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Olympic Notes

Lately, event is wrestling

By John Powers
October 18, 2011

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By nullifying the controversial “six-month’’ drug ban rule, the Court of Arbitration for Sport struck a significant blow to the International Olympic Committee’s right to control everything about the Games.

Ever since Baron Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympics in 1896 the IOC has decided where the Games are held, which sports are on the program, which athletes get to compete, and even which countries are countries. So the IOC assumed that it could keep dopers out of the Games even though they’d already served out their suspensions.

That was double jeopardy, insisted the USOC, which challenged Rule 45 on behalf of Olympic track champion LaShawn Merritt, who would have been forbidden to defend his 400-meter title in London next summer even though his 21-month ban ended in July.

The IOC, which wanted to keep cheaters from gaming the system, declared in 2008 that any athlete suspended for more than six months would be kept out of the next Games. That rule was “invalid and unenforceable’’, determined CAS, which pointed out that the World Anti-Doping Agency code that the IOC follows doesn’t allow for it.

“This is not a defeat,’’ declared IOC vice president Thomas Bach. “We will not give up.’’

While it’s possible, if far from certain, that the IOC can get WADA to revise its code for 2013, the six-month rule won’t apply in London, which frees Merritt and dozens of other athletes to compete.

The next battleground will be whether national Olympic committees have the right to decide who can participate on their teams. That’s a huge issue for Great Britain, which since 1992 has barred for life all athletes who’ve been suspended for doping, such as sprinter Dwain Chambers and cyclist David Millar.

“It is tough but fair,’’ said BOA chairman Colin Moynihan, who vowed that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep the domestic rule in place. “There is no room for those who knowingly cheat for a place over someone who is clean.’’

At least one IOC privilege remains inviolable - the right to decide who hosts its global gymkhana. So there’s no chance that North and South Korea will share the 2018 Winter Games since co-hosting is against the Olympic charter. But president Jacques Rogge says that he has no problem with the two countries marching together in the opening ceremonies as a symbol of unification, as they did in Turin in 2006 but not in Vancouver last year.

Strong showing

The US brought its usual Olympic-sized team (617 athletes) to the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, including 82 Olympians, most notably gymnast Shawn Johnson, fencer Mariel Zagunis, rower Jason Read, shooters Kim Rhode, Vince Hancock, and Glenn Eller, equestrian riders Beezie Madden and McLain Ward, and sailor Paul Foerster. The Yanks, who’ve topped the medal table at the quadrennial hemispheric championships since 1955, figure to do it again. Also at stake are Olympic qualifying berths in field hockey, team handball, team show jumping, synchronized swimming, and water polo as well as individual slots in canoe-kayak, diving, modern pentathlon, shooting, table tennis, and triathlon.

US gymnasts shine

Extraordinary showing by the US gymnastics team, which won seven medals at the recent world championships in Tokyo. The women, with Needham native Alexandra Raisman the only global veteran, not only won the team title but also claimed the individual all-around for the fourth time in the last six meets with Jordyn Wieber, earned gold in the vault for the third straight time with McKayla Maroney, and picked up bronzes on floor and beam from Raisman and Wieber. The men won their first team medal at an overseas worlds since 2001 and their first gold since 2003 with Danell Leyva on parallel bars. As expected the Chinese topped the table with 12 medals, but the US earned as many golds. The women’s program is so deep that the six-member Pan Am team includes three former world champions - Johnson, Chellsie Memmel, and Bridget Sloan. If Beijing all-around gold medalist Nastia Liukin goes through with her comeback and Winchester’s Alicia Sacramone and former US titlist Rebecca Bross have successful injury rehabs, next summer’s trials will be the most competitive in history, especially with the Olympic roster now reduced from six to five per country.

Valiant effort

The most astounding gymnastics performance since Japan’s Shun Fujimoto competed with a broken kneecap to help Japan win the 1976 Olympic team gold was Germany’s Oksana Chusovitina winning the vault silver behind Maroney for her career ninth medal in the event. The 36-year-old Chusovitina, who has competed in five Games for three countries (also the Unified Team - i.e. former Soviet Union - and Uzbekistan), tore an Achilles’ tendon two years ago . . . While former world boxing champion Rau’shee Warren made history by qualifying for his third Olympics at the recent global championships in Azerbaijan, most of his American teammates still have some slugging to do if they want to join him in London. Only Warren, whose flyweight bronze was the sole US medal, bantamweight Joseph Diaz Jr., and welterweight Errol Spence earned spots for the Games. The other seven athletes get a final chance in the continental qualifying tournament next spring. Ukraine, which won four golds and a silver, topped the medal table for the first time.

A money matter

Evan Lysacek didn’t pull out of this autumn’s Grand Prix figure skating circuit because he wasn’t ready for prime time. The Olympic champ, who says he’s “extremely trained and eager to compete,’’ couldn’t come to financial terms with US Figure Skating, so he withdrew from next weekend’s Skate America, which would have been his first competition since he won gold in Vancouver. That medal still gets him a bye into the January national championships in San Jose, but Lysacek has to give two months’ notice that he wants in . . . Solid performance by the US women at the world fencing championships in Sicily. Though Zagunis didn’t retain her sabre title, she earned the silver and sparked her teammates to the team bronze, their first medal in five years, and 17-year-old Lee Kiefer won a foil bronze, the first US medal in the event in 12 years. The Italians skewered everybody on their home piste, winning 11 medals, including all three men’s individual events.

3 into 1 doesn’t go

Barring a Macbeth-style geographic shift, like Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane Hill, the British soccer teams for next year’s Olympics will be all-English. The other three members of the United Kingdom - Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland - don’t want to be any part of a combined effort, fearing that they’d lose their separate identities at the global and continental level. That’s the main reason why there’s been no British men’s team in the Games since 1960 and no women’s team ever. Yet joining forces may be the only way that a Scot, Welshman, or Irishman ever wins a medal on a major international stage. None of their countries even qualified for last year’s men’s World Cup or next year’s European championships . . . Runners who’d rather just take Manhattan and leave the Bronx and the city’s other three boroughs will get their short-cut wish the day before next month’s New York City Marathon with the new Dash to the Finish Line, a 3.1-mile jaunt from the United Nations to Central Park. Signing on are US recordholder Deena Kastor and Dathan Ritzenhein, who’ll be racing for the first time in a year after dealing with injuries . . . It’s no surprise that nearly half of the undraped athletic gods and goddesses in the annual ESPN The Body issue are Olympians - Sacramone, short-track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno, marathoner Ryan Hall, snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, hockey players Julie Chu and Ryan Kesler, basketball player Sylvia Fowles, soccer player Hope Solo, and runner Natasha Hastings.

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