Magnus Carlsen
Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis

Magnus Carlsen: Chess deserves Olympic priority over esports

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The rise of esports has many wondering if it will soon apply for and receive Olympic inclusion.

Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, the world chess champion since 2013, believes his trade deserves priority.

“Chess has centuries, even millenia of history, which esports, obviously, they don’t,” Carlsen said by phone after competing in the Champions Showdown at the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. “Personally, for me, it wouldn’t make sense [for esports to get in the Olympics first].”

The first step to being added to the Olympics is having an international governing body recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

World Chess is recognized by the IOC. Esports does not have a recognized body.

Around 30 international federations for sports that aren’t currently in the Olympics are recognized by the IOC, including American football (provisionally), life saving and tug of war.

Since chess was recognized by the IOC in 1999, the sport and many others have repeatedly applied for and been denied Olympic inclusion.

“Obviously, I’d love for chess to be part of the Olympics,” said Carlsen, adding that he has not lobbied on the sport’s behalf to any Olympic leaders. “I think that would be tremendously exciting for all chess players and fans, but there are always difficult questions like, does it belong in the Winter or Summer Olympics and all these things. There are lots of sports applying for the Olympics. So it’s difficult.”

In 2000, a chess exhibition was held at the Sydney Olympics.

Recent attempts pushed for blitz chess, a faster form of the sport, to join the Olympics. World Chess also sought if the Olympic Charter language could be changed to allow a sport that isn’t played on snow or ice into the Winter Games.

Previously, chess officials reportedly said that chess pieces could be made out of ice to conform to the Olympic Charter language for winter sports.

“There are people who are questioning whether or not it’s an actual sport,” Carlsen said. “Obviously, that’s the first question. To me it is. But I think it’s also a question of there are just so many sports that want to be part of the Olympics. You cannot include everything.”

Carlsen said he attended the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games with his family when he was 3 years old.

“I cannot remember much, but I can remember glimpses of the cross-country races there,” he said.

During the 1998 Nagano Olympics, his mom taped cross-country skiing, Nordic combined or biathlon events so that Carlsen could watch them after school.

Carlsen’s popularity in Norway rivals — even surpasses — that of the country’s winter sports stars.

Carlsen was named Norway’s Sportsperson of the Year for 2013 after he became world champion for the first time at age 22. That snapped a streak of nine straight years in which the sportsperson winner was an Olympian.

In 2016, Carlsen defended his world title in New York City, beating Russian Sergey Karyakin in a tense, 20-day series decided by a tiebreaker.

Norwegian media swarmed South Street Seaport in Manhattan.

National broadcaster NRK aired live coverage of matches in primetime, with a studio desk dissecting moves. National newspaper VG covered it with banner headlines in typical tabloid fashion.

The 2016 Norwegian Sportsperson of the Year winner was not Carlsen. He finished third. Journalists voted for soccer player Ada Hegerberg, with Alpine skier Henrik Kristoffersen taking second.

Where does Carlsen believe he ranks?

“I’ll leave that for others to compare,” he said. “I’m just very happy that chess is being recognized the way that it is.”

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Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

Steven Nyman
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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup plans earlier season start with fewer fans

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