Squash

Squash’s chances of 2020, 2024 Olympic inclusion

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The International Olympic Committee will make the second of three major votes at its session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Sunday.

Nearly 100 IOC members will choose one of three sports — baseball/softball, squash and wrestling — for inclusion in the 2020 and 2024 Olympics from 11-11:45 a.m. Eastern time. For more on what happens Sunday, click here.

OlympicTalk will look at each sport’s pitch. Here is a rundown of squash:

In 2011, squash had to feel fairly confident about getting into the Olympics for 2020 and 2024, even though the vote was two years away.

That’s when the IOC short listed eight sports for possible inclusion — baseball, karate, roller sports, sports climbing, softball, squash, wakeboarding and wushu. Of those, only baseball, karate, roller sports and softball joined squash in 2009 when it came up short for 2016 inclusion, when golf and rugby made it.

In 2005, baseball and softball had been cut from the Olympics beginning with the 2012 Games. Also in 2005, karate and squash actually beat golf and rugby, as well as roller sports, in voting for 2012 inclusion, though none made it. Squash, so close and yet to be given a chance in the Olympics, was gaining momentum.

Squash is a racket sport pitting two competitors hitting a ball against a wall. Points are won if a ball bounces twice on the floor before one competitor gets to it. Points are lost for hitting the ball too low on the wall.

The last year saw a combination blow dent its hopes. In 2012, baseball and softball merged into one bid, strengthening the cause of both sports. In February, wrestling was cut from the list of Olympic core sports in a shocking decision, so the Olympic stalwart dropped into the group of squash and others looking for 2020 and 2024 inclusion.

In May, the IOC named three finalists. Squash made it again, as expected two years ago. So did baseball/softball and wrestling, two bids that, one year ago, wouldn’t have been candidates for Sunday’s vote. Squash could have been the popular pick heading into Buenos Aires. Not anymore.

The Associated Press described its chances as, “once the favorite, now maybe a stroke too far.” The New York Times called it “a long shot.”

“We’re happy that we’re in the final three,” said Kevin Klipstein, CEO of U.S. Squash since 2004, in a phone interview. “It was definitely actually a bit of a tough break, for wrestling to be selected as a sport to be eliminated (in February) because a lot of squash coverage was being viewed very favorably up until that point.”

Key information for IOC session in Buenos Aires

Klipstein said the feedback squash received after failed bids for 2012 and 2016 inclusion were to better its broadcast product. It added more streaming of the sport’s professional tours, shooting in HD with multiple camera angles. In the U.S., ESPN3 and Tennis Channel continue to give it more attention, but how far it has come is still questionable.

“We put together as good a product as we can,” Klipstein said. “We’ve done what we can do. See where it shakes out on Sunday.”

Klipstein said squash is on a similar trajectory to what tennis was on 30 or 40 years ago. Tennis greats such as Andre AgassiKim ClijstersRoger Federer and Andy Murray have backed the bid.

“I could be wrong, but I think why it’s not on TV as much is because it almost seems like the same point is getting played,” Murray said at the U.S. Open this week. “It’s maybe not the best spectator sport, but it’s a very difficult sport to play. You have to be extremely fit, have very good hand/eye coordination, good feel and good touch.”

Squash is cost-effective. It can be played on a glass court built pretty much anywhere.

“I could do it on the bridge over the Bosphorus (Turkey), in a bullfighting ring (Spain) or in the Imperial Palace gardens (Japan),” World Squash Federation president N. Ramachandran of India said, according to The Associated Press. “You tell me where to put it, and I will do it. You can put them up in a matter of three days.”

Squash hopes a man named Mike Lee can work more magic. Lee, described by different outlets as a lobbyist, strategist and consultant, worked for London 2012, Rio 2016, rugby’s successful bid and the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Another pro for squash is that it’s global. All five continents have produced world champions.

“With athletes 185 countries playing squash, I can count on going to tournaments and being surrounded by players from every part of the globe,” Amanda Sobhy, 20, the top-ranked U.S. squash player, told USA Today. “And yet, deep down inside, every single one of us would gladly trade all of our titles for the chance to compete in the Olympics.”

What it also has going is that it’s the only one of the candidates that has yet to be given a shot in the Olympic program. Winning the vote would increase its growing legitimacy.

“We’ve always viewed the Olympics as something we really want to achieve, for the athletes, that they get a chance to compete on the world’s biggest and brightest stage,” Klipstein said, “and it’s clear that we fit well into the Olympics overall in terms of the values that we have — the sportsmanship, the fact that it’s clean.”

Remember when wrestling gained attention for holding a meet inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal in May? Squash, in addition to an event outside the Egyptian pyramids, has been holding competitions at Grand Central for years.

“I guess imitation is flattery,” Klipstein said. “(Wrestling) got some nice publicity for it. I guess it’s a validation of the fact that we’re doing things that make sense.”

If squash doesn’t prevail Sunday, it’s not going to give up.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” Klipstein said. “Dust ourselves off, come back with a stronger bid.”

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AVP set to start season without Kerri Walsh Jennings

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BOSTON (AP) — The AVP said it has reached an agreement with “practically all the players” on a contract that will carry it through the 2020 Summer Games, even as a holdout by five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings threatens to deprive the domestic beach volleyball tour of its biggest name.

“I respect her decisions, and I wish her well,” AVP owner Donald Sun told The Associated Press. “But in the meantime, we’re just geared up. All the athletes that are signed are fired up to play Huntington Beach next weekend.”

Walsh Jennings did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment. But she told the AP in March that negotiations were “a work in progress” and that the two sides were “pretty far off.”

She also boycotted an AVP event last summer over experimental rules that she said weren’t discussed with the athletes.

Each of the other seven Americans who went to the 2016 Olympics has signed, Sun said, except for Brooke Sweat. Sweat, who failed to make it out of group play in Rio de Janeiro with teammate Lauren Fendrick, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Sun told the AP that the tour has “a four-year agreement with practically all the players, which is awesome.” The deal includes a minimum of eight events per season and prize money minimums that will increase by at least 50 percent over the term of the deal, he said.

“It was a few months of process, discussing with individual players, groups of players, discussing what concerns they had,” Sun said. “We all made it. I think we’re all pretty happy.”

Well, not everyone.

The rift with Walsh, a three-time gold medalist who won bronze with April Ross in 2016, was exposed when the tour released its 2017 schedule in March and her name wasn’t among the list of those expected to participate.

Sun told the AP this week that the tour is prepared to proceed without Walsh Jennings, who has missed events previous summers because of injury, childbirth or to play on the international tour that determines Olympic qualification.

“It didn’t seem to affect attendance, TV ratings, or viewership on line,” Sun said. “The AVP is not just one person or one athlete; if it was, it would be a very challenging business model.”

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Anthony Joshua TKOs Wladimir Klitschko in battle of Olympic champs

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LONDON (AP) — Anthony Joshua wasn’t wrong when he raised his hands in victory after knocking Wladimir Klitschko down in the fifth round of what looked like a one-sided heavyweight title fight. He was just celebrating too early.

The rookie mistake allowed Klitschko to rally, nearly taking the lead as the two 6-foot-6 men went to the 11th round — four rounds longer than any Joshua fight had ever gone.

That’s when Joshua unleashed a brutal uppercut that spun Klitschko around, leading to a win that set off British celebrations in Wembley Stadium and beyond Saturday night and cemented the 27-year-old as boxing’s new superstar.

Rounds 5 and 6 featured some of the best heavyweight action since Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis — the latter two sitting ringside — ruled the division.

The two men in the ring were both Olympic super heavyweight champions. Joshua took gold for Great Britain in 2012, and Klitschko won for Ukraine in 1996.

Klitschko, who had barely thrown any power punches before the knockdown, came back to make the end of the fifth round interesting and knocked Joshua down in the next round.

With an entire country screaming for him, Joshua — who had knocked all his previous opponents out by the end of the seventh round — looked tired. But he saved his best for the late rounds, particularly the uppercut that will be a YouTube moment for decades.

Klitschko didn’t fall down after the uppercut, but Joshua was all over the stunned former champ and dropped him with a left hook. Klitschko got up only to take even more punishment. Joshua knocked Klitschko down again and was landing punches to his head on the ropes when referee David Fields moved in to stop the bout late in the 11th round.

“When you go to the trenches, that’s when you find out who you really are,” Joshua said. “In this small little ring here, there’s nowhere to hide.”

The biggest heavyweight title fight in more than a decade had a little something for everyone, and Joshua finished off in style.

“As I said from the get-go, it will be a boxing classic and the best man will win,” Joshua said.

Klitschko’s rally was inspiring, starting soon after he was knocked down in the fifth. By the end of the round, it was Klitschko pummeling a tired Joshua.

Joshua was still feeling the effect of those punches when he was dropped by a right hand in the sixth round. Klitschko began piling up rounds and it seemed like the savvy Ukrainian would quiet the hometown fans, until Joshua turned things around with that vicious right uppercut.

“If you don’t take part, you’re going to fail,” Joshua said. “Just give it a go and you never know the outcome.”

Joshua was up 96-93 and 95-93 on two scorecards, while Klitschko was ahead 95-93 on the third going into the final round. The Associated Press had it 94-94.

Klitschko, who reigned over the heavyweight division for a decade, was fighting both Joshua and Father Time at the age of 41. He looked to be overmatched in the early rounds, but fought his best after he was knocked down.

It was anyone’s fight when Joshua landed the uppercut that proved decisive, much to the delight of his countrymen who packed England’s national stadium for the highly anticipated bout.

“As I said I’m not perfect but I’m trying,” said Joshua, who was fighting for only the 19th time as a pro.

Joshua had never been beyond seven rounds, and it looked like he might be running out of gas as he tried to find his legs following the knockdown in the sixth. Klitschko, in his 29th world title fight, seemed to be taking the advantage in the later rounds, until the uppercut sent him spinning across the ring.

“It was really sad I didn’t make it tonight,” Klitschko said. “I was planning to do it. It didn’t work. But all respect to Anthony.”

Joshua defended his heavyweight titles and his undefeated record in a bout that lived up to its billing as the best matchup after a long drought in the heavyweight division. Already a hero in his native England, he may become one worldwide.

Joshua said before the bout that it was just two men in the ring, and nothing more than that. But it was clear by the crowd’s reaction as he came back to win that it was a lot more to many fans.

It was a battle of massive heavyweights, with both standing 6-foot-6. Joshua weighed 250.1 pounds to 240.5 for Klitschko.

Klitschko fell to 64-5 in a long career that began in 1996 after he won the Olympic gold in Atlanta. It may have been his last fight.

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