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Thursday, December 10, 2009
Doubles tennis in; cycling pursuit out

Associated Press

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Olympic leaders made two roster changes Thursday for the 2012 London Games: Track cycling's signature endurance race is out and tennis mixed doubles is in.

The International Olympic Committee executive board agreed to a program of five men's and five women's track cycling events as part of a plan proposed by cycling's governing body. As a result, the Olympics will lose track cycling's 4,000-meter individual pursuit for men and 3,000-meter pursuit for women.

Cycling had seven track events for men and three for women at the 2008 Beijing Games. Thursday's changes were designed to make sure male and females compete in an equal number of events in London.

The number of women track cyclists in London will rise to 84, up from 35 in Beijing in 2008. Women will make up 45 percent of the total number of Olympic track cyclists, compared with 19 percent in Beijing.

Mixed doubles was played at several Olympics from 1900 to 1924. The last gold medalists were Americans Richard Williams and Hazel Wightman in Paris in 1924. Tennis was dropped from the Olympics after 1924 but returned as a medal event in 1988 without mixed doubles.

The IOC said mixed doubles "will bring an added value to the Olympic program by providing another opportunity for men and women to compete together on the same field of play."

Dozens of current and former cyclists, including Lance Armstrong, have spoken out against dropping the individual pursuit. Among those affected are reigning 19-year-old world champion Taylor Phinney of the United States and two-time Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins of Britain.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said the committee was following the recommendations of the sport's ruling body.

"It is the advice of the UCI that the new format would be more appealing," he said at a news conference. "Of course, the concerned riders regret that. This is perfectly understandable but the executive board of UCI considered the new format would be far more appealing."

"There is a general shift as you know from endurance events more to sprint events," he added. "That is a consideration being made by the experts of cycling, not the IOC."

Also eliminated are the men's and women's points races, and men's madison.

The new Olympic program includes men's and women's competition in individual sprint, team sprint, keirin, team pursuit and the five-race omnium event. The omnium combines performances in a 3-kilometer individual pursuit, 200-meter sprint, 1-kilometer time trial, 15-kilometer points race and 5-kilometer scratch race.

Phinney posted a message on his Twitter feed saying "we have been unsuccessful in our fight ... We now move on."

Wiggins, who won the men's pursuit in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, will miss the chance to go for a third gold in the event in his home city.

"It's disappointing, but it's not something I can control or have an effect on," he said. "It would have been nice to have been back there and going for No. 3 in the individual. It's a bit drastic losing three endurance events and replacing it with something like the omnium which, in my opinion, is a poor event to watch. But it doesn't matter what we think. We're just the riders."

Reigning women's pursuit champion Rebecca Romero of Britain added: "I'm disappointed that the chance for me to defend my Olympic title has been taken away, especially at this late stage in the Olympiad only two years before Olympic qualification."

Rogge said the UCI had conducted "extensive" surveys that supported the changes.

"They are adamant that the new program is an improvement for cycling and especially that it will improve the audience and the popularity of the track events," he said. "You can always argue about one individual event. The individual event might be very popular in some countries where medals are won, but not necessarily in other countries where there are no riders of high quality."

"You have always to distinguish the big picture from any particular country where some heroes win a lot of medals," he said. "That does not reflect necessarily on the world view."

On the final day of a two-day meeting, the IOC board also ratified a proposal by the International Tennis Federation for inclusion of a 16-team mixed doubles competition in London, where the tournament will be played on grass at Wimbledon.

In August, the IOC said it wanted guarantees that top players in singles would be able to participate in mixed doubles. Outside of the Olympics, the top singles players rarely play doubles or mixed doubles.

Thursday's decision was welcomed by ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti.

"We believe that this addition will make Olympic tennis a truly unique event, with top players having the opportunity to compete for their countries and the honor of an Olympic Medal in three distinct disciplines: singles, doubles and mixed doubles," he said.