World Cup litmus test for 2016 Olympics

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
With the World Cup in the rear-view mirror, Rio now looks ahead to the 2016 Summer Olympics. Rio 2016 director of communications Mario Andrada says the World Cup provided insight into some of the challenges of hosting an event like the Games:

PhelpsChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesMichael Phelps will race again in two weeks at a Grand Prix meet in Charlotte, N.C.

MESA, Ariz. -- Michael Phelps finished 42nd in Friday's 50 freestyle heats and did not qualify for the evening final. But that wasn't bad considering he was swimming the butterfly stroke in that event.

Why did Phelps swim the fly stroke in a free race? It's unusual, but not unheard of. The racing schedule didn't present a desirable event for Phelps on Friday, especially since one of the options was the 400 IM.

"I'm not ready for a 400 IM. I don't think I will ever be ready for that race again," Phelps said. "I will not swim the 400 IM, that I guar-an-tee you. So do not ask that question."

To that comment, coach Bob Bowman asked humorously, "Is that kind of like, 'I will never ever swim again after London?'"

With limited options, Phelps and Bowman decided to use the 50 free as a chance to work on the swimmer's signature fly stroke. They were pleased with the results. Phelps bettered his split time from Thursday's 100 fly final by seven-tenths of a second (24.06).

Asked whether his emphasis on shorter distances here was an indication of his future strategy in his return to competitive swimming, Phelps replied, "It's a good starting point, just to get some races under my belt. The schedule today wasn't really ideal for what I should swim at this moment."

Because Phelps did not qualify for the evening finals -- now that would have been a story -- the 50-free heat wrapped up his racing at the Arena Grand Prix. He is next entered in the Charlotte Grand Prix in two weeks, and Bowman said they would approach the meet with the same style, swimming one or two days.

Phelps appeared to greatly enjoy the experience. He repeatedly said he was having fun, and his expression, demeanor and engaging press conferences indicated that was indeed the case.

"I don't know what it was like here last year, but I know it is more exciting when you have the excitement level we had here," he said. "With kids that are cheering, with people packing the stands every single session, the tickets selling out in a handful of hours after I said I was coming back -- it's pretty special.

"I can't thank people enough for supporting me and cheering me on. It is pretty special to see the excitement on a lot of kids' faces. That is something that is amazing, just being able to have them around and have them enjoy a swim meet."

MESA, Ariz. -- Michael Phelps couldn't wait to get back in the pool and compete again.

After his 18-month retirement from competitive swimming, Phelps worked his way past a multitude of cameras to the starting area Thursday. Then he stepped up on the starting block earlier than he normally does, feeling antsier before a race than he has since he probably was 10 years old. And once he was on the block and could hear the crowd buzz, he actually smiled.

And this was not at an Olympic or world or U.S. championship event. It was a Grand Prix meet. And just the morning heat in the 100-meter butterfly, at that.

"I was just so excited to swim," Phelps said after winning his qualifying group. "It was strange. I was probably up to the block a little too early, but I was just so excited to get in and race. You're going to hear this word come out of my mouth a lot -- this was fun.

"I felt like I was a summer-league swimmer today. I was so excited to get out of the block. I felt like I should have my heat and lane written on my hand in case I forget it."

Well, in case he did forget, he would have had plenty of people to point him in the right direction. Phelps' first competitive race since retiring after the 2012 London Olympics drew a sellout crowd to the outdoor pool at Mesa's Skyline Aquatics Center on a sunny, 90-degree day. And there were nearly as many reporters and camera people on hand, as well, for Phelps' return to competitive swimming in the 100 butterfly.

There was so much attention, Phelps said rival and teammate Ryan Lochte joked that the two Olympic medalists should just mess around and advance to the C final and see which race got the most hype. "I said, 'No, let's try to get into the big final,'" Phelps said.

They did. Right after Lochte swam a 52.94 in the 13th heat, Phelps swam the top qualifying time of 52.84 in the final heat. He was second after the first 50 meters, then took control in the final 50 and won easily. The final is this evening, tentatively scheduled for 9:18 p.m. ET.

"I could tell when he came in and I saw him warm up that it was going to be good, that he's feeling good, that he was into it," coach Bob Bowman said. "He's got one race under his belt and he made the nationals qualifying cut."

True. Because Phelps had officially retired after the 2012 Olympics, his time re-qualified him for the U.S. national standard. Asked when he last had to swim a qualifying time for the U.S. team, Phelps thought a bit and said, "When I was 13?"

When a reporter later asked about his goals and the 2016 Rio Olympics, Phelps shrugged it off. "Hey, I just made the national cut! One step at a time!" he said. "Nah, I have a race tonight and that's all I'm concentrating on right now."

Watch: Meb throws out first pitch

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24

Fresh off his Boston Marathon win, Meb Keflezighi threw out the first pitch at Wednesday's Yankees-Red Sox game:

2014 Paralympics come to close

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
SOCHI, Russia -- Triumphant in the midst of global condemnation, Vladimir Putin clinked his champagne flute with leading sports officials, toasting the success of his pet project in Sochi.

Under chandeliers in ornate surroundings, the wine was flowing over lunch during the Paralympics this week as the Russian president saluted the transformational effect of his nation's six-week sporting extravaganza. For Putin, the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics were a validation of modern Russia's place on the world stage and "our invariably kind attitude toward friends."

But between the Olympians leaving the Black Sea resort of Sochi last month and the Paralympians arriving, Putin became rapidly isolated in the international community as Russian forces took over Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, only 300 miles (480 kilometers) away.

The Paralympics closed Sunday night with a patriotic, high-tempo ceremony attended by Putin just as voting ended in a referendum in Crimea, denounced in the West as illegitimate, on whether it should secede from Ukraine and seek annexation by Russia.

Although Ukraine backed off from boycotting the Paralympics, the crisis afflicting their homeland remained on the minds of athletes competing in Russia. In protest, Ukrainian parathletes covered their medals during podium ceremonies.

"That is how we show our protest and disagreement that our country could be divided and part of it could be excluded from Ukraine," said Iuliia Batenkova, who won six medals in Sochi including one gold. "Crimea is my motherland, where I was born, and of course I worry about it. I want peace."

Ukraine Paralympic Committee President Valeriy Sushkevych on Sunday decried what he called Russian "aggression" in his country and said hoped that Putin "recognizes the danger of what we call war."

Russia's intervention in a neighboring country seemed to be at odds with the message it intended in this $50 billion-plus rebranding exercise -- that of a nation which had moved on since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. But Putin's government remains convinced that the successful transformation of Sochi -- once a decaying Soviet-era resort -- into a world-class tourist hotspot will override the current diplomatic tensions.

"The new Russia is a Russia that is capable of carrying out large-scale projects, capable of creating modern infrastructure in a record short timescale, both in terms of sports and the rest of society," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak told The Associated Press in Sochi. "The new Russia is a Russia that open to the whole world."

That's the impression some visitors had after the high-profile Winter Olympics -- but it could be a rapidly shifting vision.

(Read full post)

Video: Latest on Oscar Pistorius trial

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12

Matt Gutman reports from Pretoria, South Africa, with the latest news in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial:

Sleeping ManJonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

SOCHI, Russia -- It took me nearly three weeks, but I found the strangest place Friday afternoon, and it couldn't have been any more needed. Or bizarre.

Tucked away into a quiet corner on the second floor of the Main Press Center is the "Relaxation Room," a place for writers, photographers and broadcasters to at worst escape the Olympic grind and at best grab a few minutes of shuteye before shuffling off to another event.

Early Friday afternoon, barely functioning on five hours of sleep after Thursday night's thrilling women's hockey gold-medal game, I desperately needed a recharge. I grabbed a building map and made way to the place I had long heard about but never before visited. There it was: Relaxation Room. The only sign on the door said no cell phones. I paced in the hallway before opening the massive metal door.

What I found was darkness. Complete and total darkness. Like I can't-see-three-feet-in-front-of-my-eyes darkness. I stood there, allowing the door to close behind me, trying to figure out what to do. I couldn't see a thing. But I could hear snoring and the rustling of clothes as people tossed and turned. It was creepy.

Where were these people that I couldn't see? I worried that if I meandered my way through this wall of darkness, I might trip over somebody or worse yet, crawl into a cot that was already occupied. (Imagine that: "Oh, I'm sorry for laying on top of you. Didn't see you sleeping there.") I bailed. I headed back to my workstation, set my head into my folded arms and tried to sleep there. No chance. So I trudged back to the Relaxation Room, flipping on my phone, hoping the light from the screen would illuminate a path to an open cot.

It worked. When I lied down, I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep. But my mind couldn't stop thinking about how odd this all was. I mean, when was the last time you've slept in a room with 20 strangers from various countries throughout the world?

What exactly is the proper protocol in a communal nap room? Can I take my shoes off? Are there blankets? If there are blankets, would I even want one? And why is it so damn dark? I can't even see my feet.

Then perhaps the most troubling thought of all entered my head: Over the course of the last month, how many people had laid on this exact same cot, in this exact same spot? How many of them had fallen asleep and drooled where my cheek now rested? This was disgusting.

A few feet away, one man snored with the force of a small hurricane. In another corner, another person kept mumbling -- "mmmm ... mmmm ... mmmm" -- and I don't think they were listening to the Crash Test Dummies. And then there was the rustling. The constant reminder that yes, in fact, I was trying to sleep in a room with some 20 other people I didn't know and couldn't see.

But I was so exhausted I didn't care. I curled up into a tiny ball and tried to clear my head. Eventually I crashed. Every couple minutes, the door would swing open and another unsuspecting soul would meet the black curtain. The smart ones would pull out a cell phone and find an open cot. The weak ones would bail. Each time the door opened, those of us trying to sleep were greeted by a beam of light from the outside world. Let this happen to you more than once and you quickly learn to turn your back to the door.

For the next 90 minutes, this was my life. Sleep, squirm, shush and repeat. The shushing came when someone tried to talk, whisper, rustle excessively or when a cell phone rang. (C'mon, do you not see the "no cell phones" sign on the door? Do you not have a silent button? We're sleeping here, people!)

Eventually, the commotion was all too much and I woke up. In the end, I probably collected close to an hour of actual sleep. But I felt like a new man. At least for a couple hours. Later that night, sitting at the Iceberg Arena for the final night of short-track speedskating, I had one thought: Man, I'm tired. I could really use a nap.

Jamaica keeps bobsled faith

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
SOCHI, Russia -- Jamaica will not compete in the four-man bobsled this weekend but it was represented in the two-man competition here. And team president Chris Stokes says the country not only will be back in 2018, it could be on the podium.

“Within the next four years, I expect to have an athlete on World Cup podium and maybe an Olympic medal in four to eight years,’’ he said. “And I mean that sincerely.’’

[+] EnlargeJAM-1 sled
AP Photo/Michael SohnThe Jamaican bobsled team gained fame from the movie "Cool Runnings."
Stokes might be sincere but that would be an amazing accomplishment, even if Usain Bolt was pulling the sled as well. Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon finished last in the two-man this week.

Stokes was on the original 1988 Jamaican team that inspired the movie, “Cool Runnings,’’ and turned the squad into a world-wide cultural phenomenon. Which is interesting considering that Jamaica is not the only warm-weather country competing in the sport.

“People talk about Jamaica being this warm-weather country in the Caribbean. But when I entered the sport in 1988, I came and saw warm weather countries,’’ Stokes said. “I saw Mexico, I saw Puerto Rico. I saw the U.S. Virgin Islands. But the brand Jamaica is so strong that it represented something else and people took to it.

“I think it’s important for Olympics to be world wide. When our sprinters go to the Summer Olympics, we don’t say, ‘Why is this Swedish guy or this Austrian guy here to run a 10.5 in the 100?’ It’s the Olympics, it’s participation. The appeal of the Winter Olympics is going to depend on its appeal globally, not just for cold weather countries. And we’re working very hard on that.’’

Jamaica competed in the Olympics from 1988 to 2002 but failed to qualify in 2006 and 2010. Much of that was due to a lack of funding in a sport that is very, very expensive. Even when it qualified for these Games, it still needed to raise money in a hurry to cover the expenses. And it did so, receiving enough money within mere days.

“Funding was the hardest thing,’’ Watts said. “In the end, we got funding from our friends and fans. I’m so happy they made it possible. We were able to show the world, that Jamaica is still alive.’’

When it comes to bobsled, however, Jamaica has more support and popularity beyond the island than on it.

“Our coverage is much greater overseas than in Jamaica,’’ Stoke said. “It is a business problem in Jamaica. I’ve been a little perplexed on this. I’ve been talking to a lot of companies about sponsoring this and they say, 'How do we connect our product to people who watch the team?' ’’

Stokes pointed to the team fundraising campaign that netted more than $30,000 in two days and eventually more than $100,000 from people in every U.S. state and 52 countries as evidence that this “should be an easy problem to solve.”

“They need to have more confidence we’re here and here to stay and are serious athletes,’’ he said. “I’m confident we will have a lot more stable, long-term funding rather than just trying to save the day from week to week.’’

Quick facts: Going for gold

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21

Ugh, can we go best of three?

Not even going to pretend I watched that as an unbiased observer -- rather, I was shamelessly rooting for the U.S. -- but boy did the Americans get outplayed by Canada in Friday's 1-0 shutout.

Entering the semifinal with a tournament-leading 20 goals, the U.S. team's blistering offense was absolutely stymied by a brilliant performance from Canada's defensive corps. The U.S. just couldn't get to the front of the net and had so few second chances that Canadian goaltender Carey Price didn't look very taxed as he turned away all 31 shots faced.

What a disappointing day for USA hockey, especially after some great performances earlier this tournament. Despite an incredible performance from U.S. netminder Jonathan Quick, the Americans' meager offensive attack and inability to a sustain the forecheck will leave them competing for bronze Saturday.

Absolutely no question that Canada dominated the game Friday. I'll let my Canadian colleagues praise the resplendent play of their countrymen while I sulk in bitter disappointment the rest of the day.

Gold Medal Game: Sweden-Canada, Sunday at 7 a.m. ET

  • Sweden and Canada played for the gold medal in 1994 with the Swedes coming out on top.
  • The two countries last faced each other in the Olympics in 2002. Sweden won.
  • Canada has not won back-to-back gold medals since 1948 and 1952.
  • Sweden won gold in 2006 and 1994.
  • Henrik Lundqvist has played every minute of the tournament, posting a .951 save percentage.
  • Carey Price has a .963 save percentage.
  • Erik Karlsson has four goals and four assists for the Swedes.
  • Drew Doughty leads Canada with four goals and two assists.

Bronze Medal Game: Finland-United States, Saturday at 10 a.m. ET

  • Finland and the U.S. last met in 2010 with the Americans winning 6-1.
  • The United States is 2-1-0 against Finland in the NHL era of the Olympics.
  • Finland has won bronze in three of the past five Olympics.
  • The Americans have not played in the bronze medal game since losing in 1992. They won their only bronze medal in 1936.
  • Phil Kessel leads the U.S. with five goals and three assists in the tournament.
  • The Finns had the worst penalty kill at the Olympics (6-for-10).
  • Mikael Granlund leads Finland with three goals and one assist.
Information from TSN's Devin Gibson was used in this report.

Watch: U.S. women talk after OT loss to Canada

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21

U.S. coach Katey Stone, captain Meghan Duggan and Amanda Kessel talk about their overtime loss against Canada:


Start list for tonight's free skate

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20

SOCHI, Russia -- The start list for Thursday's women's free skate at the Olympics:

Group 1
1. Park So Youn, South Korea
2. Brooklee Han, Australia
3. Gabrielle Daleman, Canada
4. Elizaveta Ukolova, Czech Republic
5. Anne Line Gjersem, Norway
6. Nicole Rajicova, Slovakia

Group 2
7. Kaetlyn Osmond, Canada
8. Elene Gedevanishvili, Georgia
9. Kim Haejin, South Korea
10. Kanako Murakami, Japan
11. Zhang Kexin, China
12. Mao Asada, Japan

Group 3
13. Li Zijun, China
14. Mae Berenice Meite, France
15. Akiko Suzuki, Japan
16. Valentina Marchei, Italy
17. Polina Edmunds, San Jose, Calif.
18. Nathalie Weinzierl, Germany

Group 4
19. Yulia Lipnitskaya, Russia
20. Carolina Kostner, Italy
21. Adelina Sotnikova, Russia
22. Gracie Gold, El Segundo, Calif.
23. Ashley Wagner, Alexandria, Va.
24. Kim Yuna, South Korea

Quick facts: USA vs. Czech Republic

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
USA vs Czech Republic, noon ET
Two teams last met at the Olympics in 1998
The Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia have won 5 straight at the Olympics vs. Team USA
Team USA last beat Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia at the Olympics in 1980
3-3 in past 6 quarterfinals games, won in 2010, have not won back-to-back quarterfinals in past 6
2/8 on the power play, 8/9 on the penalty-kill
Jonathan Quick .944 save percentage
Phil Kessel (4G, 3A), led preliminary round in points
Czech Republic:
Finished 7th in 2 of past 3 Olympics, won bronze in 2006
4/17 on the power plan, 8/10 on the penalty-kill
Ondrej Pavelec .923 save percentage
Tomas Plekanec (1G, 3A), Marek Zidlicky (2G, 2A)
SOCHI, Russia -- U.S. forward David Backes might be hard on opposing players at this Olympic tournament -- we recall at one point during the Russia game on Saturday, Backes seemed to have both hands wrapped around Russian defenseman Fedor Tyutin's throat and was giving him a good throttling along the boards -- but he's got a soft spot for animals.

The St. Louis Blues' captain and his wife started the charity Athletes for Animals back home, and with hundreds of stray dogs roaming the Olympic areas in Sochi, he and some of the other athletes competing here are exploring the complicated adoption process of taking a few of those dogs back to North America.

"They kind of were portrayed a little bit as rabid animals that were dangerous," Backes said after the U.S.' practice Tuesday. "I don't know if anyone's seen that out of those animals. I think you've seen a lot of friendly, smart street dogs that have perhaps have had a tough life and had to find ways to get food and shelter and water and all that good stuff.

"For us to be able to give them a chance for a forever home and kind of live in that lap of luxury that a lot of dogs in North America have, if we can do that for a few of them and give them that little reprieve, it's a great opportunity for those dogs."

It would also go a long way to helping educate people globally about North Americans treat their animals.

"And maybe that's contagious as well," he said.

Backes and some of his U.S. teammates have heard from other athletes, not necessarily just those competing for the U.S.

"[W]e've kind of been able to network with some of the other wives and families, even if they're wearing different colors ... we've got some of the wives from Slovenia and Canada and all the different teams," Backes said. "That said, if there's anything we can help to get some of these dogs home, financially, put our voice out there, whatever, they're willing to do that.

"I think that's going to continue when we get back to the States to continue the messaging and continue to educate people on companion animals and all the things that go into ownership responsibilities and adoption and all that other good stuff."

Watch: Bode Miller on his super-G bronze

February, 16, 2014
Feb 16

Bode Miller on his emotional bronze-medal win in Sunday's super-G:


Olympic tournament: Who plays who next?

February, 16, 2014
Feb 16
The top four seeds get an automatic bye to the quarterfinals. The remaining eight countries play a qualifying round game on Tuesday with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals and the loser eliminated from the tournament. The schedule for the qualifying round games will not be announced until Monday.

1. Sweden
2. USA
3. Canada
4. Finland
5. Russia
6. Switzerland
7. Czech Republic
8. Slovenia
9. Austria
10. Slovakia
11. Latvia
12. Norway

  • Sweden plays winner of Slovenia-Austria
  • USA plays winner of Czech Republic-Slovakia
  • Canada plays winner of Switzerland-Latvia
  • Finland plays winner of Russia-Norway
  • Winner of Sweden/Slovenia-Austria vs. winner of Finland/Russia-Norway
  • Winner of USA/Czech Republic-Slovakia vs. winner of Canada/Switzerland-Latvia