Here are 10 questions to ponder for '09
Ten questions for you to ponder for 2009 while you're still getting over Jason Lezak's relay leg ...
1. What's on the calendar for 2009?
It's a non-Olympic year, so, thankfully, you won't have to worry about having to endure rhythmic gymnastics, but there are some things to watch for in the wide, wide world of sports removed from the Peyton family and A-Rod's relationships. As you might have heard, Lance Armstrong is back and looking to win his eighth Tour de France. The International Olympic Committee picks the host city for 2016 and also determines whether to vote baseball and softball back in for 2016. Athletes will be competing to make the 2010 Olympic teams. Then, there is the usual assortment of national and world championships. And if that isn't enough, you can always watch the men's 4x100 swimming relay highlight video again.
2. Can Lance win another yellow jersey?
We've learned never to underestimate Mr. Armstrong, but it won't be easy. When the race begins in Monaco, he'll be four years removed from his most recent Tour and nearly 38 years old, which is more than a year older than any previous winner. No one older than 34 has won the Tour since 1922. And Lance may not even be the strongest rider on his Astana team -- that honor probably goes to Alberto Contador, who has three Grand Tour victories in the past two years and has bristled at riding in a support role. Lance is meticulous in his preparation, so he probably did all the testing and analysis before deciding he had another Tour in him. But didn't Michael Jordan, Brett Favre and Magic Johnson all think likewise when they made their comebacks? We'll get a better idea of Lance's chances when he rides in the Tour Down Under later this month, the Tour of California in February and the Giro d'Italia in May.
3. Does Chicago have a chance for the 2016 Games?
Madrid, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Chicago are the remaining candidates bidding for the honor to host the strangling traffic jams, construction delays, cost overruns, sign-wielding protesters and thousands of griping reporters we'll call the 2016 Summer Olympics. Once the distinct underdog, Chicago saw its odds improve so much with the election of Barack Obama that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is already selling vacant seats for the opening ceremonies.
IOC president Jacques Rogge recently told The Chicago Tribune that Obama's election is "very positive'' for the city's bid. President-elect Obama is expected to personally lobby for Chicago, as Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin did to help secure the 2012 Games in London and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, respectively. The stiffest competition will come from Madrid, which gets a boost from Juan Antonio Samaranch, and Rio, because South America has never hosted an Olympics. Still, Chicago may have a slight edge because the IOC is negotiating new TV deals and the U.S. networks prefer American time zones (U.S. broadcast rights negotiations have been postponed until after the host city is determined). This may surprise you, but politics and money play a role in the process.
4. When can we watch Michael Phelps swim again?
He won eight gold medals and broke seven world records at the 2008 Olympics. He hosted "Saturday Night Live." He has a book on The New York Times bestseller list. And his calendar has replaced Robert Doisneau's "Kiss by the Hotel de Ville" as the official dorm poster of college women across the country. So when does Phelps get back in the pool? His coach has told reporters the swimmer will begin seriously training again in February and you'll be able to see him competing this summer (possibly at some shorter distances) in the U.S. and world championships -- which, thanks to Phelps, will be televised on NBC. Swimming on national TV in a non-Olympic year? What's next, fantasy swim leagues?
5. Meanwhile, what's up with Usain Bolt?
What does the world's fastest man do for an encore? Break the world record in the 100 and 200 while moonwalking? Too easy. Instead, Usain Bolt reportedly is looking to break Michael Johnson's record in the 400 (Bolt ran the distance in high school before concentrating on the 100 and 200). It will be interesting to see whether he can do it and whether his fellow Jamaican sprinters (especially the women) can maintain the performance level they established in Beijing when they compete at the world championships in Berlin. And we're still wondering when that Chicken McNugget endorsement comes through.
6. Will the U.S. track and field team bounce back?
The U.S. talked big heading into the Olympics, with Nike marketing it at last year's trials as "the hardest team to make" (so what did that make the U.S. swim team?) only to perform below expectations, most notably in the glamour events (100, 200, long jump, etc). New USATF CEO Doug Logan wants to shake things up and talks of winning 30 medals in London. It's a lofty goal, but if younger runners such as Walter Dix and Kara Goucher can fuel the resurgence, it's a reachable one. "Making" the Olympics is only one hurdle, winning at the Olympics is another.
7. Would rally caps help baseball?
The IOC voted baseball out of the Olympics for 2012, opting instead to maintain such beloved international sports as trampoline, rhythmic gymnastics and race-walking (a.k.a., "March of the Penguins"). Baseball received the ax due in large part to the absence of major leaguers, as well as the expense of building ballparks that will seldom be used after the Olympics (unless the International League suddenly expands to Beijing). Another negative was the poor leadership of former International Baseball Association president Aldo Notari, who seemed more interested in getting the Italian ballclub into the Olympics than securing the best possible tournament.
That has changed with new IBA president Dr. Harvey Schiller, who has vast experience with the Olympics and knows all the right people. Schiller has expressed high confidence baseball will be voted in this fall -- he even thinks there is a way to get major leaguers for the medal round -- and the odds would increase if the 2016 bid went to Chicago or Tokyo -- cities with baseball stadiums already in place. So cross your fingers and keep those rally caps on.
8. Where can you get an early Olympics fix?
Come on, you're among friends. You can admit it. You're a closet curling fan. You own a Blu-Ray copy of the curling movie, "Men with Brooms." You have a "Women of Curling" calendar hanging in your garage. You love to shout, "Hurry hard!'' Never fear. Vancouver may be a year away, but you don't have long to wait for a taste of Olympic curling -- the U.S. trials are this February in Denver, which, we might remind you, has a few micro-brews.
9. Will we see mass protests later this year during the torch relay for Vancouver?
Not likely, unless Canadians are really upset about the price of beer in Whistler or the mascots chosen for 2010. Unlike Beijing's globe-spanning relay, Vancouver's will be held entirely within Canada, covering more than 25,000 miles over some 100 days.
10. So ... got any tickets for Vancouver 2010?
No, but that's no reason not to start planning a trip to British Columbia. Regardless of the what you see or hear, you can always find someone selling tickets (especially from corporate sponsors who received them as freebies), though you might want to bring extra plasma to help raise extra cash if you're determined to see Canada play hockey.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.
ESPN.COM'S LOOK AT THE YEAR AHEAD
What to expect across the sports spectrum in 2009? ESPN.com offers things you might see coming, some you won't and some that will just flat-out surprise. Predictions to consider: