Congratulations to 400m hurdler Thomas Barr, after being named European Athletics' Athlete of the Month for April. This comes on the heels of setting a European-leading time of 49.08 in late April, which places him to-date at #5 on the year's list. It's a good time for a breakout season, with the World Championships later in the summer and the Olympic qualification push in earnest through next year. Ireland has not enjoyed a particularly high-profile athletic history, but perhaps Barr can help Robert Heffernan set a higher bar and draw some spotlight to the Emerald Isle. On the women's side, veteran Greek pole vaulter Ekaterini Stefanidi won the honor for April.
Thomas Bach and the United Nations
In a meeting during his Asian and Pacific tour, IOC president Thomas Bach reiterated his support for governments to push the United Nations to include sport as an important initiative with their Sustainable Development goals, to reinforce the ways that sport can be used as a unifying force. This complements his efforts from last month in which he joined Choue Chung-won (World Taekwondo Federation President) to support his proposal for a Sport Peace Corps. Although Choue's SPC plan is frustratingly not new, it sure does sound great to me...
This Week's Guanabara Absurdity
André Correa, Rio's environmental secretary, was filmed diving into the much-maligned Guanabara Bay, in an effort to show the cleanliness and safety of the waters despite multiple and consistent claims to the contrary. The stunt - which apparently was staged at the timing of high tide, and near the open mouth of the bay - has done little to stem the, um, tide, of criticism.
Team USA's New Awards Program
The U.S. Olympic Committee announced a revamped awards program, in partnership with corporate sponsor Dow, amongst others, in which monthly recognition will be presented to the top male, female, and team of the month. Which...isn't too different from the previous iteration, the Athletes and Team of the Month, except for the sponsor involvement (congrats to the USOC on finding a way to secure some additional $$ on an old platform) and some fan voting element. The first winners apparently were for March, although the official announcement came timed with the April version this week. (Congrats, Oksana Masters!)
FIFA Still Not Progressive
U.S. star player Abby Wambach, who had been at the forefront of pressuring FIFA to install real grass for the upcoming World Cup, revealed this week that there was a window of opportunity for FIFA to provide real grass - at no cost, but declined. There's probably an element of financial contracts with the artificial turf installer to be sensitive to, but my guess is that it really boils down to Sepp Blatter just not wanting to lose any face. It would have been interesting had more attention had been drawn to the issue - there is absolutely no way that the men would have been asked to play of non-grass. But the women backed down..a shame.
Apparently, this hasn't happened before, but it did this weekend in Varna, Bulgaria - a World Cup event in artistic gymnastics took place at the same time and place as a World Cup in acrobatics. I've always been curious that acro hasn't been pushed as an Olympic discipline, and this was a great opportunity to the sport in front of a larger crowd, with event finals being alternated on the final two days. Though, my favorite result from the weekend's news does come from the artistic side - Germany's stalwart Oksana Chusovitina winning the title in her specialty event, the vault. She's still going!
Speaking of Gymnastics
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) is mulling some changes to the Olympic competition for 2024, possibly reducing the number of allowed team members to enhance a focus on individual event competitors, and offer a greater range of geographic representation in the sport. True, there has been an increase over recent years on event specialists (see Chusovitina, above), and they do in theory get a short shrift in attention with the team-dominant structure currently in place. But how about this...reduce the # of team entrants and replace that athlete allotment with an acro competition??
More Trouble for SportAccord
Tension is increasing between SportAccord, the group representing a wide variety of international sport federations, and the International Olympic Committee. This week, boxing's federation AIBA pulled out of SportAccord, and the organization's World Combat Games as a direct result of SportAccord's president Marius Vizer's stern criticism of the IOC recently, in an obvious sign of 'taking sides' with the IOC. My money is on the IOC winning this battle - and war.
The Fifth Blind Games Open
In Seoul, the 5th edition of the International Blind Sports Association (IBSA) Games opened on Sunday. 60 countries have sent athletes to compete in athletics, chess, football, goalball, judo, powerlifting, showdown (kinda sort table tennis), swimming, and tenpin bowling. Good Luck to all the competitors!
Asian Wrestling Championships End
While the IBSA Games opened in Seoul, the Asian Wrestling Championships ended in Doha. As expected (I assume), Iran won the men's freestyle and greco-roman team titles, with Japan winning the women's. On the strength of the women (eight medals), Japan won the overall medal count with 18, followed by Iran at 13 and then China and Kazakhstan with 12 each. Now, if Iran can get on board with a women's program, they'd really be an all-around power.