Istanbul’s chances of hosting 2020 Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee will make the first of three major votes at its session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Saturday.

Nearly 100 IOC members will choose the host city of the 2020 Olympics — Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo — via secret ballot beginning at 2:45 p.m. Eastern Time with the winner scheduled to be announced between 4 and 4:30. For more on what happens Saturday, click here.

OlympicTalk will look at the chances each city has of winning the vote. Here is a rundown of Istanbul:

Turkey’s largest city (population 13 million) was the trendy pick to host the 2020 Olympics by reporters in 2013 prediction columns nine months ago. The bridge between Europe and Asia wasn’t as steady as Madrid or Tokyo, but its economy and sporting desire were growing together, hosting major events in golf, soccer, swimming and tennis. Its slogan has long been “Bridge Together,” with the phrase “History in the Making” becoming its theme in the final days.

The last few months have not been kind to Istanbul’s prospects. More than two million people participated in anti-government protests in Turkey in June. Five were killed and more than 8,000 injured, according to reports. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used by authorities. Thousands gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square and other areas calling for the resignation of the prime minister, who will reportedly fly to Buenos Aires to help pitch Istanbul 2020.

Then one of the largest doping scandals in sports history enveloped the country, especially its track and field program that includes Olympic medalists. In August, Turkey’s track and field federation suspended 31 athletes for two years. Granted, one could argue that’s a positive for Turkey, that the nation is catching cheats with seven years to clean it up altogether.

“The fact that so many doping tests are being conducted and athletes are being exposed is having a positive impact on the Olympic world. It is a show of Turkey’s determination to stamp out doping and its determination to clean up sports,” Istanbul 2020 bid leader Hasan Arat said, according to The Associated Press. “We are determined to go into the 2020 Games with clean athletes. This is a zero-tolerance (for doping) step and Turkey will not make any concessions on the issue.”

The current civil war in Syria, which borders Turkey to the south, is not helping, either.

Istanbul 2020’s promotional video

So, how does Istanbul stack up? The AP described its status as “slipping.”

Robert Livingstone is the producer of GamesBids.com, a website dedicated to handicapping Olympic bid cities since 1998. He said that, despite Istanbul’s noted question marks, much can change in seven years between the vote and the actual staging of the Games.

The IOC has never awarded the Games to a predominantly Muslim country, which could work in Istanbul’s favor given the 2016 Olympics were awarded to Rio de Janeiro, marking the first Games held in South America.

“The Olympic movement can open the door to a new culture,” Arat, a former pro basketball player, told Agence France-Press. “It can bridge Olympic culture to new culture. A new bridge to historical impact, with 8,000 years of history the Olympic movement is not just giving the Olympic Games to a city — they (the IOC) would be giving hope, trust and peace to a region.”

Istanbul would globalize the Olympics more than Madrid or Tokyo, whose nations hosted previous Olympics.

“There’s no doubt (Istanbul) could get the job done from an infrastructure and organizational perspective,” Livingstone said. “They have to sell the IOC that it’s a good place to go.”

Istanbul didn’t come close to convincing the IOC on four previous occasions — 2000 (fifth place among five finalists), 2004 (didn’t make final cut of five cities), 2008 (fourth of five) and 2012 (didn’t make final cut of five cities).

“This is their best chance ever,” Livingstone said. “Time has passed, and they’ve made all those improvements. They moved from a developing nation to a developed nation. The way these votes go, they definitely have a chance. Nobody’s ruled out.”

GamesBids.com rated Istanbul a close second to Tokyo in its most recent predictions. The gap between Istanbul and third-place Madrid is more than three times the gap between Tokyo and Istanbul, according to GamesBids’ formula.

Livingstone, covering his fourth IOC bid city session this week, said he thought the vote will go like this: Madrid will advance through the first round with a strong contingent of voters with either Istanbul or Tokyo eliminated. From there, the voters of the eliminated city could pool with the one still alive, potentially overtaking Madrid.

“Istanbul’s in the race, but it’s a tricky one to handicap,” Livingstone said. “It’s going to be pretty tight.”

Key information for IOC session in Buenos Aires

Gracie Gold qualifies for nationals, Polina Edmunds shut out

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2014 Olympian Gracie Gold qualified for the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships by virtue of a third-place finish at the Eastern Sectional Singles Final on Saturday in Hyannis, Massachusetts.

“Bronze: so hot this fall,” Gold posted on Instagram. She last competed at U.S. nationals in 2017, when she finished sixth. She won the national title in 2014 and 2016.

Gold sat second after the short program with 63.55 points, and ultimately finished third overall with 109.90 points in the free skate for 173.45 points. The top four at the event qualify for the national championships in Greensboro, North Carolina in January.

Her free skate included a fall on the opening triple Lutz and an under-rotation on the triple Lutz, double toe loop combination. She also put a hand down on the landing of a double Axel. The rest of the program, though, was clean.

Her performance, set to “She Used to be Mine” by Sara Bareilles, can be found at the 2:05 mark of the on-demand stream of the event for NBC Gold Pass subscribers.

Meanwhile, her Sochi teammate Polina Edmunds was shut out of nationals based on a fifth-place finish at the Pacific Coast Sectional Singles Final (top four qualify). Her performance can be found for NBC Gold Pass subscribers at the 1:50 mark of the on-demand stream for the event. Edmunds last competed at Nationals in 2016, when she earned the silver medal behind Gold.

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Bronze: so hot this fall 🥉

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Brittany Bowe extends unbeaten streak to open speed skating World Cup

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Brittany Bowe extended one of the most dominant runs for any U.S. Winter Olympian, earning her first straight World Cup 1000m win to open the season on Sunday.

Bowe, fourth and eighth in the event at her two Olympics, clocked 1:15.35 in Minsk, Belarus, to beat PyeongChang gold medalist Jorien ter Mors by six tenths. Ter Mors missed all of last season after knee surgery.

Bowe won every World Cup 1000m dating to last December, plus her second world title in the event last February, lowering track records at each stop.

She ended last season by breaking the world record by .48 of a second on the fast ice of the 2002 Olympic oval in Kearns, Utah. That time — 1:11.61 — would have been the men’s world record as recently as 1997.

Bowe, a former Florida Atlantic point guard who missed all of 2016-17 with a concussion, is up to 23 career World Cup wins. That’s fifth on the U.S. all-time list behind Bonnie Blair (69), Shani Davis (58), Dan Jansen (46) and Heather Bergsma (34), according to schaatsstatistieken.nl.

The World Cup moves to Poland next week.

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