Olympic notes

On new network, a poor show

USOC’s timing could not have been worse

Elizabeth Beisel, the 16-year-old phenom from Saunderstown, R.I., qualified for the world championships in both the 200 backstroke and 400 individual medley. Elizabeth Beisel, the 16-year-old phenom from Saunderstown, R.I., qualified for the world championships in both the 200 backstroke and 400 individual medley. (Brent Smith/Reuters)
By John Powers
Globe Staff / July 14, 2009
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The US Olympic Committee’s new leaders may have CEO skills but they’re clueless when it comes to five-ringed politics. While their new US Olympic Network is a worthy idea, the timing of last week’s announcement is terrible. The USOC infuriated the International Olympic Committee, which learned about the details only a few days earlier and is worried that the network will diminish the value of the NBC contract which runs through 2012 and is worth more than $2 billion.

Since the USOC’s network on Comcast only will be showing archival footage, news shows, and events that relatively few viewers want to watch, at least for the next couple of years, there was no need to break the news now, not with the vote for the 2016 Games coming in October and before the awarding of the TV rights. With the USOC and IOC still wrangling over distribution of those and other sponsorship fees, it was silly at best to provoke the Lords of the Rings, who now have a legitimate reason for another American smackdown, especially with Chicago a leading 2016 contender.

The domestic repercussions, too, are serious. NBC has been the Olympic alpha dog for more than two decades and its Universal Sports cable network shows Olympic-related events and will be a direct competitor to the USOC network, which couldn’t come to terms with NBC on a partnership. Since the most popular sports likely still will want to have their Olympic trials on NBC, the USOC will be limited to the team handballs and triathlons and taekwondos. The committee could have made that deal in 2011 and everyone in the Olympic family knows that.

Everyone, apparently, but chairman Larry Probst and chief executive Stephanie Streeter.

Troubled times
Nicole Bobek’s mugshot was sad evidence of what skating observers feared might happen once the ‘Wild Child’ left the sport. The 31-year-old Bobek, who could spend up to 10 years in jail if she’s convicted for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine as part of an extensive ring, had dropped out of sight after her touring days ended. As long as she was on the ice, there still was a connection to the gifted and gorgeous performer who was the US champion and world medalist in 1995. Once her career was over, the troubled only child who never met her father became something of a lost soul . . . She may or may not be making a comeback at 29 but Michelle Kwan will be back in front of an audience next month for the first time in three years when she skates with Korean world champion Kim Yu Na in a Seoul exhibition. The five-time world and nine-time US titlist hasn’t competed since she withdrew injured from the 2006 Olympics and would have to qualify for next year’s national championships that will determine the squad for Vancouver. She also would have to juggle school and skating, since Kwan will begin working on a master’s at Tufts this fall.

Excitement building
Sochi, the Russian resort that was the surprise choice to stage the 2014 Winter Games, is a year ahead of previous host cities in terms of construction. So claims Dmitry Kozak, the vice prime minister in charge of Olympic preparations. Work is proceeding on four ice venues and the mountain ski cluster and everything but the bobsled-luge-skeleton run will be under way by year’s end. “There are all kinds of scary stories that appear sometimes,’’ said Kozak . . . Speedskating’s grande dame will end her career in disgrace. Claudia Pechstein, Germany’s most decorated winter athlete, has been banned for two years after being caught blood doping at last season’s world all-around championships. Pechstein, a distance specialist whose nine Olympic medals include five golds, made the podium at every Games from 1992 through 2006 and also won 34 world medals. Since she’s 37, the suspension essentially is a lifetime ban.

It’s going swimmingly
Michael Phelps hasn’t lost much, if anything, since his 8 for 8 in Beijing. He won three events at last week’s US trials for the world championships later this month, reclaiming the global mark in the 100-meter butterfly that he lost to Ian Crocker six years ago, and likely will win six golds in Rome, three in relays. Though Phelps scratched from the 100 freestyle with a crick in his neck, he’ll surely be named to the 4x100 freestyle quartet. His résumé from four previous world meets is unparalleled - 17 golds, 3 silvers, and 8 individual world records. He won seven golds two years ago in Melbourne and almost certainly would have gone 8 for 8 there if the medley relay hadn’t been disqualified. Rough meet, though, for Phelps’s clubmate Katie Hoff, who didn’t make the squad after swimming in six events at the Olympics and medaling in three. Hoff, whose training had been disrupted by a respiratory ailment, was a distant last in the 200 free final and sixth in the 400 free, where she just missed gold in Beijing. Meanwhile Dara Torres still is the fastest American woman, even at 42. Torres easily won the 50 free and set a domestic record in the 50 butterfly, which was contested as a time trial. While Torres has competed in five Olympics, it’ll only be her second global meet. Elizabeth Beisel, who was the youngest member of the squad in Beijing, also made her second world team. The 16-year-old from Saunderstown, R.I., qualified in both the 200 backstroke and 400 individual medley.

Changes at the top
Now that Rashid Ramzi’s backup doping sample also came back positive for blood-booster CERA, the IOC likely will move to take away the Olympic gold medal the Moroccan-born runner won for Bahrain in the 1,500 meters last year and award it to Kenya’s Asbel Kipruto Kiprop. Also in line for an upgrade is Swiss cyclist Fabian Cancellara, the time trial champion who finished third in the road race behind Italy’s Davide Rebellin, who also was caught using CERA . . . Ed Muge and Edith Masai will be back to defend their titles at next month’s Beach to Beacon 10K (a.k.a. “Joanie’s Race’’) in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Muge will be up against Chicago Marathon champion Evans Cheruiyot and James Kwambai, whose 2:04:27 this year was the third-fastest time in history. The 42-year-old Masai will face the season’s hottest runner in countrywoman Lineth Chepkurui, who’s half her age, plus Beijing veterans Nataliya Berkut of Ukraine and Tatyana Arasova of Russia . . . Impressive double by US rowers Megan Kalmoe and Ellen Tomek, who won the double and took silver in the quad three hours later at last weekend’s World Cup finale in Switzerland, the last major international event before next month’s world regatta in Poland. The women’s eight, which included half of the Olympic gold medalists, finished second to Romania. On the men’s side, both the pair (David Banks and Charlie Cole) and four won bronzes.

Give ’em a Breaker
Four Breakers - Heather Mitts, Angela Hucles, Amy Rodriguez, and Amy LePeilbet - are on the roster for the US women’s soccer team’s two matches with Canada this week and next in Rochester, N.Y., and Charleston, S.C. Back in uniform for the first time since knee injuries kept them out of the Olympics are defender Cat Whitehill and midfielder Leslie Osborne . . . Even with three-time champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh sitting out, the Americans still managed to win the women’s world beach volleyball title in Norway with Jen Kessy and April Ross, who were 37th two years ago. Olympic gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers settled for bronze after being upset by Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann, who won Germany’s first crown. Walsh, who gave birth to a son in May, plans on returning to the AVP Tour next month. Since May-Treanor still is rehabbing the Achilles’ tendon she ruptured while training for “Dancing With The Stars,’’ Walsh will team with Rachel Wacholder . . . Roger Federer, who is 0 for 3 at the Olympics in singles, might finally get his gold next time in London with the tennis competition being held at Wimbledon, where he has won six titles. It’ll be the first time that the tournament has been held on grass since 1908, when it also was staged at Wimbledon.

John Powers can be reached at; material from Olympic committees, international and domestic sports federations, personal interviews, and wire services was used in this report.