Calgary explores possible 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — Calgary is looking at hosting another Winter Olympics.

The city council voted Monday to spend up to $5 million on an exploration committee to study a possible bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

Calgary was the host city of the 1988 Winter Olympics.

The Canadian Sport Tourism Authority says it will raise private funds to defray the cost of the exploration committee’s work.

“What council heard today is it’s time. It’s time to explore this bid in detail,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

“What council endorsed today was an opportunity to go forward, spend a little bit of money, gather more data.”

The International Olympic Committee will select the 2026 host city in 2019.

Venues from 1988 such as the Olympic Oval, Canmore Nordic Centre, and the sliding track at Canada Olympic Park still host international competition and serve as training centers of national teams. The ski jump at COP, however, is obsolete.

Calgary’s 1988 legacy and proximity to mountains has kept the city in conversations about future Winter Games bids.

The Canadian Olympic Committee sent query letters earlier this year to seven cities drawing populations more than 750,000.

The COC inquired if those cities were interested in, or wanted information about, hosting either the 2026 Winter Games or the 2028 Summer Games. The unidentified cities have until June 30 to respond.

Speculation about a Calgary bid accelerated when other cities lost interest in hosting. Quebec City said in May it was no longer considering a 2026 bid.

Toronto Mayor John Tory declared after last summer’s Pan American Games that the largest city in the country would not throw its hat in the ring for the 2024 Summer Games.

When cities dropped out and left only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, competing for the 2022 Winter Games, the IOC adopted a series of reforms called Agenda 2020 to make bidding for an Olympic Games less expensive.

Any Olympic bid requires support from both the federal and provincial governments. Nenshi said he received no red lights from either.

“We have not had a flat-out ‘no,'” Nenshi said. “If we’d had a flat-out ‘no’ I would not have brought this proposal to council today.”

A 2013 study concluded the 2010 Vancouver Olympics cost roughly $7.7 billion when taking into account construction and operations. The Games organizing committee said it “broke even.” The cost of bid was $34 million.

The drop in oil prices has hit the Alberta economy hard, but Calgary councillor Richard Pootmans pointed out Calgary was in a deep recession when it bid in 1981 for the 1988 Games.

“The city was looking for projects to inspire them, was looking for projects to help stimulate the economy,” he said prior to council debate.

“This is almost exactly the same circumstance. We have a troubled economy at the moment. Why not have an inspiring large project to re-energize the city?”

Important elements of a Winter Games bid are a modern stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies and a hockey arena. Scotiabank Saddledome was built in 1983 and McMahon Stadium in 1960.

The Calgary Flames have pitched an $890 million arena/stadium/fieldhouse project to city council with taxpayers covering $200 million of it.

A city report pegged the project’s bill at $1.8 billion, however. Council asked the Flames to look at other locations and options to bring down costs. The two sides are scheduled to meet again next week.

But Flames Sports and Entertainment president Ken King has said their project isn’t tied to an Olympic bid because of a bid’s long timeline and uncertainty.

The Flames want shovels in the ground sooner than 2019.

“Our project is a bonus to a bid as opposed to a bid necessarily being a bonus to our project,” King said after a city council meeting in April.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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