Friday, April 25, 2008

Heavy security surrounds Olympic torch runner in Japan

NAGANO, Japan (AP) — Dashing past sporadic protests, runners carried the Olympic torch Saturday through Nagano’s streets, lined by thousands of riot police and closely monitored by helicopters overhead.

Police guards in track suits surrounded the torch bearers and and another 100 uniformed riot police trotted alongside six patrol cars and two motorcycles. They were backed up by thousands of other police.

Japanese officials said the security was unavoidable, and called for calm. But the high-profile police presence dissipated any festive mood in Nagano, which hosted the 1998 Winter Games.

But despite a heavy police presence, minor scuffling and protests broke out.

Two men were arrested separately in the first half of the relay, each trying to charge the torch, but were quickly pounced by police, and a third man was apprehended
later after throwing eggs at the flame, Nagano police official Chihiro Usui said.

National broadcaster NHK reported a smoke-emitting tube was thrown at the relay, but without affect. Marchers yelling “Free Tibet” crowded the streets near the route. And before the start, one person was hurt in a fight between Chinese and
pro-Tibetan supporters, and a self-proclaimed monk carrying a knife was arrested.

The starting point — a last-minute substitution after a Buddhist temple pulled out — was closed to the public, as were all rest stops along the way.

The relay, making its 16th international stop, has been disrupted by protests or conducted under extremely heavy security at many sites since it left Greece.

The protests are largely in response to China’s crackdown last month on protests in Tibet, which it has governed since the 1950s, and to concerns over human rights issues in China.

The international route ends next week, with stops in South Korea on Sunday, North Korea on Monday and Vietnam on Tuesday. The flame arrives on Chinese soil on May 2 in Hong Kong, for a long journey around the country before the Aug. 8 start of the

Japan has taken severe measures to ensure its 11.6-mile relay goes smoothly.

But groups including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders planned to protest peacefully througout the day. About 2,000 Chinese exchange students, meanwhile, swarmed Nagano to show their support.

“We thank the people of Nagano for their support,” said Gao Rui, who came with his family waving Chinese flags. “I hope there won’t be any more problems. The Olympics are supposed to be about international unity.”

Several hundred more, divided into pro-China and pro-Tibet factions, rallied in front of the train station. Some marchers yelled “Free Tibet” and waved Tibetan flags, crowding the streets along the route.

“I came from Tokyo to show my support for Tibet,” said Toru Watanabe. “I’m glad it was peaceful, but it was impossible to see the torch.”

Coinciding with the start of the relay, which began under a light rain, a prayer vigil was held at the largest Buddhist temple in Nagano, Zenkoji.

The 1,400-year-old temple, which was the showcase of the 1998 Olympics, last week declined to host the start of the relay, citing security concerns and sympathy among monks and worshippers for their religious brethren in Tibet.

After arriving in Nagano by bus early Friday, the flame was spirited away to a hotel and put under heavy security. About 3,000 police have been mobilized.

The problems with the torch relay and reports of foiled terrorist plots in China have raised larger concerns of violence during the Beijing Games, the head of Interpol said Friday.

Ronald Noble told an international security conference that potential attacks could involve efforts to block transportation routes, interfere with competitions, assault athletes or destroy property during the Olympics.

In Vietnam, authorities expelled an American citizen of Vietnamese origin who planned to disrupt the relay there, state media reported. Vuong Hoang Minh, 34, was put on a flight to the U.S. on Thursday, the Vietnam News Agency said. It said Minh told authorities he planned to snatch the torch.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Boston, NYC Marathons want Olympic trials back, with changes

AP Sports Writer

BOSTON (AP) — Marathon officials in Boston and New York are
already eager to bring the 2012 Olympic trials back to their
cities, as long as the sport’s governing body helps them recoup the
$1 million it cost to piggyback another event on their races.

“There’s no going back at this point,” said Mary Wittenberg,
the president of the New York Road Runners, which organizes the New
York Marathon. “We’ve taken the trials to a whole new level. I
think we’re shortchanging everybody if we don’t find a way to build
on it.”

Although trials are common in most Olympic sports, including
other running events, the nature of the 26.2-mile marathon makes it
difficult to add another race into the athletic calendar. Virtually
every other country picks its marathon team by committee; Boston
men’s winner Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya and women’s winner Dire Tune
of Ethiopia are both hoping their performance on Monday will earn
them a trip to Beijing.

“That is complicated,” said Cheruiyot, a four-time Boston
winner who was left off the Kenyan team for Athens. “I may be
there; I may not. But I hope to be there.”

Less complicated is a race where the top three finishers make
the team.

And that’s the allure of the trials.

After decades of holding distinct, but largely ignored,
marathons to choose the Olympic teams — for the 2004 Games, the
trials were in St. Louis and Birmingham, Ala. — USA Track and Field
assigned the Beijing qualifiers to the country’s most prestigious

But the men didn’t traverse the five boroughs along the
traditional New York route; nor did the women head from Hopkinton
to Boston on Patriots Day as thousands of runners have done for a
century. Instead, the would-be Olympians followed specially
designed courses, a day before the traditional races.

“I think it put American distance running in a whole new
light,” Boston Athletic Association executive director Guy Morse
said Tuesday. “U.S. athletes deserve this sort of stage.”

Deena Kastor, Magdalena Lewy Boulet and Blake Russell qualified
for Beijing on Sunday with their 1-2-3 finish in Boston. Ryan Hall,
Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell earned spots on the U.S. men’s
team with their top-three finishes in New York in November.

Both courses were lined with fans, many of them runners in town
for the next day’s race. But the extra event cost New York and
Boston officials more than $1 million each.

“We don’t believe it should be incumbent upon the local
organizing committee to have to support it 100 percent,” Morse
said. “We knew that going in, and we made that commitment. But we
won’t do it again” under those conditions.

What New York and Boston organizers wanted most was to fold the
trials into their regular race, perhaps with an earlier start that
would give the Americans the course to themselves. But that raised
the question: Would the trials’ profile be elevated by
incorporating it into the most prestigious marathons in the world,
or would it be overwhelmed by the international — and, frankly,
more accomplished — field.

“I know that there is no desire among our athletes — male or
female — to push the trial races into the ’big races,’” USATF
president Bill Roe said Tuesday. “We also have no desire to deal
with the possibility of a non-American crossing the finish line at
our trials first.”

But there’s a bigger obstacle: Money.

Morse said the trials cost “upwards of $1 million; we’re still
counting.” More importantly, he said, there was no opportunity to
recoup the expenses through sponsorship or television because those
rights are locked up by the USOC and USATF.

For the women’s trials, which ended at the traditional Boston
finish line, officials had to cover up John Hancock ads prepared
for Monday. And how would Olympic sponsor Bank of America feel
watching the U.S. team crowned under banners touting the local
sponsors at the ING New York City Marathon?

“I know my optimism about finding a solution with the USOC and
LOCs over costs is not shared among some in our sport,” Roe
said. “But I think we have to give it a try before ever contemplating
mixing the trials — which since 1972 have always been a stand-alone
event — with a larger event.”

Local organizers were able to solicit from official Olympic
sponsors, but “a lot of those sponsors feel like they’ve already
supported the Olympics and there was no more funding for the
trials,” Morse said. The USOC and USATF did chip in $20,000 apiece
for TV production and provided water and sports drinks for the
runners along the course.

Both Morse and Wittenberg said the key could be getting the host
cities awarded quickly, to give them time to seek out
sponsors. Boston was awarded this year’s trials about two years before the

Roe said that’s being discussed.

“Perhaps our trials site will be named earlier than in the
past,” he said.

For the Beijing qualifiers, USATF required a loop course that
essentially starts and ends at the same spot. By definition, such a
course is neither uphill nor downhill, neither upwind nor downwind,
and because it’s more compact the fan support is more concentrated.

By avoiding Heartbreak Hill and the other ups and downs of the
tough Boston course, organizers can puff up their Olympic
qualifiers with fast times. But, Morse noted, “our race would be
more indicative of what they’re going to face in the Games. In most
cases, it’s a Boston-type of course.”

Boston benefited, too, by having the chance to crown an American
winner on Boylston street, which hasn’t happened in the traditional
race since 1985. Local organizers of both events also reaped the
goodwill developed in their cities and from the running world.

“It’s part of a much bigger strategy for us, to build a sport
and develop stars,” Wittenberg said. “It’s time to get the big
fish in the big pond. I think before we were enabling
mediocrity. I’m so confident our athletes are up to the stage.”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

IOC strips medals from Marion Jones’ relay teammates at 2000

AP Sports Writer

BEIJING — Marion Jones gave up her Olympic medals. Her
relay teammates aren’t quite as willing.

Jones’ former relay teammates paid for her doping offenses
Thursday, losing their medals from the 2000 Sydney Olympics as the
International Olympic Committee stripped them from athletes who won
gold with Jones in the 1,600-meter relay and bronze in the 400

“The decision was based on the fact that they were part of a
team, that Marion Jones was disqualified from the Sydney Games due
to her own admission that she was doping during those games,” said
IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies, who announced the decision. “She
was part of a team and she competed with them in the finals.”

Jones’ teammates on the 1,600 squad were Jearl-Miles Clark,
Monique Hennagan, LaTasha Colander-Richardson and Andrea
Anderson. The 400-relay squad also had Chryste Gaines, Torri Edwards, Nanceen
Perry and Passion Richardson.

The runners have previously refused to give up their medals,
saying it would be wrong to punish them for Jones’ violations. They
have hired a U.S. lawyer to defend their case, which could wind up
in the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The IOC ruling follows the admission by Jones last year that she
was doping at the time of the Sydney Games.

She returned her five medals last year and the IOC formally
stripped her of the results in December. Jones won gold in the 100
meters, 200 and 1,600 relay, and bronze in the long jump and 400

“The (IOC) decision ... illustrates just how far-reaching the
consequences of doping can be,” USOC chief executive officer Jim
Scherr said in a statement. “When an athlete makes the choice to
cheat, others end up paying the price, including teammates,
competitors and fans.

“We respect the decision of the IOC executive board, as well as
the right for the athletes who are impacted by this decision to
file an appeal with the Court of Arbitration of Sport, should they
so choose.”

The IOC put off any decision Thursday on reallocating the
medals, pending more information from the ongoing BALCO steroid
investigation in the United States.

A reshuffling of the medals could affect more than three dozen
other athletes. The IOC wants to know whether any other Sydney
athletes are implicated in the BALCO files.

Davies said the Jones’ relay case differed from that of
U.S. 400-meter runner Jerome Young, who was stripped of his gold medal
in the 1,600-meter relay from Sydney because of a doping violation
dating to 1999. He ran only in the preliminary of the relay.

The IOC had sought to strip the entire American men’s team but
the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in 2005 that there were no
rules in place at the time of the Sydney Games for a whole relay
team to be disqualified for an offense by one member.

“Marion Jones ran in the finals and she was of her own
admission doped during the Olympic Games,” Davies said. “Jerome
Young was found to be doped before the Olympic Games and should
never have competed in the first place.”

The next IOC board meeting takes place in Athens, Greece, in
June, followed by another meeting in Beijing on the eve of the
Aug. 8-24 Olympics.

Davies said there was no timetable for a decision on
redistributing medals, but noted there was an eight-year statute of
limitations. The Sydney Games finished on Oct. 1, 2000.

After denying she had ever used performance-enhancing drugs,
Jones admitted in federal court in October that she used the
designer steroid “the clear” from September 2000 to July 2001.
She began serving a six-month prison sentence last month for lying
to investigators about doping and her role in a check fraud scam.

On other doping matters, the IOC board adopted its anti-doping
rules for the Beijing Games, covering the period from the opening
of the Olympic village on July 27 to the closing ceremony on
Aug. 24.

Among new provisions, athletes will be considered guilty of a
doping violation if they are found in possession of any prohibited
substance, including marijuana. Missing two doping tests during the
games or one during that period and two in the previous 18 months
will constitute a violation. And athletes can be subjected to
no-advance notice drug tests “at any time or place” during the

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Security tightened as San Francisco girds for protests along Olympic torch relay


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Security was tightened on the Golden Gate Bridge and elsewhere around the city Tuesday as officials prepared for massive protests of China’s crackdown in Tibet during the Olympic torch’s only North American stop on its journey to Beijing.
The Olympic flame was whisked to a secret location shortly after its pre-dawn arrival Tuesday following widespread and chaotic demonstrations during the torch relay in London and Paris. Activists are protesting China’s human rights record, its grip on Tibet and support for Sudan despite years of bloodshed in Darfur.

The torch is scheduled to be paraded through the city Wednesday on a six-mile route that hugs San Francisco Bay. Already, one runner who planned to carry the torch dropped out because of safety concerns, officials said.

It began its 85,000-mile journey from Ancient Olympia in Greece to Beijing on March 24, and was the focus of protests from the start.

Hours after it arrived in San Francisco, protesters marched to the Chinese Consulate, calling on China to cease its heavy-handed rule of Tibet.

Meanwhile, a few miles away in Chinatown, leaders of China’s expatriate community held a news conference calling for a peaceful relay, and said they were proud China was selected to host the summer games.

In Beijing, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said the body’s executive board would discuss Friday whether to end the international leg of the torch relay because of the demonstrations. He said he was “deeply saddened” by the
previous protests and was concerned about the relay in San Francisco.

“We recognize the right for people to protest and express their views, but it should be nonviolent. We are very sad for all the athletes and the people who expected so much from the run and have been spoiled of their joy,” Rogge said.

Hundreds of activists carrying Tibetan flags and wearing traditional clothes gathered in United Nations Plaza, a pedestrian area near San Francisco’s City Hall, to denounce China’s policy toward Tibet and the recent crackdown on protesters
there. They then marched to the Chinese Consulate as part of a daylong Tibetan Torch Relay.

“This is not about us battling the torchbearers,” Lhadom Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, told the crowd outside the consulate. “This is about the Chinese government using the torch for political purposes. And we’re going
to use it right back.”

The day of protests culminated in an evening candlelight vigil for Tibet, with speeches by actor Richard Gere and human rights activist Desmond Tutu, who called on President Bush and other heads of state to boycott the opening ceremonies in Beijing.

“We must tell the leaders of the world, ’For goodness sake, for God’s sake, for the sake of your children, our children, for the sake of the beautiful people of Tibet, don’t go!’” Tutu told the crowd of hundreds.

San Francisco was chosen to host the relay in part because of its large Asian population.

David Lee, executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee and a professor of political science at San Francisco State University, said while many Chinese agree with critics of China, on the whole, Chinese-Americans feel a
tremendous sense of pride that the Beijing Olympics chose San Francisco as the only relay site in North America.

At a news conference Tuesday, business owners asked for calm.

“We are begging for five hours of peace,” said Sam Ng, president of the Chinese Six Companies, a prominent benevolent association.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Olympic leader: A boycott of Beijing Olympic would be ’serious error’

BEIJING (AP) — The head of an organization that oversees 205
national Olympic committees said politicians who encourage a
boycott or partial boycott of the Beijing Games are making “a
serious error.”

Mario Vazquez Rana, the president the Association of National
Olympic Committees, and the International Olympic Committee are
holding meetings over the next few days in China’s capital.

“Any politician who is pushing for a boycott is committing a
serious error,” Vazquez said Saturday. “For me a total boycott, a
partial boycott, is totally out of the question.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has not ruled out the
possibility he might boycott the opening ceremony if China
continues its crackdown in Tibet. In Saturday editions of Le Monde,
one of his Cabinet ministers outlined changes needed for Sarkozy to
take part in the Aug. 8 ceremony, but later denied using the word

Le Monde had quoted Human Rights Minister Rama Yade as saying,
“Three conditions are essential for him to attend: an end to
violence against the population and the liberation of political
prisoners; light shed on the events in Tibet; and the opening of a
dialogue with the Dalai Lama.”

Rioting last month in Tibet has thrown a spotlight on China’s
human rights record, prompting protests along the torch relay. It
has turned the run-up to the Olympics into a stage for groups with
grievances against China’s communist government.

Vazquez took the same line offered Thursday by Hein Verbruggen,
who heads a team of IOC inspectors that are making their last
official visit to Beijing before the games. An IOC member,
Verbruggen was critical of politicians who call for boycotts,
saying the IOC is a sports organization — not a political one.

“This (Tibet) is a Chinese problem and China will have to
deploy all its ability and experience to solve its problem,”
Vazquez said. “Nobody should use the games as a way to solve this

The Chinese government said 22 people died in violence stemming
for the riots in Tibet. Tibet’s government in exile said 140 died.

“I’m very sincerely sorry for what has happened in Tibet, but
we must say that this is not an issue for the Olympic Games,”
Vazquez said.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Records fall in the water as new suits take off

AP National Writer

When Natalie Coughlin tried to squeeze into her first racing
swimsuit, oh the agony.

“I was crying because it hurt so bad,” said Coughlin, who
captured five medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and five more at
last year’s world championships. “Everyone was just trying to wear
as small a suit as possible.”

Not anymore. Covering up is the thing.

World records don’t stand a chance against the full-body suits
that are spawned in high-tech labs and tested in NASA wind
tunnels. They come with everything but a rocket attached to the back.

Speedo’s new “LZR Racer” already has taken an absurdly huge
chunk out of the record book, less than two months after lavish
debuts around the globe featuring swirling lights, thumping music
and a bevy of swimmers-turned-models.

So far, the Speedo suit has helped set 18 world marks.

Eighteen! More are sure to fall in upcoming qualifying races for
swimmers hoping to make it to the Beijing Olympics.

“It literally feels like you’re a rocket coming off the wall,”
said Michael Phelps, who hopes the LZR will carry him to eight gold
medals in Beijing. “The water just completely runs off the suit.”

There are some who bemoan the latest technological
breakthroughs, who wonder if world-class swimmers are being created
as much in the lab as they are in the pool.

Others say there’s no going back.

“They’re constantly trying to improve on the most current
design,” said Coughlin, who set one of the first records in
Speedo’s new duds. “It never really stops.”

The full-length bodysuits are a far cry from the crude attire
worn by female swimmers in the 1970s, which came with a scooped,
U-shaped back that was so uncomfortable the straps were tied
together with shoestrings. And surely everyone remembers the
increasingly skimpy briefs worn by male swimmers until a decade or
so ago.

“In my day, the game on the men’s side was to see how small a
suit you could wear,” said Steve Furniss, a two-time Olympian and
now executive vice president of California-based swimsuit company
Tyr. “The less, the better. We went around stuffing our little
heinies into those suits. Now, the game is covering up.”

NASA actually had a hand in developing the LZR Racer, which was
unveiled in mid-February.

“We were looking to understand and manage skin friction and the
drag on materials,” said Jason Rance, who heads up Speedo’s
research and development center. “The leaders on that thought are
NASA. They’ve spent a lot of time looking for ways to reduce the
drag on their spacecraft.”

“There’s always a lot of skeptics,” said Stu Isaac, Speedo’s
front man as the senior vice president of marketing and team
sales. “They say it’s all marketing and hype, that kind of thing. I think
now people understand that it goes beyond hype.”

Those falling world records, however, have raised suspicions
that something more sinister is at work. Has Speedo created a suit
that is somehow more buoyant, skirting the rules by allowing
swimmers to glide along the top of the water?

After one of his countrymen, Alain Bernard, set three world
records in a three-day span at the European championships, a top
French official questioned the legality of LZR Racer and called for
an investigation by governing body FINA.

There were similar complaints before the 2000 Sydney Games, the
launching point for the revolutionary full-length suits that are
now the norm. Four years later in Athens, Phelps won eight medals
(six of them gold) and the latest incarnation of the Fastskin
became the rage, leading to another round of outcry from the

FINA has called a meeting with the major swimsuit manufacturers
to coincide with this month’s short-course world championships in
Manchester, England. It was already on the agenda before Speedo’s
suit hit the water, and company officials are quick to point out
the top-secret fabric used in its LZR Racer was approved by the
governing body two years ago.

Cornel Marculescu, the organization’s executive director, said
there will be a review of “the procedures and regulations for
approval of swimwear, namely the issue of the thickness of the
swimsuits.” There’s no indication that Speedo’s suit, or the
similar groundbreaking attire trotted out by rivals companies like
Tyr and Arena, are in any danger of being shelved before
Beijing. The main goal is making sure the new suits are available to any
swimmer who wants to wear them.

“So far, all swimsuits are made from traditional materials such
as Lycra, polyester, elastic or nylon,” Marculescu said. “FINA
will continue looking at this issue. However, to our best
knowledge, the swimwear equipment is not an additional value on
achieving the best performances. We are not there yet.”

The LZR Racer will soon be available to the general
public. Pre-orders are already being taken by Speedo, with full bodysuits
going for as much as $550.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

IOC inspectors are satisfied after final meeting with

BEIJING (AP) — International Olympic Committee inspectors said
Thursday that they were satisfied by Chinese organizers’ assurances
that operations in critical areas will run smoothly in the Summer

With the Games just four months away, the inspectors — know as
the coordination commission — completed their final official
meetings with Beijing organizers. They said they were assured of
smooth operations for Internet access, live television broadcasts
and contingency plans to deal with the Beijing’s air pollution.

“We were satisfied by assurances we received across a number of
areas,” Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the inspection team, said in
a statement. He did not offer details but was scheduled to hold a
news conference later Thursday.

Earlier this week, a high-ranking IOC official said Chinese
officials had been told that Internet censorship had to be lifted
for thousands of journalists covering the games. About 30,000
accredited and non-accredited reporters are expected to report on
the games.

Kevan Gosper, vice chairman of the coordinating commission, said
restricting access to the Internet during the games “would reflect
very poorly” on the host nation.

Beijing routinely blocks Chinese access to some foreign news Web
sites and blogs, a practice it has stepped up since rioting broke
out in Tibet in mid-march. Laws that lifted many restrictions on
foreign media went into effect Jan. 1, 2007. That is due to expire
in October.

Broadcasters have been lobbying against plans by Chinese
officials that might bar live television broadcasts from Tiananmen
Square. Any ban on live broadcasts would disrupt the plans of NBC
and other major international networks, who have paid hundreds of
millions of dollars for the rights to the games.

China routinely uses 30-second to one-minute delays to control
broadcasts seen on state-run TV. The Olympic torch lighting
ceremony last month in Greece was disrupted by a protester who ran
up behind a top Chinese official giving a speech. The image seen
around the world was never shown on state TV in China.

Monday’s torch arrival in Tiananmen Square was also broadcast on
a delay.

IOC officials have acknowledged that outdoor endurance events of
more than an hour could offer a small health risk to athletes. IOC
President Jacques Rogge began saying seven months ago that events
would be postponed if the air quality were poor.

Last month the IOC’s top medical officer said Beijing’s air
quality was better than expected. A study the IOC approved showed
there are risks to athletes in outdoor endurance events and
conditions may be less than ideal during the Aug. 8-24 period.