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

2 Comments

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.

Jim Craigs wants to sell ‘Miracle on Ice’ gold medal, more

Michael Johnson took Olympic mindset in stroke recovery

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Michael Johnson‘s first walk, reportedly three days after suffering a stroke in the summer, was 200 meters down a hospital corridor.

“It took about 15 minutes,” Johnson said in a BBC video, detailing his full recovery in recent interviews.

Johnson, who at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics swept the 200m (in a world-record 19.32 seconds) and the 400m, suffered what he called “a mini stroke” after a home workout in late August.

Johnson felt not pain but tingling leaving his home gym and underwent a 20-minute MRI. The 50-year-old, who worked out regularly and was in otherwise great physical shape, almost fell rising out of the machine.

“Couldn’t put any weight on left side, no longer could really move my left leg,” Johnson said in the BBC interview. “The numbness of my left arm, which was sort of mild at the beginning and up to that point, was really intense at that point. I couldn’t feel a lot of my arm. You immediately start to think about, what’s my life going to be like going forward?”

There was no immediate answer.

“You start to think about loved ones — is my wife going to have to take care of me for the rest of my life?” Johnson said, according to the Telegraph. “Am I going to be able to walk again? Am I going to be in a wheelchair? Am I going to be able to stand in the shower or go to the restroom alone? You’re forced to think about what your life might be like if that worse-case scenario is reality.”

He began physical therapy early the next week. After that first walk, the distance equivalent of a half-lap of the track that he owned in the 1990s, he told his wife, “I will make a full recovery, and I will make a full recovery faster than anyone has ever done it before,” according to the Telegraph.

Within two weeks, Johnson was backing that up. He tweeted a photo of himself on Sept. 13, his 51st birthday, grimacing while lifting a square-shaped weight with each hand. “Almost back to normal. No days off! Even today. My birthday!” the caption read.

On Sept. 27, Johnson tweeted that it had been grueling, but he relearned to walk and made a full recovery.

“Once I knew that I will make a full recovery, and once I started to believe that, it’s very similar to the type of situation that I experienced as an athlete training for the Olympic Games, then all of a sudden suffering a pulled hamstring,” said Johnson, who fell to the track in the 2000 Olympic Trials 200m final with an upper left leg injury, then won the 400m at his last Games in Sydney. “The reward, in this particular situation, was going to be even greater, was going to be able to walk again, regaining my mobility, regaining my independence.”

MORE: Michael Johnson: My advice to Usain Bolt on retirement

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Tatjana Hüfner, 2010 Olympic luge champion, to retire after this season

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tatjana Hüfner, a 2010 Olympic luge champion and five-time world champion in singles, said she will retire after this season, according to German newspaper Bild.

Hüfner, 35, cited recent health problems, including back and leg injuries leading into her last Olympics in PyeongChang, where she finished fourth, missing a fourth straight medal by .69 of a second (Hüfner dropped from second place going into the last run). Plus breaking a rib in a training crash this preseason, plus suffering food poisoning, according to the report.

Hüfner, who reportedly said before February’s Olympics that they would be her final Games, has been arguably the most integral luger in Germany’s recent dominance in female sliding.

Her Olympic career began as a spectator at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, watching Sylke Otto lead a German medal sweep. Later, Hüfner would break Otto’s record with five world singles titles, plus join Otto on the podium at Torino 2006, earning bronze. Hüfner took gold in Vancouver, then silver behind the new leading woman, Natalie Geisenberger, in Sochi.

Huefner spent offseasons scaling European peaks such as Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, the Matterhorn, and the Sella in northern Italy.

This season’s world championships are in Winterberg, Germany, in January.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. Olympic luge medalist adds event