Almaty or Beijing? IOC set to choose 2022 Winter Olympic host

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The differences between 2022 Winter Olympic host city finalists Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing start with size.

Look at the nations’ most famous athletes on hand for the International Olympic Committee vote in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Friday.

Kazakhstan has Olympic bronze medalist figure skater Denis Ten, who is 5 feet, 6 inches. China brought Yao Ming, the retired basketball star who is 7 feet, 6 inches.

Only two cities are Olympic bidding finalists, for just the second time in 34 years.

If Almaty wins, it will mark the first Olympics in Kazakhstan. The nation would be the smallest by population to host an Olympics since Greece in 2004 and smallest for a Winter Olympics since Norway in 1994 (Kazakhstan’s first time independently at the Olympics after the Soviet Union breakup).

If Beijing wins, it will become the first city to host a Summer and Winter Olympics, after it put on the 2008 Summer Games, the first held in the world’s most populous nation.

The bid committees will make presentations to IOC members between 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday and 1 a.m. Friday, followed by the vote and then the announcement of the host city between 5:30-6 a.m. (full session schedule here). The 2020 Youth Winter Olympic host city announcement is also scheduled for that half-hour window (either Lausanne, Switzerland, or Brasov, Romania).

The session will be streamed live on the Olympic YouTube channel, an IOC spokesman said. Also on Olympic.org here.

It’s the first time there will be fewer than three finalists, following European bid dropouts, since 2006 (when Torino beat Sion, Switzerland), but it is far from a simple vote, said Rob Livingstone, producer of GamesBids.com, covering Olympic host city bidding.

“A lot of people are calling it a landslide for Beijing,” he said. “I don’t think it will be.”

Almaty’s bid fits well with the IOC’s Agenda 2020, which IOC president Thomas Bach has called “a strategic roadmap for the future” of the Olympics and stresses reduced costs in bidding.

“A lot of the venues are already built, and they’re building more for the Universiade in 2017 [the 2017 World University Winter Games hosted by Almaty],” said Livingstone, who visited Almaty. “It really is a compact footprint. Nothing’s too far to drive to. They’ve got lots of natural snow and a winter sports culture.”

He added that Almaty lacks experience in Olympic bidding, hotels and, especially compared to Beijing, familiarity to IOC members, who are not allowed to visit bid cities before the vote (save the four members on the IOC evaluation commission).

“It’s the kind of place you have to see to get it,” Livingstone said. “Otherwise you don’t know what’s there. That’s a big stumbling block.”

The Beijing bid plans to reuse its iconic Summer Olympic venues. The Bird’s Nest stadium would host Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as it did in 2008. The Water Cube, where Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, will become the Ice Cube for curling.

“The big pro that Beijing has is the same thing with 2008, a huge market for sponsors,” Livingstone said. “If they [IOC members] think Beijing is the safe choice, they’ll go with it. Tokyo was the safe choice in 2020 [beating Istanbul and Madrid in a 2013 vote].”

The Beijing bid is more spread out, with mountain events slated to be held as far away as Zhangjiakou, which is 100 miles northwest. A planned high-speed railway would take passengers from Beijing to Zhangjiakou in 50 minutes, according to a Beijing 2022 promo video launched last fall. A third venue cluster in Yanqing is situated between Beijing and Zhangjiakou.

“They’re going to get it done,” Livingstone said of the expensive railway, “but it’s something that’s debatable whether it’s necessary if they don’t get the Games.”

Beijing faces familiar concerns from the 2008 Olympics, air pollution and human-rights issues. Kazakhstan also is under scrutiny for its human rights record.

Almaty’s slogan, “Keeping It Real,” emphasizes a Beijing weakness — a lack of snow. The last two Winter Olympic hosts — Vancouver and Sochi — also ended up dealing with this issue. Beijing officials are confident they can rely on man-made snow.

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Boglarka Kapas, world champion swimmer, tests positive for coronavirus

Boglarka Kapas
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Boglarka Kapas, the Hungarian swimmer and world 200m butterfly champion, said she tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I don’t have any symptoms yet, and that’s why it’s important for you to know that even if you feel healthy you can spread the virus,” was posted on her social media. “Please be careful, stay at home and stay healthy.”

Nine total members of the Hungarian national team — including swimmers and staff — have tested positive, according to the federation.

Kapas said her first test was negative but a second test showed she had the virus. She was staying in quarantine at home for two weeks.

Kapas, 26, won the 200m fly at last summer’s world championships by passing Americans Hali Flickinger and Katie Drabot in the last 25 meters. She clocked 2:06.78 to prevail by .17 of a second.

Kapas also took bronze in the Rio Olympic 800m freestyle won by Katie Ledecky.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

NHL players: Marie-Philip Poulin is world’s best female hockey player

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The U.S. may have the world’s best women’s hockey team, but NHL players believe Canadian Marie-Philip Poulin is the world’s best player.

Poulin received the most votes out of 496 responses in the 2019-20 NHLPA Player Poll, conducted before the season was suspended. The tally:

Poulin: 39.92%
Hilary Knight (USA): 36.29%
Kendall Coyne Schofield (USA): 15.52%
Emily Pfalzer Matheson (USA): 1.41%
Other: 6.85%

Last year, Knight received the highest percentage of votes from 203 NHL players (27.59), edging Poulin (24.14) with Amanda Kessel third (12.81) and Coyne Schofield and Pfalzer Matheson each receiving 5.91 percent.

Why were Poulin and Knight swapped this year? Perhaps Poulin’s Canadian team winning the debut of the NHL All-Star Skills Competition women’s 3-on-3 game on Jan. 24, even though Knight scored and Poulin did not.

Poulin, now 29, scored both goals in the 2010 Olympic final and the game-tying and -winning goals in the 2014 Olympic final. Even before her Olympic debut at age 18, the daughter of Quebec hospital workers was dubbed “the female Sidney Crosby.”

Knight, 30, led last April’s world championship tournament with seven goals as the U.S. won a fifth straight title. Poulin played 4 minutes, 44 seconds, total at the tournament, missing time with a knee injury.

This spring’s tournament, which was to start Tuesday, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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