London 2012 – Day 4: Fab Five and Gold

Not since the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta had an American gymnastics team claimed the gold medal in team gymnastics, until The Fab Five (Jordyn Weiber, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Kyla Ross, and Aly Raisman) clinched the top spot on Tuesday night.  Call it luck, call it skill, or call it Jordyn Weiber on a mission – the women’s American gymnastics team did what we all expected and hoped they would.  Weiber, Douglas, and Maroney all launced off the Vault to start, securing the highest scores on the apparatus (the highest of which went to Maroney, who scored a 16.233 of a possible 16.5).  Gabby Douglas, the only gymnast to compete in all four events, anchored the team on the uneven bars with an impressive routine and height.  To end, beyond Aly Raisman’s solid balance beam routine, the girls finished their quest with magnificent floor routines by Douglas, Weiber, and Raisman!

The gymnastic gold was a moment of redemption for Jordyn Weiber, who barely didn’t qualify for the all-around finals earlier this week, despite being the reigning world champion.  Speaking of redemption, former Olympic all-around gymnastic gold medalist Nastia Liukin said [re: Weiber] “her soul is richer than most, and that champion can still be revealed, and in gymnastics, she can still be remembered forever.”

In the Olympic waters,  Allison Schmitt claimed the gold medal and set new American and Olympic records in the women’s 200 meter freestyle final.  Schmitt defeated France’s Camille Muffat and Australia’s Bronte Barratt to claim her victory.  Schmitt’s teammate and American swimming sweetheart Missy Franklin missed the medal podium by 0.01 seconds!  In other waters, Michael Phelps competed in and earned his 18th Olympic medal to tie a record set by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina in the mid 1960s.  Phelps finished the men’s 200 meter butterfly final for the silver, just 0.05 seconds behind South Africa’s Chad Le Clos, who ended Phelps’ ten-year domination of the event! Behind Phelps came Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda, who was expected to be the one to dethrone Phelps since he took Bronze in Beijing 2008.

China’s Ye Shiwen, as expected dominated the field in the women’s 200 meter IM, claiming another gold medal for China and establishing a new Olympic record in the event.  Australia’s Alicia Coutts took silver, just ahead of America’s Caitlin Leverenz, who posted a personal best time.  Though Shiwen’s victory wasn’t absent questions of the controversy still surrounding her from the women’s 400 IM competition – which she finished in record time, on par with dominant male swimmer Ryan Lochte.

Finally, in the last final event of the night, American swimmer Michael Phelps established a new Olympic record for the most medals won by a single athlete, earning him the questionable moniker of “the greatest Olympic athlete ever.” Phelps was part of team USA in the 4 x 200 meter final, where he raced alongside Lochte, Dwyer, and Barrons to defeat France and China.  Unfortunately, in a post-race interview, the correspondent congratulated the team by saying, “Congratulations to all of you for being a part of Michael’s historical achievement,” despite the first three swimmers working hard to create a three-second lead against a group of very talented swimmers.

Phelps’ victory broke the 48-year record held by Larisa Latynina, who told the New York Times “forty-eight years is almost enough time to hold a record” and that it’s about time for a man to be able to do what a woman had done long ago.  And while Latynina still applauded Phelps’ victory, many people, myself included, won’t consider Phelps the greatest athlete in Olympic history ever.  Why?  Because some athletes have a limited shelf-life and others can’t compete in the same amount of events – plain and simple.  It also has a bit to do with the decorum a champion exhibits outside of the Olympics and how they inspire or give back to the next generation – and there are other athletes who have done better than Phelps.

Michael Phelps may be the most decorated and one of the greatest champions, but the greatest is a stretch.

-Bobby-james

London 2012 – Day 4: Record Tennis

UPDATE:  Venus and Serena Williams have advanced to the doubles quarterfinals.

The Olympic tennis courts are heating up in London.  Yesterday, the American contenders went six for six, all of them advancing.  Today, however, that streak came to an end when USA’s Andy Roddick fell to Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, but more on that later.  Tennis fans were in for a treat when France and Canada faced off.  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) battled Milos Raonic (CAN) in what can only be best described as a historical, and epic, encounter.

The two tennis pros battled back and forth with Tsonga claiming the first set 6-3, Raonic claiming the second 6-3, but the real “meat and potatoes” of the match came in the Olympic record-setting third set.  The two exchanged serves and the lead for just under four hours with a final third set score of 25-23.  The encounter between Tsonga and Raonic became the longest Olympic tennis match, men’s or women’s, singles or doubles – breaking the previous record established in Athens 2004. Building to the finish, Tsonga became visibly frustrated, Raonic challenged officials, and at 18-18, the officials reset their three challenges.  What a match up – officiallly making this the second longest men’s single match of all time, just behind the Wimbledon 2010 Isner/Mahut encounter that ended in Isner’s 70-68 victory.

In other court news: Great Britain’s Andy Murray defeated Jarkko Nieminen 6-2, 6-4 to advance to round three.  Of note, Murray returned a ball to Nieminen and sent Nieminen running into and tripping over the wall.  Ouch!  Russia’s Maria Sharapova defeated Britain’s Laura Robson after a tightly and tensely contested first set that ended in a tie-breaker that was, surprisingly tied.  Sharapova’s victory came at 7-6, 6-3 – the same score from the last time the two faced one another at Wimbledon last year – impressive.  Aussie tennis pro Lleyton Hewitt advanced in his match and will compete with Novak Djokovic next.  And American tennis players continued advancing as Venus Williams continued forward in singles competition and Huber/Raymond moved forward after a match up with Poland in doubles.

Finally, resulting from his loss to Novak Djokovic, the Olympic quest of Andy Roddick ended.  Djokovic defeated Roddick 6-2, 6-1, leaving John Isner as the final American tennis player.  Though Roddick has never medaled at the Olympics, London 2012 marks his second and likely final Olympic appearance.  Over the course of his career, Roddick, the face of American tennis for the last decade, spent thirteen weeks as the number one player in the world, was ranked in the top ten for nine consecutive years (November 2002 – August 2010), won 32 titles (to date), and has amassed over $20 million in prize money.  Beyond the Olympics, Roddick will likely continue competing, but one must wonder for how long.

Onward we shall travel into primetime as the day carries on.

-Bobby-james

London 2012 – Day 3: Gold Fish

 United States swimmer Missy Franklin led the American school of gold-fish by winning the gold medal (her first individual Olympic medal) and establishing a new American record in the 100 meter backstroke final.  Franklin won a race including “six of the ten greatest swimmers of all time,” including Australian favorite to win Emily Seebohm.  Franklin’s impressive victory came within ten minutes of her finishing a different event semi-final (women’s 200 meter freestyle), where she took second place in the first round, allowing her to qualify for that event final.

Franklin wasn’t the US’s only pool sensation today as the American synchronized diving team of David Boudia and Nick McCrory secured a bronze medal in the 10 meter synchronized event final.  China took gold in the event, but a sweeter story came from Garcia and Sanchez securing the silver medal for Mexico, the country’s first medal in the sport since 1956.  Additionally, Garcia and Sanchez attemepted the most difficult dive in Olympic history – one with a 4.1 difficulty rating – and from it, they earned an impressive 95 point score.

American swimmers Matt Grevers and Nick Thoman went 1-2, respectively, in the Men’s 100 meter backstroke final.  Grevers set a new Olympic Record with his victory, and the Grevers-Thoman win marked the second consecutive appearance where Americans claimed gold and silver in this event.  Decorated swimmer Michael Phelps swam through the semi-final in an event where he’s the two-time defending Olympic champion – the 200 meter butterfly.  Phelps will compete in the final against fellow American swimmer Tyler Clarly.  Clarly was noted for being critical of Phelps’ dedication and training prior to these Olympics and was noted as saying he can’t wait to beat Michael Phelps.  Ahh, the deliciousness of a competitive rivalry…

In less fortunate news, Olympic momentum-magnet and emerging star Ryan Lochte lost some of his steam as he finished fourth in the Men’s 200 meter freestyle final.  France’s Vannick Agnel claimed gold, followed by China’s Sun Yang, and Japan’s Park Tae Wan.  Lachte and Team USA fans shouldn’t feel too bad, though, Yan and Tae Wan tied for silver, leaving Lochte in fourth place by a mere 0.11 seconds!

Finally, after a starting miscue, the Women’s 100 meter breaststroke final was allowed to get underway.  The race saw Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte best USA’s Rebecca Soni by 0.08 seconds! Meilutyte’s victory marked only the second Olympic gold medal to be won by a Lithuanian female athlete in any Olympic sport!

Beyond the water, the Men’s team gymnastics final took place.  Unfortunately, Team USA’s expected medal dreams were dashed by a series of falls that saw them finish in fifth place.  But the medal podium changed even after the final scores revealed China had won gold, Great Britain silver, and Ukraine bronze.  Following a questionable judgment call on Japan, the Japanese team challenged the call, immediately having it reviewed.  When the jury came back, Japan’s score was increased, allowing Japan to claim silver, bumping Great Britain to bronze and Ukraine from the podium altogether.  Ouch.

Finally, to cap off an eventful day of competition, the beach volleyball team of May-Walsh remained completely undefeated (in both matches and sets) on their quest for their third consecutive Olympic gold in the event.  Eliminations in women’s beach volleyball will begin Wednesday.

-Bobby-james

London 2012 – Day 2: New Rising

 London 2012 breakout star, South Africa’s Cameron Van Der Burgh, set a new world record and won gold in the 100 meter breaststroke final.  Of other note from the race, Brenden Hansen (of Team USA) came out of retirement to challenge Olympic rival Kitajima (Japan) one last time.  During the previous two summer games, Kitajima (the two-time defending Olympic champion) held Hansen from Olympic gold.  Today, Hansen took the bronze medal in a bittersweet medal victory while Kitajima did not.  But as Van Der Burgh and these Olympics have proven, the proverbial torch is being passed to the younger, rising talents – the time for old rivalries has passed and the dawn of the new stars is upon us.

In other aqua news:  US swimmer Dana Vollmer established a new world record and won gold in the women’s 100 meter butterfly.  Vollmer competed against previous record-setter Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, who finished fourth.  French swimmer Camille Muffat took home a gold medal in a heated swim against USA’s Allison Schmitt in the women’s 400 meter freestyle.  US swimmers Matt Grevers and Nick Thoman both qualified for the 100 meter backstroke final, but the battle to watch will be between Grevers and French swimmer Camille Lacourt, whose semi-final times were separated by less than four tenths of a second.

In the last final of the night, the 4 x 100 relay, the French swimming team of four barely defeated the Americans to claim gold.  The heavy favorite in the event was the fourth-place-finishing Australia.  Beyond the waters of the Olympic pool, American gymnast Gabby Douglas, a charismatic competitor with an amazing story of persevearance, wore a vibrant smile.  Douglas earned the highest score for the American women on the uneven bars and delivered solid performances on the vault and balance beam, while delivering a shaky floor program.

Despite her floor exercise, Douglas qualified for the all-around finals, upsetting fellow USA gymnast Jordyn Wieber, who failed to qualify for the all-around finals (because of the two per country rule), despite being the reigning world champion.  Wieber’s fate was sealed by the solid floor routine by Aly Raisman, who joins Douglas in the finals.  Though, Weiber will still help Team USA compete for the women’s final and compete in the floor exercise final, it doesn’t make her exclusion any less controversial.

Wieber will find herself likely in the top five all-around gymnasts competing in London, yet because of the “two per country rule,” she’ll not be able to compete in the top 24, knocked out of the final by a mere 0.233 points.  Hearbreak that has many calling for a change in the rules because as one commentator put it, “the twenty-four best all-around gymnasts will not be competing in the all-around final.”

Speaking of all-around finals and gymnastics, casual fans of the sport can’t help but wonder where 2008 Olympians Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson are in 2012.  Those of you that remember know that Liukin was the all-around gold medalist and collected five Olympic medals in Beijing 2008 – tieing Mary Lou Retton and Shannon Miller for most Olympic medals won by an American gymnast in a single Olympic games.  Beside Liukin was Johnson, the all-around silver medalist.  Both athletes competed in the Olympic trials, so why aren’t they competing parts of Team USA?

Liukin had the unfortunate circumstance, or literal fall from grace, if you will.  During the three-day process to qualify for London 2012, Liukin fell several times and scored low, bringing her gymnastic career to a screeching halt.  Like Liukin, Johnson’s gymnastic career ended this year as well due to nagging knee issues stemming from a previous injury – a torn ACL in 2010.  Unfortunately for Team USA, its media darlings of 2008 are names of the past, but their absence gives rise to a new crop of talent poised for competition.

Overall, another exciting and nail-biting night of Olympic competition as records were broken, gold medals were earned, and new stars continued to shine.

-Bobby-james

London 2012 – Day 1: Surprise!

 How amazing was it to see swimmer Ryan Lochte, of Team USA, bring home a Gold medal in the 400 meter individual medley?  Pretty amazing, considering that his victory unseated reigning Olympic champion Michael Phelps, who finished fourth in the race.  Wow.  Then consider that Lochte’s win gives the United States its first Gold medal in London.  Even more wow.

Speaking of swimming – an equally impressive and historic feat was watching Sun Yang take the first ever Gold medal for a swimming event for China.  It was a true feel-good moment seeing yet another Olympian upset the defending champ!  In other good news for China, Ye Shiwen won Gold and set a new world record in a nail-biting women’s 400 meter individual medley! Then, those Aussie girls, who weren’t even expected to place any higher than third at best in the 4 x 100 relay WON.  Though, should there ever have been any doubt about their ability?  They live on an enormous island…

In between all the swimming hubbub and excitment were the gymnastic programs of Team USA, as the men tried to qualify for the final.  Guess what?  They did it! All in part to the great efforts put forth by Sam Mikulak, Jonathan Horton, Danell Leyva, John Orozco (who had one of the most touching stories I’ve seen thus far!) and Jake Dalton (who did a Romanian maneuver that I held my breath for – wowza!).  What a day – Team USA managed to scoop up five medals along the way! Congratulations Team USA – cue the national anthem!

Looking foward to more Olympic competitions and seeing Alexandre Despatie (of Canada) dive on August 1!

-Bobby-james

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