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Olympic notebook

Gavitt left an indelible mark

By John Powers
Globe Staff / September 20, 2011

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While Dave Gavitt was best known locally as former Providence College coach, Celtics chief executive, and Big East founder, his most impressive achievement may have been his deft behind-the-scenes diplomacy in the US Olympic men’s basketball team’s transition from amateur to professional.

When Gavitt, who died last weekend, was ABAUSA president he had to vote against the historic shift even though he favored it because his stakeholders feared that the NBA would take over the domestic association.

Once the international federation went for the pros in a landslide in 1989, Gavitt was involved in everything from delicate roster issues to where the regional qualifying tournament for the 1992 Games would be held (he made sure it was in Oregon).

Though Gavitt was denied a chance to coach the 1980 squad because of the Moscow boycott, his fingerprints were all over the Dream Team’s triumph in Barcelona. Gavitt actually did direct the 1980 team for a half-dozen exhibition games in a feel-good Gold Medal tour and his collegians, led by Isiah Thomas, defeated the 1976 US team that had won gold in Montreal.

London tickets punched With the completion of the recent continental championships, the Olympic men’s basketball field for London is two-thirds full. Spain, France, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, and Tunisia joined world champion US and host Great Britain, who had automatic bids. The Asian representative will be determined this weekend and the final three spots will be earned at next July’s last-chance qualifier . . . Should the Blade Runner have to run leadoff for South Africa’s 4x400 relay at Olympus? That was the agreement at the recent world championships in South Korea where Oscar Pistorius made history by becoming the first amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in a global meet. But Pistorius, whose carbon fiber prostheses make him slow out of the blocks, says that he’s more efficient when he gets a running start. Unlike the sprint relay, where runners remain in lanes throughout, the 4x400 allows everyone to move to the inside after the opening leg, making for what international federation spokesman Nick Davies called “a lot of bumping and barging,’’ especially during changeovers. So the IAAF is not unreasonably concerned about a dangerous mass tangle at the Games, especially since the South Africans, who were second to the Americans at the world meet, are favored to make the podium and will be in the thick of things. Even the sprint relay has its collisions - US runner Darvis Patton banged into the British anchorman in this year’s 4x100 final and took both teams out of contention.

Strong field for NY The New York City marathon will have its usual ace-filled men’s field in November. Besides defending champion Gebre Gebremariam, two-time titlist Martin Lel, and former victor Meb Keflezighi, there’s Olympic medalist Jaouad Gharib and London winner Emmanuel Mutai. In Chicago next month Ryan Hall will take on former champion Evans Cheruiyot, former New York titlist Marilson dos Santos, and Boston runner-up Moses Mosop. Meanwhile, fresh off her breakout victory in the 1,500 meters at the world outdoor meet, the first by an American woman since Mary Decker in 1983, Jenny Simpson takes it to the street Saturday in the Fifth Avenue Mile . . . Making his fourth Olympic team won’t be Paul Hamm’s biggest challenge. Staying out of jail will be. The gold-medal gymnast is facing three misdemeanor charges, including assault, after a drunken wee-hours altercation with a Columbus, Ohio, cab driver this month. If he’s convicted, Hamm faces six months imprisonment on each count. Even if he beats the rap, Hamm already has lost his job as an assistant coach at Ohio State and his arrest video has been posted on the Internet. Besides his legal issues, the 28-year-old Hamm has a long road ahead to London. His latest comeback was derailed by shoulder surgery last winter and he missed last month’s national championship that determined the team for next month’s world championships in Tokyo.

Locals to get nod Barring any injury issues at the hush-hush Houston boot camp, both Winchester’s Alicia Sacramone and Needham’s Aly Raisman, who won team silver medals at last year’s championships, figure to be named to the US world gymnastics squad tomorrow. Odd women out probably will include Beijing veterans Shawn Johnson and Chellsie Memmel, both of whom have been hurt. With Rebecca Bross unavailable after having surgery on the knee that she dislocated at the national championships, team coordinator Martha Karolyi needs to come up with three capable performers on uneven bars, the team’s weakest event . . . The US women’s soccer team tinkered with a formation in last weekend’s 1-1 friendly draw with Canada, its first outing since the World Cup final in July. Instead of the customary 4-4-2, coach Pia Sundhage went with a 4-2-3-1 with striker Abby Wambach alone up top. In the wake of the Cup loss to Japan, the Americans are focusing more on ball possession, which they could take for granted back when the rest of the planet was playing catch-up. They’ll face their northern neighbors again Thursday in Portland, Ore., in a preview of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver, which will be played indoors in January at B.C. Place. The US team will have to reach the finals there to get a chance to defend its title in London next summer.

Armstrong bows out Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong won’t be competing in this week’s world road cycling championships in Denmark even though she made the squad. When US federation officials named Amber Neben to the time trial team after she challenged Armstrong’s being picked as a discretionary selection, Armstrong decided to bag the road race and returned home after finding out the decision by text message from her husband as soon as she stepped off the plane in Copenhagen. Though Armstrong is a two-time champion in the time trial, the Yanks don’t lose much with Neben - she won the 2008 crown . . . After last year’s debacle the US freestylers came back with a superb showing at the world wrestling championships in Istanbul as Jordan Burroughs won gold, Jake Varner bronze, and the squad finished third behind Russia and Iran in the team standings, up from 22d last year. Burroughs, who was making his global debut, was the first American titlist in five years and the first grappler to win world and NCAA titles in the same year since former Patriots lineman Stephen Neal in 1999. Along the way, the US team earned Olympic spots in five of the seven events. It was a rough week for the Greco-Roman guys, who won no medals and collected only one berth for London. The women had a solid showing, though, with Adeline Gray and Ali Bernard each winning bronzes and Greenfield native Elena Pirozhkova earning an Olympic entry (for her country, not herself) at 63 kilograms. Pirozhkova, who won silver last year, had a rough draw, losing to Olympic champion Kaori Icho of Japan and two-time world titlist Jing Ruixue of China.

Hall welcomes Saunders America’s greatest female wrestler finally is in the international Hall of Fame. Patricia Saunders, who won four world titles before events for her gender were added to the Olympic program, is the first US woman enshrined . . . The three players who’ll be enshrined in the US Hockey Hall of Fame in December have stellar five-ringed pedigrees. Chris Chelios played on four Olympic teams (1984, 1998, 2002, 2006) and captained the final three. Keith Tkachuk also was a four-timer (1992, 1998, 2002, 2006) and Gary Suter played in 1998 and 2002. All of them won silver medals in Salt Lake City, the first time since 1980 that the Americans made the podium . . . Who’ll be the headline performer at London’s opening ceremonies? Sir Paul McCartney, who’ll go solo this time. What’s more, the British athletes will be wearing performance and village attire designed by daughter Stella.

John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com; material from Olympic committees, sports federations, personal interviews, and wire services was used in this report.