Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy will represent Ireland at 2016 Olympics

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Rory McIlroy decided he will represent Ireland rather than Great Britain should he play at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the first Olympic golf tournament in 112 years.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” McIlroy reportedly said ahead of this week’s Irish Open on Wednesday. “I don’t know whether it’s been because the World Cup has been in Brazil and I’ve been thinking a couple of years down the line.

“Thinking about all the times that I played as an amateur for Ireland and as a boy and everything, I think for me it’s the right decision to play for Ireland in 2016.”

McIlroy is from Northern Ireland, which does not field a separate Olympic Team. Northern Ireland athletes have been known to compete for Great Britain, such as Beijing track cycling silver medalist Wendy Houvenaghel, or for Ireland, as 2010 U.S. Open winning golfer Graeme McDowell is expected to do.

McIlroy’s long-awaited decision was a difficult one, as he has shied away from talking about the subject over the last couple years. International Golf Federation officials said in May they wanted the nationality policy in place by July, two years before the Olympic golf fields are determined.

McIlroy, 25, is a two-time major champion and ranked No. 6 in the world. His path to qualifying for the Olympics is easier as an Irish golfer than a British one.

The Olympic golf field will invite everybody from the world top 15, with no more than four players per nation, from the world rankings in July 2016. 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.

McIlroy is currently the No. 1 golfer from Ireland or Great Britain.

The next highest ranked Irish (or Northern Ireland) golfers are No. 22 McDowell, No. 75 Shane Lowry, No. 199 Michael Hoey and No. 233 Padraig Harrington.

The next highest ranked British golfers are No. 10 Justin Rose, No. 20 Luke Donald, No. 25 Ian Poulter and No. 30 Lee Westwood.

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Kjetil Jansrud wins first ski race on 2018 Olympic course

Kjetil Jansrud
AP
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JEONGSEON, South Korea (AP) — Kjetil Jansrud confirmed he’s the skier to beat on the downhill course for the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, winning the test event by a comfortable margin Saturday.

The first downhill course in South Korea also won mostly praise from skiers and the International Ski Federation.

“If you want to be the best you have to ski anything,” Jansrud said. “This is more than an acceptable Olympic downhill. The way it’s running now it’s almost a little too fast because the jumps are so big. But that makes it exciting.”

Giving Norway its 17th World Cup win of the season, Jansrud was nearly flawless and clocked 1 minute, 41.38 seconds for a 0.20-second advantage over Dominik Paris of Italy.

Steven Nyman of the United States finished third, 0.41 behind, in perfect conditions with clear skies, cool temperatures and hard snow.

It was Jansrud’s third win of the season and first in downhill after taking the season-long title in the discipline last season.

“This is probably the first run I’ve skied this season without mistakes,” he said.

Jansrud also led both training courses on the newly developed Jeongseon course.

Paris and Nyman each posted their first podium results of the season.

“In the summer I was thinking this is a highlight of the season to come here and to really learn about the culture and learn about what we’re going to experience during the Olympics,” Nyman said.

“I want to feel comfortable and come here with the expectations and I want to do well, too, because I know the Olympics are going to be here in two years,” Nyman added. “I did well and I’m happy. I think the course really suits my skills.”

A super-G is scheduled for Sunday in the first of 28 test events for the next Winter Games.

“Today we put Korea on the map of the international sports world,” Pyeongchang organizing committee chief Cho Yang-ho said. “This is just the beginning.”

While the course is not the most challenging of tests for World Cup racers, it features four big jumps, sweeping turns and is designed for small margins.

“It’s a downhill that is really made for the Olympics,” International Ski Federation president Gian-Franco Kasper said. “It’s not Kitzbuehel or Wengen — that we don’t need for the Olympics.”

It was only the third World Cup downhill held in Asia, and the first in South Korea.

Todd Brooker of Canada won in Furano, Japan, in 1985 and Peter Mueller of Switzerland won at Furano in 1987.

More than 1,000 fans attended the race, which was preceded by an opening ceremony featuring traditional dancers with skis on their backs.

Most of the spectators had to hike 500 meters (yards) up a steep hill to the finish area, since a planned lift for fans hasn’t been installed yet.

There were also cheerleaders to keep the spectators entertained, and many skiers bowed to the crowd after their runs according to the local custom.

Peter Fill of Italy finished fourth and Beat Feuz of Switzerland was fifth.

Jansrud is fourth in the overall standings, which are led by Marcel Hirscher of Austria.

Aksel Lund Svindal, Jansrud’s teammate who will miss the rest of the season following a crash in Kitzbuehel (video here), Austria, still leads the downhill standings by 71 points ahead of Fill. Jansrud is third, 109 points behind.

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Zika won’t stop Olympics; only war has done that, historian says

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 07:  A general view of the Christ The Redeemer statue atop the Corcovado on July 7, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The world’s best known Olympic historian said Friday it will take something more destructive than the Zika virus to cancel the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“Historically, the only times the Games have been cancelled is in war — World War I and World War II,” David Wallechinsky told the Associated Press. “Other than that, nothing has done it.”

Brazil is the epicenter of the rapidly spreading mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is also generating rumors that South America’s first Games may be called off instead of opening on Aug. 5.

Researchers have linked the virus to a birth defect that can leave newborns with long-lasting health and developmental problems.

Brazil’s Sports Minister George Hilton issued a statement saying that canceling the Games “is not in discussion,” and Rio organizers and the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly shot down the notion it’s even being considered.

Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, said the only similar case was the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China, when three athletes from west Africa were banned from competing over fears they had contracted the Ebola virus and the subsequent possibility of it spreading.

“That’s the only time that disease has ever entered into it,” he said.

The 1916 Olympics were called off during World War I, and four Games — two summer and two winter — were cancelled between 1940 and 1944. Two Summer Olympics were hit by partial boycotts in 1980 and 1984.

Wallechinsky said it was too late to move the games from Rio.

“A lot of money has been put into this; the athletes, the infrastructure,” he said. “It’s pretty late to move the Games so I think they’ll go forward.”

Brazil is spending at least $10 billion to prepare for the Games. Add to that, billions spent on television rights, and maybe just as much on sponsorship, advertising across 28 sport federations, and the more than 200 nations that participate.

“There would be a lot of lawsuits,” Wallechinsky said. “It would be a dream event for lawyers.”

The Zika virus adds to other problems with South America’s first Olympics, including water pollution in Rio’s venues for sailing, rowing, canoeing, triathlon and open-water swimming , and deep cuts of almost 30 percent to keep a $2 billion operating budget in balance.

Only about half of the domestic tickets for the game have been sold, and organizers fear the Zika outbreak could scare off foreign tourists — particularly Americans.

Janice Forsyth, an Olympic historian at Western University in Canada, predicted the Zika threat “is going to blow over.”

“But if it really catches on, then we’ve got a global concern that’s not just about the Olympics,” she said. “But it would have to be really extraordinary for the game to be cancelled. Even with threats of terrorism, the games still don’t get cancelled.”

Forsyth said the virus might even have beneficial impact on Rio’s preparations, distracting from other problems.

“In a sad way, maybe it’s a positive diversion from what is actually going on with the games,” she said. “A twist for games that seem to be constantly struggling.”

VIDEO: Rio Olympic venues timelapse