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.

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