughts - it runs against the International Olympic Committee's own Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which bans any political protest, including kneeling or even wearing an armband. The IOC even issued its Rule 50 guidelines at the start of the year.
But a year filled with Black Lives Matter activism and increased racial awareness sure can change perspective. World Athletics, representing track & field, issued a President's Award to Mexico City 1968 protestors Tommie Smith and John Carlos (and fellow medalist Peter Norman), a surprising indication that maybe the organization will support its own athletes' Olympic protests.
For its part, the IOC did give a tepid "we'll look into it" response to Team USA's recommendations. Of course, determining "appropriate" allowable protest and over what issue would be problematic on a global stage like the Olympics, with the wide variety of national interests and backgrounds. But isn't the Olympic stage built on inspiration and striving for better-ness? Will we see a meaningful gesture that spurs conversation toward greater social good? Will the IOC act supportively? Yes, I'm anxious to see it.
A Russian Comeuppance
In its bid to dominate its home Games of Sochi 2014, Russia undertook a doping system that provided its athletes with performance-enhancement and an elaborate coverup. That this was a state-level scheme is no longer in dispute.
What has been the punishment? Four years later, at Pyeongchang 2018, "Russia" was banned but Russian athletes were allowed to compete under an "Olympic Athletes from Russia" moniker. Huh? Essentially, Russian officials were absent, as was the Russian flag and anthem, but otherwise, the team carried on. Really, "Russia" still participated...their flag was honored and their anthem sung.
In 2016, the IOC declined to ban Russia outright despite recommendations by the World Anti-Doping Agency to do just that and following confirmation of deeper state-level manipulation. World Athletics took matters into its own hands and heavily restricted Russian presence in track & field, but elsewhere across the Games, Russia flourished.
Now, after an appeal of a stronger WADA ban, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has reduced penalties and restored possible Russian participation at the Games. This will likely again come under a "neutral" banner. The upcoming World Men's Handball Championship next month offers a template, with Team Russia becoming Team "Russian Handball Federation", while still wearing team colors. To paraphrase, if it looks like Russia and carries the name "Russian", it is Russia.
Not much of a punishment for carrying out the largest doping affront against the Olympics, state-sponsored no less. Russia's actions in Sochi disrespected the Games, and its role as host, to say the least. And, so far, Russia has, as U.S. Anti-Doping Agency head Travis Tygart said in response to the recent CAS reduction, "once again escape(d) a meaningful consequence proportional to the crimes...".
What can be done? A repeat of 2018's "Olympic Athletes from Russia" team seems on the way, which has shown to not be much of a deterrence. Although they didn't in 2016, perhaps individual federations should take World Athletics' lead in restricting participation within their own sports. In the meantime, I'm wishing for a subdued Russian presence...maybe somehow there's a team-wide demoralization that affects performance. That's unlikely, but something needs to shake Russia into sincere compliance. Fair, and trusted Olympic-spirit competition needs it.
A Full-Strength Basketball Tournament
The Covid-19 pandemic has upended the sporting calendar in 2020, with ripple effects across next year and beyond as all sports negotiate the Olympic behemoth planted now in 2021. At this stage, many rescheduled dates have been set, and one potential high-profile conflict has emerged over the last few weeks.
The National Basketball Association's modified 2019-20 season, which should have ended in June 2020, finished in October. This pushed their 2020-21 season to start later than normal, in December, which then pushed the potential NBA Finals end to July 22. That's one day ahead of the Opening Ceremony for Tokyo 2020. This means a significant number of potential Olympians would not be available, or interested, in Tokyo participation given the tight turnaround between the NBA season and the Games, particularly for those that will be making deep post-season runs.
U.S. stars are not the only ones affected. Spain's team usually features NBA-ers Ricky Rubio, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Nikola Mirotic. Rudy Gobert plays for France, while Patty Mills, Ben Simmons, and Matthew Dellavedova feature for Australia.
Olympic qualification is massively affected, too. Usually, the final Olympic Qualifying Tournaments are held in the NBA off-season. But now in 2021, the qualifiers are set for late June, which would mean in the middle of the NBA post-season play. Would-be stars for the teams trying to qualify in these tournaments include Slovenia's Luka Doncic and Goran Dragic, Greece's Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Serbia's Nikola Jokic...not having them available would carry serious implications for their national teams' Olympic dreams.
Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich is well aware of the timing conundrum, and he's in a tight turnaround, too, as an active NBA coach. Having an NBA-star-studded Olympic tournament has been a highlight of the Games since Barcelona 1992, and I'm hoping that Tokyo's version will also feature the world's best. I'm not sure how this will happen...it's unlikely a significant number of star players will miss the NBA playoffs and not be too tired to play on, but we'll see how it plays out. I also fear that, if NBA-ers pass on the Games en masse, it will set a precedent on not appearing at the Games, allowing the NBA to further push their World Cup at the expense of the Olympics.
A Boxing Comeback
Boxing is a classic Olympic sport, with global appeal and participation. Unfortunately, the sport is on the wrong side of competent governance and trusted integrity.
Except for Stockholm 1912, boxing has been on the official Olympic program since St. Louis 1904. Boxing attracts a wide swath of nations at the Games - entrants from Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Mauritius, and Brazil have won medals across the last three Games, for example. And, supporting the IOC's goal of gender equality, women's events have been included since London 2012, with a targeted increase of equality at Paris 2024.
But trusting boxing to be a fair sport has been an on-going, frustrating issue. Just some of the outrageous decisions include Evander Holyfield's loss to Kevin Barry in 1984, Park Si-Hum's victory over Roy Jones, Jr. at Seoul 1988, Eric Griffin's loss to Rafael Lozano at Barcelona 1992, Floyd Mayweather, Jr.'s loss to Serafim Todorov at Atlanta 1996, Satoshi Shimizu's loss to Magomed Abdulhamidov at London 2012, and Michael Conlan's loss to Vladimir Nikitin at Rio 2016.
These aren't just examples of contested upset losses / wins - they're egregious examples of, at best questionable or, at worst, rigged judging. It seems there is more of a story when there isn't a controversy at an Olympics.
Boxing's governing body hasn't done the sport any favors, either. Its governance and financial problems have forced the extraordinary step of the IOC taking over Olympic qualifiers. The recent election of a new International Boxing Federation president didn't stop the IOC from restricting boxing at Paris 2024 to fewer athletes than at 2020 and not allowing a full program of weight classes. That is a move that many see as punishment for the sport's continued mess.
Can boxing have a smooth, non-controversial program in Tokyo? It'll have to in order to secure confidence and relevance beyond 2024.
Still thinking about last week's Court of Arbitration for Sport decision on Russia's punishment for its Olympic-sized doping scheme. Here's a good piece speaking to the, well, head scratching that the outcome has produced. I'll Also let Emma Coburn sum up the immediate frustration many athletes feel..
Tara Geraghty-Moats wins a historic Nordic Combined, the first-ever World Cup event for women.
I think sport climbing is the first individual sport to have its Olympic field for 2020 complete, after the remaining continental championships concluded this weekend. Congrats to Australians Tom O'Halloran and Oceania Mackenzie and South Africans Christopher Coffer and Erin Sterkenburg who round out the competition for Tokyo.
Larisa Iordache makes a statement in her return to elite gymnastics, after an injury-filled last few years. Iordache led the Romanian women to a team silver in the European Championships this weekend, and won three individual medals to become the second-most medaled female in the event ever. Unfortunately, her comeback is too late for the Tokyo 2020 field, but perhaps she can spark a welcome Romanian team comeback of its own at the senior level.
"Wee Rooster" Brendan Irvine is eager for his second Games in boxing, after becoming the last to qualify for Tokyo 2020 before the pandemic shutdown this year.
Ever wonder what Olympian Gus Kenworthy's home looks like? Architectural Digest has you covered. (p.s. check out his patio, too)
Modern pentathlete Gintare Venckauskaite is ready for her second Games, after her strong debut at London 2012.
Track cyclist Felix English interviews with the Olympic Federation of Ireland on the drama of Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020.
Tennis legend Roger Federer still has Olympic dreams, hoping for the elusive singles gold.
Covid-19 strikes Japan's leading medal hope in karate's kata event at Tokyo 2020, Ryo Kiyuna.
U.S. basketball standout Diana Taurasi - four-time Olympic gold medalist - tells ESPN that she doesn't have any plans to retire anytime soon.
More basketball: Star player Ramu Tokashiki tears her ACL, and likely sinks Team Japan optimism for a good Tokyo 2020 run. (Was my feature last week of Tokashiki as an athlete worth watching a curse??)
Mission Accomplished: world record holder Kevin Mayer meets the Olympic qualifying standard in the decathlon event on Reunion Island this weekend. (But what has he done to his hair??)
Marie-Jose Perec is French Athletics' athlete of the century.
New African Magazine names long distance runners Brigid Kosgei and Joshua Cheptegei as two of their "100 Most Influential Africans" for 2020.
Hear from Renaud Lavillenie on an appreciation for athletes' voices and his work to give them profile in the latest feature from Spikes.
She's 57, and on her way to her fifth Olympics as Tokyo 2020's oldest table tennis player, Meet Luxembourg's Ni Xialian.
Team USA makes a bold statement in solidarity with its athletes looking to respectfully make their own statements on social equality and justice. Your move, Thomas Bach.
Naomi Osaka is Vogue's covergirl for January, and reflects on 2020 and her increased profile.
Karateka Maria Dimitrova wins a high honor in the Dominican Republic.
Wrestling is back! The 2020 Individual World Cup is underway in Belgrade with competition across 30 weight categories and all three disciples, in an event replacing this year's world championships. Russia has started off well...
Star skier Mikaela Shiffrin returned to winning ways after a long and tumultuous off-season, with a giant slalom win this weekend. It was her 67th career World Cup win, putting her joint-third on the all-time list.
Runner Alexi Pappas talks with The New York Times on the mental health challenges she's faced as a competitor on and off the track.
World Athletics Indoor Championships: wouldn't it be simpler to just move them to 2024 to get on the even-year track again?
Pole vaulter Kurtis Marschall talks confidence from early success and his recovery from humbling injury with Spikes.
Track and Field News features Christina Clemons, still intent on chasing global hurdling success.
Hurdler Thomas Barr is making known his desire for a strong Olympic return with a focus on the right mindset and training during the pandemic.
Canadian speed skating star Ivanie Blondin looks for icy pastures overseas to find available training.
London 2012 Olympians and football star Juan Mata talks with Laureus on the current state of football and its impact in the near future.
British gymnast Dominic Cunningham is making worldwide news for his basketball trick shot.
Getting to Know Trampoline Gymnastics vlog gets to know Beijing 2008 medalist Jason Burnett.
Meanwhile, as part of the Rainbow Laces campaign in the U.K. highlighting LGBT presence in sports, legend footballer Jamie Carragher meets up with Luke Strong and gets his own lesson in trampolining.
Former U.S. skier Hig Roberts becomes the "first male World Cup alpine skier in the world to publicly come out as gay".
Cody Simpson is a global pop star...and possibly an Olympic swimmmer?
Snowboard legend Pierre Vaultier announces his retirement, with knee pain preventing a return to competition. Vaultier is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in snowboard cross, and a multiple Crystal Globe and World Cup winner.
The general Paris 2024 program is set (bar a suspended offshore sailing decision and a TBD athletics event at the expense of race walkers). Frustration for established sports not able to add events that make sense - modern pentathlon mixed relay, table tennis doubles. And head scratching on the expected confirmation of breakdancing - er, breaking - a sport that, Youth Olympic Games 2018 inclusion aside (really, that's the sole go-to example), just hasn't had enough of a track record to prove worthy of Olympic inclusion. If I'm squash, I'm beyond devastated. And anyone else note the exclusion of baseball/softball. Really, sports and events need to be added with long term inclusion in mind. Those ball players must be so irritated, facing what is a lame duck inclusion at Tokyo 2020. How to develop a sport if there isn't a repeat appearance offered? My thoughts are summed up succinctly here.
Congrats to the World Athletics 2020 awards winners, including athletes of the year Mondo Duplantis and Yulimar Rojas!
Valencia: It must have been something in the water for long-distance runners in 2020...
Canadian Olympic ice hockey gold medalist Shannon Szarbados is now a children's book author.
U.S. swimming legends Donna de Varona and John Naber are elected onto the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee Board, representing athlete alumni.
Olympian Breanna Stewart named one of Sports Illustrated's Sportspersons of the Year...not without some deserved controversy, though.
The Sports Australia Hall of Fame inductee class for 2020 includes Olympians Lauren Jackson (basketball), Matthew Mitcham (diving), Bridgette Ireland (water polo), and Cadel Evans (mountain biking). Congrats, all!
Double Olympian and London 2012 gold medalist Katie Taylor named "best pound-for-pound professional women's boxer" in the world, according to Ring magazine to end the year.
Tokyo 2020: Canada has a bounty of riches in the women's -57kg class in judo, with the top two world-ranked judokas...and only one Tokyo 2020 spot.
Salt Lake City 2002 gold medalist Rhona Howie speaks up to support and protect endangered curling opportunities in home Scotland.
Turmoil within Australian field hockey? The women are currently ranked third in the world.
Munich 1972 gold medalist Dan Gable honored with the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom for his career's work in wrestling as an athlete and coach.
New Zealand veteran freestyle skier Byron Wells speaks with Team NZ on his career, and plans on the future on the heels of his retirement announcement.
Legend Kerri Lee Walsh joins Volleyball Ireland for an online Q&A to discuss her road to Tokyo, volleyball, and more.
Tomasso Dotti shares his thoughts on what has made the Italian short track team succcessful over the last few Games.
About This Blog
Highlights from the world of Olympic sports, focused on the athletes, and as seen through the cheeky lens of this one particular, passionate fan.
A Little Roundup
Biweekly links to select Olympic sport headlines and news, with a focus on the athletes
Let's Get Social
Biweekly selection of intriguing, provocative social posts from Olympic sport athletes
Athletes Worth Watching
Weekly roundup of features on emerging Olympic sports athletes to keep an eye on
Ramblings and Things
I have my own thoughts on Olympic sport news and athletes sometimes!
Read more about me.
At Rio 2016's Barra Olympic Park
Header: Kallimamaro stadium in Athens, site of the first modern Olympics in 1896