Rio Olympics facing deep cuts unseen in decades

Christophe Dubi

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Cuts, cuts and more cuts.

That’s the situation facing international sports federations, with just over six months to go before the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazilian organizers will be meeting next month with federation leaders, and World Rowing executive director Matt Smith already knows what to expect: He’s bracing for news that 4,000 temporary grandstand seats at the rowing Olympic venue won’t be built.

At the swimming venue, several thousand seats have already been slashed. And the world governing body for sailing learned more than a year ago that bleachers it wanted had been ruled out.

Television viewers won’t notice when South America’s first Olympics open on Aug. 5, but Rio organizers are scaling down everywhere to eliminate about $500 million to balance the operating budget of 7.4 billion reals ($1.85 billion).

“I’ve been around since Los Angeles in 1984 and we haven’t been in such a situation where a country that is staging the games is in such a vulnerable situation,” Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Brazil was booming when it was awarded the games in 2009. Now it’s buffeted by the worst recession since the 1930s. The currency has plunged almost 50 percent against the dollar, and inflation is over 10 percent and rising. In addition, President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment, partly driven by a billion-dollar bribery scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras.

“We haven’t had to face anything like this,” Smith said. “It was a bold move to go to an emerging country. The IOC deciding to go to South America was a really important, strategic issue – but with all the associated risks.”

Hit by cash-flow problems, Rio is reducing the use of unpaid volunteers. Transportation is being rejigged. Few competition results will be available on paper, and Olympic sponsor Panasonic has stepped in to give unprecedented financial help to run the opening and closing ceremonies.

Organizers backed away from plans to have athletes pay for air conditioning in their rooms, but rooms in the Olympic Village won’t have televisions.

The International Olympic Committee is trying to find a positive angle, talking up austerity after the overall $51 billion figure associated with the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics scared away many potential bid cities.

“We are looking into each and every budget item,” Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games Executive Director, told the AP this week in Rio. “I think this is setting a new benchmark. The result is heading in the right direction. They (organizers) have found efficiencies, and I wouldn’t call it cuts.”

Like many, Dubi believes Rio’s natural beauty will make up for everything else.

“No one is saying that the Olympic experience will be affected. On the contrary, Rio will be magic,” Dubi said.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes is almost bragging about the cutbacks as Brazil spends about $10 billion in public and private money to organize the Games. Paes is seen as a possible 2018 presidential candidate who hopes to get traction from the Olympics.

“Come on, we are not China, we are not England,” he said this week at the handover of the Olympic basketball arena. “We are not a rich country. So, every time I can cut some of the budget for Olympics — we will do it. This is not going to be the Olympics of wasting money.”

Alan Tomlinson, who studies the Olympics at the University of Brighton in England, said the IOC was altering the script “to make pragmatism sound like idealism.”

“That kind of message is for the global public,” Tomlinson said in an email. “The promised benefits to the local communities – and the public of the host city and nation – are beyond the reach of the IOC.”

Cuts aside, Rio is facing other problems:

– Ticket sales are lagging. Only about half of the 4.5 million domestic tickets have been sold. Rio organizers say Brazilians do everything at the last minute.

– Guanabara Bay and the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon – venues for sailing, rowing and canoeing – show astronomically high virus levels, documented in an on-going study by AP. Organizers can’t fix the contamination and are implementing only stop-gap measures, which will leave the health of more than 1,000 athletes at risk.

– Rio will use about 85,000 soldiers and policeman for the games, the largest contingent in Brazilian history. The number is about twice what London used in 2012. Some of the effort will be aimed at keeping gangs from hillside favelas from reaching Olympic venues.

– Researchers have found evidence of the dengue-like Zika virus in Brazil and have linked it to a surge of birth defects in the country. Zika is most prevalent in Brazil’s northeast but has spread south to Rio. The mosquito-borne diseases are worst in the southern hemisphere’s summer months of December, January and February and less troublesome in the drier winter month of August when the Olympics will be held.

– A 16-kilometer (10-mile) subway extension to take riders from central Rio to the Olympic Park in the western suburb of Barra da Tijuca is likely to be finished just a few weeks before the games open. The untested line is a risk.

“The governor (Luiz Fernando Pezao) himself is going every week to the construction site to ensure that it will be delivered on time,” Dubi said.

PHOTOS: Rio Olympic Park is 95 percent ready

Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi

Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth


France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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