Ty Votaw

Rio Olympic golf course progress speeds up

Leave a comment

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Rio Olympic organizers have significantly increased development of the first Olympic golf venue since 1904 in the last two months after previous delays, but it probably would not be able to hold a test event until less than a year before the Games, International Golf Federation officials said Thursday.

“I wouldn’t say that more work has been done in the last 45 days than in the previous six months, but I wouldn’t be too far off if I said that,” IGF vice president Ty Votaw said at The Players Championship.

The faster pace and greater man power came after a dissatisfied IGF president Peter Dawson said in late March that course construction progress was behind schedule.

“We are going to struggle to get a test event a year before the Games,” Dawson said then. “I’m not writing that off completely, but we have to recognize that might be difficult. However, I still think it will be ready in time for the Olympics.”

Two weeks after Dawson’s comments, the International Olympic Committee announced it would send executive director Gilbert Felli to Rio de Janeiro several months earlier than scheduled to oversee day-to-day business as part of a series of emergency measures to address delayed preparations in several areas. IGF officials said the golf course is one of about 10 venues Felli is working on.

The Rio Organizing Committee is responsible for delivering the Olympic golf venue. The IGF is responsible for approving it.

The next step for the development of the Rio Olympic golf course is for it to be grassed, hopefully by the end of 2014, Votaw said. Even if that target is hit, holding a test event in August 2015, one year before the Olympics, on a course with eight months of grass maturation “wouldn’t be a good step forward for us,” Votaw said.

“The likelihood of a test event a year out continues to be improbable, and how much further within that year out we go all depends on our grassing schedule and how much the golf course matures,” Votaw said.

About 10 members of the Rio Olympic Organizing Committee have been at TPC Sawgrass this week, observing operational setups for one of the biggest tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule — from security to catering to hospitality to ticketing. They’re taking lessons to use in planning in Brazil, a nation without a long-standing golf tradition.

“For some of them [Rio organizers in Ponte Vedra Beach], this is a very big event and bigger than what they’ve worked on,” IGF executive director Antony Scanlon said. “It gives them a bit of size and scale of what they’re facing. For others, this is what they expected.

“This is a sport that’s not very large in Brazil. The proximity of the players to the public is something that most security agencies are concerned by, and the great expertise that the PGA Tour has here is allaying their fears and helping them with their fans.”

One question yet to be answered two years out is how big the crowds will be at the Olympic golf tournaments. The Players Championship is equipped to handle 50,000 fans per day. Rio organizers have also visited the British Open and World Golf Championships events.

“To the extent that [Rio organizers] are going to be prepared for ’16, they’re going to need to be exposed to the biggest possible crowds and the biggest possible logistics and the biggest possible security issues,” Votaw said. “When you have a stadium-like golf course like this and this amount of a crowd, we thought this would be a good event for them to at least get that exposure.”

Votaw and Scanlon said IGF officials will next be in Rio in June as part of an IOC venue construction review team.

“It’s been a great partnership with Rio,” Scanlon said. “That’s why [Rio organizers] are here [in Ponte Vedra Beach].”

Another publicized issue is the status of Rory McIlroy and other players whose Olympic nationality isn’t cut and dry. McIlroy is from Northern Ireland, but there is no Northern Ireland team at the Olympics. It’s been reported he could represent Great Britain, or he could be tied to represent Ireland because he competed under an Irish flag as recently as the 2011 World Cup of Golf.

The IGF hopes to finalize the nationality policy by July, two years before the Olympic golf fields of 60 men and women are determined. The fields are set by world rankings, which take into account players’ results over the previous two years.

That would make it clearer not only for a player like McIlroy, currently ranked No. 11 in the world, but also for other players from Great Britain and Ireland observing rankings to determine their chances of making the Olympics.

“If there’s a dual nationality player before the eligibility starts [in July 2014], it’s equitable for every other player from each of those countries to know who is ahead of them on the world rankings from that country,” Votaw said.

The Olympic golf field will invite everybody from the world top 15, with no more than four players per nation. Beyond the top 15, the field will be filled according to the rankings with a maximum of two players per country that does not already have two or more in the top 15.

How the IOC-NBCUniversal Olympics deal came about

USOC supports athletes expressing themselves after anthem protests

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARK CITY, Utah — The U.S. Olympic Committee supports American athletes expressing themselves at winter sports events leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics.

Some MLB, NFL and WNBA players kneeled and remained in locker rooms during the national anthem at games over the weekend.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun was asked Monday if the USOC would support American athletes peacefully protesting during the national anthem this fall and winter at pre-Games competition.

“I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t,” Blackmun said at a pre-Winter Games media summit. “We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.”

Blackmun was correct to reference the Olympic Charter, which states that “no kind of demonstration … is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Blackmun mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos‘ raised-fist salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, which got them kicked out of the Games.

The USOC has since honored Smith and Carlos. They visited the White House last year with the Rio Olympic team.

“That was a seminal moment not only for the Olympic Movement, but for the U.S. Olympic team,” Blackmun said of the 1968 podium gesture. “Our stance on this has been fairly clear. We certainly recognize the rights of the athletes to express themselves.”

Olympic hopefuls were peppered with questions about possible protests at the media summit.

“One of the proudest parts of being an American is the ability to have freedom of speech,” four-time Olympian Julia Mancuso said. “I really look up to athletes who take a stand for what they believe in. I really believe as athletes that compete for Team USA, when it comes to the Olympics, I like to think it’s a special event. Not like the NFL or pro sports teams that compete every weekend. For us, it’s every four years. I’m proud for athletes that stand up for what they believe in if they really want to have a message to get out. But I like to think of us all as patriotic.”

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic bobsled medalist, is the daughter of a U.S. Marine who served in Kuwait and spent summers in the 1980s playing at Atlanta Falcons training camps.

She said any decisions on demonstrations or whether she attends a post-Olympics Team USA White House visit come secondary to her pursuit of making the Olympic team this winter.

“I can’t afford to focus on what I would do in that situation or how I would react,” Meyers Taylor said, adding that anything would be a “game-time decision.” “Maybe the social climate changes a little bit [before the Olympics]. … There’s a lot to consider.”

Aja Evans, a 2014 Olympic bobsled bronze medalist, the sister of former NFL defensive tackle Fred Evans, did not say that she would follow the football players’ lead.

“I honor and commend anyone that does that,” Evans said. “My way of showing my stance is to continue to try to be a positive influence for my city, for my country. I’m representing Team USA the best way I can.”

NCAA hockey players Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, both prospective Olympians with the NHL not participating, said they didn’t envision taking a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I’ve always stood for the national anthem,” Greenway said. “I always will.”

Olympic freestyle skiing medalists Maddie Bowman and Gus Kenworthy have said they plan to skip the traditional Team USA post-Olympic White House visit due to the current presidential administration. Figure skater Ashley Wagner, too, said she would not go if she had to choose today.

Kenworthy said he was shocked that President Donald Trump believed that athletes kneeling during the national anthem disrespected the flag.

“Those people [servicemen and women] are fighting for the freedom to express their beliefs,” Kenworthy said. “I feel proud to be from a country where we have the right to be able to kind of say what we feel, speak up for what we believe in. I feel that people kneeling before a game is actually quite admirable.”

Kenworthy didn’t rule out a personal demonstration at the Olympics, should he qualify again, but knows he could be stripped of a medal for doing so.

“I’m not saying that I would want to be dictated by fear, and if I was to get a medal and be too scared that it would be taken away from me,” he said. “I think that there’s a way to do things in a way that’s not going to sabotage yourself. You can stand up for something and not throw yourself under the bus.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar details passing on 1968 Olympics in new book

U.S. Olympic men’s hockey player from 2006 has shot at PyeongChang

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARK CITY, Utah — Though no active NHL players will be in PyeongChang, veteran NHL forward and free agent Brian Gionta could very well play for his second U.S. Olympic team in February.

A USA Hockey official confirmed Monday that the 2006 Olympian Gionta “has a very decent opportunity” to be part of the 2018 Olympic team.

That came in response to a Buffalo radio report that Gionta said it’s looking good for him to play for Team USA.

Gionta, 38, played 15 NHL seasons through last year but is currently unsigned as the NHL preseason continues. The U.S. Olympic team of 25 players named around Jan. 1 is likely to include very few, if any, players with Gionta’s experience.

Gionta was seen at the Rochester (N.Y.) AHL club’s practice Monday (but not taking part), according to media in that area. Gionta could play for an AHL club and be eligible for PyeongChang. USA Hockey wants prospective Olympians to be active in the AHL, NCAA or a European league.

Gionta’s agent has not responded to a request for comment on his Olympic prospects on Monday. Earlier in the summer, Gionta’s agent said that the skater was considering the Olympics.

Gionta led the 2006 U.S. Olympic team with four goals. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals to Finland, their worst Olympic result over the last four Winter Games.

That came during Gionta’s most productive NHL season — 48 goals (sixth in the league) and 41 assists for the New Jersey Devils.

Another Olympian — Ryan Malone from 2010 — embarked on a comeback this preseason and could pursue the Olympics. He has been in camp with the Minnesota Wild. If he doesn’t make the Wild, Malone could play on an AHL contract and be eligible for the Olympics.

USA Hockey confirmed that other players in the potential Olympic pool — at some 100 players at the moment — include Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe, a 30-year-old forward, played 394 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes from 2008-16 before joining the Swiss League.

Another is goalie Ryan Zapolski, who ranks third in the KHL in goals-against average this season.

John-Michael Liles, a 2006 Olympic defenseman and unsigned NHL veteran, is not interested in continuing his career in a non-NHL league to be considered for the Olympics, USA Hockey said.

U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said this summer that he was interested in some players who “have a rich history in the NHL and with USA Hockey that we think could potentially really help this roster.” Johannson wouldn’t name names then.

Johansson said a “long list” of potential players for the final 25-man roster must be submitted in September.

A U.S. team of primarily European-based players will take part in a tournament in November in Germany. That roster is expected to be named in October.

The U.S. staff will also look at NCAA and AHL players ahead of naming the PyeongChang team.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Olympic hockey schedule released