Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Few Familiar Olympic Characters

After all is said and done with these 2012 London Olympics, NBC Universal, the sole broadcaster of the Games in the United States, will have raked in over a billion dollars.

The Olympic opening ceremony set an international viewing record by drawing nearly a billion viewers worldwide.

Comparatively speaking, Super Bowl XLVI had just over 110 million viewers.

These numbers simply confirm what has been the most obvious statement in sports for 120 years—there is no bigger stage than the Olympics.

There is something so special about these sports and athletes.  The tension is real and never fades; it is as if we are willing our countrymen and countrywomen to the podium from our living rooms.

London 2012 is only four days old and we’ve already seen enough drama, triumph and discomfort (see: the very end of the US women’s gymnastics team qualifying) to tide us over until Rio.

American Jordyn Wieber, after finding out she had been overtaken by teammate Aly Raisman and would not compete for the individual all-around title.

Every four years, a new story is woven by Olympic characters of a similar nature.  Here are some of the supporting roles that have kept us coming back so far in 2012…

The Triumphant Underdog, Honduras Soccer over Spain:

Striker Jerry Bengston scored merely seven minutes into the 1-0 soccer match that eliminated Spain, the overwhelming gold medal favorite.  Sure, there were some fortuitous bounces, including Spain’s three shots that glanced off the crossbar in the second half, but the determined Honduras side was able to hang on.  The scrappy play of Honduran goalkeeper Jose Mendoza, who had key saves against Rodrigo and Iker Muniain, was key in securing this “Miracle on Turf.”  Tegucigalpa, Honduras’s often violence-ridden capital, was due for a heartwarming moment—this was it.

The Battle-Hardened Vet, Cyclist Alexander Vinokourov:

In 2008, it was forty-something Dara Torres who shocked the world by winning two silver medals in her fifth Olympics.  This go-round, we witnessed Kazakhstan’s Vinokourov end his cycling career with a gold medal on his resume.  After fighting to regain his legitimacy following a 2007 doping ban and a 2011 Tour de France crash that cracked his femur and briefly put his career on hold, Vinokourov finished a respectable 31st in the 2012 Tour de France and held off Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran in London’s first event to claim Olympic glory.  Vinokourov and his metal hip will take a final bow following Wednesday’s time trial event.

The Redeemed, Tie, Swimmer Brendan Hansen and GBR Men’s Gymnastics:

After failing to win an individual medal in Beijing, many in the swimming world expected the American to fall flat on his face at the 2012 Olympic Trials or just not show up at all.  It was rumored that the screams of four-time Olympic breaststroke gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima of Japan haunted his dreams for years.  Swimming from lane eight and not expected to medal in the 100 meter breaststroke, Hansen charged from the back of the field to close the race, pass long-time foe Kitajima and win the bronze to end his individual career.  Said Hansen to Andrea Kremer following the race, “This is the shiniest bronze medal you will ever see.”

Kitajima is known to scream to the heavens following each victory. Something tells me Brendan Hansen can now sleep well.

Anybody knows 100 years is a long time to wait.  Maybe that’s why North Greenwich Arena, which hosted Monday night’s men’s gymnastics team finals, was absolutely on fire.  Great Britain’s Daniel Purvis, Max Whitlock and Kristian Thomas nailed down three solid floor exercise routines to make up a miniscule .3 point deficit on team Ukraine and earn their team a long-awaited bronze medal.  Barring a .7 point correction on Japan’s final pommel horse routine, the Brits would have won silver.  It was kind of fitting that Prince William and Prince Harry were on hand to witness the coronation of British gymnastics royalty.

The Punisher (Replaces Usain Bolt from Beijing), China’s Diving Team:

Three for three thus far, the Chinese are favored…no, expected to win the five remaining diving events.  Enough said.

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Just Missed: Kim Rhode Flirts with Olympic Perfection

Perfection is a rare word when it comes to sports.

Baseball is really the only sport that dares place the word in its rule book. Yet even in baseball’s 143 years, only 22 perfect games have been thrown. While they are incredible feats, they are by no means completely perfect performances by the pitcher – there always seems to be an incredible defensive play made to save the day. Not to mention the pitcher isn’t striking out every batter in 3 pitches.

But American skeet shooter Kimberly Rhode gave as near a perfect performance as any Olympic athlete could, hitting 99 of her 100 attempts en route to an Olympic record, a tied world record and her third career gold medal.

Adding to her prestigious afternoon, Rhode became the first Olympian ever to earn a medal in five straight

From age 16 to 33, Rhode has been atop the leader boards in shooting

Olympic games, dating back to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where she one a gold medal in double tarp as a 17 year old. Now 33, Rhode is clearly still shooting at a high level. She hit 74 of 75 clays in the qualification rounds before shooting a perfect 25 f0r 25 in the finals.

Her feat is even more remarkable given the conditions the event took place in. Rhode was forced to deal with strong winds, sudden changes in lighting, and some rain, yet still had the best performance in history.

Rhode has gone through some tough trials since her last Olympics in Beijing. After returning from China, her $20,000 gun was stolen from her. Considering her parents are still in debt for their house and the lack of media attention (and likely money) that shooting garners, losing such expensive equipment was a huge blow. An anonymous donation allowed her to purchase a new gun, though, and her stolen gun was eventually returned.

Adding to the hardship, Rhode had a cancer scare after a sizable tumor was found in her breast tissue. Luckily, the growth was found to be benign.

After dealing with such adversity, earning a spot in the Olympics another time was an accomplishment.

“The journey is unique to each Olympics, and this was probably my most challenging,” Rhode said. “That makes it sweeter when you are on top of that podium with the national anthem playing and you have that gold medal around your neck.”

Rhode’s sixth medal in five Olympics is her most impressive.

With her fifth straight Olympics with a medal, Rhode now elevated herself to a tier above some of America’s biggest legends. Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Al Oerter, and Bruce Baumgartner are the only other Americans to medal in four straight Olympics. Now, Rhode tops them all.

However, she didn’t even top the headlines for the day. Her news was eclipsed by the more major sports, as some surprises in the swimming and gymnastic arenas stole the show.

The US Men’s 4×100 relay gave up a late lead to France and ended up with a silver, Americans dominated the Men’s and Women’s backstroke events, and world champion gymnast Jordyn Wieber failed to qualify for a spot in the finals.

Kim Rhode’s success shows just how talented everyone competing the Olympics is. Even in the lesser watched events, there are people dedicating their lives to the sport, spending countless hours practicing and if they’re lucky, maybe they’ll just set a world record or two.

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Lochte’s Rise and Phelps’ Fall Only Inevitable

Ryan Lochte could never escape Michael Phelps’ shadow. As Phelps took home the golds and the fame, Lochte settled for silvers and an afterthought. For years, he chased after the world’s greatest swimmer, not to catch him, but to eclipse him.

On Saturday night, Lochte finally stepped out of Phelps’ shadow and left the 14-time-gold-medalist in his. Lochte became a household name as he took gold in the 400 IM, blowing away the field, including Phelps.

It was stunning race to America and the world. But why is this such a surprise?

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Ryan Lochte finally beat Michael Phelps in an Olympic race last night.

When Lochte beat Phelps last night it was nothing new. He has been doing it for years. From the 2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships to the 2011 World Championships to the 2012 US Olympic Trials, Lochte has more head-to-head victories over Phelps, and if you’re keeping score, it’s not that close.

Phelps, who had been working tirelessly up until Beijing in 2008, stepped away from swimming to enjoy his success, and deservedly so. He appeared on countless daytime shows, partied hard, and did just about everything you would expect accompanied worldwide fame.

Lochte though dove right back into the pool following the 2008 Olympics. Day in and day out, he did whatever it took to become better. He flipped 650-pound tires for a warm up, gave up fast food entirely, and amped up his weight training. Lochte honed in on the same maniac-like work ethic that once drove Phelps to unprecedented heights.

After Beijing, Phelps lost that drive, through no fault of his own. He had reached the pinnacle of the sport and become one of the greatest swimmers of all time. Even Phelps admitted that he had reached all his goals and wanted to approach London with a more carefree mindset.

Still it was odd to see Phelps look so human last night. For years, no matter the challenge or the deficit, he never came up short.

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I guess we learned that even Michael Phelps doesn’t have superpowers..

In the 200m Butterfly in Beijing, his googles flooded with water and he was forced to swim half the race blind. No matter, he still won gold. In the 100m Butterfly in Beijing, Phelps trailed the entire race and had virtually no chance with 10m left. But Phelps, in typical fashion, somehow touched ahead of Serbia’s Milorad Cavic by the slimmest of margins, one one-hundredth of a second.

That immortality Phelps took so long to build was shed away by Lochte in just over four minutes yesterday. It was even a surreal moment for Phelps. When NBC asked him what happened after the race, he continually stared off to the side, lost for words and lost all together.

For Phelps’, his 2012 Olympics performance will always fall short in our eyes because he can’t deliver the same magic he did in 2004 and 2008. How could he? He pulled off seemingly impossible feats and made it look routine, almost machine-like.

He’ll still win races and take a handful of gold medals home from London, but it won’t be the same. Phelps’ moment, and time, have passed.

As Lochte said, “It’s (my) time.”

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Can Lightning Strike Twice?

We’ve all seen the ad: wearing a hood that conceals his identity and walking through the streets of London, the man we eventually see is Usain Bolt declares to the audience, “I will not stop until there is no competition left on the planet.”

Four years ago, anyone who saw that ad wouldn’t have questioned the message that Bolt was trying to send—first of all that he loves Gatorade chews, because the endorsement money is doing wonders for his 401k, but also that he is bar-none the best athlete in the Olympic track and field sprint events.

Now, people wonder if Bolt has the stamina and speed that allowed him to obliterate the competition and win three gold medals in Beijing in 2008.

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Sans chest-pound, Bolt’s 100-meter win in Beijing could’ve been even faster!

Following his overwhelming 200-meter dash victory in Beijing, in which he broke American Michael Johnson’s long standing world record by finishing in a blistering time of 19.30 seconds, there was a great deal of speculation as to whether Bolt could become the first man ever to run a sub-19 second 200 meters.

But at the Jamaican Olympic trials earlier this month, Bolt was less than spectacular, qualifying second in the 200 meters with a time of 19.83 seconds, a far more human performance than he’s shown in the past.  The victor was relative newcomer Yohan Blake, widely considered to be the X-factor in this most important track meet.

Blake, who is Bolt’s training partner, seemingly came out of nowhere to defeat bolt by three-hundredths of a second in the 200 meters and again by a close margin in the 100 meters.

Bolt’s “lapse” began following a false start at the 2011 World Championships that left him disqualified and allowed Blake to eventually win the race in his first ever World Championship meet.  Bolt would later go on to win the 200 meters and contribute to Jamaica’s gold medal performance in the 4X100 meter relay.

The track and field community has had a growing concern that perhaps the world’s fastest man is dealing with a nagging injury, which Bolt more or less confirmed during a pre-Olympic press conference.

“I’m always ready. It’s all about championships. I’ve had slight problems, but I’m ready to go,” Bolt said.

“I’m going to focus on going out there to win.  My back was a little stiff and it affected my hamstring but I’m over that. I’ve been training for the past two-and-a-half weeks and everything is all right.”

A less-than-perfect Bolt is still, frighteningly, a constant threat to win gold.

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Olympic gold would be huge for Blake’s career and would “silence” many critics who say he’s not as good as Bolt.

His only major competition in the 200 meters is Blake, but the 100-meter dash is as wide open as ever.

Bolt, Blake and Asafa Powell of Jamaica as well as Tyson Gay and the resurgent Justin Gatlin of the United States all seemingly have gold medal speed, making for an exciting Olympic final.

The single heat will likely host three world record holders in Powell, Bolt and Gatlin, whose 9.766 second run from 2006 was cleared from the record books following a recent doping ban.

The questions surrounding Bolt arguably make for London’s biggest story, rivaling Michael Phelps’s grand finale and showdown with fellow American Ryan Lochte.

Regardless of whether or not the “rest of the competition on the planet” stops Bolt on his quest for three additional gold medals, he is almost certain to not go home empty-handed.

With Powell, Bolt and Blake all on staff, Jamaica’s “murderer’s row” of a 4X100 meter relay team is again the overwhelming favorite to win gold.

“Sure thing” races aside, these next two will be huge for the rest of Bolt’s career—we could be either left with a triumphant, chest-pounding Bolt or a dejected, retirement-contemplating version.

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Freeze Frame Friday: Robert Griffin III & Andre 3000

Ever miss Straight Outta Westwood when we don’t post on Fridays?  We certainly do.  That’s why we’ve decided to change things up a bit and give our fans exactly what they deserve–humor, or at least an attempt at it.  With that, we introduce “Freeze Frame Fridays,” a post that will go up every Friday evening that either brings up an “Oh, yeah, I see it…” moment with an athlete/celebrity look-alike or just a comical image from the world of sports.  Whatever we post will  be guaranteed to have a few witty lines along with it.  And if it falls short?  Well, that’s why we’re not getting booked at the Improv any time soon!  We hope you enjoy.  Let the pun-fest…BEGIN!

Both stars are dressed “So Fresh, So Clean”

After being selected second overall at the “Player’s Ball” that is the NFL Draft, Robert Griffin III is poised to make moves at the  Washington Redskins training camp.  Watching some of Griffin III’s game film from Baylor, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan saw his new quarterback’s mobility and said aloud, “I Like the Way You Move.”

It was a rough offseason for the ‘Skins, who lost out on then free agent wide receiver Vincent Jackson.  Allegedly, Jackson’s mother called to ask for a higher contract offer, but GM Bruce Allen simply refused to budge, saying, “I’m sorry Ms. Jackson, but I am FOR REAL.”

Still, Griffin III and the Redskins remain unfazed, realizing their offseason woes “Ain’t No Thang.”  Besides, if all else fails,   Tyrese Gibson and Mark Wahlberg are guaranteed to be leaders in the locker room.

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Biggest Storylines of NFL Training Camp

NFL training camps have finally arrived, and with them come a new year’s worth of hope, speculation, and intrigue. In past years, training camps have brought us such drama as Albert Haynesworth’s overweight fitness tests, the beginning of Michael Crabtree’s 42 day holdout, and a never ending cycle of quarterback controversies. Here are some thoughts as to what this year’s top drama could be.

1. Peyton Manning

Until recently, Manning was considered the league’s best quarterback, but a bout of neck injuries that eventually cost him all of last season have put his status as one of the NFL’s elite in jeopardy. On top of that, Manning is joining a new team after being the face of the Colts franchise for a decade. Training camp will provide an opportunity for him to prove his health, reassert himself as a dominant passer, and usher the Broncos into a new era. Year 1 AT (After Tebow) is starting in Denver.

2. MJD’s absence

Even people with DirecTV won’t be watching MJD if he and the Jags can’t figure out his contract issue.

After leading the league in rushing last season, despite every opponent focusing solely on stopping him, Maurice Jones-Drew was rewarded by the Jaguars with a refusal to offer him a new contract. In fact, Jacksonville owner Shad Khan publicly stated that he would not give Jones-Drew a new contract, making it no surprise that MJD began his holdout shortly after. Jones-Drew still has two years left on his current deal, which will net him a little under $5 million each year, but after larger contracts have been doled out to other running backs recently, such as Matt Forte and Ray Rice, Jones-Drew has a valid argument asking for more money, given he outperformed those two (and the rest of the league). Still, MJD’s contract was front-loaded, so he earned more his first few years of the deal than he was worth at the time. It will be interesting to see how long this lasts and which side will give in first in this game of monetary chicken.

3. 1st NFL action for rookies

Luck or RG3? Let the media frenzy begin!

This year’s draft was top heavy with talent at the skill positions, with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, and Justin Blackmon all taken in the top five. Training camp will give us our first look at how the stack up against NFL competition and could give us an idea of the type of impact they’ll make in their rookie years. Luck is the most hyped quarterback prospect in over a decade and the magnifying glass will be on him after the Manning trade anointed Luck Indianapolis’ savior. Similar scrutiny will be given to RG3, considering how much the Redskins gave up in order to draft him. Richardson will be filling the gap vacated by the most recent Madden Curse victim, Peyton Hillis, and Blackmon will also have high expectations as he finally provides a target for Blaine Gabbert to throw to.

4. New faces in new places

Several star players switched teams during the offseason and will get a chance to showcase how they fit into their new rosters. New Tampa Bay  receiver Vincent Jackson and quarterback Josh Freeman should begin developing some chemistry during camp as the two hope to connect often during the season. Ditto for Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler as the two reacquaint themselves with each other after having been teammates in Denver. Matt Flynn will get his first opportunity to fight for a starting spot after a huge game in week 17 earned him a nice contract in Seattle. He’ll compete with incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson and rookie Russell Wilson. If Flynn looks as impressive in training camp as he did last season against the Lions (480 yards, 6 TDs), he should get the nod. Lastly, Peyton Hillis joins the Chiefs after a disappointing and injury-filled season with the Browns last year. It will be interesting to see how Hillis fits into the Chiefs offense with star running back Jamal Charles on the roster.

5. Stars recovering from injuries

Will Adrian Peterson recover from his ACL injury? With the medical treatment he’s getting, does he even want to?

Several star players who suffered season ending injuries last year will be returning to action for the first time in training camp and it will offer some insight into how their injuries could affect their effectiveness this season. Adrian Peterson is coming off of a torn ACL and could possibly sit out training camp to further rest it. If he participates, expect his explosiveness and ability to make quick cuts to be analyzed and watched closely. Several other players are also returning from ACL injuries including Titans receiver Kenny Britt and running back Jamal Charles and safety Eric Berry of the Chiefs. Their health and fitness will be also be called into question. Raiders running back Darren McFadden is returning from a foot injury that cost him the final six games of last season. His potential has been limited by his frequent injuries so this year will be important for him to prove he can stay healthy. The last big name coming off of a major injury is, of course, Peyton Manning. After many believed his neck injury could have ended his career, Manning is back. But few have really seen him throw the ball since his recovery, except for a grainy video, so Manning needs to prove he can still play football before he can try to reclaim his title as one of the best.

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The Yankees Of The West Coast

March 27, 2012 – Probably the happiest day of Dodgers’ general manager Ned Colletti’s life. The Dodgers were sold to a new ownership group, officially ending the Frank McCourt era.

With McCourt gone, the days of shedding payroll were too. Colletti was (pretty much) handed a blank check and given the freedom to make all the moves necessary to turn the Dodgers into contenders.

The new ownership group made this change of culture apparent right away. They bought the Dodgers for $2 Billion when the team was worth approximately $1.2 billion. The new ownership overpaid by $800 million, but they flexed their financial muscles and made a statement in doing so.

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Hanleywood? Nahhh. The Dodgers’ marketing team has some work to do.

So it began. They resigned fan favorite right fielder Andre Either, an upcoming free agent this winter, to a 5-year, $85 million deal.

Later that month, the Dodgers hit the international market. They signed 21-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig to a 7-year, $42 million deal. Puig hadn’t played organized baseball in a year, but had a breakout season in the Cuban leagues in 2010-’11.

Now the Dodgers have traded for Marlins’ infielder Hanley Ramirez. From 2007-’10, he was a top-five hitter in the national league. Then his career took a downturn. He batted .243 in 2011, and is batting .246 this season. The Dodgers are hoping a change of scenery will help Ramirez right the ship.

This isn’t a Manny-Ramirez-type trade, at least in financial terms. Back then, Ramirez only had a few months left on his contract, with the Red Sox paying most of his remaining salary. That trade was a give-me. No risk involved. If it failed, Ramirez would be gone in two months time.

This time around it’s different. Hanley Ramirez has two years, after this one, and $38 million left on his contract. That’s a lot for a player batting sub-.250 for the past season and a half. The Dodgers needed to make this trade, but it’s risky one. Sure Ramirez is just 28-years-old, but he’s hasn’t just had a sluggish few months, he’s been bad for a season and a half.

The Dodgers are throwing around money like they sleep in it. Sound familiar? They are becoming the Yankees of the West Coast. Their old blueprint of winning with homegrown prospects from their farm system and making payroll-sensitive trades is buried deep in the trash. Now the Dodgers are following the Yankees’ blueprint, becoming a contender by spending big money through free agency and making trades barring financial considerations.

It’s worked for the Yankees so far. Since the Dodgers last won a World Series title, the Yankees have won five. So if the Dodgers’ ownership is willingly to spend money, why not?

The team may not even be done making moves yet. They want another starting pitcher and are targeting Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Ryan Dempster.

Get ready for the Dodgers to be involved in these trade rumors and big free agent sweepstakes constantly because this is a new era in Dodgers baseball – one where the price to build a championship team is priceless.

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