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Seven countries interested in hosting 2026 Winter Olympics

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Seven countries among three continents submitted interest in bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics before the International Olympic Committee’s deadline.

The current dialogue phase runs to October, when the IOC will choose which cities to invite to its candidate phase running up to a September 2019 IOC members vote for the host.

Bids could hinge on public votes, which led to the demise of recent Summer and Winter Games bids.

The seven potential bids:

Austria (Graz)
Austria ranks fourth in Winter Olympic medals behind Norway, the U.S. and Germany and hosted in Innsbruck in 1964 and 1976. Graz is the nation’s second-largest city after Vienna. It shares a province with Schladming, host of the 1982 and 2013 World Alpine Skiing Championships. A potential venue plan would include figure skating, short track speed skating, hockey and curling in Graz, Alpine skiing in Schladming, more hockey games in Vienna, Linz or Klagenfurt and speed skating and sliding sports in Germany, up to 200 miles from Graz. A planned Innsbruck bid for the 2026 Winter Games was dropped in October after defeat in a public vote. Austria lost in Olympic bidding for 2002 (Graz), 2006 (Klagenfurt), 2010 (Salzburg) and 2014 (Salzburg).

Canada (Calgary)
Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Games that included the first Jamaican bobsled team and the Battle of the Brians and the Battle of the Carmens in figure skating. If this bid happens, it could see Nordic combined and ski jumping at the Vancouver 2010 venue in Whistler, B.C., more than 500 miles west of Calgary. If Calgary gets the 2026 Winter Games, it could hurt a potential 2030 U.S. bid from Denver, Reno-Tahoe or Salt Lake City since the IOC has never awarded back-to-back Summer or Winter Games to North America (though a Summer Games in North America has been followed by a Winter Games in North America in 1976/1980 and 1984/1988.) Calgary’s mayor said in PyeongChang that a “real decision” on being “serious” about bidding must be made by the summer, according to Sportsnet. Toronto dropped a 2024 Summer Olympic bid. Quebec City showed 2026 bid interest last year before dropping out as well.

Italy (Cortina d’Ampezzo/Milan/Torino)
Italy’s initial declaration last week mentioned only Milan and Torino, but the Cortina mayor later wanted in, too. The three sites are separated by about 300 miles across northern Italy. Torino hosted the Winter Games in 2006, with one Winter Olympics in Europe since then (Sochi 2014, though Russia is transcontinental). Cortina was Italy’s other Winter Games host in 1956. The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) said it will present a feasibility study on its bid once the new Italian government forms for “a comprehensive evaluation of the entire project.” Italy’s general election on March 4 resulted in no clear majority.

Japan (Sapporo)
Sapporo, which has been talked about as a potential 2026 bid city for more than three years, hosted the first Winter Games in Asia in 1972 as well as the Asian Winter Games in 1986, 1990 and 2017. Sapporo is hoping for a third straight Winter Olympics in East Asia after PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022. Tokyo is also hosting the 2020 Summer Games. IOC president Thomas Bach has said he hopes the Winter Olympics can return to a more traditional location in 2026, which USOC chairman Larry Probst called “code for Europe or North America.” Sapporo’s sliding sports track from 1972 is gone. Bobsled, luge and skeleton could be held at the 1998 Olympic venue in Nagano, which is 600 miles south of Sapporo and on a different island.

Sweden (Stockholm)
The Swedish capital dropped a bid for the 2022 Olympics in 2015 due to lack of political and financial support. The bid was revived for 2026, declared dead by Swedish politicians last April, but kept alive by the Swedish Olympic Committee. As with the 2022 bid, Alpine events are slated for Åre, about 350 miles north. Sliding events could be in Latvia, 300 miles across the Baltic Sea. Sweden hosted one Olympics — the Summer Games in Stockholm in 1912 — plus equestrian events in Stockholm during the 1956 Melbourne Games. It also failed in bids for six straight Winter Olympics — 1984 (Göteborg), 1988 (Falun), 1992 (Falun), 1994 (Östersund), 1998 (Östersund) and 2002 (Östersund).

Switzerland (Sion)
The first city to officially declare 2026 candidacy nearly a year ago. Sion, with a population listed around 30,000, could be the smallest Olympic host city since Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994. The initial Sion framework included events in Bern, Lausanne and St. Moritz. Switzerland hosted the Olympics twice, both Winter Games in St. Moritz (1928 and 1948). Sion previously was a finalist to host the 1976, 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, finishing runner-up in voting every time. A possible bid from St. Moritz and Davos was rejected by voters in February 2017. A Sion bid could hinge on a public vote set for June 10.

Turkey (Erzurum)
Turkey has never bid for a Winter Olympics nor hosted a Summer or Winter Games. Istanbul bid for the Summer Olympics in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2020, coming as close as runner-up to Tokyo for 2020. If successful, Turkey could become the third nation to host a Winter Olympics with no prior Winter Olympic medals. The others were Yugoslavia in 1984 and France at the first Winter Games in 1924. Turkey’s best-ever Winter Olympic finish was 15th (out of 15 teams) in the 1998 men’s cross-country skiing relay, according to the OlyMADMen. Erzurum is an Eastern provincial capital with about 400,000 people.

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”