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Olympic notebook

Obama push to have pull?

By John Powers
Globe Staff / September 29, 2009

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President Obama’s decision yesterday to go to Copenhagen after all and make his hometown’s case in person before the International Olympic Committee on Friday just might nudge Chicago past Tokyo, Madrid, and Rio de Janeiro in the chase for the 2016 Games, which likely will be decided by a handful of ballots.

At the very least, Obama’s presence will put the US bid on equal diplomatic footing since Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez, Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, and Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva all will be present. The race is so close and so volatile that the presence of a magnetic chief of state could make the difference, as Tony Blair did for London and Vladimir Putin for Sochi.

It’s the first time a US president has shown up for the vote and Obama will be accompanied by both of the country’s First Ladies - wife Michelle and Oprah Winfrey.

Chicago, hoping to be the first American summer host since Atlanta in 1996, has a decidedly stronger bid than New York did for 2012, most notably an excellent venue package and a creative public-private financial guarantee. But the choice may well come down to geopolitics, which should be more intricate than usual. When London nipped Paris last time, four of the five finalists were from Europe. This time the four bid cities come from four continents, which should make the usual vote-shifting even more complex once the bottom city in each round is eliminated.

Historically, the early leaders lose as often as not - Madrid was in front after two rounds for 2012, Beijing after three for 2000, and Athens after two for 1996, and Pyeongchang had a big lead over Vancouver after the first ballot for 2010. The way the fickle five-ringed wind has been blowing, Rio and Chicago were thought to have the edge heading into the final few days, but none of the chitchat will matter once the IOC’s 106 members go behind closed doors.

Said president Jacques Rogge: “All the scenarios are possible.’’

Don’t be late
The leaves are just turning but the World Cup short-track speedskating season already is at its midpoint and the US Olympic team is back from Asia, looking to earn qualifying spots for Vancouver at the November meets in Montreal and Marquette, Mich. Three members of the 2006 team earned return tickets at this month’s trials in Marquette. Making their third squad were two-time gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno and Allison Baver, who made a remarkable comeback after breaking her right leg slamming into the boards in Bulgaria in February. J.R. Celski, who needed surgery after slicing open his left leg near the knee after a spill is expected back soon, also made the squad, along with Jordan Malone, Travis Jayner, and 17-year-old Simon Cho. Katherine Reutter was the top qualifier on the women’s squad, which includes Turin veteran Kimberly Derrick, Alyson Dudek, and Lana Gehring. Missing out were 2006 team members Maria Garcia, Anthony Lobello, and J.P. Kepka. Since the host Canadians already held their trials and the South Koreans and Chinese handpick their teams, the Americans didn’t want to wait until their usual December date. While the early selection gives the squad more time to prepare for the Games, it precludes a late bloomer from making the team and rewards skaters who peak early. “It’s like the Tour de France,’’ says Ohno. “If you pick people six months early, you might have a different outcome.’’

Everybody in pool
There’ll be more than twice as many candidates for the US Olympic men’s ice hockey team than there were invitees to last month’s orientation session in Illinois. “There’s a pool of 75 or so that we’re going to fish out of,’’ says general manager Brian Burke, the Maple Leafs GM. “The auditions for this team start on Oct. 1.’’ The 23-man roster, which will include three goalies, will be announced at the end of December. That’s significantly later than the 1998 team, the first to use NHLers, was selected, which was deemed too early. “We had some people who didn’t deserve to be going and some who were kept off who did,’’ says Ron Wilson, coach of that team and this one. If he had his druthers, Burke would pick the roster as late as possible. “I’d name it the day before we got on the plane,’’ he says. “That would be optimal.’’

Not time for Miller
Bode Miller admitted to a Brett Favre moment when he decided to return to the US ski team last week after some soul-searching. “You walk away and there’s obviously a big hole left where that sport was,’’ observed the former world champ, who cut last season short after winning no races. “Especially in my case - it’s my main form of expression.’’ Miller’s reentry on the World Cup circuit likely won’t be until December at Beaver Creek, Colo. . . . A rookie-heavy US wrestling team received a rough initiation at last week’s world championships in Denmark, winning only three medals in the 21 events - silver (Jake Herbert, 84 kg) and bronze (Tervel Dlagnev, 120 kg) in men’s freestyle and silver in greco-roman (Dremiel Byers, 120 kg). The grecos finished 15th overall and the women failed to win a medal for the first time . . . US cyclist Kristin Armstrong left the road as a big wheel after claiming her second time-trial title at last week’s world championships in Switzerland. “I can’t think of any better way of saying goodbye to the sport,’’ declared the 36-year-old Armstrong, who just missed a road race medal when she was outsprinted. Her fourth place still was the best showing by an American in the event since Jeanne Golay’s bronze in 1994.

Keeping up with Jones
With more than three dozen Olympic medals still up for redistribution in the Marion Jones case, the IOC says it wants everything resolved next month. Two issues have held things up - the possibility of more names surfacing from the BALCO investigation and the appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport from Jones’s relay teammates, who lost their medals along with Jones even though there’s no evidence that they were doped. Since Jones won three golds and two bronzes in Sydney, it’s a five-way headache for the IOC. The biggest problem is the 100 meters, since the heiress-apparent is Greece’s Katerina Thanou, who later was banned for two years for ducking a doping test in Athens. Odds are the IOC might just vacate the title . . . With two events still remaining this year, Kenya’s Sammy Wanjiru and Germany’s Irina Mikitenko have wrapped up the World Marathon Majors titles, assuming that nobody tries to run both Chicago and New York three weeks apart. Mikitenko, who leads Dire Tune by 35 points, will take on defending champion Lidiya Grigoryeva and former victor Deena Kastor in the Windy City Oct. 11 while Wanjiru, who’s 15 points ahead of recent Berlin victor Haile Gebrselassie, faces defending champion Evans Cheruiyot. Marilson Gomes dos Santos will go for his third New York title Nov. 1 against a field that includes former champions Martin Lel, Paul Tergat, and Hendrick Ramaala plus US stars Ryan Hall and Brian Sell, who’ll both be making their Gotham debuts. Previous winners Jelena Prokopcuka and Ludmila Petrova are the top women. To celebrate the 40th race, any former victor who wins will get a $70,000 bonus added to the $130,000 payout.

Long run is over
After a seven-year run at the Reggie Lewis Center, the US indoor track and field championships are heading for higher ground, moving to Albuquerque for the next three Februaries. The event last was held there in 1966, back when the AAU ran the sport . . . The 1960 US Olympic men’s basketball team, which sent 10 players to the NBA, had both its coach (Pete Newell) and top star (Oscar Robertson) enshrined in the FIBA Hall of Fame this month, along with Kay Yow, who directed the American women to their first gold medal at a nonboycotted Games in 1988. Newell and Yow both died within the past year.

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