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Archive for February, 2018

Feb. 28, 2018 — Questions, unanswered

Today, the International Olympic Committee reinstated the Russian Olympic Committee, paving the way for athletes from the Russian Federation to compete internationally and win medals.

Whether or not they will do so fairly is, regrettably, as open a question as it was the day after the IOC’s ban on Russia for systematic and flagrant doping.

The doping, it seems, continued even with supposedly “clean” athletes taking to PyeongChang under the designation “OAR” or “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

Two athletes — men’s curler Aleksandr Krushelnitckii and women’s bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva — failed drug tests. But the IOC chose to underline the remaining negative tests from OAR participants as justification for reinstating Russia.

Mind you, the reinstatement does not affect next month’s Paralympic Games. There, the Russian flag and anthem will be banned, and the team will compete under the designation “NPA” or “Neutral Paralympic Athletes.”

Neutral?

It hardly seems as though the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency have neutralized doping amongst all of the Russian sports federations. Their toothless ban, which allowed the Russians to compete, still allowed at least two dirty athletes to compete. That’s stupefying, to say the least.

I’ll be interested to see what happens when the samples taken over the last month are retested with newer technology and techniques in the next decade or decades.

And I think things will get worse for Russia and other doping nations.

 

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Feb. 27, 2018 — Underperformed?

Now that the Olympic flame is out at PyeongChang, the soul-searching and long-term implications are now in full view.

Domestically, the news media has seized upon an internal document from the United States Olympic Committee, one which laid out some pie-in-the-sky scenarios as to how many medals could be won at the 2018 Winter Olympics. One scenario had the States winning 57 medals in the 103 events at the Games.

That’s an awful lot of medals.

But what a lot of people within the U.S. camp will be pointing to are the number of athletes and teams which finished between fourth and sixth place in the standings. While the U.S. team managed 23 medals, it could have had about that many if medals were handed out for the top six places. These near-misses represent a tenth of a second here, a missed trick there, or even something as simple as the efficiency of body position on a luge, bobsled, or skeleton sled.

But there were some moments of brilliance. The U.S. women’s ice hockey team’s shootout win over Canada, the relay win for the U.S. women in cross-country skiing, and the U.S. men’s curling team that spotted the field a substantial lead in league play before winning five matches in a row to take the gold medal from Sweden.

Now, much has been made of the income that the United States Olympic Committee generates — some $650 million annually. It is certainly evident, from press stories, that the money is not going to the athletes, but is instead going to pay the salaries of top bosses. The IT supervisor for the USOC makes far more than the average for the same job in the private sector.

What that has done is create this two-tiered system where you have professionals who make their money off skis and energy drinks in one tier, and in the other you have athletes from well-off families who can afford to pay for training, ice time, and travel without help from the USOC.

It’s that latter group that people should be most concerned with. I have had at least one leader of a national sports governing body tell me that the greatest concern was the “country club” aspect of the costs of even entering a sport like the modern pentathlon.

And yet, what sports have the IOC put into the Olympic program in the last few years but golf and tennis.

What this has done is make a sport like figure skating, which used to be a ratings bonanza for major networks, into an event that the average American can no longer relate to.

Which is really bad for not only the individual sports in the Olympic program, but for the Olympics themselves.

Feb. 26, 2018 — Firing up a new resource

Starting today, we’re going to try a little something new.

I’ve had this dormant Instagram account, @totc, for several years, and I’ve seen the use of this particular social media tool mushroom across the Internet.

What are we going to do with it? We’re hopefully going to use it as a primary tool for short video transmissions about things that happen in the middle of the day that we don’t cover in the blog. We’re hoping that we can bring you short updates or commentaries to add to the experience.

So, mark your Instagram accounts to follow @totc, and have at it.

Feb. 25, 2018 — The “other” big result of the weekend

The Atlantic Coast Conference still, after all these years, manages to bring out the best lacrosse in its players. And this especially goes for within the league, for which every game is a must-see.

Several years ago, you might not have said that for a game pitting Duke against Virginia Tech.

No more.

In what is becoming a bit of an unexpected league rivalry, the Hokies managed to beat Duke over the weekend for the second year in a row. This year, the score was 17-14.

Virginia Tech hit for 10 goals in the first half, and not even two switches of goalkeeper could stop the hemorraging. Paige Petty, the freshman from New Jersey, had four goals and senior Tristan McGinley had five.

Tech has a mix of players from the great national lacrosse powers on its roster, as well as five transfers it has welcomed with open arms.

The Hokies are definitely a program to watch going forward.

Feb. 24, 2018 — Flipping the script in three minutes

In today’s women’s lacrosse showdown between the two teams that have won the last five NCAA titles — North Carolina and Maryland — the Terps did something that they rarely do: lose the lead in the final minute beginning with a possession in which they had the ball.

This is, frankly, understandable. Maryland has won so many more games than it has lost in the last quarter-century, often by double digits, that it doesn’t have much practice in end-of-game situational awareness.

And there is so much that has to run through players’ heads. What’s on the game clock? How many possessions does that mean? Is the other team running a shutoff? Do I take a layup if I get it?

Maryland, which usually gets it right, managed to let a one-goal lead slip away, allowing the Heels’ Marie McCool, late a member of the U.S. World Cup team, to get the golden goal 33 seconds into extra time.

McCool, who now has to be a heavy favorite for Tewaaraton honors later this year, is being bolstered by two outstanding freshman recruits in Jamie Ortega and Ally Mastroianni. Both accounted for about 550 goals each for their schools during their scholastic careers, and they are both coming up trumps in Carolina blue. Their outstanding field awareness and shooting skills were difference-makers in this matchup.

Somehow, I think we’re going to see both of these teams in late May.

Feb. 23, 2018 — And now, whither the CWHL, or the NWHL, or both?

With yesterday morning’s win by the United States over Canada in the Olympic women’s gold-medal game, the same question will come up again: will there be a sustainable vehicle for the elite player pool for the United States (and, by extension, Canada) to hone their skills and teamwork for future international play?

For the last few years, there has been an uneasy detente between a pair of leagues held together by force of desire if little else: the National Women’s Hockey League and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

This year, the NWHL still has the same four franchises as it did when it started: the Connecticut Whale, Metropolitan Riveters, Buffalo Beauts, and Boston Pride. None play their home matches at the major metropolitan arenas; they instead play at small rinks in front of small crowds.

You can say much the same for the CWHL, which this year added a team from China, the Kunlun Red Stars, coached by former Boston Blades owner Digit Murphy. The China team, even if was fully funded by the Chinese sports ministry, is a great risk to the business of women’s ice hockey because of the travel involved and the logistics of having seven teams spread out over three countries (there is still a Blades team playing in Boston).

I’ll be interested to see what kind of victory tour that USA Hockey is planning. Yes, it might seem foolhardy to ask for a team which has trained together every day since last September to gear up for a series of friendlies against either either the existing 11 hockey clubs in the two North American leagues, or against Team Canada.

But every day that Hilary Knight, the Lamoreaux twins, or Maddie Rooney are not on the ice is, frankly, a wasted opportunity. In order to get the Bauers, Tim Hortons, and Red Bulls involved in women’s hockey, the time is now. Not four months from now.

Feb. 22, 2018 — Not to be outdone, a 20-year streak falls by the wayside

Late last evening, the United States women’s Olympic ice hockey team won the gold medal at PyeongChang 2018, which is just about 500 miles and 20 years from where the United States last won Olympic gold in Nagano, Japan.

For much of the last 20 years, the rivalry between the U.S. and Canada in women’s ice hockey has been skillful, fierce, full of gamesmanship, and with a particular twist in terms of the tale. Whereas Canada was the dominant force in the early days of full international play under the aegis of the IIHF, winning the first eight titles, the United States could claim the biggest win in that time frame with its gold-medal win at Nagano.

But since Canada won at Salt Lake 2002, it has been the United States which has been winning at the World Championship level, winning eight titles to Canada’s three. But Canada has also been able to point to four consecutive wins at the Olympics — Salt Lake, Torino, Vancouver, and Sochi.

As is usual in Olympic play, one key was having a player who may have had less experience in goal, but who knew well enough what the stakes were. In 1998, it had been Sarah Teuting, who only played three more years with the team before starting her own life-coaching business in Utah. In this Olympics, it was Maddie Rooney, who had only learned a few days before the semifinal that she would be the starter for the final.

Rooney was magnificent throughout, making one impossible save in overtime when she flung her stick to her right and deflected the puck behind her, parallel to the goal line, and away to the far corner. It was that close to being Canada’s game-winner.

Instead, it was Rooney who came up trumps in the shootout, stopping perhaps the greatest women’s hockey player of all time in Meghan Agosta in the sixth round.

Rooney, a junior at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, had the demeanor that head coach Robb Stauber has seen in some of the greats.

“She has a very good presence about her, a very good demeanor for a goalie,” Stauber tells The Duluth News-Tribune. “If something happens in a game and the puck goes in, whether it’s a great shot or not even a great shot and the puck still ends up in the net, she has the ability to let it go. You need that in critical moments and times.”

And Rooney certainly did the job.