Larry Bird

Five Olympic questions with Larry Bird

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird shared his arena with fellow Olympians this past week, athletes two feet shorter than him who were born well after he won his Olympic gold medal.

The Dream Team member took time during the P&G Gymnastics Championships at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to discuss Olympic topics.

Here were some of his thoughts:

OlympicTalk: In the 2012 “Dream Team” book, you mentioned watching the Olympics with your dad growing up, when you had about two TV channels, and specifically the national anthem. Any specific Olympic events or athletes in your memory?

Bird: It didn’t matter. If we turned over [on the TV], and the national anthem was playing, we stopped. If it was another country’s national anthem, he might go back somewhere and then come back to that station later on. It was pretty wild. If they had a [medal] ceremony, it wasn’t like an advertisement where you could get up and go get something. He sat there and watched it every time. You might hear The Star-Spangled Banner six or seven times in one night. I can remember him saying, “Boy, wouldn’t that be something to be standing on that gold-medal platform, listening to that Star-Spangled Banner?” Sure enough, I got lucky enough to do that.

OlympicTalk: Was there anything you weren’t able to experience at the Barcelona Olympics that you wish you could have done?

Bird: Well, yeah, there’s a lot of things I wish I could have done. But I did get to watch baseball games. I got to watch Japan, Cuba, all the best, the United States. That’s what I love. I love international baseball for some reason.

OlympicTalk: What did you think of Boston pulling out of the 2024 bid race?

Bird: I’m disappointed, because there’s no better place to have an Olympics. I think it’s the greatest sports town in the world. I lived it, and they love all sports. But, the people weren’t behind it 100 percent. And you can understand that. It takes away your whole summer and all the prep and all that. Boston’s not easy to get around in, but I just thought it would be absolutely perfect for Boston.

OlympicTalk: Paul George said he has your support in going for the Rio Olympic team while coming back from injury. What is your perspective there?

Bird: My take on all that is, just knowing how I felt about playing for my country, who am I to tell Paul George he can’t play for his country? I don’t think that’s fair. Now, has there got to be some insurance policies and different things set up going forward? We’ve got to have some protections, but, yeah, I can’t sit here and tell you that I should tell Paul George he can’t go out and live a dream. Because I know how I felt. I want him to play.

OlympicTalk: Will the upcoming, expected salary cap increase deter players who will be free agents in 2017 from playing in the Olympics, risking injury ahead of potential bigger contracts?

Bird: It could. There’s so much on the line. There was always a lot on the line, but it seems like it’s tripled now. I can see why guys would not want to practice and pull themselves out of it.

Larry Bird, Kim Zmeskal remember Dream Team, gymnasts meeting on Barcelona bus

2026 Winter Olympic host: Milan-Cortina

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Italy will host the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, with Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo winning an IOC vote over a Swedish-Latvian bid centered on Stockholm.

Milan-Cortina won with 47 votes to Stockholm–Åre’s 34 to become the first Olympics with multiple official host cities.

Italy boasted its public support (83 percent in a March IOC poll versus 55 percent in Sweden) and financial guarantees (Stockholm officials declined to sign the IOC’s host-city contract, leaving it to the smaller ski resort of Åre).

“I cannot look into the heads of my colleagues, but gathering a little bit the atmosphere when leaving the room, my assumption is that what was key and what finally made the difference was the gap in the public support,” said IOC President Thomas Bach, who was not among the voters. “This was, for many members, a clear signal. Public support offers goes hand in hand with political support. This was maybe also the reason then why the city of Stockholm was not ready to sign the host-city contract.”

The Games return to a traditional European site for the first time since Italy hosted in Torino in 2006 after Vancouver (2010), Sochi (2014), PyeongChang (2018) and Beijing (2022).

The two bids were left after five others dropped out for various reasons, all in 2018: Calgary, Canada; Erzurum, Turkey; Sapporo, Japan; Graz, Austria and Sion, Switzerland.

With the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games hosts both decided two years ago (Paris for 2024, Los Angeles for 2028), next up is the 2030 Winter Games. The U.S. has already said that if it bids, it will be with Salt Lake City, which held the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Italy will host the Winter Games for a third time after Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956 and Torino in 2006.

Its bid presentation Monday included all three Italian 2018 Olympic champions speaking — Arianna Fontana (short track), Michela Moioli (snowboard cross) and Sofia Goggia (downhill). The presentation ended with 15-year-old short track speed skater Elisa Confortola addressing more than 80 IOC members.

Italy’s initial bid declaration in March 2018 was for a joint Milan-Torino candidate. Cortina was added within a week to make it a three-pronged bid. By September, Torino dropped out after political infighting, when a senior Italian official declared the bid “dead.” But the bid pressed on as Milan-Cortina, sites separated by more than 200 miles.

Sweden has finished second or third in all seven of its Winter Olympic bid votes, including six straight from 1984 through 2002, according to the OlyMADMen. Stockholm–Åre was trying to become the first Winter Games held in multiple countries, with Latvia holding bobsled, luge and skeleton. Sweden remains the nation with the most Winter Olympic gold medals yet to host a Winter Games.

“Our hope and expectation has been that the IOC would be ready to move from words to action and have confidence in Sweden’s ability to deliver the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games based on our proposal and vision,” Stockholm–Åre said in a press release. “We neither want, nor can present, a concept that involves major government grants and guarantees – or change the legislation – for a sports competition.”

The IOC praised how both bids fit with Agenda 2020 with 80 percent of the venues already existing or temporary and organizational budgets 20 percent lower than 2018 and 2022 cities.

More on the Milan-Cortina bid:

Proposed Dates: Feb. 6-22 (Olympics), March 6-15 (Paralympics)

Venues
Milan
 — Figure skating, hockey, short track
Cortina d’Ampezzo (220 miles northeast of Milan) — Alpine skiing (women), bobsled, luge, skeleton, curling, biathlon (Antholz)
Val di Fiemme (160 miles northeast of Milan) — Cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined, speed skating (outdoors)
Valtellina (85 miles northeast of Milan) — Alpine skiing (men, Bormio), freestyle skiing, snowboarding

Ceremonies
Opening Ceremony — San Siro (home of AC Milan and Inter Milan)
Closing Ceremony — Verona Arena (Roman amphitheatre 90 miles east of Milan)

Slogan
“Dreaming Together”

IOC Evaluation Group Report
“Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo combine the advantages of a big European city and those of a popular mountain resort region in the Italian Alps. The candidature benefits from the region’s strong winter sports history, tradition and experience, as well as the Italians’ love and passion for sport. The project can also leverage the economic strength and prosperity of the northern Italian region. While planning is still at an early stage, the project has the potential to achieve the long-term goals of the cities and the region in line with Olympic Agenda 2020/New Norm.”

MORE: Tokyo 2020 Olympic master schedule

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Japan’s gymnastics worlds team: no Kohei Uchimura, Kenzo Shirai

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Not only is Kohei Uchimura going to miss the world championships, but so is 11-time world medalist Kenzo Shirai.

Japan finalized its five-man team for October’s worlds in Stuttgart, Germany, following a national-level meet this past weekend. Uchimura, arguably the greatest gymnast in history, was already out of the running, sidelined with his latest round of injuries.

Shirai, reportedly slowed by a left ankle injury this season, did compete this weekend. But he finished fifth on floor exercise and third on vault, his two best events, and did not earn one of the last two spots on the world team.

Uchimura, a two-time Olympic all-around champion with six world all-around titles, misses worlds for the first time since 2007. Shirai, a 22-year-old with four world titles between floor and vault, had competed in every worlds since debuting in 2013, just after his 17th birthday.

Without their two stars, Japan sends a relatively inexperienced team. Kazuma Kaya and Wataru Tanigawa, both 22, are the only men who have been to a worlds (and were part of the 2018 silver-medal team). The youngest member is 17-year-old Daiki Hashimoto.

Japan has earned a team medal at every Olympics and world championships since 2003, a streak bettered only by the U.S. women.

MORE: Olympic gymnastics team sizes return to five for Paris 2024

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