Kikkan Randall and Jessica Diggins made history this week, winning the first world title in history for U.S. cross-country skiers, when they took gold in the team sprint event at the World Nordic Championships in Val di Fiemme, France. Even more impressive, they stomped the field by a substantial margin, finishing 7.8 seconds ahead of silver medalists, Charlotte Kalla and Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden.
The result made up for a race in Milan last season, when Diggins crashed in the tag zone before Randall was able to make proper contact with her between the third and fourth legs of a relay. As a result Randall had to ski back to tag Diggins, before starting out on the next leg of the six-leg relay in which two skiers alternate segments. That mishap took place one day after Diggins made her World Cup debut by finishing 18th in the individual sprint.
Through Wednesday, the competition has been a Norwegian feast. Norwegians have 14 medals, including two golds from Marit Bjoergen, one of Randall's chief rivals, while no other nation has more than three.
Consider this unusual picture: U.S. and Iranian athletes united in a cause, cheering and commiserating about how to help their sport. The recent competition in Tehran highlighted just how polarizing -- and in this case, unifying -- the cause of keeping wrestling in the Olympics has become. U.S. athletes said they received boisterous ovations for good performances. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shook the hands of U.S. wrestlers one day, even as he was shaking his anger at U.S. politicians on the same day. The sport must fight its way back onto the Games program at an IOC vote in September and it is fighting on many fronts.
The Japanese Wrestling Federation has started an online campaign called Save Olympic Wrestling, asking for 100,00 signatures to send to the IOC in order to keep the sport in the Olympics. Japan boasts the world's strongest women's team, winning medals in all four weight classes at the London Games.
Valentin Yordanov, a gold medalist at 52kgs. at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and president of his country's national wrestling federation, took the unusual step of returning the gold medal from the Olympics. Yordanov made the announcement at a press conference he held in Sofia, where he said, "With the act I express my solidarity with the millions of athletes and fans of our sport who are condemning the recommendation of the IOC." Bulgarian athletes have won more medals in wrestling than in any other Olympic sport.
Domestically, the wrestling community has formed a coalition of groups designed to keep the sport alive at the Olympics. The Amateur Athletic Union, the National Wrestling coaches Association, National United Wrestling Association for Youth and USA Wrestling have begun accepting donations that will be used to lobby for their sport. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and several wrestling legends, including Dan Gable and Terry Brands, sent personal messages to the IOC on behalf of wrestling.
2024 Olympic bidding
Call it a case of bidder's remorse, but Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel his said his city will not bid to host the Olympics in 2024. Caught in a badly stacked deck of bureaucracy, Chicago was eliminated in the first round of voting for the 2016 Games that the IOC subsequently awarded to Rio. It marked the second straight time a U.S. city was eliminated in the second round of five-city bidding to host the Olympics.
Last week, the USOC send out letters to mayors of 35 U.S. cities, hoping to gauge interest in hosting a Summer Olympics. In its letters, the USOC outlined that the cities would need to provide at least 45,000 hotel rooms in addition to an Olympic village that could house 16,500 athletes and officials; and a workforce of at least 200,000 people.
Mayors in Dallas and Miami have expressed interest. San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has said he is "very serious" about offering a joint cross-border bid with Tijuana, Mexico. Though the Olympics have never staged in more than one country by choice -- the equestrian events at the 1956 Games were moved from Melbourne, Australia to Stockholm because of a horse quarantine -- other cities and countries have floated the idea. The most unusual may be a potential three-country bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics involving Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine. Tougher rules about border security would make a San Diego-Tijuana bid a long shot at best.
New York officials have not indicated whether they would consider bidding again for the 2024 Games; however Ed Lee, mayor of San Francisco, has expressed interest in a city that would likely generate significant appeal with IOC members. Former Olympic hosts Los Angeles and Atlanta were also contacted.
Representatives of some other U.S. cities, such as San Jose, Minneapolis, San Antonio and Indianapolis have also declined. Some cities such as Nashville, Rochester, Austin, Charlotte, Orlando, Tulsa, Jacksonville and Memphis are either not big enough or lack sufficient facilities or international cachet to merit serious consideration.
The IOC will choose the host seven years in advance, so a 2017 bidder would need at least a year of lead-time after being selected as a U.S. candidate in order to push the cause both at home and internationally.
Mariel Zagunis is back to her winning ways. The two-time Olympic champion sabre fencer won her first gold medal of the international season over the weekend, taking the Sabre World Cup in Ghent, Belgium. Zagunis defeated Ukraine's Ola Kharlin, a two-time Olympic medalist, in the finals, 15-13. Zagunis was the U.S. flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies in London last summer. But after a pair of surprise titles, she took fourth in the individual event as a favorite, losing a seven-point lead in the semis and then to Kharlin in the bronze-medal match.
Track & Field
Add another U.S. record, this time indoors to Galen Rupp's sterling resume. Rupp won the 3,000-meter race at the XL Galan indoor meeting in Stockholm, finishing in 7:30.16. Rupp, who also established a meet record, has done most of his damage outdoors, setting a national record in the 10,000 meters (26:48.00) in Brussels in 2011 and winning an Olympic silver medal behind training partner Mo Farah of Great Britain, at the London Games last summer. Bernard Lagat had the set the previous national mark of 7:32.43 in 2007.
With the London Olympics a distant memory, the Fierce Five has been absent from competition in a gymnastics world that doesn't often grant its absentees additional shelf life. In a week when McKayla Maroney started pitching soft drinks and Aly Raisman signed on for a round of Dancing with the Stars, Kyla Ross has withdrawn from the American Cup next weekend in Worcester, Mass. because of a bruised heel. Simone Biles and Katelyn Ohashi, both 15, will represent the U.S. women. Olympians Jake Dalton and Danell Leyva will represent the U.S. men.