Category Archives: Olympics

London Wrap-Up: Ten Great Olympic Moments

There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld bit about the Olympics that sums up the last couple weeks pretty well.  In it, he talks about how miniscule the difference between glory and devastation really is, often times no more than hundredths of a second.

“Did you forget to shave?  Did you not hear the gun go off?” Seinfeld asks.

These small differences, though, are what define reputations—careers, even—for the rest of time.

One of comedy’s greats then concludes, “The difference between gold and silver: he’s the greatest guy in the world…that guy? Never heard of him.”

When London’s Olympics ended Sunday night, sports fans around the world felt satisfied but saddened, wishing the magic could’ve stayed for maybe a week more.

The Games of the XXX Olympiad came and went before we could even say, “Beckham,” and now we are left with so many incredible snapshots to consider.

Here is my rendition of London 2012’s ten greatest moments.  There are too many honorable mentions to count, so let’s just say it’s all open to interpretation.

10. Poland’s Volleyball Fans Bring the House Down-

Olympic viewers tuning in to NBC in the early afternoon had to do a double take to make sure that they weren’t watching a Manchester United English Premier League game.  The Polish faithful that came to root on their own men’s volleyball team truly embodied what the Olympics are all about—going absolutely batty for the athletes, even if they get trounced by Russia 3-0 in the quarterfinals.

The Polish crowd erupted with each and every point.

9. Swimming’s Young Women Shine-

Coming into the Olympics with an incredible amount of pressure after being dubbed as “the Next Michael Phelps,” 17 year-old Missy Franklin delivered in a big way, returning to Colorado a four-time gold medalist.  Distance freestyle specialist Allison Schmitt takes home five medals (3 gold) and 15 year-old Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania started her Olympic career off with a bang, winning the 100-meter breaststroke over favorite Rebecca Soni.

8. Bahamas Dethrones U.S. in Men’s 4X400 Meter Relay-

Winning the nation’s second ever gold medal, the Bahamas took down a US team—albeit injury plagued—that had dominated this event for 28 years.  The Bahamas tends to treat its Olympic heroes well—the nation’s largest airport is filled with murals and pictures of “the Golden Girls,” the 4X100 meter relay gold winners from 2000.

7. Mexico Wins Gold-

Mexico has had its strong soccer teams over the years, but has never been able to come away with an Olympic medal in ten appearances.  This time, striker Peralta Morones put things way early and Mexico rode to a 2-1 victory over gold medal favorite Brazil.  The country’s sole gold medal has caused a frenzy and these scrappy young men are now being considered national heroes.  Pretty cool for a team that wasn’t really in the conversation at the start of the Games.

6. American Women Capture 4X100 Meter Gold-

Ending a 16-year gold medal drought, Tianna Madison, Bianca Knight, Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter set the track on fire, defeating the highly touted Jamaican team in a world record time of 40.82 seconds.  This was truly one of the most joyous moments from the viewer’s perspective—as Jeter crossed the finish line, she saw the words “New W.R.” on the scoreboard and started pointing and screaming at the top of her lungs.  Then, in what was London’s purest and most candid interview, she boasted to sideline reporter Lewis Johnson, “Everybody said we weren’t going to do it, but we did it!”

Only Olympic gold could create such raw, unscripted emotion.

5. Andy Murray Redeems Himself-

Just a few weeks after losing a hard-fought match to Roger Federer in a Wimbledon final, Great Britain’s own Murray used a raucous (as much as is possible in tennis) crowd to his advantage to claim his first Olympic gold on the same All England Club court, over the same Roger Federer, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.  The best part for Murray, aside from being able to wear white at the All England Club for the first time, is that this win will build his confidence for coming grand slam events.

4. Jamaica Dominates Sprints, Bolt Reclaims Throne-

After all the speculation (including my own) that the world’s fastest man had slipped, Bolt emphatically showed us all we were wrong, dominating the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and anchor leg of a world record 4X100 meter relay win.  Teammates Yohan “the Beast” Blake and Warren Weir made it a clean sweep at 200 meters.  I guess the line about, “No competition left in the world” was a bit prophetic—must be time to buy Gatorade chews, everyone.

3. Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah Deliver-

Imagine letting your enthusiastic, loyal home country fans down.  These two track and field athletes did and decided winning was the easier option.  Ennis, whose face was featured in bus stop posters around London, kicked off Great Britain’s high-energy track and field program with a gold in the heptathlon.  Alberto Salazar product Mohamed “Mo” Farah went for double (and his competitors, nothing) with wins at both 5,000 and 10,000 meters.  It’s no wonder Mohamed was once again named the most popular male baby name in Great Britain.

2. Michael Phelps Becomes the Most Decorated Olympian of All-Time-

We had our doubts initially, but the Baltimore Bullet pulled through, earning two individual and two relay gold medals, as well as two silvers, to finish things up with 22 career Olympic medals, passing gymnast Larisa Latynina for the most all-time.  After conquering the pool, Phelps will now try to tame the links with famous swing coach Hank Haney.

Insert corny “water hazard” pun here.

1. Saudi Arabia is Completely Represented for the First Time-

With the Middle-Eastern country scheduled to face eventual sanctions without female representation, the Saudi IOC finally relented, allowing 800-meter runner Sarah Attar and judo competitor Wojdan Shaherkani to compete.  Make no mistake—the country is a long way away from any sort of parity.  The media, the government and the entire Saudi population left much to be desired from a respect standpoint, but this story is just one snapshot of an Olympics in which many female athletes dominated, ascended to stardom and made their nations proud.  Quite the fitting, long-awaited and long-deserved result just over 40 years after the passage of Title IX.

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The Legend of Usain Bolt

As Usain Bolt steps in the starting blocks, 80,000+ people go quiet. Nobody else can grasp the world’s attention like he can.

Bolt begins entertaining the television audience with his trademark gestures. Nobody else can be this confident before an Olympic final like he can.

When Bolt actually runs, he leaves the field so far behind in 20 seconds, he has time to showboat. Nobody else can dominate the world’s best athletes like he can.

Bolt is a one-of-a-kind athlete.

ImageStanding at 6-foot-5-inches in a slender frame, Bolt doesn’t fit that picaresque image of a sprinter. Forget the notions that being too tall doesn’t allow the turnover rate to be a great sprinter. Forget the countless sprinters with muscles seemingly too big for their spandex uniforms to contain.

Nothing about Usain St. Leo Bolt is normal.

He’s the guy who eats McDonald’s before the Olympic 100m Final, and wins. (Somewhere Ryan Lochte’s mouth just dropped) His pregame antics are the same as his postgame antics: a celebration.

Bolt’s cockiness has no plateau, but neither does the world’s love affair with him.

Every time Bolt steps on the track, all eyes are glued on him – afraid to blink and miss the magic. With his entertaining antics and his electric performances he steals the show every time.

Still any other athlete with an ego the size of Bolt’s would get hammered publicly. But instead Bolt is embraced, and it’s because, as one NBC broadcaster summed it perfectly, “He never fails to deliver.”

Bolt does more than just deliver the gold. He makes the world’s fastest men appear second-class.

There have been great sprinters before – Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens, etc – but nobody has ever made it look so effortless.

ImageIn the 100m, he blew away the strongest field in the event’s history to win the gold medal.

Bolt followed up with a slightly more difficult win in the 200m. With that, he became the first ever to repeat in the 100m and the 200m at the Olympics.

Bolt finished in the 4×100 relay, where he turned a dead heat with American sprinter Ryan Bailey on the last leg into a no contest.

After the race, Bailey said, “Wow. He’s a monster.”

Bolt isn’t just a monster or an Olympic Champion, he’s a living legend.

In six Olympic Finals, he has won six gold medals, and set four world records. Usain Bolt is the greatest sprinter of all time.

So what’s left? Bolt looks set on accomplishing new goals – like the 400m or the long jump or both – in his final act at Rio 2016.

Whatever events he chooses, the world will be watching, and clinging to his every move. But Bolt wouldn’t want it any differently.

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26.2 Miles of Drama

Early Sunday afternoon in London, nearly 120 athletes from across the globe will be embarking on one of the most grueling runs of their lives.

Taking off down the Mall with Buckingham Palace in the background, the Olympic men’s marathon will then make a U-turn on London Bridge, leading into an 8-mile circuit that will be seen three times.

Four years ago, the primary concern of the runners wasn’t course difficulty or poor placement of water stations but terrible air quality that had the potential to create serious lung discomfort—or worse.

This time around, hills will play more of a role, but it is the forecast that has many athletes wondering about the race’s intensity.

Torrential rain during the women’s race a week ago kept the athletes bunched up for longer than expected until a late break led by a score of Ethiopian, Kenyan and Russian runners allowed for Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana to take home the gold in 2:23:07.

London will once again see its fair share of clouds on this final day of competition but there is only a slight chance of rain for the day with showers expected briefly in the afternoon.

One favorite that comes to mind this year is Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich of Kenya, who holds the world record with a frightening time of 2:03:42 and won the 2012 London Marathon with a very impressive 2:04:44.

Kiprotich set the world record in Frankfurt last year.

Another emerging runner likely to be skipping misting stations tomorrow to stay in the lead pack is Ethiopia’s Ayele Abshero.   Fresh off winning the 2012 Dubai Marathon in a course record 2:04:23 and at only 21 years of age, Abshero has the endurance and late-race speed that could be placing him atop the podium on Sunday.

Only four runners have completed a marathon in under two hours and five minutes in 2012—all of them either hail from Kenya or Ethiopia, long-time distance running powerhouses.

None of the men’s marathon medal winners from Beijing will be honoring the Legend of Pheidippides in London.

Ethiopian bronze medalist Tsegay Kebede failed to qualify with an extremely competitive field in his home country, while 40 year-old defending silver medalist Jaouad Gharib of Morocco was not selected for his country’s roster.

The most tragic absence is undoubtedly 2008 gold medalist and Olympic record holder Samuel Kamau Wanjiru of Kenya, who would win both the Chicago (2009, 2010) and London (2009) Marathons before passing away in 2011 after falling from the balcony of his apartment in Kenya.  Many questions still remain as to what caused the fall.

As with any Olympic event, there is always the potential for drama and medals won by underdogs.

A promising showing in Beijing and a fast Olympic Trials in Houston has many experts thinking the United States, led by 2004 Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall (taking a break from reading The Odyssey to compete), could make moves this year, especially if the conditions are less than ideal.

Eight years later, Meb is poised to reclaim his Olympic glory.

Teams from Uganda, Russia, France and Japan, among others, could factor in as well—all have runners who have gone under 2:10 at some point in their careers.

Given the improved caliber of runners and the guarantee of new medalists, London 2012 should  come to a close with an exciting, dramatic afternoon.

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Misty and Kerri Save Their Best For Last

It ended the way it should have. Misty May-Traenor and Kerri Walsh Jennings standing atop the podium, hands held, and legacies linked forever.

With their third straight gold medal, May-Traenor and Walsh Jennings pushed their legendary run deeper into beach volleyball lore. No duo has ever won back-to-back gold medals, let alone three-peat.

All the drama Misty and Kerri provided – the early deficits, the long rallies, and the late-game ties – never hindered their dominance. In Olympic play, they were 21-0 in matches and 42-1 in sets

Even as their ages creeped into the mid-30’s and their fitness diminished, Kerri and Misty’s best run may have come in London 2012.

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Whether it’s the first time or the third time, it never gets old for Misty and Kerri.

But it was almost what didn’t happen that made it so.

After the 2008 Olympics, May-Traenor mulled retirement and Walsh Jennings started a family.

A few months later, May-Traenor tore her left Achilles while participating in Dancing with the Stars. She would need 18 months to recover. Walsh Jennings meanwhile had two children in the next two years, and gained 36 pounds each time.

May-Traenor returned near the end of 2010 and with a new partner, but the duo struggled to find success. Trying to come to terms with the newfound disappointment, May-Traenor sat out the beginning of the 2011 season contemplating her beach volleyball future. Walsh Jennings returned in early 2011 and joined with a new partner as well.

But in the spring of 2011, the tides started to shift.  May-Traenor sent Walsh Jennings an email expressing her desire to continue playing, and preferably with Kerri.

So the two met for lunch, and Kerri wanted to know if Misty was all in? She was, and the road to London began.

The time apart seemed to sharpen their connection and teamwork. In Athens and Beijing, Misty and Kerri dominated their opponents with power and ease. In London though, they grinded out wins as a team, rather than two great individual volleyball players like before.

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The best beach volleyball duo ever.

Misty was the immovable rock. It seemed no ball could get past the veteran digging of May-Traenor. With her arm speed decreasing at age 35, Misty relied more on her uncanny precision to place the ball in the perfect spot. The savvy line shot? She got it. The back corner shot to demoralize the opposition? She got that too. The tip shot perfectly placed in between the blocker and the digger? Yep, she even hit that.

Kerri was the unstoppable force. She provided the finishing blow, and the powering spikes to complement Misty’s precise hits. The presence of Walsh Jennings’ block forced teams into the angle shot, and straight to the reliable digging of May-Traenor.

Though London 2012 saw Misty and Kerri’s typical winning ways, it has been a different journey this time around for the two.

“The first two gold medals it was more about volleyball,” May-Treanor said. “The friendship we had was there, but it was volleyball, volleyball, volleyball. This was so much more about the friendship, the togetherness, the journey — and volleyball was just a small part of it.’

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The Emotional Nightmare of Women’s Gymnastics

Think for a second about winning an Olympic silver medal.  All the broadcasters counted you out, failed to mention you in the pre-game show and never even prepared a video package on your Olympic preparation.

Sure, you’re not standing atop the podium and your national anthem is not blaring from the stadium’s speakers, but you’ve proven yourself as a pretty darn good athlete, and no one can take that away from you.

Now remove all countries not named the United States of America, Romania, China or Russia and you’ve dramatically changed the circumstances as well as the expectations.  That’s because you’re competing in women’s gymnastics.

Take Russia’s Viktoria Komova, for example.  The seventeen year-old gymnast has accomplished far more than most teenagers of the world.  Most people have barely experienced success at the DMV at that age, let alone the Olympics—the world’s biggest stage.

A few days ago, Komova finished second in the women’s all-around gymnastics program, missing out on the gold medal and the glory experienced by Gabby Douglas by less than three-tenths of a point.

Viktoria Komova experienced the agony of teenage defeat in the women’s all-around competition.

Visibly upset after the competition, Komova opened up to reporters.

“I was not very lucky at these Olympics. I failed them 100 percent,” Komova said.  “I don’t know if I will continue sports. I will go back home take some time off and think through the situation. My parents say everything is okay, but I don’t feel that.”

Read that again and think if that’s something a perfectly healthy seventeen year-old girl should be saying.

It’s not.

This statement brings up a painfully true reality for women’s gymnastics.  These young women, unless they are very, very lucky, are put through more pressure and more heart-wrenching disappointment than any person should ever be exposed to.  It shows.

McKayla Maroney, who made the United States Olympic team as a vaulting specialist, looked as though she had seen a ghost after slipping on her second vault to finish second to Romania’s Sandra Izbasa.

For Americans at home, having to sit through the end of America’s team qualifying, when Jordyn Wieber saw her Olympic dreams being ripped away at the hands of teammate Aly Raisman, was uncomfortable enough.  Imagine living that moment.

Why do these emotions exist?  Why do we never hear the words, “I’m happy just to experience these Olympics,” from the women of these countries?

Financial security might have something to do with it.  Analysts project that Wieber, the favorite to win all-around gold in London, will lose millions in potential endorsements over the next five years.

See if you can say, “ENDORSEMENTS” after taking in a mouthful of cereal.

They’re right; we love our all-around gold winners.  Gabby Douglas has been featured in cereal aisles all across the country this week and has a golden smile that could sell just about anything.  Stay tuned.

No, there’s something deeper with this disappointment.  Many of these young girls sacrifice their childhoods for the dream of winning Olympic gold.  When that doesn’t happen, the question, “Was it worth it?” slowly starts to creep up and present itself—even when silver seems dream-worthy to the non-Olympian.

Still, the intense training that gymnastics requires will likely never change, meaning that the seemingly misplaced, defeated facial expression we’ve seen so many times in London is not just an anomaly.

Unless there are drastic changes in the next four years, young girls will continue to be held accountable not only by their parents, but also by the rest of the world watching on TV.

 

 

 

 

 

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Oscar Pistorius Brings Out the Best of the Olympics

The Olympics, of late, seem to have become a playground for the world’s greatest athletes to earn some hardware. With the hype surrounding Michael Phelps’ legacy and the tears of horror shed by some gymnasts after being named the second best in the world, Pistorius offers a refreshing reminder that these games are not made up solely of world class athletes, but also of some world class people.

Pistorius finished last in his Men’s 400 meter semi-final, yet was smiling the widest of anyone following the race. Born with no fibulas in his calves, Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee when he was just 11 months old.

After 4 golds and a bronze in the Beijing Paralympics, Pistorius earned a chance at the main event in London and made the most of it.

While growing up, Pistorius never thought him self any different than his two-legged peers.

“My mother said to us one morning, `Carl (Pistorius’ brother), you put on your shoes. And Oscar, you put on your prosthetic legs,’ ’’ Pistorius said. “And that was the last we heard of it. I didn’t grow up thinking I had a disability. I grew up thinking I had different shoes,” said Pistorius.

Now Pistorius has proven to the world that we shouldn’t think of him any different either. He finished as the 23rd fastest man in the 400 meter event, beating out 24 other competitors. Despite finishing in the middle of the pack, he did not act as if his dreams were crushed, as many other Olympians do. Instead, he was thrilled to be living out his dream of simply competing in the Olympics against able-bodied athletes.

Pistorius is blessed with an incredible talent yet seemingly cursed with the inability to use it. But his perseverance, combined with technological advances in prosthetics allowed him to realize his dream.

“Getting to that point, to be able to line up on the starting blocks at a race like that, just means so much to me,” said Pistorius.

Perhaps a result the trials and setbacks that come with being “disabled” (though Pistorius has shown there’s nothing disabling about his condition) or perhaps it’s just the type of person he is, but Pistorius has shown class and dignity that have been unmatched in recent Olympic memory. Surrounded by desire for personal glory and for gold, Pistorius has remained steady in showing just how much of an honor competing in the Olympics is, regardless of whether you have legs or not.

Kirani James swaps bibs with Oscar Pistorius in one of the classiest post-event interactions of this Olympics.

Other athletes are noticing the same thing in Pistorius. Upon completing the race, Kirani James of Granada, who finished first in Pistorius’ semifinal, refrained from the chest pounding and yelling many other victors resort to, and instead immediately made his way to Pistorius and asked to exchange bibs with him – essentially asking for his autograph.

James saw, just as clearly as the rest of the world, the positive impact that Pistorius has made on the Olympics. And James made it clear that this has nothing to do with legs.

“I just see him as another athlete, another competitor. What’s more important is I see him as another person. He’s someone I admire and respect,” said James.

“He’s a great individual — it’s time we see him like that and not anything else.”

Pistorius has shown there is more to the Olympics than than earning a piece of rock on a string. Regardless of the outcome, just getting there is victory enough.

Oscar Pistorius truly is an Olympic hero.

 

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Is Michael Phelps the Greatest Athlete of All Time?

Michael Phelps’ last race mirrored almost every other race he has ever swam. From his dominance to the gold medal win, nothing was different. But a surreal feeling seemed to have overtaken everyone watching and those involved. How could it not? Phelps was the greatest Olympian of all time performing in his final act.

Now with his career in books, is Michael Phelps the greatest athlete of all time? But what defines the greatest athlete of all time?

Is it the ability to dominate his or sport for a substantial period of time, like no one else has? Phelps’ final Olympic career line is unprecedented – 4-time Olympian, 24 Olympic Finals, 22 Medals, and 18 Gold Medals. In terms of total medals, the next closest Olympian had 18, and for gold medals, the next closest were four Olympians tied at nine.

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So what’s new Michael? Ahhh not much, just the usual you know.

Does it mean raising the standard for greatness in his or her sport? As a teenager at age 19 Phelps won eight medals, six of them gold, in Athens. Then in his encore he set the bar even higher. In the 2008 Olympics, Phelps broke a once-thought untouchable record by winning eight gold medals in a single Olympic games. Phelps reached a level so high that his London performance of six medals, including four gold medals, was considered underachieving.

Is it their ability to do make the impossible seem possible by elevating their game to a new level? In Beijing, he rallied from a seemingly insurmountable defecit to win the 100m Butterfly by .01 seconds. Heck I knew that Phelps won the race before watching it, and still couldn’t believe Phelps had any shot to win with 10m left. It was literally like watching the impossible become reality.

Does it mean the athlete can be so great that sometimes we question if he or she is even human? Back in 2008, it was a legitimate question for Phelps. He won eight gold medals in eight races in eight days, including setting five world records in five days.

Is it their ability to perform when the doubters and naysayers are the loudest? Phelps, America’s darling from 2008, was cast aside for the surging Ryan Lochte after losing the 400 IM. His critics boasted his time was over. (including me, and I was wrong…) Nothing fazed Phelps as he rebounded with a stellar split in the 4×100 freestyle relay and four gold medals to close out his career.

How about having a transcendent once-in-a-generation impact on his or her sport? Phelps turned swimming from a lesser-known sport to one of America’s most popular non-mainstream sports. In the first week of the 2012 Olympics primetime coverage, with swimming as the main draw, NBC had its highest Olympics ratings ever.

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Chad le Clos’ reaction after shocking Phelps and the world in the 200m Butterfly.

Phelps’ influence goes past attracting fans, because he’s pushed his fellow swimmers to new heights. His competitiors, including Ryan Lochte, trained harder and longer because to win the gold they would have to get past Phelps.

As the greatest Olympian of all-time, he’s been an idol to many swimmers including South Africa’s Chad le Clos. When le Clos watched Phelps’ greatness in Athens at age 12, he set his goals on being the best swimmer he could possibly be. Eight years later, in the 200m Butterfly, le Clos out touched Phelps at the wall to win the gold medal. Le Clos called the “greatest moment of my life,” a testament to how much Phelps meant to him and his career.

The definition of the greatest athlete of all-time comprises all of this.

While Phelps is certainly in the conversation, his childhood idol Michael Jordan seems to be favorite, but for different reasons.

Swimming isn’t as prominent as other sports like basketball. The Olympics happen every four years, while other sports are in the spotlight for five to eight months annually.

Maybe that puts Phelps achievements into a greater perspective. Four years of training comes down to a massive pressure-filled week, where tiny mistakes can change everything. Or those four-year gaps put them farther into irrelevance as time goes on.

Maybe it’s Phelps who has hurt his chances of being the greatest athlete of all time the most. By winning time and time again, Phelps made the triumph of winning one of the world’s greatest prizes look routine, almost easy. Ironically, Phelps’ over-the-top dominance may be his legacy’s Achilles heel.

Still no athlete may ever have meant more to his sport than Phelps did, and no athlete may ever have dominated his sport like Phelps did.

During Saturday’s press conference Phelps said, “I’ve looked up to Michael Jordan all my life because he’s done something that nobody else has ever done…”

Well now so has Phelps, and maybe he’s done more…

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