The poor performance of the U.S. figure skating team at the recent world championships in Nice, France, bodes badly for the near future, with the Sochi Olympics just two years away. Meryl Davis and Charlie White, 2011 ice dancing world champions, won a silver medal in Nice behind Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. It was the only U.S. medal. Other winners included Canada's Patrick Chan, Italy's Carolina Kostner and German pair Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.
Ashley Wagner had the best U.S. finish in a singles event (fourth), but Alissa Czisny, a superb-but-inconsistent talent, stumbled to 22nd place. Jeremy Abbott was eighth to lead the U.S. men. Czisny and Abbott have had years in which they've proven themselves on the national stage before struggling at the year's major international competition.
The problem with the low performances is that the results from one year qualify places for the major event of the subsequent year. Because of the team's strong performance in dance, the U.S. will have three entries in that event next spring. But the country will only have two places in the men's, ladies and pairs events. If the showings aren't better in London, Ontario, site of the 2013 world championships, the U.S. will also have fewer skaters to send to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where the medals are more meaningful. By contrast, for example, Russia will have three entries in the ladies, dance and pairs events in London.
The following scale at worlds will determine Olympic places. Think of getting points for placement, with the aim of getting as few points as possible (i.e. first place equals one point with two for second, three for third and so on). If one skater records a top-two place in London, that country receives three entries, the maximum number allowed, for the Sochi Games. Teams can also earn three places if the point totals from the top two skaters add up to 13 or less. So a sixth and a seventh place finish would also earn the country the maximum entries. In order to receive two entries in an event, the country needs a single finish between third and tenth or somewhere between 14 and 28 points for two entries. If U.S. skaters were to miss out on the top ten in London, it would be a numbers game to make sure the team could have more than one entry in an event. That scenario would have been unthinkable in some of the team's better years.
After saying he was done, finished and through with the 400-meter individual medley, one of his best, but also most taxing, events, Michael Phelps may be giving his decision a second thought with the London Olympics four months away. Phelps won the race at the Indianapolis Grand Prix last week in four minutes, 12.51 seconds, the world's fastest time in a very early season. Phelps also bested his chief rival, Ryan Lochte, in the 200 IM in 1:56.32. After the races, both Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman, left the door ajar for a return to the event that is arguably the toughest in the sport and has been a stronghold for Phelps.
Phelps has broken the last eight world records in the 400 IM, starting with 4:11.09 in 2002, continuing with 4:08.26 in winning his first career gold medal at the Athens Olympics and then most recently 4:03.84, the existing mark, he swam to win the gold medal at the Olympics in Beijing. Though Phelps hasn't thrown out the number, there is also the lure of breaking the four-minute barrier, a number that seemed out-of-reach not long ago. U.S. swimmer Ted Stickles was the first to go under five minutes in 1961, and Gary Hall Sr. first went under 4:30 in 1974. Swimmers have gone under four minutes in short-course races in which the more frequent turns make for faster time. Lochte holds the existing short-course mark of 3:55.50, set in Dubai last year.
Asked about the possibility of swimming the race at the Olympic trials in Omaha this summer, Phelps said, "Who knows? I'm going to have to be able to do that well and then come back and be able to swim other events well." That's a different story than the one he told after his triumph in Beijing when Phelps said, "We had a deal. I told Bob I wanted this to be my last 400 IM. He said I have to end on a record. In my opinion, that was my last one."
There are reasons to swim and not swim the race. Contested on July 28, the first night of competition, it conflicts with nothing else on Phelps' likely Olympic program. However, swimming either individual medley race also adds to Phelps' training requirements. He certainly plans to swim individual races in freestyle and butterfly events this summer, but the medleys force him to train for backstroke and breaststroke laps, as well. Though he has maintained crowded schedules before, he has the 200 free on tap for the 29th, another race he won in Beijing and is likely to swim again in London. He has strongly hinted that he would include the 200 IM on his event schedule this year, but the longer medley is news. And another showdown with Lochte will heighten the Olympic drama at the pool.
Scandal rocked the Olympic world this week with the stunning fall of Hungary's president, Pal Schmitt. The Olympic champion fencer had once run for the IOC presidency against present leader Jacques Rogge, but he resigned as head of state this week over a plagiarism case that cost him his university doctorate. In 1992, Schmitt had submitted a 215-page thesis in Budapest's Semmelweis University that Schmitt entitled "An Analysis of the Program of Modern Olympic Games." Given a more recent review, the thesis was shown to have had large chunks of direct translation that were not attributed to their original sources. Schmitt had finished two years of a five-year presidential term after parliament chose him to head the country in 2010. He was best known for enacting controversial retroactive taxes upon his selection. He had won gold medals in team épée for Hungary at the 1968 and 1972 Games. The IOC has not announced if it will ask Schmitt to resign from the committee. He has been a member since 1983. He later served as Hungarian Olympic Committee President.