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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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May 21, 2008 11:21 AM

On a break....

Posted by Cathy Henkel

Ron Judd is off until June 4. His Olympics Insider blog will return then.

In the meantime, check out our Blogging from Beijing from Daniel Beekman, a Seattleite in China now.

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May 16, 2008 5:06 PM

B.C. Place will get retractable roof -- after 2010 Games

Posted by Ron Judd

Word today that B.C. Place Stadium, the home of opening and closing ceremonies, and nightly medal celebrations, for the Vancouver 2010 Games, will get a retractable roof to replace its raggedy fabric top. But that work, part of a major overhaul of the B.C. Lions home stadium, won't be complete until a year after the 2010 Games.

See the Vancouver Organizing Committee's response here, and coverage in the Vancouver Province here.

No budget estimate yet, but the work will be done by the province and won't be considered part of the Olympic budget. Officials said replacing the stadium with a comparable new building would cost more than $1 billion.

Any way you look at it, that's a lot of Timbits.

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May 16, 2008 12:41 PM

Double-amputee's Olympic door opening: Victory or bad precedent?

Posted by Ron Judd

First, let's get this out of the way: The fact that artificial limb technology has advanced to the point that we're now arguing whether replacement legs give a double amputee an advantage on the running track over the best athletes in the world is true cause for celebration.

But you can also argue that the decision by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport to allow "the Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius to compete for a spot on the South African Olympic team is a bad legal precedent.

Nobody and nothing should diminish Pistorius's accomplishments: Born without fibulas, he is an amazing athlete who posted a world-class time in the 400 meters wearing carbon-fiber running blades fitted to his legs. His fastest time, 46.56, is a Paralympic record, but still slower than the Olympic qualifying standard of 45.55.

CAS, in its ruling, reversed the international track and field governing body's decision that the carbon "Cheetah" blades gave Pistorius an unfair mechanical advantage, saying that advantage had not been documented scientifically. It's difficult to see how that's so, given that studies showed the prosthetic devices return some 90 percent of the "impact energy" expended by the human body, compared with 60 percent for human legs. It's not clear what "burden of proof" CAS required in the case, but the decision came to many as a surprise.

Arguments will fly both ways about whether the prosthetics are an advantage in averting injury to lower leg bones and feet, as most able-bodied athletes face in training, or a disadvantage in their propensity to overwork other body parts.

But a lot of the furor over the decision, it seems, is a bit premature. The argument that the court decision opens the door to all sorts of mechanical "cheating" in sport -- fins for swimmers missing a hand is a commonly cited example -- is a compelling one. But let's wait and see.

If there's a flood of athletes who have the stones to compete at an elite level against the world's best using prosthetic devices, the sports world can take the issue on at that time. We'll be surprised if and when that happens.

Meantime: Whether you agree with the decision or not, it'll make for quite the story if Pistorius earns a spot on the Olympic team, either by posting a fast enough 400-meter time or being named to his nation's relay team. Even if you're convinced his fake legs are "cheating," at least you'll know who has an "unnatural advantage" in his races.

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , International Court of Sport , International Olympic Committee , Olympic Trials |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 14, 2008 11:06 AM

It's no blimp, but new B.C. ferry is the next best thing

Posted by Ron Judd


OK, a lot of people around here already are envious of B.C. for landing the 2010 Games. Now they're rubbing our noses in it. The province's shiny new ferries -- new ferries, can you imagine? -- are festooned with "Vancouver 2010" paint on the side, in letters as tall as your house.

The bow and stern sections are wrapped with images of Canadian Olympic athletes doing their thing, in monstrous proportions, as well as the Vancouver Games and Olympic logos. The other side of the boats (we're not sure if it's port or starboard, they go both ways) have British Columbia tourism logos and photos of B.C. natural getaways.

See a photo of the newest vessel, the MV Coastal Celebration, making a recent stop in London on its way home from its shipyard of birth in Germany, here. And, if you're a Puget Sound resident really into torturing yourself, it's worth taking a look at a nearby maritime civilization that actually is modernizing and expanding its ferry fleet, rather than watching its old one collapse into a rust heap. An overview and photos of all three of B.C.'s newest, largest, "Super C" class ferries -- they hold 370 vehicles and 1,650 passengers -- can be found here.

You might get a chance to ride on one of the world's largest double-ended ferries this summer. One of the new boats, the Coastal Renaissance, already is making daily runs from Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay. The Coastal Inspiration is undergoing crew training and soon will ply the waters between Duke Point and Tsawwassen; the Coastal Celebration will run between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen later this summer.

The Coastal Celebration currently is at sea, in a month-long journey across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, and up the Pacific Coast to B.C. If you're really, really bored at work, you can follow its progress here. The boat, due in Vancouver sometime next month, originally was scheduled to make Olympic-promotional stops in Los Angeles and Seattle on its way home. But funding for those events has been diverted to the Beijing Olympics instead, a B.C. Ferries spokeswoman said this morning.

It's just as well. If there's one thing Seattleites don't need to see, it's new ferries bound for someone else's waters.

If you're a true Olympics geek and want details on the Canadian Olympic athletes depicted on the ships, see the B.C. Ferries site here. Naturally, this being Canada, one of them is curling.

(Illustration: B.C. Ferries)

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May 13, 2008 2:00 PM

Vancouver burns for that smokeless torch

Posted by Ron Judd

Critics who recently stumbled on the long-known fact that the Olympic torch relay originated with the 1936 Summer Games presided over by Hitler can save their breath about dousing the flame for future Olympics. The next torch relay, for the Vancouver 2010 Games, already is deep into the planning stages.

It's not likely now -- nor was it ever -- that Vancouver organizers would turn the relay into the sort of globe-hopping adventure undertaken by Beijing Games organizers. Look for Vancouver's torch to happily circle Maple Leaf Nation, traveling through some 1,000 communities, 200 of which will host cultural celebrations along the way.

Canadians, meanwhile, are hotly into the torch debate -- not whether it symbolizes something unseemly, but whether any hydrocarbon-based extravaganza these days can be deemed sufficiently "eco-friendly."

Organizers are teting a variety of fuels for the 12,000 torches expected to burn bright on the 100-day trek, as well as the cauldrons in Vancouver and Whistler, the Vancouver Sun reports today. The problem: the fuels producing the brightest flame also tend to be the dirtiest.

In recent history, most Olympic torches have burned canisters of butane. But we're hoping the Vancouver folks come up with a uniquely Canadian solution. How about a canister of methane tapped from all that garbage Whistler ships by train to Washington state?

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May 13, 2008 8:49 AM

A Hannah Storm-front hits ESPN, just in time for Beijing

Posted by Ron Judd

ESPN, left decidedly on the summer sidelines due to NBC's lock/stock/barrel ownership of Olympic broadcasts, isn't just conceding the ratings race to the peacock network.

ESPN will expand its popular SportsCenter show to mornings starting Aug. 11, just when the Beijing Games are getting rolling. And it will put a big name with long NBC roots -- Hannah Storm -- in the anchor's chair from 9 a.m. to noon Eastern, the Associated Press is reporting. The announcement was expected later today.

Storm, 45, most recently anchor of the CBS Early Show, has a decade of NBC Olympic experience from Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Salt Lake City.

It's part of a major lineup shuffle in which ESPN will replace nine hours of canned programming (mostly repeats of SportsCenter taped at 2 a.m. Eastern time the night before) with live shows. Under the old format, ESPN didn't begin live broadcasts until 3 p.m. Eastern. A Summer Olympics, with its non-stop news cycle, is the perfect time to make the switch.

"You look at Fox News and CNN, it's inconceivable that they would be on tape for that amount of time," Norby Williamson, ESPN's executive vice president of production, told the AP. "The sports world is evolving in that direction. Things are happening all the time."

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May 11, 2008 12:55 AM

A soccer mom aims for the Olympics

Posted by Ron Judd

Here's one soccer mom who doesn't just drive a minivan to the game. She's actually in it.

Former Husky soccer star Tina Ellertson gave birth to her second daughter only a week ago, but it hasn't derailed her dream of playing for the U.S. team in Beijing this summer, writes Meri-Jo Borzilleri in this week's Olympics Notebook. It's no longer far-fetched in a world where motherhood and the Olympics are becoming less mutually exclusive every year.

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May 9, 2008 12:39 PM

Spring, schming: U.S. team making tracks at Whistler venue

Posted by Ron Judd

What do American cross-country skiers do in their off-season?

Cross-country ski, at least in the first part of it. We caught up with U.S. skier Torin Koos of Leavenworth, a likely 2010 Olympian, on the phone this week from Whistler Olympic Park, where he and teammates are training in a two-week camp.

The special training session is designed, of course, to give them a feel for the XC courses they'll compete on during the 2010 Games. Because the venue, in the Callaghan Valley south of Whistler, is brand new, that's a major competitive factor.

"We are up here with one goal in mind," says U.S. head developmental coach Matt Whitcomb. "And that is to get to know these trails like we designed them ourselves."

It's the second trip to Whistler Olympic Park for Koos, 27, who competed there during the Canadian Nationals in March. His early take on the place:

"It's cool, man. Whistler is a sweet place," he says. "The Coast Range mountains are awesome, big mountains. And it (the venue) is in real wilderness. You can see bears crossing the trails every once in a while."

Koos and his teammates had only good things to say about the courses, laid out by former skier John Aalberg, who also helped design the cross-country venue at Soldier Hollow, Utah for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games.

"Everybody is very enthusiastic about the layout of the courses," Koos says. "They're really skiable. You would think that'd be something you need in a cross-country ski course. But sometimes they just throw in ridiculous steep hills that are too steep to ski. Like, Nagano was known for that.

"This has a really good flow to it. You can tell a skier laid it out. It's going to take really good skiing to win here, not just running up hills, where it's a matter of who has the best engine. It's going to be who's the best skier."

Whitcomb echoed those sentiments.

"They are not as hard as the courses in Canmore, Alberta, but they ski very well," he says. "The layout that John Aalberg created is inventive and flows like a windy river that somehow flows over hill and dale."

As evidenced by the fact that they're still able to ski there in May, snow cover won't be a problem at the Whistler Nordic venue, which also serves as the 2010 home base for ski jumping, Nordic combined, and biathlon. But weather is likely to play a greater-than-usual role.

Because of its relative low elevation and proximity to saltwater, snow conditions can be very mixed in the Callaghan Valley. Example: A 50-kilometer test race conducted last week began in a blizzard, carried on with icey conditions through a break in precipitation, and ended in warm, slushy snow.

That can be an equipment nightmare for cross-country skiers, whose skis are treated with high-tech waxes to grip and glide properly. The choice of wax is based on snow conditions at the start of a race. There's no way to adjust once you're on course. So a bad wax decision can spell doom.

"I've heard there's a 100-percent chance of having a major rain experience during that time in February," Koos said. "There's lots of precipitation, but it's both snow and rain. Weather can move in and out in a moment's notice."

When temperatures are ranging from just below to just above freezing, that can cause ski-wax technicians to pull their hair out, Koos said.

"They're definitely going to earn their keep."

But U.S. skiers, who have improved on the World Cup circuit in recent years, but have not earned an Olympic medal since Bill Koch's silver in 1976, welcome the challenge. Their aim is to make the Whistler course feel like home territory.

"It's going to take a complete skier to be really good here," Koos says. "That's one of the reasons we want to spend so much time here. It's not like hopping on a running track, where the course is always the same."

If they can get permission, the U.S. squad might even host its Cross-Country Nationals at Whistler next spring, Koos says.

In the short term? He's got another competition in mind: The Ski to Sea Race, Memorial Day weekend in Bellingham. Koos will be on the Barron Heating team, known for luring its share of ringers. And he's not even doing the cross-country leg. Koos will make the notorious climb up to the top of Pan Dome to ski the alpine leg.

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May 6, 2008 10:02 AM

Bellevue ski racer Libby Ludlow moves on

Posted by Ron Judd

A few months ago, up at Whistler, you could see it in her face. Not defeat. Just fatigue. Bellevue's Libby Ludlow, a ski racer almost her entire life, was fighting to recover from microfracture surgery -- another in a long series of painful injury rehabs in pursuit of a dream: Skiing in the Olympics on a mountain range in the Northwest, a day's drive from home.

It wasn't to be. Ludlow, 26, announced her retirement this morning, after 10 years on the U.S. Ski Team.

"The fact that I am healthy right now and can walk away from the sport healthy, happy and satisfied with what I've accomplished is what I've always wanted. It feels really good," Ludlow told U.S. Skiing. "It was clear that now is my time to walk away. I feel really good about my career and I am excited about what lies ahead."

Ski racers who get the need for speed in their system often find it difficult to do what Ludlow is doing -- pull the plug before it has to be done from one of those ski-patrol body sleds. As it is, Ludlow has enough physical scars from her career to serve as reminders for the rest of her life. So cutting the losses is an investment in what surely will be a bright future, away from icy mountainsides.

The sport also appeared ready to exact an even greater toll on Ludlow: She said earlier this year that changes in the U.S. Ski Team's ranking system might mean she would lose her funding to compete on the World Cup next year as she struggled to get healthy.

She leaves with a career of which she can be proud: Ludlow skied in the Turin Olympics, won the 2004 giant slalom national crown, and posted 45 top-30 World Cup finishes, three of them top 10s. She also skied on the 2003 and 2007 World Championships teams. She was ranked 10th in the world in super G at the dawn of the 2007 racing season.

She also was a talented athlete off the slopes. Ludlow was a soccer midfielder and won a state girl's pole-vaulting title at Interlake High School, where she graduated first in her class.

Ludlow, who began skiing at age 2 at Crystal Mountain, and racing with Crystal Mountain Alpine Club at 6, said she will take a year to finish her undergraduate degree -- in philosophy modified by Eastern religion -- at Dartmouth, then work toward certification as a yoga instructor.

"I've been doing yoga for 11 years, and it's something I plan to use to transition into the real world," she says.

Ludlow is one of those determined athletes that makes covering Olympic sports inspiring. Tens of thousands of them are out there every day, putting life and limb literally at risk, for pure love of their sport. Only a handful ever reach the level of a medal podium, and the (brief) fame and sponsorship money that comes with it. The rest of them work hard, enjoy the little rewards along the way, and then move on -- in the best cases, without the assistance of crutches.

So here's to Libby Ludlow, one of the hardest of hard chargers. She left a lot of herself out there on a lot of different mountains -- but still possessed the good sense to know when to hop off.

(Photo: U.S. Ski Team)

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May 5, 2008 6:57 PM

Spokane's Olympic ace-in-the hole? Enthusiasm

Posted by Ron Judd

The opponents were bigger and better-known. But the way Toby Steward and Barb Beddor see it, their hometown, Spokane, had an ace-in-the-hole when it came to luring the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and Olympic Trials: A perfect track record.

Twice before, skating events organized by Steward and Beddor's Star USA had been lured to the Inland Empire. And each time, participants and sponsors went away feeling flush loved -- and financially flush.

Spokane set attendance records when it hosted Skate America, a major, second-tier skating event, in 2002. It set attendance records again when it hosted the U.S. Championships in 2007. The total sales of 154,000 obliterated the former mark, set in Los Angeles in 2002, by 30,000.

It was a remarkable achievement, given that those championships came a year after an Olympics, when interest in figure skating typically wanes, and that they were held in a place as far off the national radar as Spokane.

It's the sort of locally generated enthusiasm that's difficult for national bodies like U.S. Figure Skating to ignore. Impossible, in this case.

"We felt the ultimate trump card was that attendance record," an elated Beddor said by phone this evening. "And to be able to say with confidence, 'Yeah, we're going to beat that number again.'"

Of that, they have little doubt. Nor do they doubt that the impact from the event has the potential, at least, to balloon at an even greater rate. The '07 championships brought an economic impact estimated at $30 million to the Lilac City. And since then, the event has been dramatically expanded. It now stretches for 10 days over two weekends. Senior men's finals and pairs will take place the first weekend; senior women's finals and ice-dance finals will come on the second. (Official reason: Training schedules for the coming Olympics. More likely reason: NBC.)

Most of that weekend competition will be broadcast live from the 10,500-seat Spokane Arena on NBC, which will be promoting it to death to bolster its upcoming coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics. (Stakes are high for the peacock network, which, recall, paid an unseemly amount of money for Olympic rights through 2012, only to see the Winter Games in Turin get squashed in the ratings contest by the likes of "Dancing With the Stars.")

That's the other factor that turns this event from a major coup to a game-changer for Spokane: The competition dates are Jan. 14-24, 2010. The end of Spokane's skating championships comes only 18 days before the start of the Vancouver Games. The focus of the Olympic world, not just the national skating community, will be on Spokane.

"Olympic fever is a real, tangible item," Beddor says. "It will take over. There's no question we are going to see the benefit of that. Obviously throughout the Pacific Northwest. Certainly in Washington state."

Their company has organized events in the past that would have sold well on their own, but mushroomed because of a timing and proximity brush with the Olympics. A Team USA versus China women's hockey match in Boise, just before the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games, for example, drew a standing-room only crowd. Idaho officials estimated that the match, in conjunction with a torch relay passing and other national teams training in the area, netted as much as $100 million in economic benefit.

Beddor and Stewart believe the same phenomenon is possible in Washington leading up to the Vancouver Games.

Tickets are likely to be in high demand. A survey of previous ticket buyers from the '07 event indicated that 97 percent of fans said they'd come back to Spokane to watch figure skating, an almost unbelievable number, says Steward, a former national weightlifting champion who met Beddor, his wife, at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. They moved to Spokane and launched their event promotion business in 1990.

"We're so proud of the Spokane community," Beddor says. "When they get behind a project, there's no stopping them."

But they both stressed that the event has statewide impact. A sizable chunk of its fan base is based on the west side of the Cascades. And a large portion of the event's sponsors are Seattle-based, as well.

Steward and Beddor have long sought to bring a skating World Championships to Spokane. They lost out on a bid for the '09 World Championships, which went to Los Angeles, although that bid was submitted before Spokane had a chance to show its ablilities with the '07 Nationals.

With that focus on the Worlds, they at one point had nearly decided not to bid on the 2010 Nationals.

"But one day we said, you know what, we don't want to be sitting around four years from now and saying shoulda woulda coulda, and letting a 100-year opportunity (the close proximity of an Olympics) slip through our fingers."

They were confident in their bid, even knowing that San Jose, Portland and Providence, R.I., had their own well-backed efforts. They sensed some sentiment among U.S. Figure Skating board members to host the event on the East Coast. So they weren't sure Spokane would get the call until it actually got the call this afternoon.

"It's figure skating," Beddor said with a chuckle. "They're all about the drama, you know."

Washington state suddenly is set to receive more than its fair share of it. Everett recently landed the 2008 Skate America competition for October at Comcast Arena.

Since you asked: Ticket sales begin at 10 a.m. May 31. See details on the post below, or see the event Web site.

And since you also asked: Yes, there is a hometown favorite. Well, honorary hometown, anyway. Skater Ashley Wagner, who finished third at the 2008 U.S. Nationals, is considered a strong contender for the Vancouver Olympic squad. As a military kid, she's grown up all over the world and is now based on the East Coast. But she has spent many a summer with her grandparents in Kitsap County, where her grandfather, Mike James, was a longtime ranger at Scenic Beach State Park near Seabeck.

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May 5, 2008 2:33 PM

Spokane lands 2010 Olympic skating trials

Posted by Ron Judd

Spokane landed a big one today -- the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Nationals, an event that also doubles as the Olympic Trials for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

The city won the event on the strength of its strong performance hosting the Nationals in 2007, when it set event attendance records of more than 154,000 fans. Men's champion Evan Lysacek said skaters "felt like rock stars" in the Lilac City.

Says Ron Hershberger, U.S. Figure Skating's president: "There is huge support for this event from the city of Spokane that goes well beyond the figure skating community. These factors, and the excellent facilities in Spokane, will provide an extraordinarily positive atmosphere for our athletes, The enthusiasm we experienced in 2007 certainly proved that Spokane can host a truly outstanding event."

The venue again will be the 10,500-seat Spokane Arena, built in 1995. NBC will provide more than 10 hours of live coverage for the event.

"We couldn't be prouder or more excited for our hometown," Toby Steward, president of the local managing agency, Star USA," said in a release from U.S. Figure Skating. "The world will be riveted to the excitement of the Olympic Winter Games, and the Pacific Northwest will be in the spotlight. Spokane will now have a direct connection to that excitement."

The event will take place from Jan. 14-24; its scope has recently been expanded to spread major competitions across consecutive weekends, to maximize prime-time TV exposure. Men's and pairs competition will take place during the first weekend; women's finals and ice dance finals will fall on the second weekend.

All-event ticket packages will go on sale May 31 by calling 800-325-SEAT or online at Single tickets typically are sold later, but they're often very limited because package buyers get dibs on prime events.

U.S. Figure Skating didn't name the other candidate cities, but two were rumored to be Providence, R.I. and Portland. The event is a big deal for the Northwest, and a huge one for Spokane.

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May 4, 2008 7:00 AM

Meet Seattle's "most anonymous sports superstar"

Posted by Ron Judd

Sunday's Seattle Times Olympics notebook, by Meri-Jo Borzilleri, introduces a Seattle athlete you've probably never heard of -- but will, once the Beijing Games begin in August. As she writes:

Meet Brad Walker, Seattle's most anonymous superstar. He's a pro, but not a Sonic, a Mariner or a Seahawk. Unlike any of them, he's ranked No. 1 in the world in his sport -- pole vaulting. He's the favorite for Olympic gold in Beijing this summer. He has won two world championships, including last year's title in Osaka, Japan.

Check out the Olympic Notebook in the Sports Section of every Sunday's Seattle Times.

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May 1, 2008 1:48 PM

New Canadian Summer Games wear: Nouveau leaf!

Posted by Ron Judd

Look_11_cropped.jpgJust when you thought there was nothing more you could do with that maple leaf, HBC of Canada comes along with its new take on uniforms and casual wear for the 2008 Canadian Summer Olympics team.

And to think people were worried that HBC -- formerly known as Hudson's Bay Company; yes, the fur-trapper people -- would produce staid, boring clothing after wresting the Canadian Olympic contract away from trendy Roots a couple years back.

Check out the full fashion line here.

Anyone else think this left-leaning individual appears to have just urped up all down his front?

Then again, it could be worse. Check out, below, the "iconic" parade wear the HBC draped all over the 1964 Canadian Winter Team. It's the Olympics, Charlie Brown!


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Blogroll and links The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information. Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site. Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription). News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions. Beijing Organizing Committee Web site. Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site. London 2012 Summer Games site. Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site. Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.