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London looks for legacy

By John Powers
Globe Staff / August 22, 2012
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Now that the Games of the XXX Olympiad are done, Her Majesty gets her parks and parade ground back, Lord’s goes back to being a cricket ground, O2 Arena reverts to its original name, and the dismantling and conversion of the Olympic Park in East London — which will be named after Queen Elizabeth, will continue .

The Olympic stadium, scheduled to host the 2017 world track and field championships, likely will become home to either the West Ham or Leyton Orient soccer club, both of which play nearby.

While a few venues like the basketball arena and water polo pool will be taken down and their elements used elsewhere, most (like the natatorium, velodrome, and Copper Box) will be transformed into community facilities for what all along was intended to be a new neighborhood in what once was an industrial wasteland. The athletes’ village will be turned into more than 2,800 new homes.

The more challenging piece of the Games’ legacy will be keeping the UK’s sporting development going in the wake of its best Olympic performance (65 medals, 29 golds, fourth overall) since 1908. That means making sure that schools have sustainable athletics programs so that chief organizer Sebastian Coe’s worries about the nation’s parents being fitter than their children don’t come true.

Coe will become a “legacy ambassador” for Prime Minister David Cameron, working to leverage the post-Games economic and business benefits that the government hopes will exceed $20 billion, which would be more than the Games cost. Down the road, he has been mentioned as the next president of the international track and field federation, which would make him an International Olympic Committee member.

How much does the “host bounce” that countries get from staging the Games carry over until the next edition and beyond? A diminishing amount, according to figures compiled by US Olympic Committee historian Bill Mallon. Since the boycott era of the ’80s, every host won fewer medals four years later and fewer still at subsequent Games. Australia went from 58 in 2000 to 35 this time, Greece from 16 in 2004 to 2 in London, China from 100 to 87.

Besides the obvious absence of home advantage, governments also pump fewer dollars into elite development once the cauldron is snuffed out. What has helped the US stay atop the table at the last five Games has been the collegiate feeder system that keeps the talent coming regardless of where the Games are held.

Little support for US

The USOC and IOC may have resolved their revenue-sharing dispute, but that doesn’t mean the Americans are getting any more love from Lausanne. None were among the five new members tapped in London, none were elected to the executive board (Anita DeFrantz withdrew her candidacy because of a paucity of support), and none are in line to succeed president Jacques Rogge when his term ends next year. Since Avery Brundage — the only US president of a self-selecting institution dominated by Europeans — stepped down in 1972, the post has been filled by an Irishman, a Spaniard, and a Belgian. And a German (vice president Thomas Bach) likely will be next. Besides hockey player Angela Ruggiero, who is a member of the athletes’ commission, the US has only two members (DeFrantz and Jim Easton), half as many as Italy. The new members are Frank Fredericks, the former Olympic sprinting medalist from Namibia, Li Lingwei from China, Tsunekazu Takeda from Japan, Pierre Olivier-Beckers from Belgium, and Aicha Garad Ali from Djibouti. The four new athlete members, who will serve for eight years, are Slovakian shooter Danka Bartekova, Australian rower James Tomkins, Zimbabwean swimmer Kirsty Coventry, and French kayaker Tony Estanguet. Two athletes who’d been elected — Japanese hammer thrower Koji Murofushi and Taiwanese taekwondo fighter Chu Mu-Yen — were disqualified for breaking the rules regarding campaigning.

Marijuana debated

US judoka Nick Delpopolo’s punishment for testing positive for marijuana at the Games has revived the debate about whether what is widely considered a social drug should be on the Olympic banned list, which it has been since 1998 after Olympic snowboarding champion Ross Rebagliati had his gold medal restored because the rules then didn’t ban the substance. While some boarders say that marijuana helps them chill out and zone in, there’s little agreement among sports scientists that the drug enhances performance. The World Anti-Doping Agency likely will take up the issue again. Delpopolo, who said that he inadvertently ate a pot brownie, was the only American to test positive at the Games (his results were nullified and he was sent home) but not the first US Olympian to be nabbed for marijuana this year. Stephany Lee was booted off the women’s wrestling team at the end of June and suspended for a year . . . After being dropped from the program after 2008, the international baseball and softball federations plan to merge in order to get both sports back on the menu for 2020. The biggest hurdle will be to get major league stars to sign on in midseason, which baseball never has managed to do. “Without that, we’ll have an uphill battle,” acknowledged longtime softball federation chief Don Porter. The IOC’s executive board next spring will recommend one sport to be added from a group that also includes karate, roller sports, squash, sports climbing, wakeboard, and the Chinese martial art of wushu.

Hoop coaches done

One-and-done as US women’s basketball coach is Geno Auriemma, who said he has “zero interest” in taking the job again in 2016. If he did, the UConn coach would be the first to continue on. Though the Americans breezed to their fifth straight gold medal in London, Auriemma predicts that they’ll have a rougher road next time, “Do you see any other Sue Birds and Diana Taurasis and Tamika Catchings out there? I don’t,” he mused. “I think we’re going to have to work harder than we’ve ever worked to stay where we are.” Men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has produced back-to-back champions, said before the Games that he’d be stepping down. But LeBron James, who has two golds and a bronze in his kit bag, says he’s up for a fourth go-around. That would be fine with USOC chairman Larry Probst, who’d just as soon have the NBAers suit up as opposed to an under-23 team. “If they happen to be 37 or 19, I would like to see us field the very best team we can put on the court and playing the very best teams from other countries,” he said.

Fierce Five on tour

Needham native Aly Raisman and the rest of the “Fierce Five” gold medalists from London will perform at TD Garden Nov. 11 as part of the 40-city Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions, which begins Sept. 8 in San Jose, site of the Olympic trials. The tour, which also will stop at Hartford’s XL Center Nov. 17, will feature members of the men’s squad as well as 2008 team members Nastia Liukin, Alicia Sacramone, and Chellsie Memmel. Next March, the American Cup, which may well provide an early look at some 2016 hopefuls, will return to Worcester’s DCU Center . . . The US women’s soccer team’s victory tour will be decidedly shorter than that of the gymnasts. The three-time defending champs will face Costa Rica a week from Saturday in Rochester, N.Y. (Abby Wambach’s hometown), then take on Australia in Carson, Calif., Sept. 16 and again in Commerce City, Colo. three days later . . . After just missing qualifying for the Games in the lightweight double, Harvard sophomore Andrew Campbell picked up a nice consolation prize in Bulgaria last weekend at the world rowing championships for non-Olympic events, collecting the bronze in the lightweight single. “There’s a lot of people out there who think Americans can’t scull,” said the New Canaan, Conn., native. “But I’m happy to be showing the world that we can scull and we’re coming to get you.”

First-timers

Of the 85 countries that won medals in London, seven made the podium for the first time: Bahrain, Botswana, Cyprus, Gabon, Grenada, Guatemala, and Montenegro. Malta, which first competed in the Summer Games in 1928, has been longest on the waiting list . . . Self-evident quote of the Games: “I expected to do better, but the weights were too heavy,” said Micronesian weightlifter Manuel Minginfel.

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

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