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Bob Costas, Mike Tirico both share Olympic bond with Jim McKay

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To this day, Bob Costas remembers a phone call he received the night before the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Longtime ABC sports anchor Jim McKay was on the other end, passing the torch to Costas, who was embarking on his first Olympics as primetime host at age 40.

“We had been acquainted, but not that well acquainted,” Costas reflected last week. “I don’t remember everything he said, but one thing he said was, ‘Just remember this, you’re the right guy.’ I didn’t know if he was 100 percent right, but I hoped he was right, and I’m glad that he felt that way.”

Costas announced last week the end of his Olympic hosting career, ending with a U.S.-TV record 11 Games in the primetime chair. McKay, who died in 2008 at age 86, previously held the record of eight and even came back to work with Costas at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games (which Costas then likened to Joe DiMaggio coming back to play with the New York Yankees in the 1960s).

Costas will be succeeded by Mike Tirico in PyeongChang next year.

Tirico has his own one-on-one McKay story, from flying home after covering the British Open together in the late 1990s or early 2000s for ABC.

“Lucky for me, the nerd TV sportscasting lover, I was seated next to Jim across the Atlantic to come back to the U.S., and I said, I hope he doesn’t take a nap,” Tirico said last week. “He napped, and then he woke up, and we spoke for about three hours about the Olympics.”

Tirico recalls few details, but the tragedy at the Munich Olympics and the Miracle on Ice were both discussed.

“To hear Munich from Jim McKay’s mind and beyond the book that he had written and how he had discussed it along the years,” Tirico said, adding separately, “I remember asking Jim about [the Miracle on Ice] and trying to convey the excitement that people at home had of watching this game and all of its implications, sport and otherwise, while knowing the result and his ability to do that. He gave some detail about knowing the result yet trying to play it straight and to share the joy that he was sure was going on behind him with everyone after the game ended.”

Costas has said McKay was kind to him from the get-go. In the 1992 Olympic preview issue of Sports Illustrated, McKay said this in a Costas profile:

“NBC’s Olympic coverage is in very good hands. Anchoring the Olympics sometimes requires you to change course quickly, and Bob does that very well. You have to know so many different sports, and he knows them. You have to have a nice sense of story, which he has. You have to be a good interviewer, and having been the subject of a two-parter on Later [Costas’ late-night talk show], I can tell you he’s an excellent interviewer. Audiences are so much more sophisticated than when I started doing the Olympics, and Bob will bring that sophistication to the viewer. I’m sorry I won’t be in Barcelona to do the Olympics, but if I have to watch anybody, I’m glad it’s Bob Costas.”

Costas worked 12-hour shifts during the Barcelona Games and wasn’t able to see one minute of the Dream Team in person, he said last week. But he did find time to call McKay to thank him for that quote, according to the Washington Post.

“He said he felt we were doing a fine job, and of course that meant so much coming from him,” Costas said in August 1992, according to the newspaper. “And for him to say what he did about me in the magazine even before I did the Games also meant a great deal to me.”

The advice Costas gave Tirico last week echoed what he reportedly said of McKay back in 1992 — “Even though you have the highest amount of respect and admiration for someone else, you don’t try to copy them, because inevitably you become just some sort of pale imitation of them.”

“To have that connection with those two men and to know that I’ve worked with both of them, it gives me an understanding of how important the job is,” Tirico said, “but also the type of people that they are and what is needed and necessary to do the job the right way.”

VIDEO: Montage of Bob Costas’ Olympic highlights

President of National Olympic Committees association leaves FIFA post amid bribery claims

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GENEVA (AP) — FIFA Council member Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait is resigning from his soccer roles under pressure from allegations in an American federal court that he bribed Asian officials.

Sheikh Ahmad said Sunday in a statement he will withdraw from a May 8 election in Bahrain for the FIFA seat representing Asia, which he currently holds.

“I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and FIFA Congresses,” said the Kuwaiti royal, who denies any wrongdoing.

“Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interests of FIFA and the AFC, for me to withdraw my candidacy for the FIFA Council and resign from my current football positions,” he said.

The long-time Olympic Council of Asia president contacted the ethics panels of FIFA and the IOC after the allegations were made in Brooklyn federal courthouse on Thursday.

FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including from Kuwaiti officials. The cash was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes, Lai said in court.

Sheikh Ahmad resigned his candidacy ahead of a FIFA panel deciding whether to remove him on ethical grounds.

The FIFA Review Committee, which rules on the integrity of people seeking senior FIFA positions, has been studying the sheikh’s candidacy since the allegations emerged, The Associated Press reported on Saturday.

The FIFA ethics committee is making a separate assessment of whether to provisionally suspend the sheikh, a long-time leader of Kuwait’s soccer federation who was elected to FIFA’s ruling committee in 2015.

Resigning from his soccer positions does not necessarily put Sheikh Ahmad out of reach of FIFA ethics prosecutors and judges if any action was taken.

In 2012, former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar was banned for life by the ethics committee days after he resigned.

Bin Hammam was also clearly identified in Lai’s court hearing for having paid Lai a total of $100,000 in bribes to support the Qatari’s failed challenge to FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter in 2011. Bin Hammam was removed from that election contest in a Caribbean bribery case.

Sheikh Ahmad has also contacted the IOC’s ethics commission about the allegations against him, the IOC said on Saturday.

As president since 2012 of the global group of national Olympic bodies, known as ANOC, Sheikh Ahmad’s support has often been cited as key to winning Olympic election and hosting awards. The sheikh was widely credited for helping Thomas Bach win the IOC presidency in 2013.

Although Sheikh Ahmad was not named in Department of Justice and court documents last week, he has become one of the most significant casualties of the sprawling U.S. federal investigation of bribery and corruption in international soccer revealed two years ago.

The sheikh could be identified in a transcript of Lai’s court hearing which said “co-conspirator #2 was also the president of Olympic Council of Asia.” Sheikh Ahmad has been OCA president since 1991.

Co-conspirator #3 was described as having a “high-ranking” role at OCA, and also linked to the Kuwait soccer federation.

According to the published transcript, Lai claimed he “received at least $770,000 in wire transfers from accounts associated with Co-Conspirator #3 and the OCA between November of 2009 and about the fall of 2014.”

“I understood that the source of this money was ultimately Co-Conspirator #2 and on some occasion Co-Conspirator #3 told me to send him an email saying that I need funds so he could show the email to Co-Conspirator #2,” Lai said in court.

Lai admitted that he agreed to help recruit other Asian officials that voted in FIFA elections who would help Kuwait’s interests.

The Guam soccer federation leader since 2001, Lai pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. He agreed to pay more than $1.1 million in forfeiture and penalties, and will be sentenced at a later date.

The American federal investigation of corruption linked to FIFA has indicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 40 people and marketing agencies linked to soccer in the Americas since 2015.

Lai’s case marked the first major step into Asia, and suggests other soccer officials potentially recruited by the Kuwait faction could be targeted.

The Asian election for FIFA seats on May 8 in Manama, Bahrain, is the same day as a FIFA Council meeting which the sheik will not attend. The FIFA congress is held in the city three days later.

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AVP set to start season without Kerri Walsh Jennings

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BOSTON (AP) — The AVP said it has reached an agreement with “practically all the players” on a contract that will carry it through the 2020 Summer Games, even as a holdout by five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings threatens to deprive the domestic beach volleyball tour of its biggest name.

“I respect her decisions, and I wish her well,” AVP owner Donald Sun told The Associated Press. “But in the meantime, we’re just geared up. All the athletes that are signed are fired up to play Huntington Beach next weekend.”

Walsh Jennings did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment. But she told the AP in March that negotiations were “a work in progress” and that the two sides were “pretty far off.”

She also boycotted an AVP event last summer over experimental rules that she said weren’t discussed with the athletes.

Each of the other seven Americans who went to the 2016 Olympics has signed, Sun said, except for Brooke Sweat. Sweat, who failed to make it out of group play in Rio de Janeiro with teammate Lauren Fendrick, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Sun told the AP that the tour has “a four-year agreement with practically all the players, which is awesome.” The deal includes a minimum of eight events per season and prize money minimums that will increase by at least 50 percent over the term of the deal, he said.

“It was a few months of process, discussing with individual players, groups of players, discussing what concerns they had,” Sun said. “We all made it. I think we’re all pretty happy.”

Well, not everyone.

The rift with Walsh, a three-time gold medalist who won bronze with April Ross in 2016, was exposed when the tour released its 2017 schedule in March and her name wasn’t among the list of those expected to participate.

Sun told the AP this week that the tour is prepared to proceed without Walsh Jennings, who has missed events previous summers because of injury, childbirth or to play on the international tour that determines Olympic qualification.

“It didn’t seem to affect attendance, TV ratings, or viewership on line,” Sun said. “The AVP is not just one person or one athlete; if it was, it would be a very challenging business model.”

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