Japan's judo team in crisis, U.S. holds own at luge worlds, more notes
Few Olympic sports in few countries have enjoyed the prestige that judo has earned in Japan, but recent events have shaken the sport to its core, Even Japanese Education Minister Hakuban Shimomura declared, "This is the gravest crisis in Japan's sporting history."
Last week Ryuji Sonoda, the head coach of the national women's team and a world champion in 1993, resigned after allegations that he abused his athletes physically, including slapping judokas in the face and hitting some of them with a bamboo sword. Sonoda, a former police officer, apologized after acknowledging the veracity of the reports. Kazuo Yoshimura, the head trainer at the All Japan Judo Federation, also resigned in the wake of the scandal.
Then last week, Masato Uchishiba, a gold medalist at the Olympics in both Athens and Beijing, was sentenced to a five-year prison term for raping a student he was coaching at a college judo club in 2011. Uchishiba is maintaining his innocence and his lawyer says he plans to appeal the verdict.
In the background of these events, Tokyo is one of three cities bidding to stage the 2020 Summer Olympics (Madrid and Istanbul are the other finalists). The IOC will choose the host city on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, and Tokyo's bid chief Tsunekazu Takeda -- also the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee -- says he does not believe the scandals will affect Tokyo's prospects because the judo federation "is moving very fast with internal reform." Japan leads all nations with 72 judo medals, including 36 golds, since the sport was added to the Olympic program in 1964.
The dominance of German sliders continued this past week at the World Luge Championships in Whistler. German sliders won gold in each category: Felix Loch defended his men's title, winning his fourth gold in five years; Natalie Geisenberger won her fifth straight medal, but her first gold; Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt took their first doubles crown and Germany also won its tenth consecutive title in the team event. The U.S. placed fifth in the team event, as Chris Mazdzer and former world champ Erin Hamlin took sixth in their events, recording the team's highest individual places.
Few nations have owned a sport as German sliders have owned luge competitions. If you (somewhat unfairly) lump together German sliders with those from East and West Germany when the countries were separate, you get a total of 93 gold medals at world championships. Next on the gold medals list is Austria with 22 golds, followed by Italy with 16 and then Poland with just five.
British swimmer Rebecca Adlington announced her retirement from competition this week. Adlington won the 400 and 800-meter freestyle events at the Beijing Games as a 19-year old and then captured bronze medals in those two races before her home crowds four years later in London. Adlington said she waited to make her decision until recently because she needed to take a break, return to the pool and determine how she felt about training again.
Individuals run afoul of doping rules all the time. Marred in scandal, they slink off to WADA testing rooms and interviews with Oprah Winfrey. Still, even Anna Bolica, herself, wouldn't have imagined an entire federation offering a pharmaceutical mea culpa as the Turkish Weightlifting Federation did last week. Last week, the entire federation, including chairman Hasan Akkus, announced their resignations. Five Turkish athletes tested positive for doping at the U-23 European Championships in Israel. But the result also follows the London Olympics in which the country came back without a medal and two lifters, Ibrahim Arat and Fatih Baydar, were dropped from the team a day before the Games after failing tests.
It may be an appropriate attempt to modernize cycling, or merely a lame reach at face saving the sport in the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal that has rocked the sport, but UCI -- the world governing body of cycling -- wants to add some X Games events to its Olympic program by 2016 or 2020 at the latest. Versions of stunt riding head-to-head mountain bike racing are on the table, and UCI is also looking into bringing back the individual points race that was folded into the omnium event at the London Games.
Here is a name to watch out for -- Mary Cain, a 16-year old from Bronxville, NY, broke a 16-year-old U.S. high school record in the two-mile run last weekend, crossing the line at the Indoor Grand Prix in Boston in 9:38.68. Cain finished third in the race won by Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia, but her time beat the old prep mark by a stunning 17 seconds. It has been quite a run, or rather a series of them for Cain, who broke the prep record for the indoor mile and 3,000 meters earlier in the season.
And here is another name to look out for -- biathlete Sean Doherty of Center Conway, N.H. captured a gold medal and two silvers at the IBU Youth and Junior World Championships in Obertillach, Austria over the weekend. Doherty took gold in the 10-kilometer pursuit and silvers in the 12.5K pursuit and 7.5K sprint. He became the first U.S. athlete in the sport to win three medals in the same championship at any level.