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Sergey Bubka, Alexander Popov deny Rio Olympic vote-buying claims

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Olympic gold medalists Sergey Bubka and Alexander Popov denied claims made in a Brazilian court they were paid to vote for Rio de Janeiro’s winning bid to host the 2016 Summer Games.

The International Olympic Committee said Friday its ethics commission has contacted both men about the allegation by former Rio state governor Sergio Cabral, who is serving a prison sentence for corruption.

Cabral’s testimony Thursday echoed details of an alleged Olympic vote-buying scheme in 2009 already in the public domain.

Ongoing criminal investigations in Brazil and France have implicated Brazil’s former top Olympic official Carlos Nuzman, then-IAAF president Lamine Diack and his son, and then-IOC executive board member Frank Fredericks.

Pole vault great Bubka and swimming star Popov were IOC members voting in October 2009 in a four-candidate contest that included Chicago.

“I completely reject all the false claims made by the former Rio State governor,” Bubka, now an IOC executive board member, said in a statement Friday. “My lawyers will write to Mr. Diack to ask him to explain the allegations of Mr. Cabral who wrongly claims in his testimony that Mr. Diack could secure my vote.”

Popov, who is now an IOC honorary member after having full membership from 2000-16, said he didn’t vote for Rio in any of the three rounds of balloting.

“I did not participate in any negotiations and I am not familiar with the topics and with the people who are mentioned … and have never had contact with them,” the Russian swimmer said in a statement.

Popov said he was seeking to cooperate with the IOC’s ethics investigators, and joined Bubka in saying they were preparing law suits for defamation.

Bubka is the 1988 Olympic champion in pole vault and held the world record for 30 years until 2014. Popov is arguably the greatest ever men’s sprint swimmer and won the Olympic 50m and 100m freestyles in 1992 and 1996.

They are the latest high-profile names in Olympic circles to be linked to vote-buying investigations for the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Most of the evidence detailed connects Papa Massata Diack, the son of long-time IOC member Lamine Diack, to irregular payments of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

Fredericks, a four-time Olympic sprint medalist from Namibia, was suspended by the IOC in 2017 after French investigators revealed he received a $300,000 payment on the day of the 2016 Olympics vote in October 2009. It allegedly came from a Brazilian businessman and was routed via Papa Diack.

Fredericks denied wrongdoing and said the money was for consultancy work in athletics.

On Thursday, Cabral told a judge he paid $1.5 million in bribes through intermediaries to Lamine Diack, to secure up to six votes in the meeting of around 100 IOC members awarding the 2016 Summer Games. Cabral added that another $500,000 was paid later to Diack’s son to secure three more votes for Rio.

Cabral repeated publicly known claims that Nuzman handled negotiations, and the money allegedly came from businessman Arthur Soares.

Nuzman is due to stand trial for money laundering, tax evasion, and racketeering. French authorities said last month they want both Diacks to stand trial on corruption charges. The elder Diack has been detained in France since 2015 and his son has evaded questioning in their native Senegal.

Fredericks faces preliminary charges of passive corruption and money laundering.

The IOC said Friday is it “fully committed to address any issues” with Olympic bidding which has been reformed since 2013 when Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Games.

“With these reforms the IOC has turned the page with regard to good governance and in particular the procedure of the election of host cities,” the Olympic body said.

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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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