Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Trials Continue

Last night the swimming Finals got right to the good stuff with the 400 Individual Medley featuring three of the most talented American swimmers in Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps, and Tyler Clary.  Lochte took the win, contrary to my pick, but I can guarantee we'll see a better performance out of Phelps in London.

On the track, there were only a few finals, but the men's 800 packed plenty of excitement as Nick Symmonds, Khadevis Robinson, and Duane Solomon, Jr. emerged from a close pack at the top of the last 100.  Shout to Robinson and Solomon, Jr. who I used to see putting in work when I coached in Santa Monica.  On the women's side, Alysia Montano (aka Ms Flower Power), held on after leading the whole race to win in 1:59.08 followed by Geena Gail and Alice Schmidt.  Both groups of 800m runners have work to do if they hope to make the podium in London.  On the men's side, it will take at least a 1:43 to make it to the Final, and likely a 1:42 low to get on the podium.  For the women, 1:58 and 1:57.  The track goes dark until Thursday, so just swimming picks tonight

Women's 100 butterfly:
Dana Vollmer - She's on a mission, and looks to be swimming more for the podium than to just make another team.
Kathleen Hershey - She's been to the Olympics before, and I think she has a better chance here than in the 200fl where she made the team in 2008

Men's 100 breastroke:  
Brendan Hansen -  the comeback kid looks to add another Olympic chapter to his legacy
Eric Shanteau - he's been 58 long course before, and he's going to need a solid sub-minute performance to make the team.

Women's 400 freestyle: 
Allison Schmitt - She's been one of the most consistent female performers in the last quad.  I don't see her getting unseated here.
Katie Ledecky - There's always a young girl who bubbles up and makes the team.  By all accounts, she is the real deal at 14 years old.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Weekend Trials Wrap Up

The first weekend of competition for the 2012 Olympic Trials in Track & Field lived up to my excitement for it by delivering solid performances by vets and newcomers, and even a World Record in the Decathlon (salute Ashton Eaton, get that Wheaties Box pic).  Here are a few of my Class Notes followed by my Head of the Class predictions for tonight's first night of Finals at the Swimming Trials in Omaha

FloJo Performance of the Meet:  Carmelita Jeter looked easy through the heats and handled the final of the 100m with no problem, and did it with FloJo like swagger.  I can see her face time growing as the Olympics approaches.

On A Mission:  The winners of the women's and men's 400m, Sanya Richards-Ross and LaShawn Merrit, appear to be on a mission to be at the top of the podium in London.  For Merritt it will be a repeat performance.  For Richards-Ross, a Gold medal would be redemptive after she lead the 400m final in Beijing most of the way before fading to third.

50-Cent Performance of the Meet:  Bryshon Nellum was a HS track superstar here in SoCal before injuries and gun shot wounds threatened to end his career.  His third place finish in the 400m was inspiring.  It is an event that America is always strong in, and he did his best time when it counted.  Salute.

Up Off the Mat:  Tyson Gay got in good enough shape after hip surgery to run 9.86s and take 2nd to Justin Gatlin in the 100m to make the team.  Lolo Jones took third in the 100m hurdles at 12.86s against a strong field to earn a chance to earn the Gold medal that eluded her after she hit the final hurdle in the final of the 2008 race.

All Gone Fishin Team:  Some of my Olympic favorites didn't get their tickets punched this time around, but they do earn a tip of the cap for lacing them up again.

Jeremy Wariner (400m)
Lauryn Williams (100m)
Joanna Hayes (100m hurdles)

SWIMMING:  (lots of chalk picks tonight.  You can't fake the funk in the 400s)
Men's 400IM:  Phelps wins to show folks he's back and that he's still got the juice.  Lochte 2nd.
Clary 3rd

Women'ts 400IM:  Biesel 1st, Levernz 2nd

Men's 400fr:  Vanderkay 1st, Houchin 2nd

Friday, June 22, 2012

LeBron Coronation Perfect Primer for Olympic Lead Up Events

Many are writing today about the Miami Heat, and the coronation of LeBron James as a champion.  It is the unquestioned lead sports story of the day after eight seasons of the King being without a crown.  There are many angles you can take on this story, but I'll leave that to the hoop heads while I spend some time previewing two of my favorite events which I can now devote my full attention to over the next week: the 2012 Olympic Swimming and Track and Field Trials.  Both events will ramp up over the weekend and will extend into next week.  Both Trials are considered a true crucible where in many events competitors who could medal a the Games don't make the team.  Both sports are showcased at the Games and consistently produce stars like Michael Phelps and Carl Lewis who are arguably the greatest Olympians ever.  So on a day when we are all reflecting upon LeBron's cresting of the mountaintop (hopefully not for the last time), I think it's fitting to look forward to the building stories of athletes who will be looking to culminate their own journeys at the end of the summer.  For some, the end of the NBA season means a focus on baseball, others look to football.  As someone who grew up spending two hours in the pool daily, the Olympics have always been an important event.

In 2008, the world became engrossed in Michael Phelps' pursuit of eight gold medals, a feat that realistically hadn't been attempted since Matt Biondi in 1988.  Phelps, much like LeBron, had been dubbed the next big thing when he made the team in 2000 at 15, and broke his first world record a year later.  He came through in 2008, and has been soaking in world wide adulation ever since.  Now 26, Phelps comes to the 2012 Olympic Trials looking to add to his record 14 gold medals, but will have to fight to take the spotlight from friend Ryan Lochte who has become the leading American male swimmer after a five gold-medal performance at the most recent World Championships.  Those attending the meet in Omaha will be treated to seeing these two go head-to-head in as many as six events.  On the women's side, we could potentially see the rising of the next Natalie Coughlin-like athlete in Missy Franklin, who at 17 already has an American record to her name.  It will be interesting to see if Olympic veterans like Katie Hoff, and Elizabeth Beisel can make another team and get a chance to break through for their first individual gold medals.  The coverage of Jessica Hardy will also be something to watch as she tries to make her first Olympic trip after being removed from the team in 2008 due to a failed drug test.  Much like the NBA, Olympic legacies are based on gold medals first and number of medals second.  Many of these athletes need to make another team to continue to develop their brands so that they can continue to be attractive product pitch men and women.  The same is true for athletes hitting the track in Eugene, OR.

Tyson Gay comes into the 2012 Olympic Track Trials as the LeBron-like figure who needs that Olympic gold medal or world record to truly cement what has been an all-time sprint track career.  He faces the daunting task of unseating 2008 100m and 200m champion, Usain Bolt, and current 100m World Champion, Johan Blake.  His preparation has been less than ideal due to hip surgery, and his pre-Trials quotes coming out of Eugene indicate he will be happy just to make the team.  This is unfortunate as the 100m is one of the crown jewels of the Olympics, and it is not the same when there is no American to face the best that the world has to offer.  Though Bolt was incredible to watch in 2008, the fact that there was no American (or anyone else for that matter) to really challenge him took away some of the drama.  Walter Dix managed to grab Bronze medals in both sprint events in '08, and 2004 gold medalist Justin Gatlin is back.  However, if the Trials champion can't go faster than 9.8, I doubt they'll seriously threaten the Jamaican contingent.  Similar Jamaican dominance exists on the women's side and I look forward to seeing if Allyson Felix, who has taken Silver medals in the 200m race in the last two Olympics, can make another team to get a chance to make that step to the top of the podium.  400m runner Sanya Richards is another athlete who's out to make another team to see if she can close the deal on her signature race where she took Bronze in '08.  Aside from the known names, what heightens watching the Olympic Trials to me over the championships of one of the major sports is that an athlete can go from being unrecognizable to a national star by making an Olympic team and winning a medal.  Their journeys are longer than many major sports stars because they have to wait four years for that moment to shine, and if they miss, it's four long years before their next chance.  So as we watch the aftermath of the Heatles realizing their destiny, I invite you to check out both the Olympic swimming and track trials for some quality, pressure-packed competition and LeBron-like coronations, that will get you ready for the Olympics this summer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Graduation Season is the Best

I'm putting it out there now that I am going to be a teary mess when my sons graduate from high school, and who knows what I'll do when they graduate college.  I love graduation season because it is a time when families can come together to collectively celebrate the achievement of the student as they reach an important milestone in their life.  Parents get a moment to pat themselves on the back for steering their child in the right direction and keeping them on the road towards being a productive adult.  As an educator and parent, I have a unique appreciation for this journey that families take together.  When I consider all of the things that can cause the K-12 journey to go off track, I can't help but get emotional when students make it to the finish line and share that moment with those who helped make it happen.  For some, it is the only graduation that they will experience.

It always bothers me when I attend a graduation that there is a disclaimer about families staying quiet until all the names are called.  This is an issue for me because it means that families can only celebrate for the collective, and not have their moment to celebrate their graduate, which is the reason why they come in the first place.  In some places rules are in place to remove parents who cheer "too much".  A few weeks ago, South Carolina beautician, Shannon Cooper, was senselessly arrested for "praising, woohooing and cheering it up" for her daughter Christin.  As far as I'm concerned as long as you don't turn around and punch someone as your child's name is called, you should be able to cheer as loud and as you can and as long as your graduate takes to get across the stage.  If schools are worried about families drowning out the next person's name being called, turn up the PA system a little louder.  If time is an issue, keep the prinipal's remarks and whoever else speaks to a time limit so there is more time to recognize the students.  That's what the day is all about in the first place.  I love that all of the school graduations I attended this year, realized that, and no matter how buttoned-up the school, parents could sound their air horns and whistle all they wanted.  Schools that try and deprive families of this moment are effectively slapping those folks in the face and ignoring the support they have provided the school over the years.  Those who are blessed with the honor to speak at graduation should also be mindful to remember the spirit of the day.

David McCullough became unexpectedly infamous this week because his graduation speech at Wellesley HS in Massachusetts was characterized as telling students that they were not special.  Kudos to the first news organization who began to spin his words out of context for a nice summer headline in a news cycle where we crave to hear anything that doesn't center on Romney vs Obama and the economy.  As Mr. McCullough correctly stated in his post-graduation interviews, he was just speaking to the kids, and as their teacher, he was reminding them of things he had told them throughout their years at Wellesley, and that would be "useful" as they move forward.  In looking at the transcript of the speech this nugget stuck out for me:

"As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages."

With a quote like this, it is obvious that this guy understood the moment, and wanted to give a hearfelt message to students he'd mentored over the past four years.  When it comes to speakers at graduation, this is the best approach you can take.  If Mr McCullough had taken the moment at the podium to advance some political agenda, then that would've been disrespectful.  Yes he told the students that they were not special, but his final sentence is key  "The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.  Because everyone is."  I hope that as I sit holding my wife's hand, sporting my best suit that I hear such a poignant message given to my son as he sits with the class of 2025.  I'll also make sure to have multiple handkerchiefs available for my tears.