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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 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

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 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 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?

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

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

April 20, 2008 8:00 AM

High times at the USOC

Posted by Ron Judd

Official Olympics Insider Proclamation:

April 20, 2008

Seattle, Wash.

WHEREAS many many of the nation's top athletes, particularly those in track-and-field, are under investigation for using performance-enhancing substances at past Olympic Games, and

WHEREAS the International Olympic Committee and other governing bodies of international sport, in spite of accelerated awareness and best intentions, still admittedly have no means to test for some of the more-prevalent performance-enhancers believed to be in rampant use today, and

WHEREAS any athlete willing to shoot said substances into the buttock region demonstrably could gain the extra speed/height/distance/time advantage to win an Olympic medal and

WHEREAS said Olympic medal could translate into millions of dollars (Canadian; tens of thousands, U.S.) in endorsement deals, and

WHEREAS various U.S. officials, including Peter Ueberroth, the Chairman of the United States Olympic Committee, have boldly stood before hundreds of journalists and repeatedly proclaimed the U.S. squad being sent to Beijing to be "a clean team,"

NOW BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT, given all of the above, the following serious question really must be asked:

Are these people high?

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , Doping , IOC , Peter Ueberroth , Summer Games , United States Olympic Committee , 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.