Pelé on Rio Olympics, lighting the cauldron

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NEW YORK — Pelé often quips when the Olympics arise in conversation.

I never played in the Olympics, but maybe I can come back for the Rio Games.

The Brazilian soccer legend, now 75 years old, is expected to have a role in the Rio Olympics in August. Just not as an active competitor. What it will entail, Pelé says he doesn’t even know.

He is considered the favorite to be chosen to light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony on Aug. 5, at the storied Maracanã stadium.

Pelé already carried the Olympic flame in 2004, ate Subway sandwiches with Michael Phelps in 2013 and marveled at watches with Usain Bolt in Manhattan this week.

And he helped Rio’s bid to host the Olympics, traveling to Copenhagen in 2009 for the host city vote, where the Brazilian effort beat groups including a Chicago delegation that boasted Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

Pelé was in New York this week for the Tribeca Film Festival debut of his biopic, “Pelé: Birth of a Legend,” which opens in theaters May 6.

He sat down with OlympicTalk in a Park Avenue hotel on Thursday. Here are excerpts from the conversation:

OlympicTalk: What did you know about the Olympics growing up?

Pelé: We had two or three athletes who did the Olympics competition very good. I saw the athletes, I saw the jumpers, but I don’t remember their names. But we had two or three good athletes for the Olympics. But I never played in the Olympics, and Brazil never won the Olympics in football.

Editor’s Note: Adhemar da Silva won Olympic triple jump titles in 1952 and 1956 and is one of two Brazilians to win multiple individual gold medals. Pelé signed professionally at age 15 in 1956, and back then professionals didn’t play Olympic soccer.

OlympicTalk: You were reportedly crying in Copenhagen after Rio won the Olympic vote in 2009. Why were you in tears?

Pelé: One of the reasons was because I had never participated in the Olympics. Second, because in sport I am very emotional. When you have some meeting or tournament, I have to be very strong and prepare myself because I am very emotional. I cry easy.

OlympicTalk: When was the last time you cried about something sports related?

Pelé: The last time was a very short time [ago]. It was when Brazil lost the World Cup [in 2014].

OlympicTalk: What would it mean if you could light the cauldron?

Pelé: I am very, very happy if it happens. … It’s a gift from God if I have the health to be there. I wish I’d bring luck for Brazil.

OlympicTalk: Have they asked you to light the cauldron?

Pelé: I don’t have any information yet.

OlympicTalk: How do the Olympics compare to winning the World Cup?

Pelé: Oh no, it’s different, because World Cup is just one kind of sport. Olympics you have a lot of involvement, a lot of sports. It’s different. I think the pressure for the football, the pressure is much more strong than the Olympics.

OlympicTalk: If Brazil wins an Olympic soccer title for the first time, would that make up for the World Cup?

Pelé: I think it would make up a lot, but first of all I think the most important thing, unfortunately, the political situation is not too good now [President Dilma Rousseff is on the brink of impeachment]. It’s a very short time before the Olympics. I think the most important is to make it as good administration, make it a good Olympics. This is the most important at the moment.

MORE: Neymar will play Olympics, not Copa America

Morgan Hurd left off U.S. gymnastics team for world championships

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Simone Biles is joined on the U.S. team for the world gymnastics championships by five women bidding to make their first Olympic team next year.

Sunisa LeeKara EakerJade Carey, Grace McCallum and MyKayla Skinner were named to the team at the conclusion of selection camp competition Monday in Sarasota, Fla. Biles locked up the first spot by winning an all-around competition on Sunday.

A notable omission was Morgan Hurd, the 2017 World all-around champion in Biles’ absence who was fourth in the all-around at the U.S. Championships in August and ninth at the selection camp on Sunday. Hurd, who came back from December elbow surgery, was named a non-traveling alternate along with Leanne Wong.

Had Hurd made the team, she could have bid to join Biles as the only women to earn all-around medals at three straight world championships. Instead, her absence is a testament to the U.S. women’s depth.

The Americans won every Olympic or world team title dating to 2011, the longest reign of dominance since Soviet teams of the 1970s. Last year, their margin of victory — 8.766 points — was the largest in history at an Olympics or worlds.

A look at the six women on this year’s team, one of which will be designated an on-site alternate at worlds in Stuttgart, Germany:

Simone Biles
Undefeated in all-around competitions for six years, Biles will break more records in Stuttgart. The biggest one is career world championships medals. Biles is at 20, tied with Svetlana Khorkina for the female record. The overall record is 23, held by retired Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo. Last year, Biles became the first gymnast to earn medals in every event at worlds in 31 years and won the all-around by a record margin despite two falls and a kidney stone.

Sunisa Lee
The revelation of this summer. Lee went from third in the junior division at last year’s nationals to second to Biles both at nationals in August and in Sunday’s selection competition. At the latter, Lee was only .35 of a point behind Biles, closer than any of Biles’ last five margins of victory at nationals. She is the national champion on uneven bars and the youngest woman on the team at 16.

Kara Eaker
Eaker solidified her spot by placing third at the selection camp with a score that would have been runner-up to Biles on either day at nationals. Eaker was 10th at nationals with scores more than two points lower than what she did on Sunday. She is a medal contender on balance beam. Eaker had the second-highest beam score in qualifying at worlds last year but fell off the apparatus in the final, placing sixth.

Jade Carey
The 2017 World silver medalist on floor and vault. Carey decided last year to try to make the Olympic team on her own individually — a new wrinkle in Olympic qualifying this cycle — which precluded her from competing at the 2018 Worlds. She’s well on her way to clinching an Olympic spot before June’s trials, but first she will be an asset to this team as its second-ranked floor and vault gymnast behind Biles.

MyKayla Skinner
The 2016 Olympic alternate pulled off the rare feat of making a world team while being an NCAA gymnast (at Utah). Skinner returned to elite gymnastics this season for the first time since Rio and impressed Sunday, placing fourth in the all-around. Like Carey, she specializes on floor and vault.

Grace McCallum
McCallum was third in the all-around at nationals and sixth at the selection camp. The 2018 World team member is best known for her floor, too. She was seventh in qualifying at 2018 Worlds on the event but missed the final due to the two-per-country rule.

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Tommie Smith, John Carlos part of U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame class

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Tommie Smith and John Carlos are part of the 2019 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame class that will be inducted later this year.

The sprinters were sent home from the 1968 Mexico City Games after staging a protest by raising their gloved fists on the medals stand. They were long left on the sidelines at the USOPC, but the federation has worked to bring them back inside the family in recent years.

“It sends the message that maybe we had to go back in time and make some conscious decisions about whether we were right or wrong,” Carlos said, according to USA Today. “They’ve come to the conclusion that, ‘Hey man, we were wrong. We were off-base in terms of humanity relative to the human rights era.'”

The class will be inducted at a ceremony in Colorado Springs on Nov. 1. It will be the first class inducted since 2012.

The rest of the class: Candace Cable, Erin Popovich, Chris Waddell (Paralympics), Lisa Leslie (basketball), Nastia Liukin (gymnastics), Misty May-Treanor (beach volleyball), Apolo Anton Ohno (short track speedskating), Dara Torres (swimming), the 1998 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team), Ron O’Brien (diving coach) and Tim Nugent (special contributor).

After the Hall of Fame essentially stalled out, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland pushed to revive it as part of a federation effort to focus more on athletes.

“We thank them for their impact on sport and society, and for continuing to inspire the next generation of athletes and fans,” Hirshland said.

The induction of Smith and Carlos is long overdue. After being kicked out of the 1968 Olympics for their iconic raised-fist protest on the medals stand, the sprinters were left on the sideline of the official U.S. Olympic movement. Their 2016 visit to the White House, along with USOPC leaders, marked the first official event they’d been part of since their ouster in 1968.

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