Even before the skating season kicks off, there has been plenty of kicking and screaming from the rink over the split between Korean Olympic champ Kim Yu-na and her Canadian coach Brian Orser. Granted, Kim's mother, Park Mi-hee has always been a strong presence in her life, but she and Orser co-existed peacefully during Kim's run to the Olympic title in Vancouver last year despite their differences. This year, according to Orser, trouble escalated when he learned through press reports that Kim was skipping the Grand Prix season. She had also asked an outside coach, Shae-Lynn Bourne, to help choreograph her routine without first consulting with Orser.
At one point, Orser issued a press release, saying the split had been "sudden and unexpected," and that he hadn't been given a proper reason for the breakup. Kim's camp refuted that, saying that Park hadn't ordered that Orser be dropped. Kim, herself, then sent out a notice telling people that Orser was lying, and that she made the decision to fire him, without her mother's urging, after their relationship became strained. The problems further mushroomed earlier this season when Orser revealed details of Kim's new skating program, a no-no in the skating world.
Though she has not committed publicly to a new coach, nor a permanent new training site, Kim did say she would at least spend some time in Artesia, Calif., at the East West Ice Palace -- owned partly by Michelle Kwan and her family. In October, Kim will appear at the Staples Center in a Los Angeles ice show with Kwan, the ever-popular five-time world champ who managed to stay above the verbal-jarring fray during her lengthy career. Kwan would be a classy role model for Kim to follow as her off-ice actions endure more scrutiny.
There is also a battle afoot involving two great skating champions that has nothing to do with axels and salchows. Kim is a key supporter and the public face of Pyeongchang's bid to bring the 2018 Winter Games to Korea. In order to gain the IOC's blessing next year, when the winning city is announced, Pyeongchang will have to overcome a strong challenge from Munich, whose board chairwoman is none other than Katarina Witt, Olympic ladies champ from the former G.D.R. who won gold in 1984 and 1988. Munich's bid however, has been hampered by land disputes with local farmers and the abrupt resignation of CEO Willy Bogner, who recently came down with a severe intestinal illness. Witt will present Munich's bid at the IOC Session in Durban, South Africa next year.
Add the biggest notch yet to the black belt of judoka Kayla Harrison. At the world judo championships in Tokyo on Thursday, the 20-year-old captured gold in the half heavyweight (78 kg.) class, making her the first U.S. judoka to win a world title since her coach, Jimmy Pedro, took the crown in 1999. Harrison also became the first U.S. woman to capture a world title since Ann-Marie Burns in 1984. The Middleton, Ohio native who trains with Pedro in Wakefield, Mass., won all five of her matches to become the fourth-ever U.S. gold medalist in the event at a world championship. It was the team's only medal of any color in Tokyo, and the U.S. still does not have a judo gold at the Olympic Games. On Thursday, Harrison threw Slovenia's Ana Velensek for a decisive ippon. She finished her semifinal match against Ukraine's Maryna Pryshchepa by taking Pryshchepa in a chokehold as time expired. In her final bout against Brazilian Mayra Aguiar, a foe who had defeated her earlier this season, Harrison needed extra time before throwing Aguiar for a yuko to win the match. Though Harrison won the Olympic trials event in 2008, she lost out on a chance to compete at the last Olympics because her team had failed to qualify to participate in her weight division.
On the heels of a successful World Cup, South African Olympic officials now know for certain that Durban will be the country's candidate city to host the 2020 Olympics should South Africa submit a bid to stage those Games. No other cities that had been considered -- Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, which had bid for the 2004 Games -- put forth a national bid for domestic consideration. The IOC will make its choice at the committee's session in Buenos Aires in 2013.
U.S. players were all aglow Sunday after taking gold at the FIBA world championships in Turkey. But this has not always been the case. Before this year's competition, which result was the most common for the U.S. men in the previous championships: gold, silver, bronze or no medal? Try the last option you might expect. At 15 other championships since 1950, U.S. men had won three golds, three silvers and four bronzes. They also competed at five tournaments in which the team failed to win any medal at all. Sure U.S. pros didn't actually play in the tournament until 1994, but U.S. teams still managed to win multiple Olympic golds with top college players. The championships simply were not a priority for U.S. players at any level for many years. That has changed now that the game has gone global.
Are relations really improving between the USOC and the IOC? Here's one indication that they may be. The IOC named its evaluation commission for the 2018 Winter Games. Of the 11-member task force that will report to the IOC's general membership about the merits of the three bidding cities (Pyongchang, Korea; Munich, Germany; and Annecy, France), four of the commission's members -- new IOC member Angela Ruggiero, AIOWF representative Dwight Bell, International Paralympic Committee rep Ann Cody and infrastructure consultant Grant Thomas -- are from the United States. Switzerland is the only other nation with as many as two representatives on the commission. For years now, U.S. representation on various working and governing bodies has dwindled, due in equal measure to a lack of proactive behavior from the U.S. side and international umbrage that ultimately thwarted Chicago's bid to land the 2016 Olympics. With USOC leaders Larry Probst and Scott Blackmun promising better communication and involvement with international partners, and the IOC promising open arms, this is a fair step in a good direction.
USA Track and Field's board of directors is looking for a new CEO after dropping Doug Logan this week. The 66-year-old was sunk in part by his team's middling international results, partly by plans that hadn't materialized, but mostly by his unconventional management style that did not always placate the various and sometimes conflicting entities within the USATF.
A Vietnam vet who went from driving a New York City cab to running Major League Soccer, Logan was known to think outside the box, a trait that could be a good thing for a sport struggling to regain its once preeminent place on the sporting landscape, and a shortcoming in an organization filled with volunteers who need to be consulted and have their issues addressed. Logan maintained a blog on the USATF website, where he tried to be edgy (he attacked supplement manufacturers) and current (praising Justin Timberlake as one of the great performers of his generation). He recalled running his first marathon years earlier, when he lit a cigarette at the finish line. This was not your typical CEO. But his shoot-from-the-hip style didn't always sit well.
Logan also fell victim to his grandiose vision for the USATF. Though USATF scored a $10 million annual deal with Nike, word was that the board had hoped for other deals to boost that organization's bottom line. Last year, Logan spoke of a dual meet between Jamaican and U.S. sprinters that had the potential to feature a sprint between Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay. But Logan's public assertion that the meet was "close" and needed just a "small investment" proved premature, and athletes who stood to make more money at Diamond League meets in Europe balked at the idea. He also professed the organization's desire to bid for and host the world championships, an event that has been held since 1983 but never in the U.S. That has been a nearly impossible sell to sponsors, who see the meet as a financial loser, and for the sport's international governing body, which doesn't see a U.S.-based championship generating sufficient interest.
After the U.S. team produced 23 medals at the Beijing Olympics, Logan started his Project 30 Task Force, bringing in Carl Lewis, among others, to make suggestions as to how the team might improve its medal count to 30 at the London Games in 2012. The group established guidelines for sprinters to train for relays after a pair of relay mishaps in Beijing followed a long pattern of untimely drops and disqualifications at world championships. The U.S. team then won 22 medals, including 10 golds, at the world championships in Berlin last summer, still tops among all nations, but less than the goal Logan hoped for publicly. Though some, including Lewis, remained in Logan's corner, insiders said USATF meetings became increasingly fractious with too many parties asking Logan why he was not taking their thoughts into consideration.
Now the USATF faces a bigger decision: who wants Logan's old job? It chose from within the sport, picking lawyer and former indoor-mile champion Craig Masback, to lead to group before Logan. Finding someone new who understands both the sport and the needs of the athletes, agents, volunteers, sponsors and international partners will not be an easy pass of the baton.