Saturday, July 28, 2012

Outstanding Performances from Olympics Past

Now that the Opening Ceremonies have concluded and proper protocol has been set for the 2012 Olympics, it's time to sit back and see who can join this list of the most outstanding performances in my lifetime.

Before My Time:

Jesse Owens - 4 track gold medals in ('36) while Hitler watched.
Wilma Rudolph - 3 track gold in Rome ('60). First American woman to top the podium 3 times.
Mark Spitz - 7 swimming gold in Munich ('72).  Set the bar that couldn't be touched for almost twenty years.
Nadia Comaneci - 3 gymnastics gold and 5 medals overall in Montreal '76. First perfect 10 awarded in competition for uneven parallel bar routine.

In My Lifetime

Michael Phelps - In the history of swimming, the number 8 will forever be associated with Phelps run in Beijing ('08). Though there was a little bit of luck involved, he was also damn good in crushing the field in the 4IM, 2IM, 2fl and 2fr.

Matt Biondi - First swimmer in my lifetime to make a serious run at "The Spitz". Brought home 5 gold medals from Seoul ('88) and was a bad touch away from a 6th in the 100fl.

Vitaly Scherbo - Bealrusian gymnast took home 6 gold from Barcelona ('92) out of the eight events he competed in.

Natalie Coughlin - 6 medal haul in Beijing ('08) was the biggest ever for an American woman. She took gold in the backstroke, but also medaled in the free and IM.

Mary Lou Retton - In ('84) she was the 1st American gymnast I ever saw win the all-around. A feat also accomplished by Nastia Liukin in Beijing, but Mary Lou did it first and her coach, Bela Karolyi puts her over the top.

Carl Lewis - 4 Gold in ('84). So versatile. 100/200, and probably best technician ever in the LJ. Had the event locked down from 84-96.

Janet Evans - Queen of American distance swimming. Took 3 gold in Seoul ('88) and the look on her face after smashing the WR in the 400fr is a lasting mental image.

Greg Louganis - Double gold in springboard and platform in Los Angeles ('84) and Seoul ('88). The Seoul performance after being concussed on springboard is unforgettable.

Michael Johnson - Gold shoes in Atlanta in '96 and he came through with WR in both the 200 and 400, my all-time favorite track events.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee - JJK not only won the multi-event heptathlon in Barcelona '92, but also the long jump. She still holds the WR in the heptathlon.

All asterisk performances - Performances derailed by positive drug tests
Ben Johnson - Seoul '88
Marion Jones - Sydney '00

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Trials Wrap Up:

The 2008 Trials in Swimming and Track & Field, my two favorites of all, did not disappoint, and we now have two London-ready contingents who should bring back a nice haul of medals if their Trial performances give us a fair indication of who they are.  Below are my final Class Notes on what I saw over the course of last week, and into the beginning of this week.

Swimming's Obama moment:  As a lifelong swimmer who constantly had to explain to people that my lanky frame was not used for basketball growing up, but instead for swimming, it was a prideful moment for me and my Black swimming brethren and sistren to have Cullen Jones not only make the Olympic team in his first individual event, the 100-freestyle (not easy out of lane 1), but also win the Olympic Trials in the 50-freestyle.  Hopefully it will be easier to digest now when a young Black man says he wants to swim now that there is a face to model after in the same way that young Black boys can confidently say that occupying the Oval office is now possible.  The legacy of African-American swimmers in this country was enriched by Jones' achievements last week as well as those of Anthony Ervin who came out of retirement to make another team as well as Lia Neal, who followed in the footsteps of Maritza Correia to become the second Black woman to accomplish the feat.  I hope these results will inspire the USA Swimming Foundation to redouble their commitment to the Make A Splash campaign, of which Mr. Jones has been an ambassador for the past quadrennium.

Youth Movement Continues:  USA Swimming continues to do a commendable job identifying and developing young athletes who will one day become part of the National Team.  As we say happy trails to Katie Hoff, Amanda Beard, and Dara Torres as Olympians, we welcome Missy Franklin, Kate Ledecky, and Lia Neal to the Olympic stage.  This lies in stark contrast to the Men's Olympic team where there is no member under the age of 20 years old.

Phelps vs. Lochte:  The races at the Olympics between these two will be some of the greatest we have ever seen between two Americans.  The variety of events in which they will compete is what makes the rivalry unique, and will be must-see TV during the first week of Olympic coverage.

Allyson Felix's Gold Quest:  As decorated an athlete as Allyson Felix has been, her resume does not have that signature individual gold medal performance that allows an Olympian to be able to do speaking engagements for the rest of their lives.  She looked like she is intent on making sure she gets that medal as she blew away the field at the Trials in a time of 21.69.  I don't know how much we will ever know about the machinations that enabled Felix to gain an additional spot on the team in the 100m dash over her teammate, Jeneba Tarmoh, but she is now in a nice position to bring home four more medals from London to bring her total to seven.  This would give her more than Jackie Joyner-Kersee, one of the most decorated American track athletes ever.

Struggle to make the Olympic Standard:  I became well-versed in the swimming Olympic standards during my March trip to New Zealand where it was cause for celebration when a competitor won an event and actually made the standard.  In the US, there is no Olympic swimming event where the two qualifiers struggle to make the standard.  It speaks to the strength of the team.  On the track however, it seemed that in many of the events over 400m, the question of whether or not the athletes had the Olympic qualifying time was a constant part of the race analysis, and does not bode well for American prospects for medals.  I hope the powers at USA Track & Field (USATF) have a development plan in place as College track and field programs continue to be killed off.