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Six months out: PyeongChang Olympic storylines

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PyeongChang has been waiting to host the Olympics for more than 15 years. In six months, the cauldron will be lit at the South Korean ski resort in the Taebaek Mountains.

It took South Korea three tries to win the IOC vote to host its first Winter Olympics, after holding the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.

The first PyeongChang Winter Olympic bid was launched around the year 2000 for a 2003 IOC vote to determine the 2010 Olympic host city. Vancouver beat PyeongChang by three votes. For 2014, Sochi topped PyeongChang by four votes.

Finally, the South Koreans won a landslide in 2011 for the 2018 Winter Games, securing 63 of the 95 votes to trounce Munich and Annecy, France.

The PyeongChang region is home to about 50,000 people, making the host less like recent cities such as Torino and Vancouver and closer to the villages of previous eras, like Albertville and Lillehammer. Nearby Gangneung, which will host many arena events, has a population of more than 200,000.

Here’s what you need to know as the Olympics begin an Asian swing (Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 follow PyeongChang):

New Events: The Winter Olympics will have more than 100 medal events for the first time, increasing from 98 in 2014 to 102. New to the program are men’s and women’s big air snowboarding and mass start speed skating, an Alpine skiing team event and mixed doubles curling.

The big air medalists could very well be established stars in slopestyle snowboarding, which made its debut in Sochi. Likewise, mass-start speed skating favors established skaters in middle-to-long distances.

The Alpine skiing team event, where racers from each country go head-to-head in parallel slaloms, is already contested at the world championships.

Russian Debate: There have been calls to ban Russia entirely from international competition after a December report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency said there was evidence that Russian doping samples in Sochi were tampered with. A number of implicated Russian athletes were suspended in December, including Sochi medalists, but so far there has been no blanket ban and no medals stripped. Expect an IOC decision on Russian participation in the fall.

If Russia sends no team to PyeongChang, or a depleted team such as its Rio track and field contingent of one, it could drastically alter the results. Russia topped the medal standings in Sochi and finished third at the last Winter Olympics in East Asia at Nagano 1998.

A Different Hockey Look: The NHL sent its stars to five straight Olympics from 1998 through 2014, but it will not this time. This will make for a U.S. team more resembling a Miracle on Ice roster, but with a mix of collegians, European-league players, minor-leaguers and, potentially, retired NHL players.

Russia will be loaded since its top domestic league, the KHL (second only to the NHL in talent), will take a break in its season. Plus, Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has said he plans to defy the NHL and play in the Olympics anyway, punishment notwithstanding.

PyeongChangnot Pyongyang: As one Maasai tribe member learned, PyeongChang should not be confused with the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. In fact, the “c” in “PyeongChang” was upped to help avoid confusion. The DMZ, or North Korean border, is actually in the province in which PyeongChang County is located. PyeongChang is about 60 miles south of the border and 80 miles east of Seoul.

North Korea boycotted the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It might not qualify any athletes for PyeongChang.

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PYEONGCHANG 2018
Storylines | 18 US Stars | 18 Global Stars | Strange Olympic Hopefuls | Key events
Oldest US Olympian? | Youngest US Olympian? | Venue Photo Gallery | North Korea

Atlanta hosts 2020 Olympic marathon trials; full history of trials cities

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Atlanta will host the U.S. Olympic marathon trials for the first time on Feb. 29, 2020, joining a long list of cities to stage the event.

The top three male and female finishers will make the Tokyo team. The early favorites include Rio bronze medalist Galen Rupp, Boston Marathon winner Des Linden and world championships bronze medalist Amy Cragg. New York City Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan cast doubt on whether she would go for a fifth Olympics in 2020.

The U.S. Olympic marathon team wasn’t chosen by race results until 1908.

Arthur Blake was the first U.S. Olympic marathoner at the first modern Games in Athens in 1896. How was he chosen for the team? From Bill Mallon of the OlyMADMen and USA Track and Field in 2004:

“At an indoor meet in February in Boston, Art Blake won his [1,000-yard] distance race easily and joked, ‘Oh, I am too good for Boston. I ought to go over and run the marathon in Athens.’ The remark was overheard by Arthur Burnham, a wealthy stockbroker who agreed to partly finance the trip for a group of Boston Athletic Association athletes.”

Blake dropped out of the 1896 Olympic marathon after 14 miles. Greek Spyridon Louis famously won.

Various men competed for the U.S. in the Olympic marathon in 1900, 1904 and 1906 before marathons began being used as qualifiers. The trials host list from Mallon and USATF:

1908: Boston, St. Louis
1912: Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York (modified to about 12 miles)
1920: Boston, Brooklyn, Detroit, New York
1924: Boston
1928: Boston, Chesapeake Bay, New York to Long Beach AAU Championship race
1932: Boston, Baltimore
1936: Boston, AAU Championship in Washington
1940: Boston, Yonkers (N.Y.)
1948: Boston, Yonkers
1952: Boston, Yonkers
1956: Boston, Yonkers
1960: Boston, Yonkers
1964: Culver City (Calif.), Yonkers
1968: Alamosa (Colo.)
1972: Eugene (Ore.)
1976: Eugene
1980: Niagara Falls (N.Y.)
1984: Buffalo (N.Y.), Olympia (Wash.)
1988: Jersey City (N.J.), Pittsburgh
1992: Columbus (Ohio), Houston
1996: Charlotte, Columbia (S.C.)
2000: Pittsburgh, Columbia
2004: Birmingham, St. Louis
2008: New York, Boston
2012: Houston
2016: Los Angeles
2020: Atlanta

The Olympic women’s marathon debuted in 1984. Separate host cities were used for men’s and women’s trials from 1984 through 2008.

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Kayla Harrison sets MMA debut fight after post-Olympic depression

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Double Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison will make her MMA debut on June 21 at a Professional Fighters League (PFL) event in Chicago.

The fight, against an opponent Harrison chose not to publicly reveal Monday, will be 20 months since Harrison first announced she joined the promotion and would maybe fight.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to fight,” Harrison, 27, said on the MMA Hour on Monday. “First, it was more me. I just wanted to get my feet wet, get in there, see if I liked getting punched in the face. Now that I’ve established that I do, we’ve sort of been waiting for the PFL to get their stuff together. So, their stuff is together.”

Harrison said her first two planned opponents for the 145-pound fight (27 pounds fewer than her Olympic weight) pulled out for reasons unknown to her.

“I don’t care who I fight,” said Harrison, the only U.S. Olympic judo champion, who hopes to fight three times this year. “It’s tough because I’m 0-0 in MMA. So it’s not like I’m going to fight someone who’s 10-0. But I think it’s difficult when you have two Olympic gold medals behind your name. Like people are kind of like, are you really an amateur?”

Harrison also said Monday that she was “very depressed” after the Rio Olympics, knowing she was done with judo, not setting a morning alarm or working out and “laying in bed all day” watching TV.

“I was a little bit lost in my life,” she said. “That high is so high that when you come off of that, it’s like your low. You don’t know what to do with yourself.”

Her coaches, Jimmy Pedro and Jim Pedro Sr., were against Harrison filling that void with MMA.

“Even if I was a millionaire or independently wealthy and I had no worries and I didn’t have to work, I would still be doing what I’m doing,” Harrison said. “I think at the beginning I was kind of like skittish about it. It’s tough, too, because everyone is always like, well look at Ronda [Rousey], you always have the comparisons. It’s so different from the judo world, but I’m kind of loving it. I’m kind of starting to become my own person in MMA, if that makes sense. In judo, I always had certain expectations. Everyone is sort of like, this is Kayla. This is the golden girl. This is the poster child, and so I always felt like that’s who I had to be. But in MMA, no one really knows me. Nobody cares about judo.”

In October 2016, Harrison announced she joined MMA promotion World Series of Fighting (now PFL) as a commentator, brand ambassador and potentially a fighter. But she wasn’t 100 percent committed to competing at the time.

“All signs point to a yes, but everything has to work out,” Harrison said then.

Then in June 2017, Harrison said she would fight starting in 2018. The debut was pushed from February to June.

Harrison had been asked time and again for years about her interest in pursuing MMA. That’s in part because of former training partner Rousey’s overwhelming success after she switched from Olympic judo to MMA.

Harrison took boxing and jiu-jitsu lessons as far back as 2013, which should boost her MMA potential. Since Rio, she’s trained in New Jersey, Las Vegas and now Florida.

Harrison previously said that to compete in MMA she will require a weight cut from her Olympic judo class of 172 pounds.

Rousey competed at 135 pounds, the heaviest women’s weight class in UFC at the time. UFC added a 145-pound division last year. Harrison said in 2016 that if she fought, it would probably be at 145 pounds.

PFL, which had no women’s weight class when Harrison signed up, planned to develop a women’s program as Harrison readied for a potential debut. Harrison said Sunday that PFL’s plan is to have a full women’s division in 2019.

“I want to be the best, undisputed,” Harrison said. “I want everyone to say, oh, who’s the best MMA fighter in the world? Oh, that’s Kayla Harrison.”

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