Paul Martin

Paul Martin represents 2006 U.S. Olympic hockey ‘taxi squad’ in Sochi

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In 2006, three NHL players flew to Torino in addition to the U.S. Olympic Team. They had credentials. They received USA jerseys, but they were not officially Olympians.

Matt Cullen, Hal Gill and Paul Martin made up what was called the “taxi squad.”

In a Torino-specific rule, a men’s hockey team could replace as many as three injured players from a group of alternates allowed to practice with the team on Olympic ice.

It never happened at the Olympics before. It hasn’t happened since.

It was allowed in Torino “for logistical reasons,” said an International Ice Hockey Federation official, who did not say why the taxi squad didn’t return for Vancouver 2010 or Sochi 2014. There are two logical reasons, though.

It would have been easier to fly in injury replacements for North American Olympics (2010), and hockey rosters were expanded from 23 to 25 men for 2014.

In 2006, the U.S. team stayed healthy en route to a quarterfinal exit. So, Cullen, Gill and Martin did not make it onto an active roster for an Olympic game and therefore were not officially Olympians.

Of the three, Martin is who makes the 2006 taxi squad relevant again eight years later.

In 2010, the defenseman was named to the Vancouver Olympic Team on New Year’s Day while recuperating from a broken right forearm suffered Oct. 25, 2009.

Due to setbacks, he couldn’t return before the Olympics and was officially taken off the U.S. Olympic Team on Feb. 2, 2010, 10 days before the Opening Ceremony.

USA Hockey tapped an injured Martin again for the Olympic Team this year. He fractured a tibia in late November and sat out until Jan. 20.

He’s healthy and ready for an Olympic debut eight years in the making in Sochi. It’s been a winding road after traveling to Torino and being part of the Vancouver team for one month.

Martin, now 32, said being thisclose to the Olympics has been the biggest disappointment of his career to this point.

“Deep down, I would have obviously loved to be there and play there if I go all the way over there [in 2006],” he said, “but this will be my turn.”

His taxi squad mates share part of his joy. On Feb. 6, 2006, the first and only U.S. Olympic taxi squad was announced to join the Olympic Team that had been named Dec. 20, 2005.

The taxi squad included Cullen, then a 29-year-old Carolina Hurricanes forward who knew Italy well, having led its domestic league in scoring during the 2004-05 lockout.

Cullen also played for 2006 U.S. Olympic coach Peter Laviolette at Carolina, which would win the Stanley Cup four months after the Olympics.

Laviolette told Cullen he made the taxi squad on the same night he broke his jaw against the Atlanta Thrashers.

“Bittersweet,” Cullen said. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as a taxi squad. I didn’t know exactly what it would mean.”

Martin, then a 24-year-old New Jersey Devils defenseman, was reported in 2006 to be a candidate to replace the injured Aaron Miller (back) on the official Olympic Team.

But Laviolette tapped his own defenseman, Bret Hedican, to the active roster, which was announced the same day Cullen and Martin were named as two of three taxi squad players.

Hedican is married to 1992 Olympic figure skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi.

The third member of the original 2006 taxi squad was goalie Ryan Miller, the fortress behind the 2010 U.S. Olympic silver medal team and a candidate to start in Sochi.

But Miller would be held in the U.S. rather than joining Cullen and Martin in Torino. There was less need for a fourth goalie on site than an extra skater.

Technically, that meant another player could be added to the taxi squad as Miller was merely an alternate.

That happened Feb. 9, 2006, when Gill was named six days before the start of the Olympic hockey tournament.

Gill, then a 30-year-old Boston Bruins defenseman, had made the U.S. team for the World Championships in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2005.

Gill was offered a taxi squad spot via a USA Hockey phone call. He hastily canceled an NHL Olympic break vacation with his wife, even though he knew he might not get into a game.

“That’s the one thing you dream of as a kid is being in the Olympics,” said the tall (6-7), talkative Gill. “There was no way I was giving up that chance. I accepted, took off and went over.”

The Torino taxi squad practiced and worked out with the U.S. Olympic Team, but they stayed in a separate hotel rather than the Olympic Village. They watched the U.S. games from seats inside the Palasport Olimpico and the Torino Esposizioni.

“We were involved in whatever the team was doing, but the problem was there were so many games that the team didn’t do much,” Gill said. “It was more sitting and waiting.”

The U.S. played Feb. 15, 18, 19, 21 and 22, getting knocked out in the quarterfinals.

“We would say hi to everybody after the games,” Cullen said. “That was about it.”

They did get in the team picture, though.

“I didn’t really know if anybody knew exactly what we were supposed to be doing,” Cullen said. “We were just there.”

They joked that they were cheerleaders. They kept a close eye on Team USA, trying to determine if anybody picked up an injury to potentially open up a spot on the active roster.

“I know there was a point where [defenseman] Brian Rafalski had an injury that he ended up playing through,” Gill said. “We were watching that, but I figured Paul Martin would have been the guy to go to.”

Martin was a more offensive-minded player than Gill, better suited to Rafalski’s role. Rafalski suffered a rib injury in his final NHL game before the Olympics and was day to day in Torino.

Off the ice, the taxi squad lived up to its name, cabbing the city and wining and dining nightly.

Gill watched the men’s Alpine skiing slalom in Sestriere and trick-move snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis’ silver medal ceremony and made the Bank of America hospitality tent his second home.

“As many espressos as we can handle and enjoy the wine after games,” Gill said. “The taxi squad had a good bonding trip.”

That was as close as Cullen and Gill would get to the Olympics. They’re now 37 and 38. Does Gill regret getting so close and never making it back?

“Of course,” he said, “but I’ll never forget that experience. I was honored to be there.”

Cullen, Gill and Martin still keep up with each other either at NHL games or in the offseason in the case of the Minnesotans Martin and Cullen.

“We always give a little taxi squad salute,” Gill said.

And a stick tap for Martin, especially, for going back to the Olympics.

“It could be my third Olympics, but you can’t look at it like that,” Martin said. “Some things happen. It just makes this one more special to hopefully go and play some games and be part of that whole experience.”

U.S. names Olympic hockey captain

Belarus says athletes village unsanitary, but Australia set to move in

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 23: A general view of the Olympic and Paralympic Village for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Barra da Tijuca. The Village will host up to 17,200 people amongst athletes and team officials during the Games and up to 6,000 during the Paralympic Games on July 22, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
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MOSCOW (AP) — The Olympic team of Belarus has branded the athletes’ village in Rio de Janeiro unsanitary, a day after Australia refused to check its athletes in over health concerns.

It has complained about having no hot water, only sometimes cold water, and a failing sewage system.

Posting pictures on its website of dirty windows and a filthy shower the Belarus Olympic Committee says “there remains much for the Rio organizing committee to do so that the living conditions meet sanitary requirements.”

Australia’s athletes refused to move into the village on Sunday, with delegation head Kitty Chiller saying water leaks and electrical problems had “endangered” athletes.

However, Chiller since said she expects the Australians to move in Wednesday, after having paid for hotel accommodation for athletes and cleaning services.

Sidney Levy, the CEO of the Rio organizing committee, told The Associated Press that half of the 31 apartment buildings in the village complex were ready on Monday.

“The rest will be delivered in the next few days,” Levy said, adding that each building might have a few apartments with problems “that might take a bit extra to solve.”

Rio spokesman Mario Andrada said 630 people are “working around the clock” so the village’s 3,600 apartments can be ready on Thursday, barely a week before the Olympics open on Aug. 5.

Rio officials said 1,600 people from 115 countries were living in the village on Monday — including 400 athletes. The village will accommodate about 18,000 athletes and officials at its peak.

Many teams are already in Brazil but are attending private training camps and may not need to move into the village for another few days.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, after harshly criticizing Chiller on Sunday, has acknowledged that Australia had the worst prepared building in the vast complex that contains seven swimming pools, tennis courts and a dining area to serve 60,000 meals daily.

Chiller listed seven other delegations — Britain, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Brazil, Japan and the Netherlands — that arrived early and worked with Australia on varied problems.

The president of the Argentine Olympic Committee, Gerardo Werthein, on Monday called two of the five floors for his delegation “uninhabitable.”

Chiller said speaking out probably put “pressure” on the organizing committee. Then she changed her word choice.

“I wouldn’t like to use the word pressure,” she added. “The resources were made available.”

MORE: Not everyone unhappy with housing in Rio Olympic village

Kenya’s doping program inept, but not corrupt

BEIJING - AUGUST 24:  Sammy Wanjiru (#2263) of Kenya leads a group of runners during the Men's Marathon on the way to the National Stadium during Day 16 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 24, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Never before have Kenya’s fabulously successful runners gone to the Olympics in such a negative light.

Kenya has a doping problem, no doubt, but seemingly not on the same scale as Russia. There’s no indication that the East African country has a state-sponsored conspiracy to hide cheating.

While Russia’s anti-doping program appears corrupt – leading to a ban for its track and field team and a narrowly-avoided blanket ban for all Russian competitors from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics – Kenya’s drug-testing program is best described as inept.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t serious issues and allegations in Kenya. The country’s track team goes to Rio – there was a moment when it also might have been thrown out – with its reputation at stake.

The Kenyan doping mess explained:

THE PROBLEMS: – At least 40 Kenyan track and field athletes have failed doping tests and been banned since the 2012 Olympics in London.

Four senior officials at the Kenyan track federation, including the top two, have been suspended by the IAAF – track and field’s international governing body – after being accused of trying to corrupt the anti-doping process.

It’s almost three months since Kenya’s entire drug-testing program was declared non-compliant and suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency because of problems with how it’s run.

Seven men – five Kenyans, an Italian coach and an Italian agent – are facing criminal charges in two separate cases in Kenya related to allegations of supplying and administering banned substances to runners.

THE CONTEXT: – Although 40 doping cases in four years is a significant number, the vast majority so far have been lower-level runners who haven’t won major titles. There are a couple of exceptions: Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo and two-time cross-country world champion Emily Chebet are among those banned.

Kenyan authorities promised extensive testing of their Olympic athletes to show that the stars – such as 800-meter world-record holder David Rudisha – are clean. In the last few weeks, the sports minister said, around 400 tests were conducted on Kenya’s full Olympic team of just over 100 athletes.

The Kenyan track federation president, vice president, the former track team manager and federation chief executive are all being investigated by the IAAF over allegations they sought to hide positive doping tests or arrange lenient bans while seeking bribes from the athletes involved. Unlike Russia, the anti-doping agency and government departments haven’t also been implicated.

While Kenya’s anti-doping program is currently declared non-compliant by WADA, so is Spain’s. Non-compliance doesn’t immediately mean a country should be banned from competition. It does mean that the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya wasn’t able to do tests in the run-up to the Olympics, leaving it to one of WADA’s regional bodies to do so.

The court cases involving Kenyan men accused of supplying banned substances to athletes appear to be getting to the heart of Kenya’s problem. Allegations were made as far back as 2012 that people were selling banned substances to athletes in remote training bases. Kenyan police and anti-doping authorities have clearly been slow in shutting that drug supply line down.

WHAT SPORTS AUTHORITIES HAVE DONE: – WADA described Kenya’s anti-doping regulations as “a complete mess” when it declared the country non-compliant in May, but WADA doesn’t have the power to ban Kenya’s track and field team from international competitions.

That falls to the IAAF and, in the case of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee. The IAAF stopped short of throwing out Kenya, but placed the country on a doping “monitoring list” until the end of the year. If there aren’t significant improvements, the IAAF could decide on sterner punishment.

In June, the IOC told international sports federations to test individual athletes in Kenya to make sure they are clean before Rio.

REPUTATION AT STAKE: – Kenya’s sporting pride revolves around its world-beating distance runners. If just one of Kenya’s athletes fails a drug test at the Rio Olympics, then all of them – maybe unfairly – are going to be under suspicion. It’ll also probably revive the question of why Kenya’s track team was given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to go to the Olympics.

Kenya’s javelin world champion Julius Yego said the scrutiny is going to be severe: “Everybody will be looking at the Kenyans and all sorts of bad things will be mentioned about Kenya.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta repeatedly warned the athletes against doping when he addressed the Olympic team last week.

“Show them we can win clean. Even if we don’t win, show them we can play clean,” Kenyatta said.

MORE: Kenyan police search agents’ hotel rooms at Olympic Trials