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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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January 12, 2009 9:23 AM

Some background on Vancouver ticketing

Posted by Ron Judd

A little background on the Vancouver Games' U.S. ticketing process.

Many of you, ticked at the process for getting Vancouver 2010 tickets, are asking questions and pointing fingers. Who's to blame? Why is the entire U.S. ticketing process handed over to a New Jersey ticket agency that makes Ticketmaster look like a role model for customer service? Where's the U.S. Olympic Committee on this?

Let's start with the last question. Answer: Right in the middle of it, but at arm's length. Here's how the process works:

CoSport is the sibling of a parent company, Jet Set Sports, which specializes in luxury -- read: top dollar -- travel to the Olympics, mostly to corporate accounts. They also sell tickets individually to the general public through the CoSport arm, which some of you have been dealing with for the past few months. This is not a new arrangement. Jet Set has been around since 1984. CoSport has been the U.S. ticketing agency for all Olympics in recent memory.

The relationships are tangled, complicated, interesting -- and probably extremely profitable in some instances:

-- CoSport has a contract with the U.S. Olympic Committee to be its "exclusive ticketing agency" for every Olympic Games. The terms of that contract, like most USOC contracts, are not disclosed by either party. We do know that the contract establishes certain paramaters, such as an upper limit on the commission CoSport can charge (likely the 20-percent it now charges, although actual prices seem to be at least 30-percent higher, not considering exchange rates).

It's unclear exactly how much influence the USOC has over the ticket-allotment request CoSport makes to the host committee, in this case the Vancouver Organizing Committee, or VANOC. But there's definitely interplay: The official request is formally submitted to VANOC by the USOC, which saves a small block of tickets for itself for athletes' families. A USOC source indicated the actual number of tickets for fans is deterimined by research from CoSport, since they're the ticket experts. CoSport's actual ticket request to VANOC for 2010 has not been disclosed by either party.

-- CoSport doesn't seem to communicate with the public and certainly not the press, because, well, it doesn't have to. A monopoly is a good thing to have. If they did speak, they likely would justify their ticket markups, commissions and other fees that seem like gouges thusly: We have to buy all the tickets up front, they say. We're carrying that risk, and deserve to be compensated. That's true. They have to divine how many tickets the public will want, and if they don't sell, they're left holding the bag. There is some indication that has happened in at least one recent Olympics. But any fool could see ticket demand for the 2010 Games was going to be intense in America, a foreign country so close and so interlinked with the host. The "risk" for pre-purchasing tickets for Vancouver 2010 was likely infinitesimal. Our guess is that CoSport requested as many tickets as it could get.

-- CoSport has dozens of additional, similar contracts for exclusive ticketing with many more nations, from Australia to Europe, whose fans attend the Olympics.

-- In addition, parent company Jet Set Sports has its own contractual relationship with the host committee, in this case VANOC. Like many companies, it is an official Olympic sponsor (meaning it pays the Olympic committee a nice sum) and also a provider of services -- in this case luxury travel, mostly for fatcat corporate types. These contracts also are undisclosed, but we're talking about substantial millions of dollars here.

In exchange for that, Jet Set gets its own allotment of tickets, separate from the CoSport/USOC allotment, to resell with travel packages. This allotment also is undisclosed (notice the trend here?) And in the case of the Vancouver 2010 Games, it is of particular interest because of what happened right before U.S. ticket buyers received their notifications last week. Namely, Jet Set transferred 15,000 tickets from its corporate allotment to its CoSport share for the general U.S. public. That increased the total ticket pool from a puny 33,000 tickets to a slightly less puny 48,000 -- still only about 3 percent of the total number of tickets distributed by VANOC.

It begs some questions: If Jet Set had a spare 15,000 tickets lying around to transfer over to CoSport, how many tickets did it receive for travel packages in the first place? Or more specifically: Could its ticket allotment have been anywhere near -- or, God forbid, greater than -- the entire ticket allotment set aside for the general U.S. public?

It's important, because one of the great issues faced by the Olympic movement is elitism. While the IOC as an organization has made great strides in opening up the Games themselves to more diverse groups of athletes, it remains an organization run by, and largely catering to, the upper crust -- especially when it comes to access to the Games themselves. IOC officials, of course, bristle at that notion. But they bristle while their shoes are being shined in all the nicest hotels, with tickets to all the best events, with little to no hassle in obtaining them. If Games officials are doling out as many tickets to luxury travel packages as to general ticket buyers, they're only worsening the notion that "regular people" are an afterthought when it comes to Olympic attendance. (It's already a very sensitive topic in Vancouver, which, like many other host cities, is starting to feel touches of buyer's remorse at staging an expensive, largely publicly financed event that in many ways feels off-limits to ordinary citizens.)

It seems likely that Jet Set's transfer of tickets from its travel packages to individual sales was strictly a business decision. With the tanking economy, and many of Jet Set's primary corporate clients cuting budgets, holding on to large blocks of tickets attached to spendy travel packages likely involved at least some degree of risk. The individual ticket market, by comparison, was not only strong, but was a known quantity to CoSport, which already had the entire U.S. ticket request database in its hands. It's a guaranteed sale at perhaps lesser profit compared to a speculative sale in ticket packages.

Some of you have asked whether the USOC is sensitive to its image -- and the Olympic image -- being tarnished by the ticket process. I'd say yes -- to a degree. But not enough to do something about it, clearly. In case you're wondering, there's zero chance the USOC will step in itself to handle ticketing itself, and reduce or eliminate the markup. "We're not in the ticketing business," they repeatedly say. If anything, the trend is toward contracting more of those services out, not taking them on and raising their own employement rolls.

But it's clearly the kind of thing that makes the U.S. public think twice before mailing off a check to the USOC when they get those fundraiser letters in the mail.

Bottom line: This is one of the few instances where the U.S. Olympic movement deals directly with the public in a customer-service situation. And from what we keep hearing, the experience for much of America has not been a positive one. Disgust is not the primary emotion you generally want to leave with your fan base. We know the USOC is an intensely public-image-conscious organization. And one would expect them to pay a little more attention to ticketing for a Games so close to home.

Comments | Category: CoSport , Jet Set Sports , United States Olympic Committee , Vancouver 2010 Games , Vancouver 2010 tickets |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 9, 2009 12:04 AM

Woodinville luger Christian Niccum sidelined

Posted by Ron Judd

ChristianNiccum08v2-copy2we.jpgChristian Niccum, the current U.S. champion doubles luger from Woodinville, is sidelined for a while on a maternity leave.


He's not expecting, but his partner Dan Joye recently became the father of a daughter born two months early in an emergency premature Caesarian. The baby and mother were in stable condition yesterday in a Bay Area hospital, USA Luge announced.

Joye will remain with his family for at least several weeks. That leaves Niccum, a 2006 Olympian, alone to train on a singles sled in Lake Placid, N.Y., in the interim. Niccum and Joye had slid to 12th, 10th, fifth- and ninth-place finishes on the World Cup tour this season.

It's unclear if the duo will be back together for a Feb. 21-22 season-capping race at the new Whistler Sliding Centre in British Columbia. That race will be a test event for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

Niccum, 29, a four-time Junior World Doubles champion with previous partner Matt McClain, finished 23rd in luge singles at the Turin 2006 Games.

Photo: USA Luge

Comments | Category: Luge , Northwest Olympians , Vancouver 2010 Games , Winter Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 5, 2009 6:20 PM

Drumroll, please: It's ... Olympic ticket time!

Posted by Ron Judd

As promised, Co-Sport, the exclusive ticket dealer for Vancouver 2010 events here in the lowly United States of America, has started notifying customers of their winnings -- or losings -- in the big ticket lottery.

We heard from a half-dozen folks this afternoon, from all around the country, saying they've received their Co-Sport judgments. More are expected throughout this week.

On average, most of those who've reported in said they requested three or four events, and received tickets for one or two. A couple of them noted -- and this is worth passing on -- that the confirmation email, at first glance, can be confusing. It actually lists all of the events you requested, but only those for which you'll receive tickets have real dollar amounts ( as opposed to "$0.00) next to them.

So far, we've yet to hear from a single soul who's received a thumbs-up for tickets to figure skating, speed skating (short or long), or any form of alpine skiing. First one to report such a score wins ... well, the scorn and derision of all the rest of us.

We've yet to receive our own personal ticket request e-mail, but based on the fact we requested only a couple very popular events, our hopes are not high.

So, watch your inbox, check your spam file, and keep your eyes peeled. And start saving up now to pay off that Visa if you truly struck it rich.

Meantime, let us know here what you got, what you asked for, and how you feel about the process. Aside from cutting down on the huge fees and markups, any suggestions for improving the process?

Comments | Category: Vancouver 2010 Games , Vancouver 2010 tickets , Winter Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 25, 2008 2:25 PM

(UPDATED) Winter sports launch: Universal to broadcast skiing, bobsled, luge

Posted by Ron Judd


(See broadcast update below.)

Thanksgiving weekend marks the kicking-into-gear of many Winter Olympic sports, and NBC's Universal Sports venture is making it easier than ever before for Americans to track the action.

Alas, the cable network, in some 30 million U.S. homes, is not available in the Seattle area (something might be brewing; stay tuned). But some action will make its way to parent network NBC, and online simulcasts at Universalsports.com will bring skiing action to Northwest winter sports fans.

Universal's FIS World Cup alpine ski coverage kicks off with live online and cable broadcast of the men's downhill and Super-G Saturday and Sunday from Lake Louise, Alberta. See the Web site for broadcast times.

NBC's TV skiing coverage kicks off with the Aspen Winternational women's giant slalom at 11 a.m. PT Sunday, and the Beaver Creek men's downhill at 11 a.m. PT on Dec. 7.

At the NBC microphone is host Tim Ryan, former Canadian Ski Team member Todd Brooker and former U.S. Ski Team members Steve Porino and Kristina Koznick. Former men's head coach (and Bode Miller handler)Phil McNichol joins Porino and Steve Schlanger for Universal Sports' cable and online coverage.

All of this should be a natural for NBC and Universal. One winter out from the Vancouver 2010 Games, the U.S. alpine team is perhaps at its all-time strongest, with Miller, Ted Ligety, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and other stars looming as constant medal threats. Miller and Vonn won the coveted World Cup all-around titles last year, the first U.S. sweep since Phil Mahre and Tamara McKinney 25 years ago. And the full slate of races will give U.S. fans a rare chance to follow skiers through a full World Cup season.

Here's the near-term schedule. See Universal Sports for broadcast times:


UPCOMING ALPINE WORLD CUP SKIING ON UNIVERSAL SPORTS:

Nov. 29 - 30 Women - Aspen, Colorado
Nov. 29 - 30 Men - Lake Louise, Alberta
Dec. 4 - 7 Men - Beaver Creek, Colorado
Dec. 5 - 7 Women - Lake Louise, Alberta
Dec. 13 - 14 Women - La Molina, Spain
Dec. 13 - 14 Men - Val d'Isere, France
Dec. 19 - 20 Women - St. Moritz, Switzerland
Dec. 19 - 20 Men - Val Gardena, Italy
Dec. 28 - 29 Women - Semmering, Austria
Dec. 28 - 29 Men - Bormio, Italy

Both NBC and Universal also will broadcast the 2009 Alpine World Championships February 2-15 from Val d'Isere, France.

--------------------

Other winter sports this weekend, courtesy of the USOC:

Figure Skating: A delegation of U.S. figure skaters, including Johnny Weir (Quarryville, Pa.) and Mirai Nagasu (Arcadia, Calif.), will compete in the NHK Trophy Grand Prix competition in Tokyo, Japan, Thursay through Sunday.

Luge: The team travels to Igls, Austria, for the World Cup #1 event Saturday and Sunday. See broadcast update, below.

Speedskating: Short track skaters, including Seattle's Apolo Anton Ohno, will compete in the World Cup #3 event in Beijing, China, Friday through Sunday.

Bobsled: 22 U.S. skelton and bobsled sliders kick off their World Cup tour Friday through Sunday at Winterberg, Germany. See broadcast update, below.
----------------------

Broadcast update, 2:15 p.m.: Universal reports that it also will provide coverage of the luge and bobsled/skeleton World Cup events listed above.

Bobsled/skeleton coverage will be same-day, on-demand at universalsports.com, with daily recap shows on the Universal Sports broadcast cable channel.

Luge coverage of the World Cup opener from Igls, Austria will be some live and on-demand video, free of charge, with one-hour highlight shows on the broadcast network. See the Web site for scheduling.

Upcoming World Cup Bobsled/Skeleton coverage on Universal Sports:

Nov. 28 - 30: World Cup, Winterberg, Germany
Dec. 5 - 7: World Cup, Altenburg, Germany
Dec. 12 - 14: World Cup, Igls, Austria
Dec. 19 - 21: World Cup, Cesana, Italy
Jan. 9 - 11: World Cup, Koenigssee, Germany
Jan. 16 - 18: World Cup & European Championship, St. Moritz, Switzerland
Feb. 5 - 7: World Cup, Whistler, Canada
Feb. 12 - 14: World Cup, Park City, Utah
Feb. 20 - Mar. 1: World Championship, Lake Placid, NY

Upcoming World Cup Luge coverage on Universal Sports:

Nov. 29 - 30 World Cup #1 Igls, Austria
Dec. 6 - 7 World Cup #2 Sigulda, Latvia
Dec. 13 - 14 World Cup #3 Winterberg, Germany
Jan. 3 - 4 World Cup #4 Koenigssee, Germany
Jan. 10 - 11 World Cup #5 Cesana Pariol, Italy
Jan. 23 - 25 World Cup #6 Oberhof, Germany
Jan. 24 - 25 World Cup #7 Altenberg, Germany
Feb. 6 - 8 World Championship Lake Placid, NY
Feb. 13 - 14 World Cup #8 Calgary, Alberta
Feb. 20 - 21 Olympic Test/World Cup #9 Whistler, B.C.

And there's more: Universal says it also will offer coverage this winter of freestyle skiing, ski jumping, nordic combined, biathlon, cross country, short and long track speed skating and ice hockey.


Comments | Category: Alpine skiing , Snow Sports , Vancouver 2010 Games , Winter Games , World Championships , World Cup Competition |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 18, 2008 11:23 PM

Kicking the Olympic tires in Vancouver

Posted by Ron Judd


Reporting from Vancouver:

Piece by piece, it's coming together.

The ice is fast and frozen at the Richmond Oval, which looks even more gigantic inside than out (Canadian speedkskaters, in fact, already have spent weeks here training ... sorry, testing safety systems, etc., to begin working on their home-ice advantage.)

B.C. Place Stadium is going to require quite the makeover to put on a memorable opening ceremony. We still can't wait to see how they solve that lighting-the-cauldron-indoors dilemma.

And people better start hustling -- and spending that controversial $100 million loan from the city - -to get the Athlete's Village ready to greet the world in less than 15 months.

Those are some early impressions from a couple hundred media types here on the Vancouver Organizing Committee's "World Press Briefing," where editors, facilitators and a few nosey types like myself get an advance look at the inner workings of the upcoming Olympics.

It's a good chance to get the lay of the land, see where athletes will not only compete, but be available afterwards in media "mix zones;" find out where the sub press-centers are at each venue, and meet with Games planners about practical concerns such as lodging, work space, Internet connectivity, photo positions, all of that behind-the-scenes stuff that allows the 10,000 or so journos here to bring you sights, sounds and words from the Games for three weeks in February, 2010. (For many people, this is the only chance they'll get to do this before the Olympics. Scoping out the territory in advance is a big advantage in covering the Games.)

Peering behind the curtains this week for Team Times are myself and sports editor Cathy Henkel. We'll be in Whistler all day Wednesday and back in Vancouver for two days of briefings and further venue tours on Thursday and Friday.

More news as it develops. And we'll bring you some looks inside the venues if we get a chance to upload some pictures.

Meantime: Feel free to post questions here, if any come to mind, about the inner workings of the Games. We'll try to answer them, or find someone who can.

Comments | Category: Canada , Olympic venues , Vancouver 2010 Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 22, 2008 10:47 AM

Richmond Oval: The world's best?

Posted by Ron Judd

The massive Richmond Oval, the most impressive of all Vancouver 2010 venues, had a coming out party of sorts yesterday, with some media and Canadian speedskaters invited in to take a look around.

Early impressions: It's fairly stunning. See the Vancouver Province coverage, with a photo gallery, here.

The building will open its doors to the general public Dec. 12-13. It will host the Canadian Single Distance championships Dec. 27-Jan. 2, and the World Single Distance Championships March 12-15.


Comments | Category: Speed skating , Vancouver 2010 Games , World Championships |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 20, 2008 8:57 PM

Vancouver ticket requests: Price updates

Posted by Ron Judd

We're back, literally, having recovered from back surgery. Sitting upright and thinking Olympics once more. Later this week, we'll bring live coverage here of the Skate America event in Everett, with some of the world's top figure skaters convening at Comcast Arena for the first major figs event in Western Washington in many years.

Meantime: What can be more salient at this point than ... Vancouver ticket requests?

Recall, if you will, that you have until Nov. 7 to get your U.S. ticket requests in at CoSport, the only authorized U.S. vendor. Sales through the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC), also underway now, are only to Canadians. We told you that already, but didn't know on our last post how the ticket prices shook out, or what the premium would be to get them in America, or just how many would be available to south-of-the-border customers.

Some of those questions remain unanswered. But the ticket request forms, which can be filled out now at CoSport, shed light on pricing.

Bottom line: You're paying about a 35 percent premium for buying from the States. And, as evidenced by the prices for opening and closing ceremonies, Canadian buyers have access to price categories that don't exist for U.S. buyers.

A few examples of various ticket price ranges (VANOC prices are in Canadian dollars):

Opening ceremony
VANOC price: $1,118 $768 $568 $185
CoSport price: $1,294 $679 $902

Alpine skiing: Men's downhill
VANOC: $100 $150
CoSport: $135 $200

Curling: Men's or women's gold medal match:
VANOC: $125
CoSport: $168

Bobsled, 4-man final
VANOC: $40 $85
CoSport: $54 $114

Ice Hockey: gold medal match
VANOC:$793 $568 $368
CoSport: $930 $678

Short Track: men's 1000-meter final
VANOC: $150 $110 $50
CoSport: $202 $148 $67

Snowboard: Men's halfpipe
VANOC: $150 $65
CoSport: $202 $88

Closing ceremony
VANOC: $1,118 $768 $568 $185
CoSport: $939 $622 $398

Again, these prices do NOT include shipping fees and other, um, convenience charges.

We're interested in your experiences procuring tickets. As soon as the commenting software gets up and running here (c'mon, register and get in the game), let us know how it goes, and feel free to share any ticket tips below.

Happy hunting.

Comments | Category: Vancouver 2010 Games , Vancouver 2010 tickets |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 15, 2008 4:38 PM

NBC: No way Phelps Saturday race will be live

Posted by Ron Judd

We neglected to post this yesterday, in all the excitement over beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh's birthday celebration on NBC:

A network spokesman, responding to hopeful rumors that the network would get a clue and at least broadcast one Michael Phelps race -- his likely historic, eighth-medal attempt Saturday evening -- live in the west-coast Disadvantaged Time Zone, has cleared that up:

No chance.

NBC, he reiterated, will continue to broadcast events "when the majority of people are available to watch."

Apparently, that would be about 1 a.m., which is when NBC's coverage of recent marquee events, such as gymnastics, have wrapped up on the East Coast of late. (The network could actually show the same events, live, on the West Coast, and actually have them seen in prime time, but refuses to do so.)

Doesn't matter that it's a major historical event. Doesn't matter that it happens on a Saturday, when a live television office across the country would likely be massive. Just doesn't matter.

It's amazing, and at some point, it starts to feel personal. Did Dick Ebersole perhaps have a bad experience as a child at the Space Needle? You've gotta wonder.

Meanwhile, word arrives that NBC's initial boffo ratings for Beijing have been flagging. For both Wednesday and Thursday nights, they trailed ratings for the comparable time periods in Athens, in spite of marquee events like Phelps' medal quest and women's gymnastics. Given those events, Thursday night should have been a highlight of NBC's entire Games coverage.

Maybe it took a couple days for people to tire of watching events they long ago heard results from dragging on to 1 a.m.

There's more bad news, and you might as well get used to it now: NBC's Olympic contract runs through 2012. Anyone willing to bet that the network won't be showing viewers in Seattle most Winter Games daytime events from Vancouver on a half-day delay, even though they'll be taking place live, right up the road? And you thought this was irritating...

Note also that if you're glibly watching on CBC this time around, you'd better check your channel grid before the Vancouver Games. CBC lost the Games contract to CTV, which will broadcast Vancouver 2010. Neither channel is carried on DirecTV, but most local cable operations offer both.

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , Canada , Olympic media , Vancouver 2010 Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 15, 2008 3:13 PM

Humanitarian Canadian Olympic Relief Aid Being Mustered

Posted by Ron Judd

Canadian medal update, Day 8:

By popular demand, here is the list of summer sports powerhouses that have now won a medal while Canada -- which, for the record, could not even medal with a swimmer named Beavers in the pool last night -- continues to fight valiantly for Numero Uno:

Ethiopia
India
Thailand
Colombia
Vietnam
Argentina
Bulgaria
Croatia
Denmark
Egypt
Lithuania
Mexico
Tajikistan
Togo

We could mention that some of the Carpet Nations, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Karistan (OK, we made that last one up) are already celebrating their second medals. But that would be rude, so we shall not.

The truth is, we feel bad about this. So bad that we -- in a show of North American brotherhood, plus a blatant attempt to suck up and get a good hotel room for Vancouver 2010 -- would like to help. We're putting out the call to all former Olympic medalists, or just major contenders, to form a Canadian Olympic Reserve relief project and give Maple Leaf Nation a little boost in Beijing.

The Games are only half over. Surely there's time for, say, Greg Barton to come forth, catch the Amtrak to Vancouver, secure the necessary papers ("four-time medalist? You're in! Sign here.) and jet on over to Beijing before the flame goes out.

It is, literally, the least we could do. And that is our specialty.

So step on up, folks. It's for a good cause. And think of the upside: Put Canada on the board, and your own money will never be good at any Tim Horton's as long as you live.

Failing this, we have an alternate plan: Actually giving Canada some of our medals that are ... well, not needed anymore. Some of them might have a few Marion Jones crocodile tears on them, but a little Brasso will take that right out.

Stay tuned.


Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , Canada , Olympic politics , Vancouver 2010 Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 16, 2008 11:01 AM

A new dope lab -- and a backup power plan -- for Vancouver

Posted by Ron Judd


Don't be surprised if doping once again becomes a news thread running through the Beijing Games, with record numbers of tests being administered, and new tests for at least some previously undetected substances, such as EPO.

Doping is already making news, meanwhile, in Vancouver, where the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) is about to announce that its new drug lab will be located in space at the new Richmond Oval (see post below on that building).

The doping lab -- 15,000 square feet of it -- will be built into the street level of the building, the Vancouver Sun's Jeff Lee reports today. Vanoc has yet to confirm the deal, but Lee reports that the Richmond lab, which will be in space that will become a sports-medicine clinic after the Games, solves a major problem for Games organizers. They had initially planned to send doping samples to Canada's only World Anti-Doping Agency-certified lab, in Montreal. But the International Olympic Committee said no that that idea.

Meanwhile, a massive power outage in downtown Vancouver on Monday, caused by a fire in underground cables, has some people worried about a similar catastrophe during the Games. Especially since the blackout left in the dark the massive waterfront Convention & Exhibition Centre, which will be the working space for the world's assembled media.

Officials with B.C. Hydro said they're reviewing plans, and will have a backup source of power identified before the Games begin. Monday's power outage left a large portion of downtown Vancouver in the dark for a day and a half.

Ironically, as the Sun notes here, B.C. Hydro is an "official supporter" of the Olympics, having signed a deal to provide primary and secondary sources of power to most venues. That guarantee allowed Vanoc to save about $20 million in backup generators it would have needed to ensure power at all venues.

It's a safe bet that the details of that plan are getting a fresh look from Vanoc officials this week. Monday's failure almost shut down the city, without the pressure of an Olympics.


Comments | Category: Doping , IOC , Olympic venues , Vancouver 2010 Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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.

Comments | Category: Vancouver 2010 Games , Winter Games |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

SuperC_Side2_600w.jpg

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)

Comments | Category: Vancouver 2010 Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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 6, 2008 10:02 AM

Bellevue ski racer Libby Ludlow moves on

Posted by Ron Judd

LibbyL.jpg
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.

Comments | Category: Figure skating , Vancouver 2010 Games , Winter Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 25, 2008 2:45 PM

Time for a blue-tarp relief effort for Vancouver 2010?

Posted by Ron Judd

Like the Chinese -- attention, sensitive Canadians: We are NOT comparing Maple Leaf Nation in any other way to China -- Vancouver's Olympic organizers are largely ahead of schedule in getting their venues assembled.

The goal -- in keeping with the Canadian government's "Own the Podium" program -- was to have them all finished in time for a full winter of competition before the Games, which could and should give Canadian athletes an advantage, particularly in sports such as skiing and bobsled/luge/skeleton, where courses are wildly different from place to place, making practice time invaluable.

For the most part, that goal has been met. But the B.C.'ers, true to their soggy roots, seem to be having more than their fair share of roof problems.

From the Vancouver Province comes dual roof-related reports, one about repairs already being needed for the big B.C.-timber roof over the new $180 million (and rising) speedskating venue, the Richmond Oval, the wooden roof of which is said to be moldy -- sorry, mouldy -- in so many places that up to 70 percent of it is now suspect and must be "inspected."

Gentlemen, start your lawyers.

Another report speculates about the possibility that the storm-damaged soft roof at B.C. Place Stadium, home of opening, closing and nightly medal ceremonies, might be replaced with a retractable roof -- which, needless to say -- would be very cool.

If they could pull off the latter, within the limited time and within limited budget, they'd head our list of all-time Olympic venue geniuses. But it's a pretty risky proposition. Our own government (insert your own Katrina joke here) began planning a couple years ago to build an enhanced U.S. customs facility at the Blaine border crossing in time for the Games. And the CBC reports it's already looking like we won't even be able to accomplish that by 2010.

For all of them, we offer three words of thrifty Northwesterner's advice: Big Blue Tarps.

We're always willing to lend a hand to our Canadian friends in a time of need. All it would take is the wave of a pen for President Bush to tap into FEMA's strategic tarp reserve.

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April 23, 2008 5:30 PM

Straight dope from your Unofficial 2010 Olympic paper

Posted by Ron Judd

Vancouver organizers, on a sponsorship binge this week (see beer item, below), dropped word of another one today: Canwest Publishing, owner of, well, a lot of the newspapers in western Canada, has signed on as the "Official Regional Newspaper Publisher" for the 2010 Games.

What does that mean? It means the newspaper conglomerate, which owns not only the local Victoria Times-Colonist, Vancouver Sun and The Province, but also The Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Windsor Star, Regina Leader-Post, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, will get "exclusive rights in the regional newspaper publisher/product service category" for the Games of 2010, and the Canadian Olympic team through 2012, says a Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) release. The deal involves "value-in-kind allocation of print and online advertising," in Canwest papers.

Translation: The papers will presumably give up space to promote the Games, as well as produce and distribute in papers info guides dealing with ticket sales, transportation, accompanying arts and culture festivals, etc. -- and Canwest papers will be the only ones carrying this stuff.

In return for its space and delivery -- and perhaps an additional sponsor fee, not specified -- Canwest papers also will be able to call themselves official Games products, letting them in on the giant promotional gravy train that rolls into town before, during and after every Olympics.

Both sides of the deal clearly are aware of the potential blowback from people wary of media conglomerates being in bed financially with a major news generator like an Olympic Games bureaucracy. How do we know? Because they're tripping over themselves to pooh-pooh it from the get-go.

"The sponsorship is a marketing and advertising partnership and is independent of Canwest's editorial coverage of the 2010 Winter Games," VANOC states.

OK. But the fact is, we have personally seen other media organizations with contractual relationships with the International Olympic Committee, and individual nations' sports groups, given favorable treatment when it comes to event access at past Olympics. Not officially, of course. Just wink-wink, yeah, you're getting the best camera angle at figure skating because you're On Our Team.

Not that we suspect Canwest is trying to buy influence here. The company owns capable newspapers that will be the media home team for the Vancouver Games. They don't need an extra advantage. But this is bigger than a sports-page matter. The Games are a massive, multi-billion-dollar, public-policy news story, as well.

Which is why, in a city like Vancouver, where small-but-ardent anti-Olympic and anti-corporate sentiments run concurrent and strong, you wonder about perceptions of conflict of interest.

It's a version of a broader problem journalists have always faced -- and will face increasingly -- as newspapers relax the walls between advertising and news in an effort to survive. A perception of collusion can be just as damaging as the real thing; fairness resides in the mind of the beholder.

And the Olympics, remember, are financed in no small part by a public which, in this case, gets most of its news from watchdogs all attached to a single chain. If some misstep by VANOC went uncovered by Canwest papers, would anyone really believe no favors were granted by the newspaper "partners?"

This explains the careful wording of VANOC CEO John Furlong's news-release statement: "Canwest will continue with its excellence in objective editorial coverage of the Games. We are also very pleased to have their team on board to play a separate role in delivering important information about the Games to communities throughout our country."

He didn't choose the words "objective" and "separate" by accident.

So, VANOC is saying its friendly handshake with Canada's largest media conglomerate isn't an ethical problem for those newspapers. And so, not surprisingly, is the business empire on the other end of the deal.

But we wonder: Any regular folks up in B.C. -- the people footing the rather handsome bill for this show -- see it differently?

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April 22, 2008 11:06 PM

A golden moment for Molson

Posted by Ron Judd

This might have been inevitable, but it still leaves a bit of a ... well, funky taste in our mouth.

WIth only 660 days until the cauldron lighting in/on/at/near (how are they going to do that, exactly, with a dome?) B.C. Place Stadium, Molson has been named the official beer of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Vancouver Province reports tonight.

Seems a shame, given some of the notable B.C. breweries. But Vancouver Games CEO John Furlong points out that Molson has a Vancouver brewery that's been bottling the stuff for 50 of the 222 years Molson has been making beer in Maple Leaf Nation.

They likely won't be playing up the fact that the company is half American-owned, after a 2005 merger with Coors. But the money spends just as well either way. The beer deal, estimated at between $3 million and $15 million, gives Vancouver organizers a cool $715 million in total sponsorship cash in the bank -- close to the overall target of $760 million.

Don't look for a special Molson Oly brew soon, though. The brewer must wait until the end of the year to start using the Olympic logo, because of an existing International Olympic Committee contract with Anheuser-Busch, the Vancouver Sun reports.

Speaking of great beer contracts in Olympic history: True Oly trivia buffs will note that Labatt's was the official beer for the '88 Calgary Games, Canada's most recent Olympics. Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser spent big bucks to win the Salt Lake City and Turin contract, which runs through 2008.

But no brewery in Games history hitched a ride on the Olympic publicity bandwagon as effectively as Park City's Wasatch Brew Pub, which put out its own, in-your-face "Unofficial" Olympic ale, coupled with the now-famous Polygamy Porter, (motto: "Why have just one!"), both rolled out before the 2002 Salt Lake Games, much to the chagrin of Olympic and Mormon church officials.

An ad campaign for Polygamy Porter was rejected by nervous Salt Lake billboard companies. But it made one heckuva fine collectible Olympic pin, which we are proud to have in our collection.

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April 20, 2008 11:00 AM

Updated: Spokane: In the 2010 Olympic spotlight?

Posted by Ron Judd

Does Spokane have an inside track to host the 2010 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships -- a mondo sports event that doubles as the Olympic Trials for the 2010 Vancouver Games?

A major voice in the figure skating world thinks it should. The Chicago Tribune's Philip Hersh, the dean of America's figure-skating journalists, already has put his vote in for the Lilac City in his "Globetrotting" blog. U.S. Figure Skating officials are just starting "site inspections" of potential host cities, Hersh writes, opining:

They are wasting time and money on a no-brainer:

The championships belong in Spokane. No need to visit anywhere else.

It is one of four undisclosed candidates for the event, and I have learned Providence, R.I. and Portland, Ore., also are apparently in the running.

(USFS chief executive David Raith did not answer messages seeking the identity of the mystery guest.)

Two years ago, Spokane put on the best U.S. Championships of the nearly two dozen I have attended -- including Portland (2005) and Providence (1995).

The city was more jazzed to be host than any other I have seen. There were even posters about the championships in bars too funky for even a thirsty sportswriter to patronize.

Spokane's attendance was 154,893. Portland's was 117,000. Providence drew 56,856.

This is what I wrote after the event in 2007:

"Take a city with good facilities, a highly competent organizing committee and no major league professional sports, and it doesn't matter how relatively small or isolated it is.

"Spokane's motto might as well be, 'Gateway to Idaho.' By 2005 estimates, it is the 99th largest city in the country, in the middle of the 108th largest metropolitan area.

"Yet it drew 25 percent more spectators for the skating nationals than any previous host, a group that includes much larger places such as Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas and Atlanta.''

It's a big endorsement from a big voice in the Olympics world. Knowing Hersh, we can attest that his motivation is simple: He loves the sport, and he -- and everyone else -- saw Spokane embrace it like few other cities in the country when it hosted the U.S. Championships in '07. We quote:

Figure skating needs a boost. The next two years are critical, with the 2009 worlds in Los Angeles and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver -- only 410 miles from Spokane, so you could see sellouts in Spokane as the road map to sellouts in Vancouver.

The folks leading Spokane's effort for the 2010 nationals say the interest for the second time around will be even greater.

No reason not to believe them, since they exceeded every expectation for 2007. They should nickname the place, Spo-can-do.

We add our voice to what should become a growing chorus to proclaim Spokane the obvious choice for the January, 2010 event. And if figure skating officials use Hersh's strong recommendation to get their compass pointed back to the center of the Inland Empire, we'll take only small credit for introducing him to some of the city's charms.

The selection of Spokane would vault Washington state, suddenly, to the epicenter of the U.S. figure-skating competitive world. Everett already has landed another major contest, the 2008 Skate America, coming in October to the Comcast Arena. (Sort of makes you wonder who's in charge of Seattle these days, doesn't it?)

Spokane's coronation, of course, is far from a done deal. The selection geniuses are the same people, Hersh notes, who awarded last year's Skate America competition to Reading, Pa., "one of the most lugubrious cities in the country."

But if you're trying to land a big-time event like the figs nationals, Hersh is a guy you want in your corner.

UPDATE: U.S. Figure Skating's Events Advisory Boad will recommend a host city for the Jan. 13-24, 2010 event on May 1. Contracts are scheduled to be in place by November 1.The U.S. Figure Skating Championships generate an economic impact estimated at $20 million.

Comments | Category: Figure skating , National Governing Bodies (NGBs) , Vancouver 2010 Games , Winter Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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Blogroll and links

www.olympic.org: The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information.
www.nbcolympics.com: 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
www.usolympicteam.com: U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site.
www.aroundtherings.com: Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription).
www.wcsn.com: News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions.
www.beijing2008.com: Beijing Organizing Committee Web site.
www.vancouver2010.com: Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site.
www.london2012.com: London 2012 Summer Games site.
www.sochi2014.com: Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site.
www.chicago2016.org: 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.