Women’s Hockey Event Could Be in Jeopardy

Concerns about Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and the war in Iraq have led the U.S. and Canadian women’s ice hockey teams to delay their departures for the World Championships next week in Beijing and raised doubts about whether the tournament will take place.

The U.S. must make its decision by Monday, said Doug Palazzari, executive director of USA Hockey. The U.S. has played Canada in the gold-medal game in each of the previous seven tournaments and Canada has won each time.

U.S. players planned to gather in Chicago on Thursday and leave for Beijing today but were told to stay home and wait by the phone. Team Canada was to leave Thursday but instead remained in Calgary.

“These are uncertain waters, and we want to understand the ramifications of everything we’re dealing with,” Palazzari said. “We’re relying heavily on our medical staff and other health organizations, as well as the International Ice Hockey Federation, to provide us with as much information as they can.


“The World Championships are very important to the players, coaches and the organization. It’s a chance to represent your country. But you have to take your time and make the right decision.”

According to the World Health Organization, 1,408 cases of SARS and 53 deaths had been reported in 13 countries as of Thursday, an increase of 85 cases and four deaths in one day. Most cases have been reported in China’s southern Guandong Province and in Hong Kong, but the virus has been found in Toronto and the WHO said 10 cases causing three deaths had been verified in Beijing as of Wednesday.

U.S. forward A.J. Mleczko, a two-time Olympian, said her parents, friends and husband don’t want her to go. She wonders if the team might be quarantined in China if it did go, and now hopes the tournament will be postponed or relocated.

“It’s a sporting event,” she said, “and although we take it seriously and I’ve trained for this since November and we’ve all put our lives on hold for this, you have to ask, ‘What am I willing to sacrifice for this?’ I’m obviously very apprehensive.


“The one word to describe it would be confusion. It’s a very scary time in a lot of ways. For me, it’s hard to separate my passion and desire to play from my desire for security. I’d be devastated if we can’t go, but this is a big unknown.”

Taking a Tumble

The Arrowhead Pond and Staples Center are considering bids to be host of the 2004 U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials. Boston’s FleetCenter backed out of holding the event because of conflicts with its preparations for the Democratic National Convention.

Bid packets were sent this week and USA Gymnastics hopes to choose a site by the end of April, a spokesman said. Besides organizing the competition, the winner must arrange practice facilities, hotel and meeting space, and transportation for competitors and officials.


David Simon, president of the Los Angeles Sports Council, said he has spoken with officials at the Pond and will confer with them at length next week. He hadn’t talked with Staples Center President Tim Leiweke but said Staples was the proposed site for the 2012 Olympic gymnastics competition in L.A.'s unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Summer Games.

When pursuing an event such as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships -- which drew record crowds last year at Staples Center -- or next year’s Olympic swim trials in Long Beach, a local organizing committee usually works with the Sports Council. However, a source said Staples might pursue the gymnastics trials on its own.

“We don’t align with one local venue over another,” Simon said. “If both are interested, we want to talk to them and see if one makes more sense than the other. We don’t want the two competing, because that’s how we used to lose the Super Bowl.”

Said Staples Center spokesman Michael Roth: “The bid packages just went out and we’re waiting to receive them and evaluate it and determine if we can accommodate the event from a scheduling standpoint.”


The L.A. Sports Council is also assembling a bid for the World Figure Skating Championships. The 2004 event was given to Dortmund, Germany, and the 2005 event to Moscow, leaving the 2006 event the next available. However, that might be too soon after this year’s championships in Washington for the International Skating Union to return to the U.S.

Bob Dunlop, a spokesman for the U.S. Figure Skating Assn., said the organization hasn’t decided when to bid again but 2007 or 2008 are likely targets.

Here and There

Alexei Yagudin, unable to defend his world title because of a hip injury, said he likes the proposed cumulative scoring system ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta advocates. “It’s going to be harder to cheat, and a regular person who’s not involved in figure skating can see what the judge did right away,” said Yagudin, the Olympic champion. “The judges were looking for quads and didn’t care about anything else. It’s not going to be like that anymore.”


The World Skating Federation has received “a few small donations” since its debut this week, founding member Sally Stapleford said. “We’ve got to get some more money and go around the world and have workshops to explain what we stand for.”

The U.S. men’s water polo team beat Slovenia, 10-3, last weekend to win the French International tournament in Nice. It was the first tournament the team had won since the Pan Am qualifying tournament in March 2001.