AP

Report shows level of chaos in Kenya Olympic team

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — It’s truly astonishing that Kenya had its most successful Olympics ever at this year’s Rio de Janeiro Games after a government-ordered report revealed Tuesday the team’s chaotic preparation and management.

Among the many revelations in the 90-page report seen by The Associated Press: There was a brawl among members of the women’s rugby team over how their prize money should be split, the race walking team wasn’t given any track shoes, many of the athletes received uniforms that didn’t fit, while some didn’t get any and had to provide their own. And the medical officials tending to Kenya’s top sports stars in case of serious injury had to travel between the spread-out Rio venues on shuttle buses meant for journalists and which only went every 30 minutes — and sometimes took over an hour to get to an arena.

Also, members of the team began their final preparations for the world’s biggest sports event at a “High Performance Training Center” back home owned by the head of the Olympic committee, and which had a gym only big enough for three people to be in it at any one time, the report said.

But along with the incompetence and mismanagement on a grand scale — stunning for a country that outperformed the United States and Jamaica at last year’s athletics world championships — the report committee raised serious concerns over the possible misappropriation by senior sports officials of millions of dollars in money and athlete apparel provided by team sponsor Nike.

Those race walkers may not have got their Nike shoes because officials stole them.

The investigation was ordered at the end of August by the sports minister after allegations of corruption being rife at the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK), which was disbanded after Rio amid allegations that some of the $5.7 million Olympic budget was stolen.

Since the committee began its investigation, Kenya’s Olympic team leader has been charged with stealing $256,000 and three other senior Olympic committee officials – two vice presidents and the secretary general – face charges of stealing boxes of Nike apparel that were meant for athletes. One VP was arrested hiding under his bed in an apartment filled with brand new Nike equipment.

Because those cases are in court, the report couldn’t refer to them. But there was plenty more investigators could reveal.

They demanded that NOCK account for how it has used the $714,000 it’s been given every year by Nike since 2013, and where the $520,000 worth of apparel it received every year has gone. There don’t appear to be records.

Also, some of Kenya’s top athletes, including track and field world champions Asbel Kiprop, Julius Yego and Ezekiel Kemboi, may have been cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars in Nike bonuses due to them for winning medals at major competitions, bonuses they have not received from Kenyan officials, according to the report.

Despite the level of ineptitude, and allegedly worse, from those officials, Kenya somehow still won six golds and 13 medals in total in Rio. The track and field team was second on the table behind the U.S.

“The (investigating) committee would like to express concern over serious management inadequacies, poor planning and financial impropriety that affected what would have been an even greater performance,” the report said. “The committee would like to thank our sportsmen and women, their coaches and the honest officials for pulling off Kenya’s best ever performance at the Olympics despite the glaring management inadequacies that they had to endure.”

All of Kenya’s athletes, even their best, appeared to have been affected.

Yego, the javelin world champion who won silver at the Rio Olympics, was one example.

Yego was based at the so-called High Performance Training Center with the tiny gym in the buildup to the Olympics. He paid to join a nearby private gym that had better equipment. Yego was put in the high altitude town of Eldoret, where heavy rain at that time of year can wash away roads and he was often unable to travel to the stadium to train. Even when he got to the stadium, Yego had to deal with the fact that the javelin runway was about seven meters shorter than the standard length. When Yego got to the airport to travel to Rio, there was no plane ticket for him.

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Some other revelations in the report:

— The men’s rugby sevens team went on a three-week high-altitude training camp, but returned to the capital Nairobi for a week and then traveled to Rio, which is at sea level, two weeks before their competition, nullifying any benefit from the high-altitude training.

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Marathon runner Wesley Korir left a pre-Olympics training camp without permission to travel to Canada and run in the Ottawa Marathon as a pace-setter for his wife on May 29. The exertion led to him dropping out halfway through the Olympic marathon.

Korir said the Ottawa Marathon was before the training camp, and he was given permission to leave, according to the Daily Nation in Kenya. His wife, Canadian Tarah McKay, ran 2:35:46 with Korir pacing her, six minutes shy of Canada’s Olympic qualifying standard time.

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Following the women’s rugby team’s brawl in an airport on the way home from Rio, team officials lied and said the players were fighting “over a man.” Players later admitted it was over prize money promised them by the Kenyan government.

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The sports ministry paid nearly $900,000 more than it should have for 330 plane tickets to Rio, mostly for officials, after a company was hired just to do the bookings.

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With USOC in turmoil, athletes testify about sex-abuse cases

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The question sex-abuse victim Craig Maurizi would like to ask U.S. Olympic leaders is simple and searing: “How can you sleep at night?”

Every bit as perplexing: How to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

The figure skater was one of four Olympic-sports athletes who testified to a Senate subcommittee Wednesday about abuse they suffered while training and competing under the purview of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the national sports organizations that controlled their Olympic dreams.

Their testimony provided yet another reminder of the way leaders at the USOC, US Figure Skating, USA Gymnastics and other federations failed to protect them over a span of decades.

At a USOC board meeting held later in the day, acting CEO Susanne Lyons outlined a six-part “Athlete Action Safety Plan” the federation is developing as a response to the abuse cases.

But the abuse victims, including Olympic gymnasts Jordyn Wieber and Jamie Dantzscher and speed skater Bridie Farrell, cast doubt on the USOC’s motivation to solve this problem.

Wieber, who won a gold medal in 2012, is among the roughly 200 athletes who have detailed abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar, who is in prison for molesting athletes on the U.S. gymnastics team and at Michigan State.

“After many people came forward and said Larry Nassar had abused them, I didn’t get a phone call from anyone at the USOC asking anything until after I gave a victim-impact statement,” Wieber said, recalling the emotional week in a Michigan courtroom that spotlighted the depth of the abuse scandal. “If you’re not currently a competing athlete, you’re not really relevant. They don’t really care anymore.”

The USOC is in search of a new CEO — someone to replace Scott Blackmun, who resigned with health problems in February.

When Blackmun resigned, the USOC announced a number of initiatives that mirrored the six-part plan Lyons described Wednesday.

It includes more funding for abuse victims and a review of the governance structure of the USOC and the 47 national governing bodies, whose sports make up the Olympics.

The USOC has also doubled its funding — to $3.1 million a year — for the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which opened last year.

Two months ago, the center responded to Maurizi’s call about a four-decade-old abuse case that US Figure Skating swept under the rug when he first reported it 20 years ago.

“When I think back to my particular situation, there’s just no way that dozens, if not hundreds, of people around the ice rink didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “Five-hour meetings in the office with a 15-year-old boy? That’s ridiculous. So, my question would be: How do you live with yourself? … How can you sleep at night?”

Leaders at the USOC, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State could be forced to answer those questions May 22, which is the date the Senate subcommittee has scheduled its next hearing on the sex-abuse cases.

It’s doubtful the USOC will have a new CEO by then, though it’s becoming clear it needs a well-articulated path forward through a devastating 12 months for Olympic athletes and the organizations that are supposed to protect them.

Max Siegel, the CEO of USA Track and Field, said commercial partners are hesitant to strike deals under the current climate.

“It’s an indication to me that it’s impacting the commercial viability of the business, and it’s a reflection of the societal challenges we face,” he said.

He said he was not opposed to a rethinking of the relationship between the USOC and NGBs, which have long valued their independence as the training grounds for Olympic athletes. The USOC has often positioned itself as an umbrella organization — a mere bystander when it comes to day-to-day operation of the sports.

“It’s not always clear what role we should be playing,” said Lyons, who attended the hearings in Washington. “Sometimes, athletes fall between the cracks a bit when they have issues with NGBs.”

Farrell served up the only concrete proposal in the more than two hours of testimony to the Senate subcommittee.

She would like to see more athletes — closer to 50 percent — placed on NGB boards. She’d also like to see retired athletes given a chance to serve.

The USOC appears amenable to that suggestion; one of its reforms is to see that athletes have a louder voice in decisions that impact them.

When asked what she would say to the leaders, Farrell said she would make one simple request:

“Take our names out, take our pictures out, and put their kids’ names and pictures in there, and see if it makes a difference,” she said. “Let them know there are thousands of people looking at them, as they should be, for missing the opportunity.”

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U.S. Ski & Snowboard names new Alpine director

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Jesse Hunt is returning to U.S. Ski & Snowboard as the Alpine team director, replacing Patrick Riml, who left the post last month after seven years in the position.

Hunt first joined U.S. Ski & Snowboard as a coach in 1993 and became Alpine director after the 2002 Olympics, leaving the post in 2009 for Park City Ski & Snowboard in Utah. He served as program director and general manager in Park City over the last nine years.

“We have an exciting challenge ahead of us to give our Alpine ski racers the chance to be best in the world, but that is precisely the challenge that motivates me the most, helping athletes achieve everything that they are capable of,” Hunt said in a press release. “We have a strong mix of highly experienced athletes and those coming up through the ranks in both the men’s and women’s teams, in speed and tech, and the chance to help all of them achieve greatness is one I could not turn down.”

No reason was given when Riml stepped down last month.

Under Riml, the U.S. Alpine skiing team earned eight medals between the 2014 and 2018 Olympics, led by Lindsey VonnMikaela ShiffrinJulia MancusoBode Miller and Ted Ligety.

In PyeongChang, the U.S. earned zero men’s Alpine medals at the Olympics for the first time since 1998. Riml called the Olympic men’s performance “disappointing” and said “we definitely have to rebuild” before the 2022 Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

The U.S. had one men’s World Cup podium finish this past season and two the season before, its least successful stretch since 1999-00.

Mancuso retired before PyeongChang, and Vonn is expected to retire after next season, large boots to fill on the women’s speed side.

U.S. Ski & Snowboard has a goal of becoming the world’s best team by 2026 through “Project 26,” a change in national team selection and development programming with a focus on the 2022 and 2026 Olympics.

“Some of our Alpine team’s greatest successes have been propelled by the work that Jesse accomplished during his first tenure with us,” U.S. Ski & Snowboard Chief of Sport Luke Bodensteiner said in the press release. “He’s the right person to lead our team right now, as we continue to maximize the capability of our elite team, while also activating the roadmap in our development efforts to build our team for the future.

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