Rio Olympics facing deep cuts unseen in decades

Christophe Dubi
AP
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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

Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
Atomic
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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