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Challenge for Olympic golf? Finding more medals

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SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — With Olympic golf qualifying starting next month, the sport assured a spot in the next two Olympics (and likely 2028 as well), and the U.S. Open happening at Shinnecock Hills this week, International Golf Federation executive director Antony Scanlon sat down to discuss the second modern edition of Olympic golf in 2020 and what officials hope(d) would be different than in Rio …

OlympicTalk: Take me through the process of deciding to keep the Olympic golf format unchanged from 2016 to 2020. Were there any changes floated around?

Scanlon: Three weeks after the Olympics, all of us got together at Hazeltine, at the Ryder Cup, and said all bets are off. Let’s look at everything. The first thing we looked at was are there any other opportunities for more Olympic medals? We looked at opportunities with team events and mixed team events, etc. Once you got down to the realities of trying to condense that into 16 days of Olympic competition, you’re pretty much constricted to a 72-hole stroke play for men and the ladies. To get the players buying on that, they liked the four rounds of stroke play to determine who the best champion was. They didn’t want to come up with some sort of tricky event just before that would affect their own individual events. We had great ideas, went to different players with it, especially those that had been to the Olympics, get their feedback. They said, stick with what we’ve got.

OlympicTalk: The IOC might have been pretty open to a mixed team event because they’ve been adding mixed-gender events in other sports to the Olympics.

Scanlon: They certainly would have supported it if we could have fit it into those 16 days, but as it is, it’s a lot of golf for the players when you add that plus a full, 72-hole stroke-play event, and then following that a Ryder Cup, etc., toward the end of the season it starts to become too much golf for the players. And we thought it was best to capitalize on the success of what we had in Rio, really, and take it from there.

OlympicTalk: Tim Finchem said shortly after Rio that he wanted to “tweak the format” of Olympic golf. Was a team event or mixed-gender event what he was talking about?

Scanlon: Yeah. That’s pretty much around the time we were all meeting and talking about it. That was the challenge we put ourselves, and we still actually have that challenge. And that is to look for ways for us to have more opportunities for medals for the athletes. That surge will continue beyond Tokyo and through to Paris. If we can come up with preserving the 72-hole stroke play, which the players really support, to some other event. One suggestion, and this would mean the IOC having to really rethink their policies, is similar to the men’s World Cup [of Golf], where you used to have a team event in addition to an individual event.

Editor’s Note: In this scenario, golfers would not play multiple tournaments at the Olympics. Rather, their scores from the individual event would also count toward a team event. This was the 2013 World Cup of Golf’s format.

But the IOC currently doesn’t loop two events into one. Well, there is with gymnastics [qualifying scores count for advancement into team and individual finals]. There is with equestrian, but they’re trying not to do that. But who knows? The IOC is also evolving. They’re talking about esports now. This [scores counting for individual and team events] could be one way. That is one avenue we would explore for Paris [2024], see if that’s possible.

OlympicTalk: What about the makeup of the fields? Did you look at trying to ask the IOC for more spots in each field, or changing qualifying to let more golfers in from the top countries like the U.S. and England?

Editor’s Note: The U.S. has five of the top nine golfers in the men’s world ranking. South Korea has six of the top 13 women. A country can’t qualify more than four golfers into either Olympic men’s or women’s tournament.

Scanlon: The Olympics is about participation as well as winning medals. I really think that in Rio we got the balance between diversity of field and strength of field really well. As it is, the IOC allows us to have four per country as a maximum, where normally it would be three. So we have an exception there, similar to tennis. So if we go back to Rio, we had a total of 41 countries out of 120 athletes that we had in both the men’s and women’s fields. That’s pretty diverse, and it was a strong field. If you start to trick it up and reduce the number of countries that are participating, I think it takes something away. And one of the reasons why we’re part of the Olympic program is to widen our engagement of our sport to a bigger audience, and that was shown in Rio.

We’d love more athletes, but the reality with the IOC is no. We have stick with the 60 that we have with men and women.

OlympicTalk: Did you ask the IOC if you could have more athletes?

Scanlon: We actually did that before even Rio. We were looking for a field of, I think, 85, and they made a blanket rule of keeping the numbers the way they are [for 2020]. And I can see why because after our request, they admitted five extra sports through the [Tokyo 2020] organizing committee, which added extra athletes. I can see why they capped us.

OlympicTalk: What about adding Paralympic golf?

Scanlon: We’re bidding for Paris, an opportunity to have lower-limb amputees participate. We had some very good meetings with the [International Paralympic Committee] and have great support from all of our national federations and IGF membership for that. Our bid goes in, I think, the ninth of July, and, hopefully, come January next year we’ll get some positive news on that.

OlympicTalk: What are your thoughts on turnout from the top golfers after so many skipped Rio?

Scanlon: We’re constantly talking throughout with player liaisons and directly to the agents and the players. The players that weren’t there in Rio, and the reasons for it, I think some of them now regret that. I think Tokyo is a different landscape. It’s in the second-largest golf nation in the world. I think there’s great opportunity for the profile of our athletes to take that opportunity of being in Tokyo with that audience. I don’t see anything prohibiting any of the players coming this time.

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MORE: After stars’ worry, Olympic golf to stay

Simone Biles eyes medal that has eluded her at world championships

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Whenever Simone Biles takes the competition floor, she’s setting out for some kind of history. But it’s what’s in her own past that’s motivating at this week’s world championships, her first international meet since bagging four gold medals at the Rio Olympics.

“I’ve never medaled in a bar final [uneven bars], but I’ve only been in one,” Biles said last week when asked the event she would most like to win aside from the team competition. “Maybe if I could make a bar final, that would be pretty cool because I think of all the medals you can get and the finals you can participate in, I always admire the bar workers just because it’s so hard mentally and physically.”

Biles’ U.S. team is an overwhelming favorite to earn a sixth straight Olympic or world title in Doha — the longest female run of dominance in the sport since the 1970s Soviet teams.

She’s just as expected to grab a fourth world all-around crown, breaking a tie with Russian Svetlana Khorkina for the female record. (Worlds were not held as often in the era of legends Larisa Latynina, Vera Caslavska and Nadia Comaneci.)

Men’s qualifying starts Thursday. The U.S. women’s qualifying session is Saturday. The women’s team final is next Tuesday, followed by the all-around two days later and individual apparatus finals the two days after that.

MORE: Gymnastics worlds TV schedule

Biles is the lone member of the U.S. women’s team of six (one will be named an alternate) who has competed at an Olympics or in a world championships team competition.

That doesn’t mean they’re not decorated.

Morgan Hurd won the world all-around title in Biles’ year off in 2017 (when there was no team event). Ragan Smith was favored over Hurd for last year’s gold before tearing ankle ligaments on a warm-up vault minutes before introductions. Riley McCusker made the U.S. all-around podium the last two years.

But of Rio’s Final Five, only Biles has competed on the elite level since the Games.

“We have a different group of girls,” Biles said. “They’re all upcoming and trying to make a name for themselves. … Here I am a veteran.”

Most of Biles’ teammates speak of her in awe.

“Just watching her compete is inspiring,” said Kara Eaker, a balance beam star who was 10 years old when Biles won her first world title in 2013.

What else Biles can do next week in Doha: with three gold medals, pass Vitaly Scherbo‘s 12 for the most in worlds history. Have a vault named after her, if she becomes the first woman to perform the Cheng with an extra half twist. Biles stuck it at the world team selection camp two weeks ago.

“It’s shocking, actually, how easily she does some of these moves,” said Tom Forster, in his first year as U.S. high-performance team director. Forster was asked last week about which five gymnasts of the six were going to compete for the U.S. “I know you’re not going to be surprised by this, but definitely going to use Simone,” was his lone concrete statement.

“She’s really the epitome of what coaches talk about in every sport, an athlete that’s very focused, works really hard, has natural ability and has good technique,” Forster continued. “It’s uncommon to get all those attributes together in one person in any sport. When you do, you get Simone.”

The lone apparatus that Biles has not conquered internationally is the uneven bars. In 2014, Biles said all she wanted for Christmas was to become a good bars worker. During her year off, she dreamed that she went back to the gym and couldn’t do a single giant swing on the apparatus.

Biles has made one uneven bars final at worlds — placing fourth in 2013 — and was 14th in Rio.

When Biles returned to training less than a year ago, her new coach, Laurent Landi, was best known for guiding a bars specialist — Olympic silver medalist Madison Kocian. In her comeback this summer, Biles brought her most difficult bars set yet and won her first national title on the apparatus.

“Never thought at this point in my career I would be most confident on bars,” she tweeted last month.

Biles snapchatted from Doha on Friday the first page of a book’s third chapter titled, “You are not Special.” Read into that what you will. An excerpt:

“Cultivating the mind through learning from failures is more effective than making yourself feel special even for the most trivial things. … High self-esteem is displayed in recognizing your weaknesses and striving to overcome them.”

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MORE: USA Gymnastics CEO resigns after Simone Biles’ criticism

Alpine skiing season TV schedule

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NBC Sports and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will combine to air every Alpine skiing World Cup race this season, plus the world championships in February.

Coverage is spread among NBC, NBCSN, Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold’s “Snow Pass.”

For Lindsey Vonn, it’s her last season, whether or not she breaks Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins. Vonn, the 2010 Olympic downhill champion, is at 82. She debuts at speed races at Lake Louise, Alberta, from Nov. 30-Dec. 2.

Mikaela Shiffrin will try to join Vonn as the only women to win three straight World Cup overall titles in the last 25 years. Shiffrin plans to race all of the slaloms and giant slaloms and hand-picked downhills and super-Gs.

Double Olympic champion Ted Ligety returns for his 16th World Cup season, looking for his first win in three years after a series of injuries following his Sochi giant slalom gold medal.

The man to watch, though, is Austrian Marcel Hirscher. Last season, Hirscher became the first skier to win seven World Cup overall titles, earned his first two Olympic titles and moved to fourth place on the World Cup wins list with 58. He trails Stenmark, Vonn and Austrian Annemarie Moser-Pröll (62).

MORE: NBC Sports Gold launches ‘Snow Pass’

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Date Time (ET) Event Network#
Oct. 27 4 a.m. Women’s GS – Soelden NBC Sports Gold
Oct. 28 4 a.m. Men’s GS – Soelden NBC Sports Gold
Nov. 17 7 a.m. Women’s SL – Levi Olympic Channel
Nov. 18 7 a.m. Men’s SL – Levi Olympic Channel
12 p.m. Men’s & Women’s SL – Levi* NBCSN
Nov. 24 1 p.m. Women’s GS – Killington NBCSN
3 p.m. Women’s GS – Killington* NBC
Nov. 24 4 p.m. Men’s DH – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
Nov. 25 1 p.m. Women’s SL – Killington NBC
4 p.m. Men’s SG – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
Nov. 30 12:30 p.m. Men’s SG – Beaver Creek NBCSN
2 p.m. Women’s DH – Lake Louise NBCSN
Dec. 1 1 p.m. Men’s DH – Beaver Creek NBCSN
2 p.m. Women’s DH – Lake Louise NBCSN
5 p.m. Men’s DH – Beaver Creek NBC
Dec. 2 1 p.m. Women’s SG – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Men’s GS – Beaver Creek NBCSN
5 p.m. Men’s GS – Beaver Creek NBC
5:30 p.m. Women’s SG – Lake Louise* NBCSN
Dec. 8 5 a.m. Women’s SG – St. Moritz Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s GS – Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
10:30 p.m. Women’s SG – St. Moritz NBCSN
Dec. 9 6:30 a.m. Men’s SL – Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
7:30 a.m. Women’s Parallel SL – St. Moritz Olympic Channel
5 p.m. Women’s Parallel SL – St. Moritz NBCSN
Dec. 14 6 a.m. Men’s SG – Val Gardena Olympic Channel
8 a.m. Women’s SC – Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
Dec. 15 4:30 a.m. Women’s DH – Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
6 a.m. Men’s DH – Val Gardena Olympic Channel
7 p.m. Women’s DH – Val d’Isere* NBCSN
8 p.m. Men’s DH – Val Gardena* NBCSN
Dec. 16 5 a.m. Women’s SG – Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s GS – Alta Badia Olympic Channel
6 p.m. Women’s SG – Val d’Isere* NBCSN
Dec. 17 12 p.m. Men’s Parallel GS – Alta Badia Olympic Channel
Dec. 21 7:30 a.m. Women’s GS – Courchevel Olympic Channel
12 p.m. Women’s GS – Courchevel* NBCSN
Dec. 22 7:30 a.m. Women’s SL – Courchevel Olympic Channel
11 a.m. Men’s SL – Madonna di Campiglio Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Women’s SL – Courchevel* NBCSN
Dec. 23 3 p.m. Women’s SL & GS – Courchevel* NBC
Dec. 28 4:30 a.m. Women’s GS – Semmering NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s DH – Bormio Olympic Channel
12 p.m. Men’s DH – Bormio* NBCSN
Dec. 29 4:30 a.m. Women’s SL – Semmering NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s SG – Bormio Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Men’s SG – Bormio* NBCSN
Jan. 1 10:30 a.m. City Event – Oslo Olympic Channel
Jan. 5 10 a.m. Women’s SL – Zagreb Olympic Channel
Jan. 6 9:30 a.m. Men’s SL – Zagreb Olympic Channel
Jan. 8 12 p.m. Women’s SL – Flachau NBC Sports Gold
Jan. 12 5:45 a.m. Women’s DH – St. Anton NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Men’s GS – Adelboden Olympic Channel
Jan. 13 5:30 a.m. Women’s SG – St. Anton NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Men’s SL – Adelboden Olympic Channel
Jan. 15 7 a.m. Women’s GS – Kronplatz Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m. Women’s GS – Kronplatz* NBCSN
Jan. 18 8 a.m. Men’s SC – Wengen Olympic Channel
6 p.m. Men’s SC – Wengen* NBCSN
Jan. 19 4:30 a.m. Women’s DH – Cortina d’Ampezzo Olympic Channel
6:30 a.m. Men’s DH – Wengen Olympic Channel
Jan. 20 5 a.m. Women’s SG – Cortina d’Ampezzo Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s SL – Wengen Olympic Channel
8 p.m. Women’s SG – Cortina d’Ampezzo* NBCSN
9 p.m. Men’s DH – Wengen* NBCSN
Jan. 25 5:30 a.m. Men’s SG – Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
Jan. 26 5:30 a.m. Men’s DH – Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
4 a.m. Women’s DH – Garmisch Olympic Channel
10 a.m. Women’s DH – Garmisch* NBCSN
Jan. 27 4:30 a.m. Men’s SL – Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Women’s SG – Garmisch Olympic Channel
9 p.m. Women’s SG – Garmisch* NBCSN
Jan. 28 4 p.m. Men’s DH – Kitzbuehel* NBCSN
Jan. 29 11:45 a.m. Men’s SL – Schladming NBC Sports Gold
11 p.m. Men’s SL – Kitzbuehel* NBCSN
Feb. 1 7 a.m. Women’s GS – Maribor Olympic Channel
12 p.m. Women’s GS – Maribor* NBCSN
Feb. 2 5:30 a.m. Men’s DH – Garmisch Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Women’s SL – Maribor Olympic Channel
Feb. 3 2 a.m. Women’s SL – Maribor* NBCSN
7:30 a.m. Men’s GS – Garmisch Olympic Channel
Feb. 5 6:30 a.m. World Champs – Women’s SG NBCSN
Feb. 6 6:30 a.m. World Champs – Men’s SG NBCSN
Feb. 7 5 a.m. World Champs – Women’s SC – DH NBCSN
Feb. 8 10 a.m. World Champs – Women’s SC – SL NBCSN
Feb. 9 6:30 a.m. World Champs – Men’s DH Olympic Channel
3:30 p.m. World Champs – Men’s DH* NBC
6:30 p.m. World Champs – Men’s DH* NBCSN
Feb. 10 6:30 a.m. World Champs – Women’s DH Olympic Channel
4:30 p.m. World Champs – Women’s DH* NBC
11:30 p.m. World Champs – Women’s DH* NBCSN
Feb. 11 5 a.m. World Champs – Men’s SC – DH NBCSN
8:30 a.m. World Champs – Men’s SC – SL NBCSN
Feb. 12 10 a.m. World Champs – Team Event NBCSN
Feb. 14 8 a.m. World Champs – Women’s GS Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. World Champs – Women’s GS NBCSN
11:30 a.m. World Champs – Women’s GS NBCSN
Feb. 15 8 a.m. World Champs – Men’s GS Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. World Champs – Men’s GS* NBCSN
11:30 a.m. World Champs – Men’s GS NBCSN
5 a.m. World Champs – Women’s SL Olympic Channel
Feb. 16 7 a.m. World Champs – Women’s SL* NBCSN
8 a.m. World Champs – Women’s SL NBCSN
1 p.m. World Champs – Women’s SL* NBC
5 a.m. World Champs – Men’s SL Olympic Channel
Feb. 17 7 a.m. World Champs – Men’s SL* NBCSN
8 a.m. World Champs – Men’s SL NBCSN
Feb. 19 11:30 a.m. City Event – Stockholm Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m. City Event – Stockholm* NBCSN
Feb. 22 7 a.m. Men’s SC – Bansko Olympic Channel
Feb. 23 4:30 a.m. Women’s DH – Crans-Montana Olympic Channel
6 a.m. Men’s SG – Bansko* Olympic Channel
Feb. 24 6:30 a.m. Men’s GS – Bansko Olympic Channel
7:30 a.m. Women’s SC – Crans-Montana Olympic Channel
11 p.m. Women’s SC – Crans-Montana* NBCSN
Mar. 2 2:30 a.m. Women’s DH – Sochi Olympic Channel
4 a.m. Men’s DH – Kvitfjell Olympic Channel
Mar. 3 1 a.m. Women’s DH – Sochi* NBCSN
2:30 a.m. Women’s SG – Sochi Olympic Channel
5 a.m. Men’s SG – Kvitfjell Olympic Channel
4 p.m. Women’s SG – Sochi* NBCSN
Mar. 8 7:30 a.m. Women’s GS – Spindleruv Myln Olympic Channel
12 p.m. Women’s GS – Spindleruv Myln* NBCSN
Mar. 9 6:30 a.m. Men’s GS – Kranjska Gora Olympic Channel
7:30 a.m. Women’s SL – Spindleruv Myln Olympic Channel
Mar. 10 7:30 a.m. Men’s SL – Kranjska Gora Olympic Channel
Mar. 13 5:30 a.m. Men’s DH – WC Finals Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Women’s DH – WC Finals Olympic Channel
12 p.m. Men’s/Women’s DH – WC Finals* NBCSN
Mar. 14 5:30 a.m. Women’s SG – WC Finals Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s SG – WC Finals Olympic Channel
11 p.m. Women’s/Men’s SG – WC Finals* NBCSN
Mar. 15 7 a.m. Team Event – WC Finals Olympic Channel
Mar. 16 7 a.m. Men’s GS – WC Finals Olympic Channel
8 a.m. Women’s SL – WC Finals Olympic Channel
11 p.m. Men’s GS/Women’s SL – WC Finals* NBCSN
Mar. 17 7 a.m. Women’s GS – WC Finals Olympic Channel
8 a.m. Men’s SL – WC Finals Olympic Channel
4:30 p.m. Women’s GS/Men’s SL – WC Finals* NBCSN

*Same-day delay