A jolly good job in London
Summer preparations on time and budget
Though they didn’t quite match the fast-forward pace of Beijing, which nearly was ready for the 2008 Olympics before Athens was for 2004, the London organizers are well ahead of the curve for next summer’s Games.
“London is on time and on budget, with a great quality in the preparations,’’ declared International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.
All six of the major permanent venues in the Olympic Park in east London, most notably the main stadium and the aquatics center, have been built and a little more than 10 percent of the overall construction remains to be completed. The biggest concerns will be keeping transportation running smoothly in a metropolis of nearly 8 million people and preventing terrorist attacks. The day after London was awarded the Games for the third time in 2005, domestic suicide bombers killed more than 50 people on trains and a bus during the morning commute. So security officials are prepared to classify the national terror threat as “severe’’ during the competition.
Still, the organizers are planning for a festive ambience. “I want the party atmosphere of Sydney,’’ said committee chief Sebastian Coe. “I want the spirit and humanity of Barcelona. I want the way a city embraced the Games like Vancouver and the forensic eye for detail that we witnessed in Beijing.’’
London already is assured of one distinction: the largest medals ever at a Summer Games - 3.35 inches in diameter and weighing between 13 and 14 ounces.
Sad ending Jeret “Speedy’’ Peterson’s suicide in a Utah canyon last month after he’d been arrested for drunken driving was a doleful finale for the irrepressible Olympic freestyle skier who’d wrestled with alcohol and depression for years.
Peterson, who’d been sexually abused as a child, had his 5-year-old sister killed by a drunken driver and watched a friend kill himself. His silver medal in Vancouver was the last great moment of his life.
“I know that a lot of people go through a lot of things in their life, and I just want them to realize they can overcome anything,’’ he said that day.
Pooling their talents Though the team was chosen off last summer’s results instead of this year’s national championships, the US swimmers still outsplashed everyone at the recent long-course world meet in Shanghai, topping the table with 29 medals, 16 of them gold. The Yanks received a big boost from the women, who collected eight golds after winning just two in Rome two years ago, with Rebecca Soni winning both breaststroke races. Elizabeth Beisel, the 18-year-old from Saunderstown, R.I., won the 400-meter individual medley by more than two seconds after placing fifth last time . . . By beating Michael Phelps twice at the global meet and winning five gold medals Ryan Lochte has replaced him as the planet’s best swimmer. But can he match or exceed Phelps’s record eight gold medals in London? “I don’t know if people can duplicate what he did or can do even better,’’ Lochte said, “but I’ll tell you this, though, I’m trying.’’ The key will be whether Lochte swims the 100 backstroke, in which he won a world silver four years ago but bypassed this time. If he wins the event at the Games, Lochte should be good for seven golds - both backstrokes, both IMs, the 200 free, and the 4 x 200 freestyle and 4 x 100 medley relays. The tall order will be the 4 x 100 freestyle relay, where the US finished third in Shanghai. The Yanks have won the event only once at Olympus since 1996 and needed a world record to nip the French last time. While Phelps won’t win eight next year, he should collect four in the two butterfly races and in the 4 x 200 free and 4 x 100 medley relays . . . How much has the switch from polyurethane back to textile suits made for slower swimming times? Two years ago, when almost everyone was garbed like a buoyant mummy, there were 43 world records established at the global meet in Rome. Only two were set this time - Lochte’s 1:54.00 in the 200 IM and the jaw-dropping 14:34.14 by China’s Sun Yang in the 1,500 that took down Grant Hackett’s mark that had stood for a decade and was the oldest on the books. The Chinese had a fantastic aquatics championship in their own waters, winning a dozen swimming medals, collecting all 10 diving golds plus four silvers, grabbing two silvers in synchronized swimming, and taking another in women’s water polo behind the Greeks . . . The men’s 25-kilometer open swim at the world championships was a fiasco, with 10 of the 35 entrants failing to finish and six refusing to start in brutal conditions - 87-degree water and similar air temperatures - that resembled last year’s Dubai race in which US competitor Fran Crippen died. “It’s like, did you not learn your lesson?,’’ said Harvard grad Alex Meyer, who chose not to race after qualifying for the Olympics in the 10K. “Do you not remember what happened last time?’’ Among the dropouts was Italian defending champion Valerio Cleri. “There should not have been a race here,’’ said Cleri . . . The US women’s water polo team took a double dunking in Shanghai. Not only did the two-time defending champions finish sixth, their worst global effort since 1998, they’ll have to qualify for the Olympics by winning this autumn’s Pan American Games in Mexico. The men’s team, which also placed sixth, has the same chore.
Fighting chance The road to London goes through Baku for last week’s US Olympic boxing trials winners, who’ll need to finish in the top 10 (top six for heavyweights and superheavies) at next month’s qualification tournament in Azerbaijan to earn their tickets to the Games. If flyweight Rau’shee Warren does it, he’ll be the first American fighter to compete in three Olympics. Getting a second chance is heavyweight Michael Hunter, who won the 2008 trials but didn’t qualify . . . South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius will make history this month in South Korea by becoming the first amputee to compete in the world track and field championships. Pistorius, who was born without fibulas and runs on carbon-fiber prostheses, qualified for both the global meet and the Olympics by running the 400 meters in 45.07 last month. “If I manage to make it through the heats, I would be thrilled,’’ says the “Blade Runner’’, who’s ranked 30th this year . . . Allyson Felix will attempt the 200/400 double at the championships, even though it will mean six races in seven days, followed by relays. “Will be very difficult, but first step to accomplishing greatness is trying,’’ tweeted Felix, who would be the only woman to do it at a global meet besides France’s Marie-Jose Perec, who went double gold at the Atlanta Games.
Reunion time There’ll be an Olympic reunion at next week’s US gymnastics championships in St. Paul where four of the six women’s silver medalists from Beijing - Shawn Johnson, Chellsie Memmel, Bridget Sloan, and Winchester’s Alicia Sacramone - will be competing. Defending champion Rebecca Bross will get a challenge from Needham’s Alexandra Raisman, who won the recent CoverGirl Classic and figures to make the world team again, along with Sacramone. If Johnson qualifies, it’ll be a major achievement after her having torn up her left knee skiing a year ago January . . . While some people will be in different boats, the US team for the world rowing championships in Slovenia this month won’t look much different from last year’s. The most intriguing entry is the women’s pair of Harvard grad Caryn Davies and Northeastern alum Kady Glessner, who between them stroked the eights that have won the last five global titles. New Englanders on the roster in the Olympic events include scullers Gevvie Stone (Newton) and Ken Jurkowski (New Fairfield, Conn.), Sarah Trowbridge (Guilford, Conn.) in the double, Jon Winter (New Haven) and Brian de Regt (Rowayton, Conn.) in the men’s lightweight double and Kristin Hedstrom (Concord, Mass.) in the women’s, Will Miller (Duxbury) and Natalie Dell (Somerville) in the men’s and women’s quadruple sculls, Charlie Cole (New Canaan, Conn.) in the uncoxed four, and Dan Walsh (Norwalk, Conn.) and Elle Logan (Boothbay Harbor, Maine) in the eights . . . The American women hit the jackpot at last weekend’s Olympic triathlon qualifying event on London’s Hyde Park layout with Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah Groff of Hanover, N.H., finishing second and seventh to lock up spots for the Games. Sudbury native Jarrod Shoemaker was thwarted in his bid for a return ticket when his bike crashed in the rain and he withdrew. He and the rest of the US males will get another chance next spring.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from Olympic committees, international and domestic sports federations, personal interviews, and wire services was used in this report.