President Thomas Bach
IOC President Thomas Bach
In July, 2015, there were only two cities vying for the 2022 Winter Games: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China. Just 10 months before, Oslo, Norway, the host of the 1952 Winter Olympics, pulled out of the running. Sochi a year before famously cost $50 billion, and the Norwegian government was expecting the cost for their city to be billions more than they had an appetite for.

That left Almaty, a city generally unknown, and Beijing, a well-known city that gets very little snow.

With the ugly photos coming out of Rio de Janeiro of the crumbling Olympic infrastructure after only some 7 months, more and more city denizens and governments are convinced they don’t want an Olympics in their metropolis. In fact, Budapest, Hungary, which submitted a strong bid for the 2024 Summer Games, withdrew its bid a week ago on March 1.

So like the 2022 bid, now there are only two for the 2024 Games.

This must be causing considerable heartburn for leaders of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The bidding process has resulted not in a celebration of city pride with the hopes of bringing the biggest sports tent their way, but in opportunities for large numbers of people to publicly and loudly proclaim their disenchantment, if not diffidence with having the Olympics in their back yard.

Rio Swimming Venue Before and After
Rio Swimming Venue Before and After
Fortunately, the 2024 has two solid prospects: Los Angeles and Paris. As Tim Crow writes in this great article, “And Then There Were Two“,

LA is the most compelling, with its vision of Californian sunshine, West Coast tech innovation and Hollywood storytelling power combining to ‘regenerate the Games’ and ‘refresh the Olympic brand around the world’.

Paris is more traditional, a classic piece of Olympic realpolitik, invoking de Coubertin in a ‘new vision of Olympism in action’ in the grand old city, linked to those time-honoured Olympic bid promises of urban regeneration and increased national sports participation.

So, as Crow extrapolates, if the president of the IOC wants to avoid further embarrassment of the citizens of the Great Cities open scorn, at least for a while, he may encourage his fellow leaders to decide the next two Olympic hosts when the IOC meet in Lima, Peru in September, 2017. As has been gossiped about for the past several months, Crow believes the IOC will select either Paris or LA for 2024, and the other one for 2028. By so doing, that would guarantee great Summer Olympic hosts throughout the 2020s, as well as avoid unwanted anti-Olympic discussion that would most certainly lead up to the 2028 process, that is currently scheduled for 2021.

Crow also speculates that the IOC may award the 2024 Summer Games to Paris, and the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles. Here are the three reasons why:

  • One, because an LA 2028 Games will give President Bach the ideal timing to play the American market for the IOC’s next US broadcast deal beyond NBC’s current contract.
  • Two, because it will also give Bach significant leverage in his attempts to persuade his six US-based TOP sponsors to extend their current deals, all of which end into 2020, for eight years.
  • But most of all, because it will buy Bach and the IOC both time and two key partners in its battle to find a new relevance and credibility for a new era and a new generation.

That last one is the tricky one. Can the Olympics be saved for the next generation?

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Men's hammer throw gold medal winner Adr
Ivan Tsikhan, Adrian Annus, and Koji Murofushi with their medals just after the 2004 hammer throw competition in Athens

Koji Murofushi of Japan is not only an Olympian, he’s an alchemist. In his career, he’s turned silver into gold and made bronze appear and disappear.

In 2004, Murofushi was dueling it out with fellow hammer thrower, Adrián Annus of Hungary. Murofushi, though, must have been a bit frustrated because for every mighty throw he made, Annus would throw one slightly further. And in the third of six throws in the finals of the hammer throw, Annus tossed the hammer 83.19 meters, which Murofushi simply could not match. His final throw of the event went 82.91 meters, well beyond every other competitor, except for Annus.

Thus, on August 22, 2004, the Hungarian took the gold in the hammer throw, and the Japanese the silver.

Only a few days after Murofushi stood listening to the Hungarian national anthem on the winner’s podium, he heard the news: Annus would be stripped of his gold medal. As it turned out, the urine samples Annus submitted to authorities before and after the hammer throw competition appeared to be from two different people, neither of them chemically linked to Annus. He was then asked to submit to a urine test after his return to Hungary, but Annus never showed up for the test. Annus was then ordered to return his gold medal so that it could be handed to Murofushi. It took a while, but several months later, under pressure of the IOC and the constant media attention, Annus relented and relinquished his Olympic title.

Murofushi’s silver turned to gold, and he is now the hammer throw champion of the 2004 Athens Olympics.

In 2008, at the Beijing Olympics, Slovenian hammer thrower, Primož Kozmus, won almost every one of the six rounds. He threw 82.02 meters four of those five times, which must have been a bit frustrating, but that mark was still good enough to best all other finalists. Murofushi could not repeat his gold-medal winning distance of 82.91 meters in Athens, his best throw of 80.71 landing him in fifth and thus medal-less.

But in the months after the Beijing Olympics, the IOC began reviewing the test results of the 2008 Olympians and concluded that Vadim Devyatovskiy and Ivan Tsikhan of Belarus had tested positive for abnormal levels of testosterone after the hammer throw competition. (Tsikhan had already been stripped of his bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.) In December of 2008, the IOC ordered that the Belarusians be stripped of their respective silver and bronze medals, and that the fourth and fifth place finishers receive those medals. As Murofushi finished fifth, he was belatedly awarded the bronze medal, becoming only the third Japanese to win medals in consecutive Olympic Games.

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Koji Murofushi at the Beijing Olympics

“It’s a real honor to get a medal in two straight Olympics,” Murofushi was quoted as saying in this Japan Times article. “But it is sad that this has come about because of doping. These were buddies I competed together with so it is incredibly disappointing. This (doping problem) is something the sports world really needs to tackle. It has to be thought of as a very serious problem.”

In the meanwhile, the Belarusians did not take their ignominy sitting down. They appealed the ruling, taking their case to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, the international body that settles disputes related to the Olympics. And in June of 2010, the court upheld the appeal from the Belarusians. Apparently, the court uncovered irregularities in the way the urine samples were handled, thus making it difficult to determine with conviction that doping had taken place. As a result, their silver and bronze medals were restored to them, and Murofushi dropped back down to fifth. He was not to receive a medal for his results in Beijing.

Murofushi’s remarks to the press showed he was willing to be diplomatic, emphasizing the positive. As he said in this Kyodo article, “doping is gaining more and more attention and this will result in stricter tests. I think this will be a plus for me at the London Olympics.”

Maybe it was. Murofushi, at the age of 37, took bronze in the hammer throw at the 2012 London Olympics.

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Andras Toro and me.
Andras Toro, four-time Olympian, was one of the most dramatic stories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. At the age of 24, as his dream of realizing a medal in the 1000-meter singles canoeing event evaporated on Lake Sagami in the semi-finals, the Hungarian made the fateful decision to defect from his homeland, Hungary, to a new land, the United States.

Toro is writing a book on his life and times, and I had the great honor of meeting him in Northern California a few days ago. I will write more detailed posts on his life in the future….but first, let me share some of the memorabilia of an Olympian.
 The first photo is of Toro’s bronze medal and jersey he won at the 1960 Rome Olympics in the 500-meter doubles canoeing competition.

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The next is a certificate of his fourth place finish in his canoeing event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. It has the signatures of the head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, Daigoro Yasukawa, and the head of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage. There must have been thousands of these documents. I wonder if they actually signed each one…

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Here is a gift sent to him and other Olympians, a traditional Japanese wooden doll, known as “kokeshi“, which was a gift of a student’s association. You can see this particular doll was sent to Toro from a junior high school in Miyagi Prefecture.

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The fairly large silk “furoshiki” below was likely handed to many visiting Olympians to the Tokyo Games. A furoshiki is a piece of square material which is a traditional way of wrapping items, like a bento box, with the corners coming together in a knot. This particular furoshiki was also a way for sporting goods manufacturer to market their company.

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How about this lovely bottle opener that states it’s a gift of Shinjuku, which is an area where the Olympic Games were being held. The back of the box explains that currency in the time of the Edo Period (some 400 to 500 years ago) were oval in shape and made of gold, and that this particular bottle opener was a talisman of luck. Strangely, the item is called a “can opener”, so luck will definitely be needed if that’s what you’re trying to open.

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And of course, there are pins galore. As I have written about previously, trading pins is a common activity at the Olympics. Toro appears to have hundreds if not thousands of pins accumulated over decades of Olympics.

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After Toro gained American citizenship, he went on to compete in canoeing as a member of Team USA, as well as fulfill other roles as a canoeing coach for a Team USA and as an executive within the US Olympic Committee.

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ujlaky-Rejto IldikoShe is one of the greatest fencers of all time, winning two gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games on a strong Hungarian squad, one in individual foil, and another in team foil, four years after winning a team silver medal in Rome. She went on win silver and bronze medals in Mexico City, Munich and Montreal, for a total of seven medals over five Olympic Games.

And Ujlaky-Rejto Ildiko was deaf.

And just as true in Budapest as it is anywhere else in the world, a child with differences – in this case, ear pieces, reading lips and general inability to react to the sounds of the world around her – gets mocked and mired in low self-esteem.

While it is hard to find verbatim comments in English by Ildiko, there is this quote from a deaf fencer named Jennifer Gibson, who explains the challenge. “Being the only one at school who wore hearing aids was not easy and in fact, it was extremely difficult. It was the same with sports, I was the only kid who wore hearing aids on the teams I’ve played on. At the time, in the 70‘s and 80‘s, most teachers and coaches were ill prepared to deal with someone like me. They lacked the proper training and understanding on how to teach to people with a disability, particularly hearing loss. It was essentially a whole new ball game for all of us. From a very young age, I’ve had to be very forward about my hearing loss and inform the teachers or coaches that I couldn’t hear them, particularly in large or noisy environments. Very few of them took the initiative to find alternative means of communicating with me such as using a clipboard or talking to me one on one.”

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Ildiko, left, competing at the 1964 Olympic Games

Ildiko likely had similar experiences to Gibson, except decades earlier. She picked up fencing at 15. She worked with coaches who instructed her by giving feedback and direction on paper. But there is no getting around the fact that hearing the clash of blades is key feedback to the fencer. Again, here is Gibson explaining the challenge for deaf fencers: “One issue is that some fencing calls rely on hearing the blades come in contact with each other which means I am unable to do that. Bear in mind that it’s also very difficult to see the fencers faces due to the tight metal weave of the mask. When they try to talk to me while wearing the mask, I actually hear very little.”

But as we see from time to time, those with the will to overcome challenges often find a way to slingshot to phenomenal accomplishment.

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Ildiko with the Hungarian women’s foil team (2nd from left)