USOC Site Evaluators to Critique LA2012 Bid

Primed by three days of tours, meetings and handshakes with furry mascots, the U.S. Olympic Committee's Site Evaluation Team will deliver its preliminary opinion today on the LA2012 bid committee's proposal to bring the Games to Los Angeles for an unprecedented third time.

According to people familiar with discussions held during the visit, LA2012 scored well in several key criteria, notably sports event experience and sports infrastructure. It also clearly expressed its intention to build on the success of the 1984 Los Angeles Games without trying to duplicate them.

However, the eight-member USOC team questioned LA2012's plans for handling traffic and transportation, and expressed concern poor air quality will hurt athletes.

The survey team will debrief LA2012 officials before holding a news conference today. It will meet Sept. 15 to rank the eight bid cities and will narrow the field to three or four by the end of the year. The USOC will choose a U.S. representative in October 2002, and the International Olympic Committee will pick the host city in 2005.

"They did raise some questions [Friday] on some subjects that came up [Saturday] and gave us their comments," LA2012 Chairman John Argue said after the group took a boat ride past proposed Long Beach aquatic sites and stopped at the Pyramid. "The particular subjects they picked turned out to be great for us and strong points in our favor .... They've been complimentary."

Although this was the last stop of a tour that began June 10, the delegates had open and inquisitive minds. They seemed impressed by the Pond of Anaheim, Staples Center, plans for the Anschutz Sports Center in Carson and UC Irvine's Bren Center. "Other places say, 'Trust us, we'll build it,"' Argue said. "But we already have these great venues."

Most of the questions centered on the location of warmup and practice areas. Occasionally, their questions were arcane, as when a delegate asked if the Bren Center's air conditioning will affect the flight of the shuttlecock during badminton matches. All were assured the air flow is so good, the international badminton federation insisted on that venue.

"These are people that know their business and ask extremely technical questions," Argue said. "They know what it takes to have a successful venue. We're fortunate we have people who can answer those questions."

Rival U.S. hopefuls Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, New York, Tampa, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington have strong points, but their drawbacks range from financing to transportation problems to extensive building plans, which are costly and risky. The Bay Area wants to use the Rose Bowl and the Anschutz Center as soccer venues and Cal State Fullerton, UCLA and the University of San Diego as training sites.

"We're not in a competition to find out which city is the best or most interesting," said Rich Perelman, author of LA2012's expansive bid. "The point is, who can win?"

By the time the IOC picks a winner, it will have been through the 2004 Games in Athens, which has been slow to turn its plans into reality. Venues here, for the most part, are reality--Argue said L.A. could be ready in 21/2 years.

"We would say, 'Isn't it time to come to a safe harbor and a place where it's about the athletes and not the city or country, because we've done it twice and had a number of international events here since then?' " Perelman said.

"If we don't put up L.A. [as the U.S. pick], there will be a first-time bidder against cities that have done it twice, and they'll use that. I think L.A. would stand up very well against London or Paris, and I don't think you can say that about the seven other cities, although they're nice cities."

Bob Condron, the USOC's director of media services, said despite sentiment to move the Games around, having twice been the host won't sink LA2012's bid.

"One of the areas [rated] is sports event experience, and you've got to say, 'We've done it,"' he said. "I guess it's divided opinion. It changed the Olympic movement in 1984 .... I don't know if it's a positive or negative. We can't judge it either way. It could be a tiebreaker."

Ice Time

Sasha Cohen of Laguna Niguel, who missed this year's U.S. figure skating championships because of a stress fracture in her back, has rebounded quickly and is ready to resume a full competitive schedule.

Cohen, whose balletic style helped her finish second in the 2000 U.S. championships at 15, will compete in the Goodwill Games next month in Brisbane, Australia. She will be part of an all-California women's delegation with world champion Michelle Kwan--a Torrance native--and U.S. third-place finisher Angela Nikodinov of Harbor City. The U.S. Figure Skating Assn. also assigned Cohen to compete at Skate America in Colorado Springs in October and the Trophee Lalique in Paris in November, prestigious events.

Cohen and her coach, John Nicks, completed work six weeks ago on a new long program to music from "Carmen," and she will debut it in Australia. She kept the music from the short program she used last season, "My Sweet and Tender Beast Waltz," by Eugene Doga, but reworked the moves.

"You're never sure until you put the program together in front of an audience, but she has been training very well," Nicks said. "She's also grown three or four inches since last year and she looks more like a young lady.

"She's stronger physically and has increased speed and more power to her jumping, and she's been working on a very difficult triple-triple [jump], a triple flip-triple toe. I've got good feelings about this year."

But he's less sure about Irvine teenager Naomi Nari Nam, another skater he coaches in the same Aliso Viejo rink where Cohen trains.

Nam has struggled since her second-place finish at the 1999 U.S. competition and had to withdraw from two Junior Grand Prix events and the U.S. nationals last season because of a hip fracture that required surgery. She hasn't regained her form, and with Olympic berths at stake in the U.S. championships in January at Staples Center, she has much to do and little time.

"She's been quite slow coming back," Nicks said. "She's a little late for the [skating] year, so I have some concern there."

Golden Girls, Part 2?

Ben Smith couldn't afford to give in to sentiment when he picked the 25 members of the U.S. women's national hockey team.

"The game is picking up in speed, strength and puck control, and those are the areas we were trying to address and improve," said Smith, who coached the U.S. to gold at Nagano in the first women's Olympic tournament. "The game is moving forward, and we can't stand still."

Progress, however, can be painful. Smith learned that during the national team festival last week in Lake Placid, N.Y., when he cut 1998 veterans Vicki Movsessian and Alana Blahoski to make room for teenage sensations Julie Chu, Lyndsay Wall, Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell.

"Alana has been with every team I've ever coached with the women's program. That was gut-wrenching," said Smith, who will make five more cuts in December to reach the Salt Lake City roster limit. "But it's different this time around than it was last time. We have to be malleable and evolving."

That evolution continues next week in Beijing, where the U.S. women open their pre-Olympic tour with four games against China and Russia. It's an earlier start than Smith wanted, but he agreed after China agreed to play four games in the U.S. in January.

Canada and the U.S. are the overwhelming favorites for gold at Salt Lake City, but Smith isn't assuming anything.

"Everybody has to wait and see, but we've taken great pains to come up with a group of 25 that can go after it again," he said.

Here and There

Sprinter Maurice Greene pulled out of a meet in Brussels on Friday, citing soreness in the leg he injured at the World Outdoor Track and Field championships in Edmonton. He still plans to run at the Goodwill Games. So does Inger Miller, who was injured last week in Zurich .... Tim Montgomery won his second consecutive 100 at a Grand Prix meet last week when he was timed in 10.27 seconds at Gateshead, England. He had previously won at Zurich in 9.90 seconds. Bernard Williams won the 200 in the same meets .... Former USC standout Felix Sanchez, who competes for the Dominican Republic, has passed Angelo Taylor for the top world ranking in the 400-meter hurdles. He won the event at Edmonton.

Center Peter Forsberg, who had his spleen removed hours after he helped the Colorado Avalanche defeat the Kings in the second round of the NHL playoffs, was on the ice last week at the Swedish Olympic hockey team's two-day orientation camp near Stockholm. "It was good to come here and see the other guys and talk about how we should play," he said. "I've hardly met [Coach] Hardy Nilsson before."

The men's apparatus finals will be held today in the gymnastics competition at the World University Games in Beijing. The event is considered a warmup for the world championships, to be held in Belgium in October.

Only 166 days until the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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