Beijing’s bid for the Winter Games

Curling at the Water Cube? Please make this happen!

The rest of this USA TODAY story is more skeptical, perhaps with good reason. China isn’t known for skiing, to put it mildly. But one of their local ski resorts is getting good reviews at TripAdvisor.

And it’s probably too late to consider splitting the Games to put ice events in Beijing and snow events in Norway, so it’s either this or Almaty.

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Why I prefer the Olympics to the World Cup

“So, you getting ready to go to Rio?” asked my dentist.

He loves soccer. We often have conversations like this:

“What about the defense? They have that guy Besler, or am I thinking of Beasley?”

“Arrrghwa rahhbwa baahna.”

“Right — Besler at center back. How is he?”

But no, I’m not getting ready to go to Brazil. Just I didn’t go to South Africa in 2010. Or Germany in 2006, though I was there five years later for the Women’s World Cup and loved it. I wasn’t in Japan or South Korea for 2002, instead going through an intensive sleep-deprivation experiment at home and in the USA TODAY office, nor France in 1998.

When the Cup was in the USA in 1994, I made it to one game — Belgium-Saudi Arabia, which means I was lucky enough to see the goal of the tournament.

Don’t mistake my lack of attendance as apathy. I’ve always followed the World Cup any way I could.

In 1982, I realized that the nearly four weeks I would spend at summer camp coincided with most of the World Cup. I was just old enough to be horrified.

I asked my dear mother if she would clip each day’s scores and standings, if applicable, from the daily paper and mail them to me. Bless her heart, she did it. And in a cabin in the Northeast Georgia foothills, I duly copied them into a bulky notebook in which I followed each group’s standings and traced through the knockout rounds. If anyone at my camp needed a break from being pummeled in the rowdy sports that apparently built character, they could come over and ask me how Argentina had progressed from the group stage through the quarterfinals. (Not that anyone did. Go to that camp today, and you might see a few Messi shirts. There were no Maradona shirts in those days.)

In my USA TODAY days, I went to several Olympics: 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010. No World Cups. It’s pretty simple: USA TODAY sends scores of people to the Olympics. To a World Cup, usually one or two. (I understand it’s more these days.) It wasn’t me in 2002 or 2006 because the “print” staff hadn’t yet realized that the “online” staff had built a presence and that people outside our offices generally saw me as our soccer writer. It wasn’t me in 2010 because I had left.

I would have loved to have gone in 2006. Then again, I had one young son and was about to have another. So the timing wasn’t ideal.

So maybe I missed my window of opportunity. But I don’t really have any regrets. And frankly, I’ve developed a view that may shock most of you:

I’d rather go to the Olympics than the World Cup.

No, really. I got a credential to the 2014 Winter Olympics and only gave it back when I ran the numbers and realized I didn’t have the time to make the trip to Sochi pay off. Brazil this summer? Never even considered it. Rio 2016? I’m a little nervous about the preparation, but I’ll probably try to go. Pyeongchang 2018? Logistics could be tricky, but all things being equal, I’d be happy to be there. Tokyo 2020? Oh, I’m there.

Part of it is simple logistics. It’s the travel. Reporters in Brazil will cover one game, get on a plane, cover another game, get on another plane, repeat. At the Olympics, I could cover two, three, eight events a day.

The Women’s World Cup in Germany was as close to that experience as you’ll get at a major soccer tournament. Thanks to the train passes organizers offered up for a semi-reasonable price (hey, espnW was paying, not me), I could go to nine games in seven cities in 11 days.

I’m hoping to go to the Women’s World Cup again in 2015, but I won’t be able to duplicate that experience in Canada’s far-flung venues. Won’t happen in Russia 2018, either. Sure, the travel will be easy in Qatar 2022, but I’d sooner cover an ice fishing contest in Antarctica than go to that disaster-in-waiting. (If it’s moved to, say, the USA, I’ll at least get tickets, if not credentials.)

But let’s say you could pool all the World Cup games in a cohesive area. Would I want to go? Honestly, unless it’s in England — probably not.

The World Cup is not the Olympics. The World Cup doesn’t have the diversity, the color, the sense of wonder of the Olympics. It’s not the same.

And with a few exceptions, the World Cup features the same players you’ve been watching all year. You don’t get many chances to see Michael Phelps in meaningful competition. Messi and Rooney are on our TVs every week, sometimes twice, for about nine months.

Here’s the sad part: World Cup hosting rights are considered so valuable that the exchanges of goods, services and cold hard cash that surround them are one big beautiful tragedy. The 2022 Olympics? At this point, the IOC is practically begging cities to bid, lest they face an unappealing choice between Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Beijing.

Part of the problem is the “white elephant” label. Athens, Torino and Beijing had some venues that had sketchy post-Games plans. Then there’s Russia — Sochi was such a money pit that it has scared off the normally rational European public. No Winter Olympics should cost that much — you put up bleachers at your ski resorts, maybe build a ski jump hill or sliding track, and off you go. If you already have the ski jump hill and sliding track, you should be in great shape.

But there’s hope. I’ve been to London’s Olympic Park — a nice tourist attraction, training facility and host for various events. Salt Lake City unquestionably did it right — the Olympic Park and the Olympic Oval are humming with athletes in training and regular folks taking advantage of the many activities on offer.

And now, Brazil is doing it wrong for the World Cup. They’ve built a stadium in the middle of nowhere in the most literal sense.

So I’m not sure the World Cup can claim superiority over the Olympics on the “white elephant” syndrome. Not if the Olympics are planned well by a non-authoritarian government.

Sure, the Olympics could be scaled back, particularly the Summer Games. Maybe it’s time to split the Summer Games into a couple of smaller events (future blog post). But they’re still a wonderful event. Being immersed in the Olympic atmosphere is an experience I’ll always treasure.

The World Cup, on the other hand, is losing some of its allure to me. There’s so much soccer all year. I love the weekly Saturday wakeup with the NBC Premier League crew, my trips to the SoccerPlex to see the NWSL, and the steady summer diet of MLS. I’m finding less in common with the people going to Brazil and more in common with the hard-core Spirit fans, the masses in Seattle, and the English supporters banding together with their neighborhood club.

Then there’s FIFA, the organization so ugly that it’s hard to stomach any summary of their deeds that isn’t mitigated by John Oliver’s wit.

 

Of course I’m still going to watch the World Cup. I’m looking forward to hearing Ian Darke, whom I had the privilege of meeting in Germany, add life to the action. And after seeing Next Goal Wins, I have a new appreciation for the countries that strive just to get a small piece of the competition.

But when it comes to planning international trips over the next decade, I have a few things that will be higher priority than handing any of my money to FIFA.

Wrestling leaders gearing up to fight … what, exactly?

USA Wrestling’s response to the sport’s threatened ouster from the Olympics has been impressive.

They’ve done some international networking at the freestyle World Cup in Iran. They’re organizing at the grass roots. They’ve got an organization with a catchy name (CPOW, pronounced “ka-POW!”). They held a media conference call today and struck all the right notes, sounding polished rather than bitter.

Former USOC president Jim Scherr is now working with international organizer FILA to save the sport’s Olympic status. He speaks convincingly of wrestling’s “Olympism” — the goodwill created through respectful international competition. Anyone who has seen footage of the competition in Iran would have to agree.

Anything wrong? Perhaps. It’s clear from today’s conference call that they don’t really know why wrestling was the one existing Olympic sport excluded from the board’s list of “core sports” guaranteed a place in the Games beyond 2016.

Scherr can tell us why baseball was removed — doping scandals, lack of “universality” (number of countries that play it and play it well), the cost of building a venue. Wrestling has none of those issues.

So … why?

Here’s the shocking point: The IOC gathered extensive data about each sport. And Scherr says wrestling’s federations haven’t had access to the data.

And so wrestling is flying blind.

Scherr thinks the IOC will give some direction. IOC President Jacques Rogge will meet with FILA’s new leaders March 7.

But this lack of information rendered my question moot. I asked if wrestling’s lobbyists were considering changes to the Olympic program, such as the grappling-for-Greco idea I floated a couple of weeks ago. Short answer: It hasn’t come up.

Why should it, if they don’t know why the ax is hovering?

None of this is USA Wrestling’s fault. This conference call should assure people that USA Wrestling is doing all it can. Everyone can help — in response to a question from an elderly gentleman who didn’t identify himself and said he didn’t have a “medium outlet,” Scherr and company pointed everyone to its donation/political action site at keepwrestlingintheolympics.com

And in a minor but helpful point, USA Wrestling has released a good explanation of the process from here on out, explaining and debunking the “three sports” rumor:

Two dates are vitally important to reverse this recommendation. Between May 24-27 in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Executive Board will hear presentations from the following sports: baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, squash, sport climbing, wakeboard, wrestling and wushu. Up to three of those sports will move forward for final consideration at the General Session of the IOC in September.

In its meeting Sept. 4-7 in Buenos, Aires, Argentina, the 114-member IOC General Session will have two votes. The first is to accept or reject the Executive Board’s recommendation to drop wrestling from the Games. If that’s upheld, the IOC members will then vote to select one of the three sports forwarded by the Executive Board for inclusion on the Olympic Program in 2020.

Got it? Good.

Now if we can find out what wrestling needs to do to score a little better on the Olympic box score, we’ll be in business.

Monday Myriad, Feb. 18: Slalom and shoot

Headlines of the week:

– Ted Ligety won the giant slalom, his best event, for his third title at the Alpine skiing World Championships. Then 17-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin won the slalom. That’s four golds and a bronze for the USA in 10 individual events.

– Tim Burke took silver in the 20k individual event at biathlon’s World Championships, which were otherwise dominated by Norway (eight golds in 11 events — two individuals and two relays each for Tora Berger and Emil Hegle Svendsen).

– The Netherlands’ Sven Kramer won his sixth straight world allround speedskating title. Fellow Dutchperson Ireen Wust won her fourth overall, the last three in a row. Jonathan Kuck has the best U.S. finish, 13th.

– The MMA ladders are in the process of being updated after the weekend’s Bellator and UFC events, in which two bantamweight belts were defended.

A few links, tweets and videos on those stories and more:

http://storify.com/duresport/monday-myriad-feb-18-storify-edition

Upcoming:

– Feb. 20-24: Cycling (track), World Championships
– Feb. 21-March 3: Nordic skiing, World Championships
– Feb. 23: UFC 157: Rousey vs. Carmouche (women’s bantamweight title)

Wrestling’s way forward: Grappling in, Greco and whining out

wrestlingNow that we’ve picked our jaws up off the floor from the IOC vote to squeeze wrestling out of the Olympic rings, let’s see what arguments work and which ones don’t.

As you’d expect in the free-for-all, speak-before-reading atmosphere of the Interwebs, commenters on various sites have come up with some stupid responses. But some educated observers also might be missing the boat.

Argument: The IOC is just trying to be the X Games.

Winter Games, sure — they’ve added all kinds of snowboard and freestyle skiing events.

Summer Games? The last sports added were golf and rugby sevens. The sports most likely to be added next are baseball/softball, karate or squash. Don’t recall seeing those sports covered at EXPN.

Argument: They should just get rid of ping pong.

Ahem … table tennis beat wrestling in most of the numbers cited in the 2009 IOC report. I’d doubt wrestling made up that much ground in four years. For one thing, table tennis has a staggering 190 national federations to wrestling’s 167.

Wrestling does have one argument in comparison to table tennis and badminton — in the two racket/paddle sports, everyone’s playing for silver medals behind China. The IOC should be (and might be) telling those federations to step it up internationally, just as they have to women’s hockey and now-excluded softball.

(The IOC hasn’t issued a 2013 version of that 2009 report, but they have made the criteria public.)

Argument: They should just get rid of modern pentathlon.

In a head-to-head vote between wrestling and modern pentathlon, sure, wrestling has a stronger case. But modern pentathlon has a case for inclusion as well — a better one, I’d argue, than most of the sports bidding to get into the Games this fall.

(Incidentally, one report going around yesterday suggested the IOC may add three sports this fall. I haven’t confirmed it, but I think that’s a misreading. The Olympic programme is growing by three sports — golf, rugby, and sport-tba-this-fall. Every official release I’ve seen mentions no possibilities beyond that. If you see something contrary, please let me know.)

Argument: They should get rid of race walking or trampoline or synchronized swimming.

Those are specific events within established sports. In those case, the established sports are track and field, gymnastics, and swimming. Go ahead — try to get one of those three sports evicted from the Games.

If you want to argue to exclude those events, fine, but it’s a separate argument. You’re not going to convince the IOC to bring back wrestling to replace the 32 trampoline athletes you’re kicking out of the Games.

Argument: The number of sports is just so arbitrary. Why are they doing this?

The goal is to keep the Games from growing out of hand so that future host cities won’t be totally bankrupt for decades. But yes, the number of sports may be a bad way to do that. Track and field has 47 events with roughly 2,000 athletes from roughly 200 countries. Modern pentathlon has two events with 72 athletes. Archery has four events with 128 athletes.

That’s the human toll. Then there’s the logistical toll. Rio is building a golf course to accommodate a new sport. Wrestling just needs an existing gym and some mats.

Argument: In 2008, wrestling had Olympians from a bajillion countries, while modern pentathlon had less than 30.

Modern pentathlon has exactly two events with 72 total athletes. Wrestling has seven weight classes in two men’s disciplines for a total of 14, then four weight classes for women. The USA alone had 17 wrestlers in London. Kazakhstan had 15.

Yes, wrestling has a good “universality” argument — 29 different countries won medals. But don’t compare those apples to modern pentathlon’s oranges.

Argument: This is just a slap in the face of the USA, the most successful nation.

Not quite. The big dog in the Olympics is actually the Soviet Union/Russia, which is listed as separate countries in most records. The USA is a strong second in the all-time table but hasn’t led the medal count in this millennium. There’s a reason Rulon Gardner’s win is considered a colossal upset.

That said, my former USA TODAY colleague Christine Brennan raises a good question today: When will the USA, whose companies’ cash props up the Games, start exerting its influence?

Russia’s gearing up for a fight to keep wrestling in the Games. Japan and Iran can’t be happy, either. Maybe U.S. sponsors could provide the tipping point?

(And in case you think these political adversaries can’t team up, check the U.S. wrestling team’s travel itinerary for February. And an Iranian newspaper is calling the USA, Russia and Iran “the axis” to stand up and defend wrestling.)

Argument: International wrestling federation FILA was too complacent.

We have a winner.

Bloody Elbow’s Mike Riordan:

FILA exists to prevent this very thing from happening. If they can’t prevent wrestling from being removed from the Olympic program, then they are failing at their existential purpose. How could they stand around and watch while other sports were lobbying the IOC? What the hell were they thinking?

FILA was either negligent or reckless here, as they either disregarded a risk they were aware of or never noticed a risk they should not have missed. They totally and irrevocably soiled their metaphorical sheets and mattress.

Veteran Oly journalist Alan Abrahamson:

(Wrestling) ranked low in the TV categories as well, with 58.5 million viewers max and an average of 23 million. Internet hits and press coverage also were ranked as low.

For all of wrestling’s claims of “universality,” moreover, the sport — while immensely popular in places such as the United States, Japan, Russia, eastern Europe, former Soviet bloc nations, Turkey and Iran — doesn’t really offer up that many Asian, African or Latin athletes. Which longtime observers such as Harvey Schiller, the former baseball federation president, pointed out, also noting that it simply is “not great TV.”

Moreover, the IOC report also observed that FILA has no athletes on its decision-making bodies, no women’s commission, no ethics rules for technical officials and no medical official on its executive board.

There’s this, too, though the IOC report doesn’t mention it: FILA is virtually invisible on Facebook. In the year 2013, that is almost indefensible. (Quick aside from BD: Their website is, even by the poor standard of international federation sites, an absolute mess.)

Pentathlon — given a warning in 2002 — got with the program, so to speak.

It cut its competition schedule from five days, to four, to one. It instituted the use of laser pistols instead of regular guns. It also played politics, an IOC essential, with UIPM first vice president Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. now sitting on the IOC board.

FILA did virtually nothing.

(That’s a long excerpt, but please, read all of Alan’s piece.)

What’s the way forward? Let’s go to another point from Mike’s piece:

In 2002, an IOC review essentially told FILA to get rid of a wrestling style (i.e. Greco) because having two was confusing the casual viewing audience. FILA stood up for itself and retained both styles. I believe that the IOC’s decision to eliminate Wrestling may be something of a power move designed to show other sports what happens when their wishes are not complied with.

Wrestling purists may hate this, but it’s probably time to ditch Greco-Roman wrestling.

But wrestling can also take a more positive step and add something else, a discipline that touches both the ancient world and the modern:

Grappling.

FILA already runs grappling competitions. They were a bridge for 2009 world champion Sara McMann from her Olympic wrestling career to her MMA career.

Some MMA fans and promoters still harbor delusions of getting MMA in the Games. As we’ve seen this week, the politics of getting into the Games aren’t pretty. Getting into Madison Square Garden, by comparison, is a lush walk on rose pedals. And by the time they add headgear and other restrictions so that athletes can fight a complete tournament in two weeks, it won’t look like MMA.

Grappling, though, incorporates a lot of MMA elements. And it’s an easy addition to the program. Just scratch out “Greco-Roman” and write “grappling.”

Also, grappling may attract more women. Judo is nearly gender-equal. Wrestling is not, and Greco-Roman has no women at all. That’s important.

So wrestling could add an existing discipline to its existing program, appeal to modern MMA fans and harken back to the pankration days of yore.

And making such a move would give the IOC a way to “change its mind” while saving face. They could say wrestling has acceded to their demands for change. That’s an easier decision to spin than the “lots of people got mad and lobbied us” outcome.

Win-win-win-win. At the very least, worth a shot if it means keeping a traditional Olympic sport in the Games.

Save modern pentathlon

The Winter Olympics are taking on an X Games feel. Even the older sports are modernizing — biathlon has caught on with TV-friendly pursuit and mass start competition, and luge has added a cool relay event.

The Summer Games don’t have as much room to grow, and IOC President Jacques Rogge has been in more of a trimming mode. If we’re adding a sport, Rogge and company believe, we must cut one.

And that’s reasonable. The Summer Games have outgrown most cities’ capability to host them.

Not that the IOC’s decisions on cutting and adding sports have been reasonable. Rio won’t have softball, but it’s scrambling to build a golf course. Then organizers will have to deal with security for the whole area.

Baseball and softball have joined forces in an effort to get back in the Games, competing against karate, squash, wushu, sport climbing, wakeboarding and roller sports. But before one sport is added, one must be eliminated.

One wrinkle to consider: The IOC groups its sports according to the governing federation. That means all the aquatic sports (swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming) are one sport, just as the two wrestling disciplines (freestyle, Greco-Roman) are a single sport. (That’s also why baseball and softball can go in together as long as they’re under the same umbrella.)

So if you’re thinking synchronized swimming should get the axe, think again. Unless the IOC decides to overhaul its bureaucracy on the fly, an entire sports federation will be taken out of the games.

The only realistic cuts are taekwondo, controversially added to the Olympics ahead of karate, and modern pentathlon.

On the surface, modern pentathlon would be no great loss. It’s an esoteric and expensive sport requiring access to a pool, a shooting range (now modernized to lasers), fencing equipment, and horses. Britain has managed to boost participation to five figures, but it’s hard to imagine that sort of interest elsewhere. In the USA, it’s not exactly a popular youth sports option.

The argument for saving it is that it preserves the legacy of modern Olympic founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who introduced the sport to the Games. Perhaps that’ll sway some sentimental people within the IOC,

Another argument: Modern pentathlon uses existing facilities (no extra stadiums, baseball fields or golf courses) and adds less than 100 athletes to the Olympic Village.

I’ll add another: Modern pentathlon is a uniquely Olympic sport. Not like golf or rugby, the two recent additions that have lives outside the Games. Not like soccer or tennis, though they’ve carved out solid niches for themselves in the Games.

If the Olympics won’t be the pinnacle of achievement in a given sport, I don’t see the point in adding that sport to the program. If a sport is historically linked to the Olympics, I don’t see the point in removing it.

Modern pentathlon has adapted to modern times. All five events now take place in one day. The running and shooting have been combined, biathlon-style. In London, that meant half the competition (or three-fifths, if you count running and shooting separately) took place in Greenwich Park. In Rio, the idea is to run all five events in one stadium.

The numbers don’t favor modern pentathlon. A 2009 report on the existing Olympic sports found pentathlon lagging behind taekwondo and other sports in most categories — number of participating countries, media interest, etc. Europe likes it, but other continents are really interested. (That said, some of the sports bidding for inclusion are pretty weak as well.)

So the sentimental argument is all we have. But you’d think, given the low cost of keeping such a unique Olympic tradition alive, that would be enough.

Here’s a radical solution for solving the problem: Merge the pentathlon federation with the equestrian federation. Or the triathlon federation.

Silly, you say? Is it any sillier than having swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming under the same federation because they all take place in water?

Perhaps such a move would violate the spirit of Rogge’s mandate to shrink the Games. But so does building a bloody golf course in Rio. And the point isn’t supposed to be the number of sports — it’s supposed to be the number of athletes and the number of events. With modern pentathlon, we’re talking about two events and less than 100 athletes. Tighten up the qualification criteria in swimming or track, and you’ll have the same net effect.

So you may say the Olympics don’t have much to gain by keeping modern pentathlon. Perhaps not. But they have less to gain by cutting it. Why dash the dreams of competitors to satisfy a bureaucratic statistic counting the number of federations who have a seat at the table?

Rio 2016: Is there any way to make golf work in the Olympics?

Golf’s inclusion in the 2016 Olympics is one of the most puzzling IOC decisions in recent years. For one thing, that decision forced Rio to build a golf course, which has turned out to be a major problem.

The other problem is that the golf calendar is already super-saturated. Four majors, WGC events, Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and the tour playoffs — that’s a lot to handle. (Granted, tennis has the same problem but is starting to get a foothold in the Games.)

So if you must have golf in the Games, why not make it interesting? My longtime work buddy Scott Michaux has a modest proposal: Have national teams play. It would still be a stroke-play format with individual gold/silver/bronze, but you’d also take scores and add them up, NCAA-style, to give team medals.

A similar proposal at CBSSports: Same thing, only in match play.

2012 medal projections: Old Cold War battles, Jamaica heat up women’s running

Olympic athletes don’t just show up out of nowhere in an Olympic year, except maybe in a few secretive nations. Next year, we’ll have world championships in virtually everything, giving us a good chance to project what might happen in 2012.

We’re not waiting until then. We’re setting up some projections now, then revising as new results come in. It’s FiveThirtyEight with less math and no Rasmussen.

Today, it’s …

ATHLETICS: Women’s running events

We’re not Eurosnobs. Really. But isn’t “athletics” less awkward than “track and field”?

Besides, the marathon uses neither a track (except at the very end) or a field. And the shot put can be held anywhere.

The year’s top performances for each athlete are given in parentheses, but remember that some top athletes (Usain Bolt springs to mind) didn’t put much emphasis on running in a year with no Olympics or World Championships. (Source: IAAF)

We’re going to split this into running events and non-running events, then split it further by gender. We have a lot of ground to cover.

Continue reading 2012 medal projections: Old Cold War battles, Jamaica heat up women’s running

2012 medal projections: Archery sweep is South Korea’s aim

You’ve seen the political projections. Now let’s get to the ones that matter.

The Olympics happen every four years. (Think of the Winter Games as the midterms.) The competition is a little more honest than the typical U.S. election, and you don’t have to sit through insulting political ads.

We’re going to go sport-by-sport through the Olympics and project winners in London. We’ll base it on past results. Like FiveThirtyEight.com, we’ll be able to update our projections based on recent data. In our case, though, that’ll be actual competition such as World Cups and World Championships, not polls. Another advantage we’ll have over FiveThirtyEight.com — less math.

Let’s get right to it with an event NBC probably won’t feature in great detail:

ARCHERY

First rule upon checking results: Ignore compound bows. Nothing personal, but they’re not in the Olympics. Seems a shame for the USA, because Americans tend to do pretty well with the high-tech stuff. What we’re dealing with here is the more traditional “recurve” bow.

Women’s individual: South Korean dominance ran into home advantage in Beijing, as China’s Zhang Juanjuan won gold ahead of 2004 champion Park Sung-Hyun. That ended a streak of six straight golds for South Korea, but the 2010 World Cup results give little sign that South Korea is going away. Four of the top six women in the rankings were South Korean, led by Ki Bo Bae in first and World Cup final champion Yun Ok-Hee in fourth. India has an outside shot with two contenders — Deepika Kumari and Dola Banerjee. Poland’s Justyna Mospinek is the best spoiler.

2008: Zhang Juanjuan (China), Park Sung-Hyun (South Korea), Yun Ok-Hee (South Korea).

Projection: South Korea, South Korea, India.

Top Americans: Khatuna Lorig (18th in World Cup), Jennifer Nichols (17th in world ranking)

Women’s team: South Korea could probably enter two teams and win medals here if the IOC allowed it. They’ve won all six women’s team events in modern Olympic history. India gets the edge for silver based on World Cup results. Bronze is wide open — 2008 silver medalist China, bronze medalist France, rankings-round runner-up Great Britain and Italy are among the contenders. We’d go with the hosts if their world ranking were any higher than 16th. Instead, we’ll take second-ranked China.

2008: South Korea, China, France.

Projection: South Korea, India, China.

Men’s individual: The USA has a decent shot, with ageless Vic Wunderle (silver, 2000) still going and Brady Ellison taking the World Cup prize in 2010. South Korea is deep, with three straight team golds. Italy has a good track record in the team event and a couple of top performers in the World Cup. But outsiders are a threat in this event — Mexico’s Juan Rene Serrano won the Beijing ranking round before finishing fourth in the knockout phase, and Ukraine’s Viktor Ruban squeaked through to gold past South Korea’s Park Kyung-Mo.

2008: Viktor Ruban (Ukraine), Park Kyung-Mo (South Korea), Bair Badenov (Russia).

Projection: USA, South Korea, Italy.

 

Top Americans: Ellison, Wunderle.

Men’s team: In Beijing, China made a stunning run from 12th in the ranking round to take bronze. We’ll chalk that up to home advantage and focus on the South Korea-Italy tandem frequently on top here. Bronze is open, with Ukraine getting the nod on current World Cup rankings and Ruban’s medal experience (2004 team bronze in addition to 2008 individual gold).

2008: South Korea, Italy, China.

Projection: South Korea, Italy, Ukraine.

TOTAL PROJECTION (Gold-silver-bronze, 2008 gold-silver-bronze, total change):
– South Korea: 5 medals (3-2-0, 2-2-1, no change)
– India: 2 medals (0-1-1, 0-0-0, +2)
– Italy: 2 medals (0-1-1, 0-1-0, +1)
– USA: 1 medal (1-0-0, 0-0-0, +1)
– China: 1 medal (0-0-1, 1-1-1, -2)
– Ukraine: 1 medal (0-0-1, 1-0-0, no change)
– Russia: 0 medals (-1)
– France: 0 medals (-1)

BIG EVENTS:
– World championships: July 2-10, Torino