Guardian writing: Rio Olympics

Two women’s soccer analyses, two gymnastics live blogs, one examination of how rare Michael Phelps’ accomplishments this year are, and one look at the next generation of U.S. Olympians.

Aug. 9: U.S. women win gold in gymnastics team final (live coverage)

Aug. 10: U.S. women’s soccer team has improved, really (group stage analysis)

Aug. 11: Biles, Raisman medal in all-around (live coverage)

Aug. 12: Why Phelps is still great at an age when most swimmers have faded

Aug. 13: USA’s women lost. Blaming it on “cowards” misses the point

Aug. 20: USA have a wealth of young talent for 2020

I also wrote for Bleacher Report and will have another post summing up my work there.


Doping: It’s complicated

“Ban the Russians!”

Like “Equal Play, Equal Pay” or “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” it’s a catchy slogan, but it merits further investigation.

Plenty of columnists have ripped the IOC for allowing any Russian athletes into the 2016 Olympics, arguing that the organizers should’ve issued a blanket ban in the wake of the McLaren report, which unveiled a shadowy state-sanctioned doping and concealment program not seen since the bad old days of East Germany.

The ruling forced each sport’s federation to decide on Russian participation. All track and field athletes, all weightlifters and a handful of others were tossed out.

But others were allowed, and the issue came to the forefront in the Western media not when two Russian men won judo gold, not when three fencers and two shooters won medals for Russia, not even when a Russian in the historically doping-heavy sport of cycling took silver (granted, that just happened this morning), but when American swimmer Lilly King wagged a finger at Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, who trains in Southern California but has served one doping suspension and avoided a second in the muddy realm of meldonium tests.

King won their showdown in the pool, a nice feel-good moment for Americans and anti-doping authorities. And that led to this awkward press conference, in which Efimova was asked whether she should be in Rio and King was asked whether Team USA should expel athletes such as Justin Gatlin, who has been twice punished in doping regulations.

The vilification of Efimova didn’t sit well with columnist Alan Abrahamson, one of the few Olympic writers who pays attention to Olympic sports outside the Olympics.

Efimova, now 24, is a four-time breaststroke world champion. She is the 2012 bronze medalist in the women’s 200m breast. She has trained at the University of Southern California; indeed, she moved to Southern California in her late teens. This means many things, among them: She has submitted to American drug testing.

Abrahamson goes on to compare Efimova’s suspension to that of U.S. swimmer Jessica Hardy, who used the “tainted supplement” defense to get a reduced suspension, come back to win medals and appear in chocolate milk ads. But Efimova, he says, is somehow beyond redemption.

You have someone whose English was — and remains — not great, who when she bought a tainted supplement at GNC was in her early 20s, who relied on a friendly American clerk to help her — and now she’s depicted as a world-class villain?

AP columnist John Leicester also saw the gray areas.

Foolish, then, but not Lance Armstrong.

The arbitrators noted that Efimova impressed them “as sincere and honest and appropriately remorseful for her mistake. She did not seek to blame others for her rule violation and she accepted responsibility for her actions.”

These all-important nuances got drowned in the Olympic pool.

Meldonium is tricky. It was added to the banned substance list Jan. 1. Then a lot of Russians and a handful of people from other countries — including one American (see below) — tested positive. WADA ruled that trace amounts lingering from pre-Jan. 1 usage would not be punished, and that’s why Efimova is in the Games.

You can make a counterargument on Efimova. You can say she was reckless with supplements a few years ago. You can also argue that all these meldonium users knew they were cheating before WADA banned the substance, and you can argue that’s a second strike that should keep Efimova out of the Games. Legally, I doubt that argument would stand up (in fact, it didn’t — Efimova appealed and was ruled eligible).

Morally? Ethically? Up to you.

How about banning everyone who’s ever run afoul of doping authorities? Tricky.

The Wall Street Journal looked into the issue and counted 11 U.S. athletes who have positive tests in their past. I compared spreadsheets and came up with 11 names:

Screenshot 2016-08-10 at 10.58.34 AM

The first pattern you’ll notice is that there is no pattern. That brings us to the moral of the story:

Every case is different.

You have LaShawn Merritt, suspended because he failed to realize a “male-enhancement product” included something he can’t take. Most likely not intentional cheating, but not smart by anyone’s account.

Weightlifter Sarah Robles has insisted she was using medication to treat polycystic ovary syndrome. Her suspension ended in time for her to make the team for Rio.

Did you forget about Hope Solo? She received a warning when her medication was flagged.

And notice recreational drugs on the list — if you look at the whole USADA list, you’ll see enough “cannabis” to wonder how many athletes you’ll bump into at a Snoop Dogg or Phish concert.

Do you ban Merritt? Robles? Solo? How about Abby Wambach, who has admitted using recreational drugs during her playing career?

Opinions may vary. These aren’t easy decisions.

But you know damn well that a lot of the people speaking out about Efimova and every Russian judo athlete, sailor or gymnast would scream bloody murder if a U.S. sports hero like Wambach or Robles was banned. (They might concede Gatlin or Merritt because track and field somehow isn’t as inspirational to many in the media.)

And in that sense, Efimova is right. We’re still fighting the Cold War. Because we’re too lazy to get into the nuances or find a new narrative.




Your Rio 2016 meta-medal guide

I did tell you Ginny Thrasher (Springfield) would be someone to watch. Sure enough, she’s in the shooting final.

What else have I written to preview these Games? Glad you asked …

In addition to my analysis of Olympic odds, projections and TV offerings, I have a few general overviews up at Bleacher Report

Thrasher was mentioned in my look at teen phenoms of the Games, which includes a few players soccer fans will recognize.

I’ve given a guide of everything to watch in men’s swimming. (Not just Phelps.)

Will Usain Bolt lose? I said yes, as one of my Bold Predictions for the Games.

And if you read just one thing to get the broad overview, flip through my broad overview.

Because Samuel L. said so.



Rio 2016 Olympics: Prediction analysis, schedule notes and rants

The USA will win 88 medals this summer. Or maybe 136.

Hey, the Olympics were totally predictable, they wouldn’t be any fun, right?

Prediction analysis

No, I didn’t do event-by-event predictions this year. I hope to revive them at some point in the future, but I need to do it in a way that is (A) unique and (B) not a total back-breaker.

This time around, I figured I would see what others are picking. In the interest of not burying the lead, here’s the summary …

Screenshot 2016-08-05 at 2.01.46 PM

Let’s explain what these sources are:

1. Gracenote. Formerly Infostrada, this is the gold standard in number-crunching. They feed in results from every competition under the sun and push out projections. They release a summary called the Virtual Medal Table (a name I actually used in compiling World Championship medals back in 2004 for USA TODAY, which should really copyright things like that, Prep Rally and Ever Wonder).

They don’t give event-by-event projections — at least, not for free — but they are thorough and perhaps the most objective (least biased, if you prefer) projection out there.

So that might be bad news for those hoping the USA will win 100 medals.

2. Odds. Oddschecker rounds up several betting sites and highlights the best odds for many athletes. But they’re not complete. To fill in the gaps, I went to Skybet, William Hill, Bovada and Sportsbet (Australia).

Depending on the site, these odds might be based on substantial research as well. But then you may still have a bit of a bias toward English-speaking countries. It’s hard to set odds on athletes who are beyond our familiarity. Sometimes, bettors might recognize a name of someone who isn’t statistically favored but has a compelling story that leads us to think they might outperform the Gracenote projections. The USA certainly does have some athletes who only turn up the jets for the Olympics. But so do a few other countries.

The numbers given above are my summary of all the odds I could find. There were no odds for six events, including the three tennis doubles competitions, where the withdrawals of Roger Federer and the Bryan brothers have thrown things for a loop.

3. The Wall Street Journal does something similar to Gracenote (or, for political junkies, FiveThirtyEight, which doesn’t have any substantial projections that I can see). They take a ton of data and run a bunch of statistical simulations. Then they just give us the summary, not the event-by-event count. Spoilsports.

4. Sports Illustrated’s Brian Cazeneuve does the old-school heavy lifting to go through each event. His picks were published before some of the Russian athletes’ fates were decided and before a couple of people (Roger Federer, the Bryan brothers) withdrew from tennis. But they’ve comprehensive, and they offer interesting notes on each event. Take a look.

5. The Associated Press compiled picks from its staff. I couldn’t find a file that included women’s wrestling for some reason, but the rest are posted.

The AP picks seem rather sentimental. Sure, no one wants to be the guy who picks against the American hopefuls, and perhaps each reporter who contributed predictions felt compelled to go with the best-case scenarios for athletes on their beats. But some of the picks seemed like longshots. Some outliers: women’s archery, men’s high jump, women’s steeplechase (Emma Coburn has a chance to make a big breakthrough for U.S. runners, but she’s not a favorite), women’s shot put, men’s canoe doubles slalom (kayak singles, maybe), women’s field hockey (again, possible but not probable), men’s 81kg judo, women’s 50-meter rifle 3-position (Ginny Thrasher is a great dark-horse pick), men’s 80kg taekwondo (Steven Lopez to turn back time?), men’s 86kg freestyle wrestling, and women’s weightlifting (three athletes, three medals).

If you want to see the U.S. contenders’ actual odds (sort of — I’ll explain), check this spreadsheet:

Disclaimer: Those are simply the lowest odds I could find, either through Oddschecker or whatever source I used to fill in events that Oddschecker didn’t cover. They’re not all from the same source, so don’t think of them as an apples-to-apples comparison. Also, if a U.S. athlete simply wasn’t listed, I assigned the number 200 or 500 depending on the circumstances.

Also, I took the three event-by-event picks into a spreadsheet and did some crunching to figure out who’s a unanimous gold-medal pick, who’s a majority gold-medal pick, and who is the next most likely medalist. The summaries are on the two spreadsheets here:


About the TV coverage (info and rant)

That last spreadsheet has schedule and TV info as well. But …

There’s little guarantee that a network will be broadcasting an entire event. They might pick up the finals, they might hop around between a couple of events. For an actual game, especially in soccer and basketball, you’re likely to see all the action.

But not always. For example: On Day 1 (Aug. 6), CNBC is scheduled to show Germany-Australia women’s soccer and USA-Colombia women’s rugby. Both start at 5 p.m. EDT. The Olympic Soccer Channel will be busy (USA-France women), so if you want to ensure seeing the soccer and/or the rugby live in its entirety (rugby games are roughly 20 minutes), you’ll need to be ready to go online.

And they’re fluid. The official listings may have a block that says “Archery, Rugby, Water Polo.” Now suppose the U.S. women reach the rugby quarterfinals and play in the middle of that block. You’ll likely see more rugby in that block that you would have otherwise. If something completely unexpected comes up, one of the networks might cut away to it.

And you could always have weather issues and other delays. Sailing has a “reserve day” as well as other mechanisms to deal with rescheduling. You might also recall the Korean fencer who was forced to sit on the piste for an hour, holding up the rest of the day’s action, while judges sorted out a protest.

And because discrepancies and incomplete data are facts of Olympic scheduling, I’ve double-sourced and triple-sourced the schedule as much as possible. Sports Media Watch did a good job compiling day-by-day listings, and I checked them against NBC’s vague listings. I’ve also checked the sport-by-sport schedule at NBC’s site. And to get a rough guess of when events will end (soccer games will always be a hair under two hours, barring extra time in the knockout rounds, but sailing and cycling could end up all over the place), I went to the BBC’s site and did a lot of time conversions in my head.

Other things to bear in mind: In elimination tournaments like boxing and beach volleyball, you may have an interesting matchup that just pops up on the schedule. And speaking of boxing, I didn’t do Spanish-language listings here, but Telemundo will show more live pugilism than the English networks.

My priorities here: Medal events, U.S. team events, early rounds of daylong events with U.S. contenders, other random items of interest.

So take the TV listings with a grain of salt and bear rough priorities in mind. NBC is going to show the swimming relay finals live, no matter what. Other events are more malleable. Let’s say a network is planning to show a judo final live because Kayla Harrison or Marti Malloy might be involved, and they’re not planning to show an archery final live. But then (just hypothetically, not a prediction) Harrison or Malloy doesn’t make that final, but Mackenzie Brown is shooting for gold. If you’re an NBC producer, your choice is pretty obvious.

Sure, some of NBC’s decisions are baffling. Their selection of sports has modernized — more offbeat, hipster stuff will be live, and a lot of traditional Olympic fare (gymnastics, diving) will be reserved for prime time. At the same time, they seem stuck in some dated thinking about viewer demand for live events, as if gymnastics and diving fans are walking around with their hands over their ears until prime time.

Consider Aug. 9. Live events at 3 p.m. EDT that day include the women’s team gymnastics, expected to be a U.S. rout, and women’s synchronized platform, not a U.S. strength but still one of the traditional Olympic favorites. They won’t be broadcast live. At 3 p.m. EDT, you can watch basketball, soccer, tennis, table tennis, handball, sailing, beach volleyball, rugby, and taped canoe/kayak.

The prime-time NBC show, giving a good overview of the major events of the day, makes sense. For a lot of people, that’s all of the Olympics they need. It only makes sense to show the best action from the afternoon’s gymnastics, editing out the lulls in the action. But the idea that showing the event live on MSNBC at 3 p.m. will spoil the viewing experience, especially in an era in which your friends will all share the results as soon as they happen, makes no sense today.

But that’s why we have the live streams. In high-speed Internet we trust.

Last point: Let’s ditch the cynicism for a bit. If you don’t care about synchronized swimming or shooting, fine. But these people have devoted much of their lives to being the best synchronized swimmers and shooters they can be, often without any real financial reward. And they’re drawn to international competition in a spirit of goodwill that is sorely lacking in today’s geopolitics. Choose what you want to watch, and cheer.

You can still make fun of the boxing judges.

My hope is that we actually get so interested in these athletes that we follow them outside the Olympics. Not just in the NWSL (women’s soccer). I’m going to track World Championships over the next Olympiad. Then maybe I can do my own projections next time. Or just punch holes in everyone else’s, which seems a lot easier.

Olympic coverage at Bleacher Report

I’ve returned to Bleacher Report to help out with Rio coverage, with three pieces so far …

  1. Preview slideshow of the top events to watch at the track and field trials.
  2. When will the next generation of men’s 100m sprinters arrive?
  3. Top storylines to follow from now to the start of the Games.

I was also happy to see the last thing I wrote for B/R in 2012 is still valid: 10 Bridesmaids from London Who Will Medal in Rio. A quick check shows nine of the 10 are indeed in contention.

2016 Tour de France meta-preview: Get off my lawn!

The first few days of the Tour are really about funny previews, the scenery and the dark art of peloton survival:

The latter is important, because massive sprinter Peter Sagan thinks all these noobs are ruining things (VeloNews):

Now in the group everybody is riding like they don’t care about their life — it’s unbelievable! … Before there was respect. When someone did something stupid, everybody throws their [water] bottle on him or beats him with [tire] pumps.

But VeloNews has already prepped us for these quotes with a handy cliche translator:

There’s no respect in the peloton — I’m not as young as I used to be / Get off my lawn.

And save the rough stuff for the peloton and not, say, a random punch-up with some drunk people, as Podium Cafe reminds us.

VeloNews also has a fun read on the so-unsung-they’re-actually-overrated men of the Tour, the “lead-out men” who get their team’s top sprinter in position for a Tour win.


Want to watch but don’t have cable or a dish any more? NBC has a package of the Tour and a lot of other races for $29.99.

I did promise funny previews. Take your pick (or read both):

NYVelocity: The “Tour de Schmalz” isn’t the daily riot it used to be, but he’ll still chime in from time to time. He explains why Chris Froome is the overwhelming favorite:

The 2013 and 2015 Tour Champion is coming off a win at the Dauphiné and is looking like a wobbly-elbowed juggernaut backed by a team of Rahpa-clad robots hellbent on delivering victory via a panache-smothering, soul crushing stomp through France. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2016 Tour de France, brought to you by Skynet.

Don’t worry — you’ll catch up to the lingo quickly, and it’s worth the effort. He’ll help you put a human funny face on an unfamiliar group of names.

Podium Cafe offers a day-by-day approach, weighing whether to catch the day’s action live or go play cricket, which sounds like a pair of options I wish I had. Today, I believe he’s out at the wicket:

There’s nothing like a long, boring, flat stage to bring the Tour de France south to the mountains.

And don’t forget, you may see some of these same people in Rio later this summer, where the velodrome is done … sort of (VeloNews again).

2016 medal projections: Handball (men’s)

The World Championships are all over bar the shouting. And people are shouting about Qatar — the country you know as the dubiously selected FIFA World Cup host in 2022 but now known as the country that bought a bunch of ringers for its handball team, bought a bunch of fans for this tournament and got so many questionable calls in its favor that one beaten opponent sarcastically applauded the refs.

That was after the powers that be realized Germany wasn’t in the tournament, so Oceania champion Australia was unceremoniously dumped so the handball-watching country could get a wild card.

Like South Korea’s soccer team after the 2002 World Cup, we need to ask whether Qatar will be able to duplicate this performance away from home. You have to figure refs in Rio won’t be quite as amenable to Qatar’s whims as they were in Qatar.

That said, I’m already second-guessing myself for omitting Brazil, the only team to place in the top 16 in the last two World Championships that isn’t listed here. They were 13th in 2013, 16th this year. So they’ll have fewer performance points than anyone else on the list, but if I gave them a five-point adjustment (as I did for Poland, based on more or less a gut feeling not related to them sarcastically applauding the refs), they would move ahead of Egypt.

But they’re a long shot in any case. France has won the last two Olympics and three of the last four world championships, the last by silencing Qatar in a tense final. They’re the obvious favorites.

Denmark has been a consistent European medalist and took silver in the 2011 and 2013 Worlds. They took fifth in Qatar, rebounding from quarterfinal disappointment to win their next two games.

The team that beat Denmark is Spain, which also managed to beat Qatar in group play. They lost to France in the semifinals and dropped the third-place game to Poland.

Croatia and Germany, both perennial powers, won their groups but lost in the quarterfinals. Germany, though, has had some qualification issues in recent tournaments.

And qualifying isn’t easy. Only 12 teams make it, including host Brazil, one team from the Americas, one team from Asia, and one team from Africa. That leaves a maximum of eight teams from Europe, and any team that makes it from there has a shot at a medal.

So we’ll need to revisit this after qualification. At least one team with more than a 30 percent chance of qualifying will miss out.

Until then, here’s the chart of contenders, with projected medalists: France, Denmark, Spain.

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Medal projection fever: Events that matter in 2015

Ten days until the men’s handball World Championships! That’s the first of many events that will feed into the 2016 medal projections this year. By the end of the year, I’ll have every Rio event projected. Even SuperBacteria Sailing.

Wikipedia rounds up nearly everything that matters in 2015, but I’ll focus here on medal projection events, mostly World Championships.

Jan. 15-Feb. 1: Men’s handball Worlds, Qatar. Winner qualifies for Olympics.

Feb. 18-22: Track cycling Worlds, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Olympic qualifying is based on rankings.

April 14-19: Equestrian dressage and jumping World Cup finals, Las Vegas. The World Equestrian Games are in even non-Olympic years. The other Olympic discipline, eventing, has World Cup events from March to October. Wikipedia sums up Olympic qualifying quite well and links to the official documents.

April 26-May 3: Table tennis Worlds, Suzhou, China. Little effect on Olympic qualifying, which is done through continental tournaments and rankings.

May 16-17: Rugby (men’s) Sevens Series final, London. Top four in final standings qualify for Olympics.

May 23-24: Rugby Women’s Sevens Series final, Amsterdam. Top four in final standings … you get the idea.

May 30-June 20: Soccer, men’s U20 World Cup, New Zealand. The closest analogue to an Olympic men’s soccer (U23 plus some overage players) event this year. Olympic qualification is in 2016.

* June 6-July 5: Soccer, Women’s World Cup, Canada. For European teams, this is also this Olympic qualifier, as absurd as that is. North American qualification will be in 2016.

June 8-14: Sailing, World Cup final, Weymouth and Portland, England. Sailing has Worlds in non-Olympic even years, though some classes also have Worlds in odd years. Got it? I’m just linking to Wikipedia for the Olympic qualification summary, which is more up-to-date and coherent than the official version.

June 26-July 5: Beach volleyball Worlds, Netherlands. The FIVB also has four “majors” in June through August and five “Grand Slams” in May through August. That’s not confusing at all. World champions earn Olympic quotas; most of the other spots are filled by rankings.

June 28-July 28: Modern pentathlon Worlds, Berlin. Three Olympic quota spots per gender available. World Cup final, which offers one spot per gender, is two weeks earlier. They’ll also give three more per gender at the 2016 Worlds.

July 13-19: Fencing Worlds, Moscow. The Grand Prix runs through May 31. Olympic qualification is mostly rankings.

July 21-25: BMX Worlds, Heusden-Zolder, Germany. Also World Cup events in April, May, August and September (2). Olympic qualification is almost solely based on rankings.

* July 24-Aug. 9: Aquatic Worlds (swimming, diving, water polo, synchro, open water), Kazan, Russia. Diving also has a World Series and a Grand Prix leading up to an October finale. The water polo World League finals will be in June and July. FINA kindly wraps up all its Olympic qualifying info on one hub page. Quota spots at stake here: Swimming relays, open water, diving, water polo. Not individual swimming races (based on qualifying times) or synchronized swimming (continental qualifiers).

July 26-Aug. 2: Archery Worlds, Copenhagen, Denmark. Olympic quotas at stake. World Cups are scattered May through October in addition to an indoor season that wraps Feb. 6-7 in Las Vegas.

Aug. 6-16: Shooting, World Cup, Gabala, Azerbaijan. This is the last stop of the year in which Olympic quotas are at stake. Except in shotgun (see Sept. 9-18).

Aug. 10-16: Badminton Worlds, Jakarta, Indonesia. Other events go year-round. Olympic quotas based on world ranking May 5, 2016.

Aug. 19-23: Canoe sprint Worlds, Milan, Italy. Many Olympic quota spots at stake. Also three World Cup events in May.

* Aug. 22-30: Track and field Worlds, Beijing. The Diamond League runs May 15 through July 30, then resumes after Worlds with final events Sept. 3 and 11. Olympic qualification is based mostly on times.

Aug. 22-Sept. 6: Women’s volleyball World Cup, Japan. The World Championship was last year, and the World Grand Prix will wrap earlier in the summer. This one has a couple of Olympic spots available.

Aug. 24-30: Judo Worlds, Astana, Kazakhstan. Olympic qualification is driven by rankings, so watch Grand Slam (ouch!) and Grand Prix events through the year.

Aug. 30-Sept. 6: Rowing Worlds, Lac d’Aiguebelette, France. This is the main Olympic quota qualifier.

Aug. 31-Sept. 6: Mountain bike Worlds, Vallnord, Andorra. World Cup final is a week earlier. Olympic qualification based mostly on rankings.

Sept. 7-13: Rhythmic gymnastics Worlds, Stuttgart, Germany. Many Olympic quotas at stake.

* Sept. 7-13: Wrestling Worlds, Las Vegas. Winners get Olympic quotas.

Sept. 8-23: Men’s volleyball World Cup, Japan. The World Championship was last year, and the World League will wrap earlier in the summer. This one has a couple of Olympic spots available.

Sept. 9-18: Shooting, World Shotgun Championship, Lonato, Italy. Yes, Olympic quotas are at stake.

Sept. 15-20: Canoe slalom Worlds, London. This is the big Olympic qualifier. World Cups run June through August.

Sept. 15-20: Triathlon World Series final, Chicago. Last of a 10-race series in addition to several World Cup races. Many Olympic quota spots are based on rankings, but there are a few other events that give automatic spots. Not this one, though.

Sept. 16-23: Taekwondo World Championships, Chelyabinsk, Russia. Olympic quotas based mostly on ranking.

Sept. 19-27: Road cycling Worlds, Richmond, Va. (!!) Overshadowed by the Tour de France and sometimes lost in the very busy cycling calendar, but the time trials have Olympic quota spots up for grabs.

Oct. 5-18: Men’s boxing Worlds, Qatar. Women’s Worlds were held in November 2014. Will add links when AIBA’s website comes back up. The men’s event has a handful of Olympic quotas at stake.

* Oct. 24-Nov. 2: Gymnastics Worlds, Glasgow. Many Olympic quotas at stake. Gymnastics has a few other competitions through the year, but not always with great pools of talent.

Nov. 20-29: Weightlifting Worlds, Houston. Olympic quotas at stake.

Nov. 28-Dec. 6: Field hockey men’s World League final, Mohali, India. Olympic qualifying spots at stake. Field hockey also has a World Cup in non-Olympic even years.

Nov. 25-28: Trampoline Worlds, Odense, Denmark. Will fill roughly half of the Olympic quotas.

Dec. 5-13: Field hockey women’s World League finals, Rosario, Argentina. Olympic qualifying spots at stake. Field hockey also has a World Cup in non-Olympic even years.

Dec. 5-20: Women’s handball Worlds, Denmark.  Winner qualifies for Olympics.

No World Championships or definitive international competition this year: Basketball (men’s World Cup and women’s World Championship in 2014).

Golf and tennis qualification is based on rankings, and you won’t need me to tell you when the majors pop up.

Important events and Olympic qualifiers in the Americas …

July 10-26: Pan Am Games, Toronto. A few sports use this for Olympic qualification, including canoe/kayak, diving, equestrian, field hockey, handball, shooting, table tennis, water polo.

2016 or tba: Continental or last-chance qualifiers in archery, beach volleyball, boxing, canoe/kayak (only for countries with no qualifiers), diving, fencing, gymnastics, handball, modern pentathlon, mountain bike, rowing, rugby, soccer, synchronized swimming. table tennis, triathlon, water polo, volleyball, weightlifting, wrestling.


And for winter sports folks …

Jan. 15-25: Snowboarding and freestyle skiing Worlds, Kreischberg, Austria. It’s like the FIS answer to the X Games! And unfortunately, it’s scheduled at the same time …

Jan. 22-25: Winter X Games, Aspen. Looks like they’ll have most of the top athletes except perhaps in one or two events.

Feb. 2-15: Alpine skiing Worlds, Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo.

Feb. 12-15: Speedskating Worlds (single-distance), Heerenveen, Netherlands. The sprint championships are Feb. 28-March 1 (Astana, Kazakhstan), allrounds are March 7-8 (Calgary).

Feb. 14-15: Luge Worlds, Sigulda, Latvia.

Feb. 18-March 1: Nordic skiing Worlds (including ski jumping and combined), Falun, Sweden.

Feb. 23-March 8: Bobsled/skeleton Worlds, Winterberg, Germany.

March 3-15: Biathlon Worlds, Kontiolahti, Finland.

March 13-15: Short-track speedskating Worlds, Moscow.

March 14-22: Women’s curling Worlds, Sapporo, Japan. Interesting test for the USA’s revamped High Performance program.

March 23-29: Figure skating Worlds, Shanghai.

March 28-April 4: Women’s hockey Worlds, Malmo, Sweden. USA’s turn at last? Will anyone other than the USA and Canada take gold or silver?

March 28-April 5: Men’s curling Worlds, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Another interesting test for the USA’s revamped High Performance program.

May 1-17: Men’s hockey Worlds, Czech Republic. (As always, conveniently scheduled while many of the world’s best players are busy with the Stanley Cup playoffs.)

And other stuff you should know about this year:

Jan. 31-Feb. 1: Cyclocross Worlds, Tabor, Czech Republic. Not an Olympic event but should be. In Katie Compton we trust.

Feb. 14-March 29: Cricket (men’s) World Cup, Australia/New Zealand.

July 4-18??: American football Worlds. Moving from Sweden to Canton, Ohio. Not sure if they’ll keep those dates.

Sept. 18-Oct. 31: Rugby (men’s) World Cup, England.