Surfing tower will be built, says Paris Games chief

French President of the Paris 2024 Olympics Organizing Committee Tony Estanguet (R) speaks next to the Committee's Director General Etienne Thobois during a press conference on the 2023 review and 2024 outlook at the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Olympics on Dec. 20, 2023. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 21 December 2023
Follow

Surfing tower will be built, says Paris Games chief

  • Etienne Thobois, director general of Paris 2024, said it was a matter of urgency to get the work underway
  • The issue has had environmentalists up in arms and an online petition against the project has attracted more than 228,000 signatures

PARIS: The controversial building of a tower to judge the surfing event at the Paris Olympics will go ahead despite the sport’s federation saying it is not required, chief organizer Tony Estanguet said on Wednesday.

A proposal made by the International Surf Association (ISA) to Paris 2024 organizers and the Polynesian government suggested the use of “live images shot from land, water and drones” to judge events at Teahupo’o on the French Pacific island of Tahiti.

However, Estanguet — president of the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics Organizing Committee (Cojo) — dismissed their offer as had Polynesian leader Moetai Brotherson.

“We respect the almost unanimous decision taken locally to continue with the launch of the construction work,” he said at his end-of-year press conference at Cojo headquarters.

Estanguet, 45, explained the option offered by the ISA had been studied and found wanting.

“It was judged to be not feasible on several fronts,” said the three-time canoeing Olympic champion.

“On the technical front in terms of filming the images but also surrounding security it poses a lot of questions.”

Etienne Thobois, director general of Paris 2024, said it was a matter of urgency to get the work underway.

Brotherson has programmed that the work should be finished on the new aluminum tower by May 13, in time for a World Surf League (WSL) event seen as a dress rehearsal for the Olympics.

“Five months before the test events, eight months out from the Games themselves it is imperative we take a step forward,” he said.

Questions over the tower have been posed since a construction barge used to install a new judges’ tower in the sea broke through part of a colorful coral reef during technical testing in December.

Work was subsequently suspended by the Polynesian government with French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera claiming the test had been “badly prepared.”

The issue has had environmentalists up in arms and an online petition against the project has attracted more than 228,000 signatures.

Estanguet also took issue with World Athletics president and chief organizer of the 2012 London Games Sebastian Coe’s claim on Monday the tickets for the Games — which run from July 26 to August 11 — are expensive.

Coe’s concerns echoed that of many, not just the general public but also those involved in the sporting world, who have criticized the pricing.

“We have to accept for all sorts of reasons that Paris will be the most expensive Games both for the international federations but also for the fans,” said Coe.

Estanguet, though, hit back claiming they were within the same price range as London and Tokyo in 2021, though, barely any spectators were able to watch events due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“Whether it was London or Tokyo more recently, tickets were £20 ($25), which taking into consideration inflation is 27 euros ($30), and the highest price they were £725 so a bit more than 1000 euros in today’s prices,” said Estanguet.

More than 7.6 million tickets have already gone on sale for the Paris Games. The cheapest are €24, but others, notably for athletics can cost as much as €990.

The largest amount still available are for the football, which takes place in stadiums throughout France.


Cecile and Laurent Landi helped Simone Biles reach new heights. The Olympics serve as a homecoming

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

Cecile and Laurent Landi helped Simone Biles reach new heights. The Olympics serve as a homecoming

  • The Landis say the key to their coaching success is making it a point to adjust to each athlete rather than the more rigid style they grew up with in France
  • The Landis are moving on after the Olympics. Cecile Landi was named co-head coach at the University of Georgia in April

SPRING: Cecile Canqueteau-Landi fit “in the box,” as she put it. She was skinny. She was blonde. She was pretty good at gymnastics.
And so at 9 years old, she was whisked away to become part of the French national team program, a path that ultimately led her to the 1996 Olympics.
There was reward in that journey. Yet looking back nearly three decades later, Landi wonders how many promising young athletes had their careers and their lives altered — and not for the better — because they didn’t fit someone’s preconceived notion of what a gymnast needed to look like by the time they reached their 10th birthday.
When Landi transitioned into coaching in the early 2000s, she vowed not to make the same mistake.
So maybe it’s not a coincidence that when Landi and her husband Laurent — himself a former French national team member — walk onto the floor at Bercy Arena for women’s Olympics qualifying next Sunday, they will do it while leading the oldest US women’s gymnastics team — headlined by 27-year-old Simone Biles — the Americans have ever sent to a modern Games.
A healthy partnership
In another country in another era, maybe Biles becomes something other than an icon. Maybe she becomes a casualty.
“An athlete like Simone would never have reached her full potential in France,” said Cecile. “Because she would have been put aside because she didn’t fit that box.”
For the Landis — who began coaching Biles in 2017 — there is no “box.” There can’t be.
“It’s not the athlete that needs to adjust to the coaches,” Laurent Landi said. “The coaches need to adjust the athletes and the athlete’s abilities.”
Biles was already 20 and the reigning Olympic champion when the Landis agreed to helm the elite program at World Champions Center, the massive gym run by the Biles family in the Houston suburbs.
They knew Biles fairly well at the time having already coached gymnasts who competed alongside Biles at several world championships and the 2016 Olympics. During the interview process, all three agreed there was no point — and no fun — in having Biles merely try to hold on to her otherworldly talent. To keep her engaged, they needed to make sure she kept moving forward.
The result has been perhaps the best gymnastics of Biles’ remarkable career, a stretch that includes three world all-around titles and another handful of entries in the sport’s Code of Points with her next name next to them, from the triple-double on floor exercise to the Yurchenko double pike vault that drew a standing ovation at the Olympic trials last month.
Biles views her relationship with the Landis as more of a partnership.
“They’ve been big mentors in like my adulthood (because) they got to see and harness the more mature Simone,” Biles said. “They’ve helped me a lot not just in the gym but out of the gym too.”
When Biles moved into her first house, Cecile who came over and showed her how to operate the dishwasher. When a gymnast who had just gotten their driver’s license had a problem with one of her tires, Cecile went to a nearby gas station and gave a tutorial on how to use the air pump.
“If we can help and they want the help, then why not?” she said with a laugh.
Changing with the times
The trick is finding a way to provide that help safely and productively, particularly amid a culture shift in the sport aimed at empowering athletes to take ownership of their gymnastics. It is a delicate needle to thread. What serves as motivation for one athlete could be construed negatively by another.
It’s a reality the Landis are well aware of as they try to find the proper balance between being too rigid and too lax. They grew up in a time when the coach/athlete relationship was one-sided. There was no back and forth. There was no discussion. The coach set the standards and expectations. The athlete met them or they didn’t last long.
The shift toward a more cooperative approach was overdue, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy. Laurent Landi admits he’s not the most patient coach, though those around him say he has mellowed a bit over the years. He also understands if he wants to keep doing this for a living, he didn’t have much of a choice.
“Yeah, there will be frustration,” he said. “But you can always go around some stuff and just take your pride (as a coach) away and make sure that the athletes still get the skill done.”
It’s an approach that helped World Champion Center’s elite program send five athletes to the Olympic trials, with Biles and Jordan Chiles making the five-woman US team while Joscelyn Roberson and Tiana Sumanasekera were selected as alternates.
It’s the kind of success Roberson envisioned when she moved to the Houston suburbs a few years ago to train under the Landis. She was intimidated at first before realizing her new coaches “have a million different ways to coach one skill,” a marked departure from what she was used to.
The goal is to meet the athletes where they are at on a given day, understanding no two gymnasts are the same and what works for one might not necessarily work for another. Perhaps even more importantly, they have learned to evolve as the nature of coaching evolves.
“We’re not always right,” Laurent said. “If you do your own way all the time, you will hurt the majority of the athletes. Maybe one will survive and will be an amazing person, amazing athlete but the (other) 90 percent, they will be broken. ... We had to adjust to Simone, otherwise we would have broke her.”
It’s not just Biles’ age they had to accommodate, but her schedule. She is no longer a precocious teenager who buries herself in the gym. She’s a newlywed whose schedule is packed with everything from corporate commitments to building a house and a family with her husband, Chicago Bears safety Jonathan Owens.
“When (we) tell him he just hears ‘you’re missing practice’ and kind of freaks out,” Biles said. “Because he sees all the end goals and then he gets the calendar and then he’s like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s fine. We’ll do this today, we’ll do that.’ So it just takes time for him to process.”
Biles certainly appears well-prepared. She arrives in Paris at the height of her powers more than a decade after ascending to the top of her sport. She’ll be accompanied by a pair of coaches who view the trip as more of a business trip than a homecoming.
A new challenge awaits
While the Landis have been approached to take over the women’s national team program in France in recent years, returning never made much sense to them even with the women’s program is in the midst of a resurgence.
“I think our family will be very proud, probably more than we are,” Cecile Landi said. “Because in a weird way, it’s just work for us.”
And perhaps, goodbye too.
Cecile, long a supporter of NCAA gymnastics, earlier this year agreed to become the co-head coach at the University of Georgia. Laurent will remain at World Champions Center in the short term until the Landis’ daughter Juliette — who will dive for France during the Games — graduates from high school next spring.
After that, who knows? The young gymnast who was put in a box has become a coach who no longer puts limitations on anyone, herself maybe most of all.
“I think I’ve done everything I could do in elite, and beyond what I could ever have imagined as a little French girl in a little town,” Cecile said. “I’ve coached the greatest of all time. I’ve coached many kids. I’ve had many great athletes in NCAA and elite that I feel like I want to try what’s next, a new challenge.”


SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

  • Top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions are featuring in the tournament
  • The competition will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees who have been selected from SAFF Referees’ Academy

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has launched the first edition of the Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif, running from July 18–30.

Currently in its third day, the 12-day tournament features 14 regional teams, showcasing top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions.

The 14 regional teams competing in the championship are from Al-Ahsa, Jazan, Najran, Jouf, Hail, Al-Qassim, the Eastern Province, Riyadh, Jeddah, Asir, Madinah, Makkah, Hafar Al-Batin, and Tabuk.

SAFF’s Technical Director Nasser Larguet said: “The championship represents the result of the significant work supported by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and the outcome is the creation of the Regional Under-13 League. Clear goals and strategic plans have been set to discover and support young talents.”

Additionally, the tournament will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees, who have been selected from the SAFF Referees’ Academy, further contributing to the development of skilled officials in the sport.

Manuel Navarro, president of the SAFF Referees Committee, said: “The Regional Under-13 Championship is an opportunity to develop promising referees, especially since it will witness the participation of 32 young referees. The committee aims to increase their refereeing hours and enhance their experience.”

This tournament is a significant part of SAFF’s strategy to scout and develop over 4,000 young talents by 2025, supporting the growth and future of Saudi football.


Esports World Cup: Stage set for sensational Sunday in Riyadh

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

Esports World Cup: Stage set for sensational Sunday in Riyadh

RIYADH: Gaming fans and esports enthusiasts are gearing up for a sensational Sunday of action-packed drama at the Esports World Cup with two new champions set to be crowned at Boulevard Riyadh City.

After delighting audiences ever since the Esports World Cup began, the Dota2 Riyadh Masters concludes at the SEF Arena with Saudi Arabia’s Team Falcons among the last three clubs vying to win the $5 million tournament.

After overcoming Tundra 2-0 in Saturday’s lower bracket semi-final, the hometown heroes face the Netherlands’ Team Liquid in the lower bracket final on Sunday afternoon. The victor will progress to the Grand Final, where they will meet Canada’s Gaimin Gladiators later on Sunday evening for glory and the $1.5 million first prize.

Also sharing the Esports World Cup spotlight is the Counter-Stike 2 Grand Final. Germany’s G2 booked their place in Sunday’s showpiece — overcoming Russian outfit Virtus.pro to move within one match of the $400,000 first prize and valuable Esports World Cup Club Championship points. Awaiting them in the Grand Final is NAVI of Ukraine — who set up a highly anticipated showdown with G2 after defeating MOUZ of Germany.

The Sunday action in Riyadh concludes Week 3 of the Esports World Cup. Alongside the Dota2 Riyadh Masters and CS2 grand finals, fans can also catch PUBG Mobile World Cup 2024 group stage matches.

For more information on scheduling and results, visit the Esports World Cup website.

 


Paris ramps up security in preparation for the Olympics

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

Paris ramps up security in preparation for the Olympics

  • Squadrons of police are patrolling Paris streets and fighter jets and soldiers are ready to scramble. An imposing metal-fenced security cordon has been erected like an iron curtain on both sides of th
  • The city has repeatedly suffered bloody extremist attacks and international tensions are high because of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza

PARIS: A year ago, the head of the Paris Olympics boldly declared that France’s capital would be ” the safest place in the world ” when the Games open this Friday. Tony Estanguet’s confident forecast looks less far-fetched now with squadrons of police patrolling Paris’ streets, fighter jets and soldiers primed to scramble, and imposing metal-fence security barriers erected like an iron curtain on both sides of the River Seine that will star in the opening show.
France’s vast police and military operation is in large part because the July 26-Aug. 11 Games face unprecedented security challenges. The city has repeatedly suffered deadly extremist attacks and international tensions are high because of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.
Rather than build an Olympic park with venues grouped together outside of the city center, like Rio de Janeiro in 2016 or London in 2012, Paris has chosen to host many of the events in the heart of the bustling capital of 2 million inhabitants, with others dotted around suburbs that house millions more. Putting temporary sports arenas in public spaces and the unprecedented choice to stage a river-borne opening ceremony stretching for kilometers (miles) along the Seine, makes safeguarding them more complex.
Olympic organizers also have cyberattack concerns, while rights campaigners and Games critics are worried about Paris’ use of AI-equipped surveillance technology and the broad scope and scale of Olympic security.
Paris, in short, has a lot riding on keeping 10,500 athletes and millions of visitors safe. Here’s how it aims to do it.
The security operation, by the numbers

A Games-time force of up to 45,000 police and gendarmes is also backed up by a 10,000-strong contingent of soldiers that has set up the largest military camp in Paris since World War II, from which soldiers should be able to reach any of the city’s Olympic venues within 30 minutes.
Armed military patrols aboard vehicles and on foot have become common in crowded places in France since gunmen and suicide bombers acting in the names of Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group repeatedly struck Paris in 2015. They don’t have police powers of arrest but can tackle attackers and restrain them until police arrive. For visitors from countries where armed street patrols aren’t the norm, the sight of soldiers with assault rifles might be jarring, just as it was initially for people in France.
“At the beginning, it was very strange for them to see us and they were always avoiding our presence, making a detour,” said Gen. Éric Chasboeuf, deputy commander of the counter-terror military force, called Sentinelle.
“Now, it’s in the landscape,” he said.
Rafale fighter jets, airspace-monitoring AWACS surveillance flights, Reaper surveillance drones, helicopters that can carry sharpshooters, and equipment to disable drones will police Paris skies, which will be closed during the opening ceremony by a no-fly zone extending for 150 kilometers (93 miles) around the capital. Cameras twinned with artificial intelligence software — authorized by a law that expands the state’s surveillance powers for the Games — will flag potential security risks, such as abandoned packages or crowd surges,
France is also getting help from more than 40 countries that, together, have sent at least 1,900 police reinforcements.
Trump assassination attempt highlights Olympic risks
Attacks by lone individuals are major concern, a risk driven home most recently to French officials by the assassination attempt against Donald Trump.
Some involved in the Olympic security operation were stunned that the gunman armed with an AR-style rifle got within range of the former US president.
“No one can guarantee that there won’t be mistakes. There, however, it was quite glaring,” said Gen. Philippe Pourqué, who oversaw the construction of a temporary camp in southeast Paris housing 4,500 soldiers from the Sentinelle force.
In France, in the last 13 months alone, men acting alone have carried out knife attacks that targeted tourists in Paris, and children in a park in an Alpine town, among others. A man who stabbed a teacher to death at his former high school in northern France in October had been under surveillance by French security services. 
With long and bitter experience of deadly extremist attacks, France has armed itself with a dense network of police units, intelligence services and investigators who specialize in fighting terrorism, and suspects in terrorism cases can be held longer for questioning.
Hundreds of thousands of background checks have scrutinized Olympic ticket-holders, workers and others involved in the Games and applicants for passes to enter Paris’ most tightly controlled security zone, along the Seine’s banks. The checks blocked more than 3,900 people from attending, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said. He said some were flagged for suspected Islamic radicalization, left- or right-wing political extremism, significant criminal records and other security concerns.
“We’re particularly attentive to Russian and Belorussian citizens,” Darmanin added, although he stopped short of linking exclusions to Russia’s war in Ukraine and Belarus’ role as an ally of Moscow.
Darmanin said 155 people considered to be “very dangerous” potential terror threats are also being kept away from the opening ceremony and the Games, with police searching their homes for weapons and computers in some cases.
He said intelligence services haven’t identified any proven terror plots against the Games “but we are being extremely attentive.”
Critics fear intrusive Olympic security will stay after the Games
Campaigners for digital rights worry that Olympic surveillance cameras and AI systems could erode privacy and other freedoms, and zero in on people without fixed homes who spend a lot of time in public spaces.
Saccage 2024, a group that has campaigned for months against the Paris Games, took aim at the scope of the Olympic security, describing it as a “repressive arsenal” in a statement to The Associated Press.
“And this is not a French exception, far from it, but a systematic occurrence in host countries,” it said. “Is it reasonable to offer one month of ‘festivities’ to the most well-off tourists at the cost of a long-term securitization legacy for all residents of the city and the country?“


Rianne Malixi of the Philippines wins US Girls’ Junior, routing Asterisk Talley 8 and 7

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

Rianne Malixi of the Philippines wins US Girls’ Junior, routing Asterisk Talley 8 and 7

  • The 17-year-old Malixi won five straight holes to take a 7-up lead after 14, was 6 up after 18 and ended it with a par win on the 29th hole
  • Malixi has verbally committed to play at Duke, starting in 2025

TARZANA: Rianne Malixi of the Philippines won the 75th US Girls’ Junior a year after falling in the final, routing Asterisk Talley 8 and 7 in the 36-hole championship match at El Caballero Country Club.

The 17-year-old Malixi won five straight holes to take a 7-up lead after 14, was 6 up after 18 and ended it with a par win on the 29th hole.

Last year in the final, Kiara Romero beat Malixi 1 up at the US Air Force Academy’s Eisenhower Golf Course in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Malixi has verbally committed to play at Duke, starting in 2025.

The 15-year-old Talley, from Chowchilla, California, teamed with Sarah Lim to win the US Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in May in San Antonio.