Ty Votaw

Rio Olympic golf course progress speeds up

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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

US women’s hockey agreement could have far-reaching impact

AP
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Cammi Granato‘s biggest victory in hockey came 12 years after she retired.

When USA Hockey and the women’s national team agreed to a contract Tuesday night that ended a wage dispute, Granato couldn’t put her happiness into words.

The Hockey Hall of Famer and her teammates staged a similar fight in 2000 without success, and she hopes the current team’s progress paves the way for the future of women’s hockey and even other sports.

“It’s bigger than any victory that we’ve had in USA Hockey,” said Granato, who won the gold medal in 1998 with the U.S. at the first Olympics with women’s hockey. “I just think it’s such a positive, positive day for women’s hockey, women’s sports and women in general.”

Granato and lawmakers, lawyers and experts see the U.S. national team’s agreement as a precedent-setter for other hockey teams around the world and other men’s and women’s athletes in this country.

As the U.S. women’s soccer team continues to work out a labor contract, the women’s hockey team showed how it could leverage solidarity and timing into a multiyear agreement that satisfied all parties involved and pushed gender quality in sports forward.

“I’m hoping it will create a wave across the country of more equity in pay,” said Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, one of 20 senators to write to USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean encouraging him to end the dispute.

“We know that it’s not going to be exactly the same. We know the viewership numbers for some of these sports, but at least you have to try. When you try and you give them more funding, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem.

“Once they’re able to actually support themselves and it’s more lucrative, you get more women going into the sport, then you have better sports and you have more people watching them.”

In that way, women’s hockey has taken the first step toward following women’s soccer, almost 20 years after the World Cup-winning team led by Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain inspired Granato and her teammates to challenge USA Hockey.

Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn around $71,000 annually and up to $129,000 in Olympic years when combined with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

That’s still less than what women’s soccer players bring in, but now players won’t have to work second or third jobs – and half did – or retire to start a family because the new contract guarantees that protection along with insurance and other improvements.

Lawyer John Langel of Ballard Spahr, who represented soccer players from 1998-2014 and the hockey players in this negotiation, said hockey “shouldn’t necessarily take the same long journey” depending on how many strides are made in professional leagues, programming, marketing and sponsorships.

One immediate impact is lengthening careers, which has already shown to be the case in soccer and could transfer over to other sports.

Granato retired in 2005, but still felt as if she had “more to give” and finds it incredible that players in the current generation won’t have to hang up their skates as early as she did.

With a deal in place, the U.S. opens its world championship gold-medal defense Friday against Canada. Players had threatened to boycott the tournament over the wage dispute, which Pepper Hamilton labor and employment lawyer Matt DelDuca considers the most interesting aspect of the case.

“It shows other groups a path for trying to negotiate and use their leverage to negotiate a deal that’s favorable to them or that they’re satisfied with,” DelDuca said.

“It does really require solidarity though. You really need to have everybody together to make it work, and in this case they really seemed to have had that. In all those ways it is a benchmark for other groups to use.”

USA Hockey said all along its priority was to get a deal done, but did reach out to replacement players. Very few accepted the invite as star forward Hilary Knight and other top players espoused the solidarity of the entire player pool.

“There wasn’t any poaching of other players,” said North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, another senator who wrote to Ogrean.

“They were all united in this common goal, and I think that competitive, athletic spirit really showed up in terms of fighting for your rights. I thought they deserved the support of people here who say that they support equality in pay and equality in opportunity.”

Susan Kahn, a University of Buffalo professor of women’s history, said the Senate’s involvement made it clear this wasn’t just a financial dispute, but “a political issue around equal treatment and fighting gender bias in amateur sport.”

Within hockey, the agreement allows for future expansion in the professional and amateur ranks.

“It sets the stage for a major growth in the game,” Granato said. “I think there’s a potential here to take this team and have it be followed similar to other women’s sports and where they’re at right now.”

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Russian pairs skater slices leg in worlds practice, needs 10 stitches (video)

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Russian pairs skater Yevgenia Tarasova needed 10 stitches after her partner’s skate sliced her leg in practice Wednesday.

Hours later, Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov skated to third place in the short program at the world championships in Helsinki.

“We were thinking about withdrawing because after this incident we left the ice immediately, there was a long break off the ice, we didn’t know how I would feel in skates,” Tarasova said afterward. “But when I was asked, ‘Will you skate?’ I said, ‘I will!’ And I wasn’t thinking about the pain during our performance.”

Morozov called her “a hero.”

In Thursday’s free skate, Tarasova and Morozov will be largely tasked with keeping Russia from going three straight years without world championships pairs medalists, which would be the longest drought for Soviet and Russian pairs since their dominance began in the 1960s.

Tarasova and Morozov trail Chinese leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong by 1.86 points and second-place Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany by .47.

Another Russian pair is in fifth place going into the free skate (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Full worlds short program results are here.

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