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Usain Bolt set to join Australian soccer team

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Usain Bolt agreed in principle to join an Australian soccer team in the nation’s top division, the Central Coast Mariners, a soccer agent said Tuesday.

“The deal between the Mariners and Usain Bolt, in principle, has been agreed, subject to a couple of benchmarks, namely a trial and, of course, some marquee funds support from the FFA [Australian Football Federation],” agent Tony Rallis said in a radio interview. “They understand that he has to go through six weeks of a trial.”

The eight-time Olympic champion Bolt has long harbored dreams of playing pro soccer.

Since retiring last summer, the 31-year-old Jamaican has trained alongside club teams in South Africa, Jamaica and Norway, plus had a much-publicized visit with Borussia Dortmund in March. Bolt and Dortmund share an apparel sponsor in Puma.

“This bloke’s an ambitious athlete,” Rallis said. “You know, the A-League needed a hero, and we got Superman. … If he’s competitive, he will lift our A-League profile, he will create dreams of young people and he will give the A-League a profile no amount of money can buy,”

The Central Coast Mariners, based in Gosford in New South Wales, won four matches and lost 15 last season, finishing 10th in the 10-team A-League. There is no relegation in Australian soccer.

“There’s still a lot of work to do in regards to understanding exactly how the deal would work out and how things would look, but things are very positive at the moment,” Central Coast Mariners CEO Shaun Mielekamp said on Australia’s Seven Network. “It looks like a good six-week trial period that we would be able to facilitate. If all goes well, who knows, he might be lighting up the A-League this season.”

The 2018-19 regular season starts in October.

“It would only be big if he can play and if he can go really, really well,” Mielekamp said. “If he comes, and he’s not up to the level, then it actually has a detrimental effect.”

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France World Cup star eyes 2024 Paris Olympics

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Antoine Griezmann, a star striker on France’s World Cup team, sounds like he wants an over-age spot on France’s 2024 Olympic soccer team.

“I would really like that, and that could be a dream. I experienced the Euros in France [in 2016] and it was the ultimate blast,” Griezmann replied to a question from five-time French Olympic biathlon champion Martin Fourcade, according to an ESPN translation of Le Figaro report. “To experience that in 2024 at the Paris Games, I’d sign up for that now. It would be magnificent. Honestly, it could be one of the objectives for the end of my career.”

France hasn’t qualified for an Olympic men’s soccer tournament since 1996, but it should receive automatic entry into Paris 2024 as the host nation.

Current Olympic men’s soccer rules would allow three players per nation born before Jan. 1, 2001.

Host nations recently used those spots on Neymar for Brazil in 2016 and Ryan Giggs for Great Britain in 2012.

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Sunny Olympic host Sochi turns into World Cup playground

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Warm weather, beaches, amusement parks.

It’s not exactly what Australian fan Adam McKinley expected to find when he decided to make the trip to Russia for the World Cup.

But that’s exactly what he got in Sochi, the city introduced to the world as a winter destination during the Olympics four years ago, with its coastal location on the Black Sea and its majestic snow-capped peaks a short distance away.

“Whenever I think of Russia, I picture something like cold Siberia. I picture, like, real cold stuff,” McKinley said. “I’ve been blown away by this. We even went for a swim and it was lovely. It was just nice and warm. We’ve been pleasantly surprised.”

Sochi wasn’t so cold during the Olympics, either, with temperatures frequently climbing into the mid-50s in the Olympic Park. The chillier mountains are roughly an hour’s drive away.

But in the summer, the snow is replaced by sun, lots of it, as Russia’s seaside playground explodes into a scene more akin to Southern California or Miami Beach than Siberia.

“The moment we saw Peru was going to play in Sochi, we wanted to come here,” said Peru supporter Luis Medina, one of the thousands of World Cup fans who have come to the city. “We knew this was going to be the place to be.”

Even the teams based in Sochi were taking full advantage of the region’s attractions. Brazil was feeling right at home, enjoying the warm temperatures and a private beach at the team’s hotel in possibly the closest setting to what it had back home before traveling to Russia.

“We are having lunch and breakfast with a view of the sea. That’s a plus for us,” goalkeeper Alisson said shortly after Brazil arrived.

The Brazilians fought hard to secure Sochi as their base. The Austrian federation initially picked the five-star hotel where Brazil is staying, but luckily for the Brazilians, Austria did not end up qualifying for the World Cup.

Germany stayed in Sochi during the Confederations Cup last year, but this time it chose a different location in part because it said it couldn’t secure a proper private training field. After the opening loss to Mexico, some local media questioned whether the decision not to return to Sochi played a part in the team’s disappointing performance.

Poland also is based in Sochi. On a day off, the team visited the city’s dolphin park, one of the most famous in the region.

The micro-district of Adler, where the Olympic Park sits and the World Cup matches are played, is a hub of activities catering to tourists of all ages and tastes.

Many gather at the rock-covered beach by Fisht Stadium, which is hosting six World Cup matches, including one in the round of 16 and another in the quarterfinals.

But if sunbathing isn’t high on the agenda, there is plenty more to do.

Sochi Park, known as the Russian Disneyland, is walking distance from the stadium. Based on local fairy tales, it’s the country’s first modern theme park — and one of the biggest.

It was mostly empty during the Olympics, but four years later it has been popular among World Cup fans. Officials estimate the tournament has added about 2,000 people a day to the park, which annually receives 1 million visitors.

“It’s a shame we can’t stay longer and enjoy more of the park because we have to go to the game,” Panama supporter Nathalie Nielsen Atencio said.

The park includes a “roller-coaster” restaurant, with orders sliding down to customers on metal tracks. It’s believed to be the only restaurant of its type in Russia, and one of nine in the world.

Also near the park is the Sochi Autodrom, which hosts Formula One races but is open to people wanting guided tours and even a chance — for a price — to drive the circuit.

“There are so many things to do in Sochi,” said Alexey Titov, who is in charge of the company that organizes the Russian Grand Prix and operates the track. “It has developed greatly in the past four years since the Olympics have gone. You can see it has changed massively. This place went from a swamp in 2008 to a thriving park with restaurants, food, activities, things to do.”

By the track there’s also a go-karting circuit, and the remaining Olympic venues offer indoor sports like tennis, skating and hockey.

Sochi’s downtown is some 20 miles from the Olympic park, but activities there also revolve around the waterfront, including a lengthy promenade of storefronts, souvenir stands and water-related activities connecting the heart of the city with the seaport where the Fan Fest is taking place.

Beach clubs playing a mix of pop hits from Europe and the United States are mixed with more family-oriented places to enjoy the sun, like waterparks with slides and splash-pads on the shore of the Black Sea.

The train line connecting Adler and Sochi runs mostly along the shore and is filled with small pockets of land teeming with beachgoers.

All those waterfront activities don’t include the resorts of the Krasnaya Polyana mountain cluster 30 miles inland, where the Alpine events of the Winter Olympics were held. They offer a summer attraction for those not as interested in the beach.

Martin Fasth was visiting from Sweden for the World Cup and was impressed with all the options.

“We kind of expected something better than Sweden,” he said, “but not something this nice.”

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