Connect with us


Scott Stinson: It Looks Like Rio Will Pull Off the Olympics, But Just Barely



RIO DE JANEIRO — The green sign over a doorway at Rio Olympic Arena seemed pretty straightforward. “Media Entrance,” it said, in two languages.

Being in the media, and wearing a large badge that identifies me as such, I began to walk into the venue that will house the Olympic gymnastics events in the coming weeks.

A soldier held up his hand to tell me to stop. He was wearing the burgundy beret and grey digital camouflage of Brazil’s national police force. It is an effective deterrent. I pointed to the sign and the badge — “Jornalista,” it says — and he kept shaking his head and pointing me away and eventually, between my weak Portuguese and his poor English, we came to a gentlemen’s agreement that I would not enter the building and he would not shoot me.

Leo Correa/Postmedia NetworkSoldiers patrol at Rio de Janeiro International Airport as athletes and visitors arrive ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics.

All of which is to say, my first-hand reporting on the state of some of the Olympic venues, with competitions beginning in less than 24 hours, is somewhat limited. From the outside, the Rio Olympic Arena looks nice. Inside? Ask the fellow with the gun.

Those who have been to these events many times insist that all the last-minute scrambling is nothing new. Things are always being painted and hammered and, especially, cleaned up, right up until the moment when an awkward musical number officially kicks off the Games. And they say that the present reluctance of organizers to let anyone into the stadiums to give them a look-over isn’t unusual, either. So, the fact that soldiers were menacing certain people away from other Olympic Park venues like the Carioca Arena and the tennis stadium wasn’t necessarily a sign that they were shielding prying eyes away from seeing anything untoward. It’s just that they aren’t quite ready to have people wandering about en masse. I did manage to get into the Olympic Velodrome — no soldiers there — and it looks exactly as you would expect it to look at this point: shiny green seats and a smooth track that is terrifyingly steep. (Honestly, who though that up: “I know, let’s race bikes, but not on the ground. On the WALLS.”)The general sense here is that, despite all the worries in recent months about construction woes and an economic crisis and strike threats and Brazil’s antipathy toward doing anything in a hurry, the Rio 2016 organizers are more or less done. Mostly done. Done-ish. Which is kind of surprising but also not surprising. The Olympics always manage to pull themselves together in time, no matter the logistical challenges.

There have been, to be sure, more than a few problems as the Games have drawn near. The Athletes Village has been the most recent flashpoint, with first the Australians refusing to move into their apartment building because of electrical and plumbing problems and then, on the weekend, the same team fleeing the building because of a fire in the basement. The fire failed to trigger an alarm, which was rather disconcerting, and the Australians had to rely on word-of-mouth to alert their colleagues to the danger. Very old school.

From the outside it is like a jewel, but inside it is like a construction site

That was followed by the head of the delegation from Greece complaining that the problems in the huge apartment complex that will be home to the more than 11,000 athletes and 6,000 coaches and staff in Rio for the Games are unprecedented in recent memory. Water leaks, gas leaks, unfinished rooms, and reports that labourers have no plans to finish them because they haven’t been paid on time. “The situation is tragic,” the chef de mission told an Athens radio station, which if nothing else gave plenty of opportunity for Greek Tragedy headlines.

“From the outside it is like a jewel, but inside it is like a construction site,” Isidoros Kouvelos said.

He could just as well have been speaking for the whole city. The Olympic transportation system that has been the focus of much consternation in advance of the Games is still not exactly up and running. Some lines haven’t opened yet and the schedule is only vaguely connected to reality. Meanwhile, the brand-new Rapid Transit line has been largely empty in the early days, probably because no one actually expected it to open on time.

Jean Levac/Postmedia News

Jean Levac/Postmedia NewsThe Olympic Park is still seeing some finishing touches.

Other delays and problems seem to be largely overcome. Venues like the beach volleyball arena on scenic Copacabana Beach, which was hilariously unfinished just last month, looked almost ready to welcome its scantily-clad competitors by Tuesday morning. Workers were completing the reconstruction of an elevated bicycle-and-jogging path that runs along the Atlantic coastline, a chunk of which was swept into the ocean in April, killing two and adding quite the taint to the Olympic legacy project. Today, only the presence of the men finishing the paint on the railings gives an indication of where heavy waves destroyed the path three months ago.

The path is a decent metaphor for the Games as a whole at this point. There were cost concerns, and then major problems, and no one is entirely sure if, after the end, there will be much point to all the effort in the first place. But, it should at least be done. Barely.

Read More..

Continue Reading


Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

Continue Reading


Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

Read more…

Continue Reading


Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

Continue Reading