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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Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin criticize crash-filled World Cup race

Lindsey Vonn of the United States, who refused the start, talks to reporters in the finish area during the women's alpine combined Super-G race of the Alpine Skiing World Cup, in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (Alessandro della Valle/Keystone via AP)
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CRANS MONTANA, Switzerland (AP) — Lindsey Vonn wasn’t about to risk another injury, and neither was Mikaela Shiffrin.

Vonn and Shiffrin, along with some of their American teammates on the World Cup tour, pulled out of the Alpine combined race on Friday because of dangerous conditions on the course. The first three racers all crashed, and one was taken away on a stretcher with a knee injury.

“For me I’ve had so many injuries, I don’t need to risk anything today,” Vonn said. “A lot of the other athletes and coaches were asking me to put pressure on everyone to try to cancel the race because it’s too dangerous and I did my best but I just pray that no one else gets hurt today. I think it was a smart decision for our team to pull out of the race.”

Shiffrin also called the conditions dangerous and said the International Ski Federation (FIS) didn’t listen to athletes who raised concerns, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

After Ilka Stuhec, Tessa Worley and Denise Feierabend all fell at nearly the same point in the opening super-G portion of the combined race, the event was postponed and the start was lowered.

Stuhec and Worley were able to restart, but Feierabend could not because of her injury. Worley then crashed again on her second attempt.

Federica Brignone, who was second after the super-G portion, won the race, overtaking first-run leader Stuhec in the slalom. Michaela Kirchgasser was third. Full results are here.

Vonn said the race shouldn’t have gone ahead at all after several of the forerunners — including American teammate Julia Mancuso — crashed while testing the course as the snow began to melt in changeable weather conditions.

“First and foremost, if all of the forerunners are crashing and not finishing that’s a sign that something’s wrong,” Vonn said. “The forerunners are there for a reason. Julia was one of the forerunners, she told them and they didn’t listen.

“No. 2: Listen to the representatives. Sofia (Goggia) told them that it was not acceptable to race, but they didn’t listen and now Denise probably blew her knee out because no one listened.”

The 32-year-old Vonn missed nearly two seasons of competition after injuring her right knee in Austria in 2013. She hurt the same knee in her comeback.

Vonn returned to competition last month after nearly a year out with knee and arm injuries.

“The problem is a lot of times people mistake our opinions as just whining,” Vonn said. “We’re women and we’re whining and we just need to suck it up and race, and that’s not the case. Probably more than half or the field has been injured before … it’s unfortunate that the FIS doesn’t listen to us.”

The U.S. ski federation announced that its team of Vonn, Shiffrin, Laurenne Ross, Jacqueline Wiles, Breezy Johnson and Stacey Cook would not compete. But Wiles, Cook and Johnson did start, with only Johnson finishing the opening leg. She was in 36th place after the super-G.

Shiffrin, the overall World Cup leader, holds more than a 300-point lead in the standings over Stuhec and Goggia, the next active challengers. Defending overall champion Lara Gut, in second place, is out for the rest of the season after injuring her knee while training between runs of the combined event at the world championships in St. Moritz two weeks ago.

Goggia was also among the 16 skiers who did not finish the super-G.

Friday’s race was rescheduled from Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria. There is another combined race scheduled for Sunday, with a super-G on Saturday, both streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app starting at 4:30 a.m. ET.

“It has to be everyone looking out for the most important thing, the athletes’ safety,” Vonn said. “I realize if the race is cancelled people lose money and the fans, I understand all of the politics, but there is no ski racing and there is no politics if we don’t have safe athletes.”

MORE: Stenmark to Vonn: ‘Don’t beat my record too early’

Anna Veith ends season early as Austrian injuries pile up

ST MORITZ, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Anna Veith of Austria reacts at the finish during the Women's Super G during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on February 7, 2017 in St Moritz, Switzerland.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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Austrian Anna Veith, the best female Alpine skier in 2014 and 2015, will undergo left knee surgery Tuesday, ending an abbreviated comeback season following right knee surgery 16 months ago.

“This surgery is the only chance to continue living my dream. To ski the way I want to do it, competing and being part of the Olympics again,” was posted on Veith’s social media Friday, adding that she was skiing with pain due to patellar tendon problems.

The 27-year-old won super-G gold and giant slalom silver at the Sochi Olympics, then the World Cup overall title a month later and the following season.

Veith then had a drawn-out comeback from tearing the ACL and patellar tendon in her right knee in an Oct. 21, 2015 crash. She missed all of the 2015-16 campaign and was slow to return to form this season.

Her best finish was 19th in her first six races, but then Veith placed third in the last super-G before the world championships earlier this month. At worlds, she failed to finish the super-G and was 22nd in the giant slalom, two years after winning both events.

Veith is the third Austrian women’s star to bow out due to injury this year, following 2016 World Cup giant slalom champion Eva-Maria Brem and Cornelia Huetter, the top Austrian in last season’s World Cup overall standings in seventh place.

MORE: Stenmark to Vonn: ‘Don’t beat my record too early’