Delayed velodrome for Rio Olympics almost ready to go

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The most troubled venue for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics – the indoor cycling velodrome – is almost ready to go with the games opening in just under six weeks.

Rio organizers took possession of the building on Sunday with about 30 mostly Brazilian cyclists spinning around the banked track during a practice session.

This is the last permanent venue at the Olympic Park being handed over to organizers. Repeated delays and contract disputes forced two cycling test events to be canceled.

The first real racing on the track will be after the Olympics open Aug. 5. It will follow months of complaints from the International Cycling Union, the sport’s ruling body.

“It’s certainly not ideal, but given the circumstances we’re very happy to have some practice this weekend,” said Gilles Peruzzi, the UCI technical delegate. After all the setbacks, he called the venue a “positive outcome.”

However, the venue is still a work in progress. Temporary seating still must go in, along with concessions and other behind-the-scenes facilities. Window cleaners were still working Sunday at one end of the track, and painting remains to be done.

“We see that the building is still under construction, so there is a bit of dust on the track,” said Swiss rider Gael Suter, who practiced Sunday and has already qualified for his first Olympics. “Maybe it is not 100 percent yet. But no doubt it will be ready for the Olympics, and it will be a fast track.”

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, who has spoken at handovers of almost every Olympic project, repeated his standard speech. He said limited public money was spent on the Olympics, with private companies handling key projects.

This came in exchange for concessions from the city, including exemptions in zoning laws and access for developers to prime real estate in the upscale suburb of Barra da Tijuca, the heart of the games.

Rio is spending between $10-12 billion, a mix of public and private money, to prepare for the Olympics.

Paes said Sunday that, non-Brazilians in particular, had “every reason to have a certain amount of mistrust about our country.” But he said delivery of games venues should change that.

Paes is coming under scrutiny on several fronts. City prosecutors and council members are scrutinizing Olympic contracts, and at least two other investigations involve the mayor. He denies any wrongdoing.

In truth, Rio has had little trouble delivering venues on time. The problems are everywhere else: the Zika virus, steep budget cuts, slow ticket sales and severe water pollution in the venues for sailing, rowing, canoeing, triathlon and distance swimming.

On Friday, the World Anti-Doping Agency said it had suspended the city’s accredited anti-doping laboratory. It’s not clear if the lab will be re-opened in time for the Olympics, another major embarrassment. If not, thousands of blood and urine samples will be shipped abroad for analysis.

On the political front, Brazil President Dilma Rousseff is suspended and faces impeachment charges – with interim president Michel Temer in charge.

Brazil is also in the midst of its steepest recession since the 1930s.

“What is amazing is the resilience of these people here,” Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi said. “Because they’ve faced a lot of hardships and they’ve overcome them, one after another. The velodrome was a massive, massive last-minute effort.”

Dubi acknowledged much remains to be done – at all venues.

“When you are inside 40 days as we are, you still have a lot of details,” he said. “And you can see around you there are still a lot of people working. This is where we are – the last minute.”

Gustavo Nascimento, Rio’s venue management director, said venues for swimming and tennis still had work to do. He said the tennis venue lacks two temporary seating areas, and lighting still must be installed for the swimming events.

At Deodoro in northern Rio, the second largest Olympic cluster, work remains to be done on the equestrian venue, and stadiums for rugby and field hockey. Nascimento said he’s not expecting any snags.

He said work on all permanent venues will end on July 10. Temporary venues will be finished by July 21, and athletes will have access to venues starting July 24.

“Everything is going to be ready, no doubt about it,” he said.

MORE: Kristin Armstrong, Taylor Phinney round out U.S. Olympic cycling team

Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi
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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

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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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