Michael Phelps

Wonder Women

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-FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

With the Olympic flame extinguished in Rio de Janeiro, the world bids farewell to the 2016 games.

It also says goodbye to some of the greatest athletes to have ever graced the Olympic games — Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. Although, if you ask me, I think we’ll see one, if not both, of them again in 2020 at Tokyo. (But that’s a story for another time.)

Speaking of the future, the women of Team USA have shattered many more glass ceilings, while setting a gold standard moving forward. They have become an example for the rest of the world, who needs to catch up to them.

The United States boasted the largest Olympic roster with 554 members, and for the second straight time, the women (291) outnumbered the men (263).

The women took home more medals (61 vs. 55) overall, but also combined for 27 of Team USA’s 46 golds.

If the U.S. women were their own country, it would tie the entirety of Team Britain for most gold medals in this year’s Olympics. This domination and level of accomplishment is unrivaled by the female athletes in other countries, let alone some of the men.

This all seemed unimaginable many years ago.

In 1972, Team USA’s male athletes tripled the amount of medals women brought home. In today’s games, you have gold medalists like Simone Biles in gymnastics and Allyson Felix in track and field. Back then, Team USA gymnastics couldn’t find the podium and had no gold medals came from the race track.

However, that same year, Congress passed Title IX. The act prevented any discrimination based on gender in regards to education programs and institutions that receive federal funding. Although Title IX covers various facets of gender equality and discrimination, it changed the face of athletics moving forward. Female participation in sports skyrocketed as a result and 44 years later, the country is reaping its benefits. (more…)

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America Should Salute, Not Berate, Gabby Douglas

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-Getty Images

Gabby Douglas became the face of U.S. gymnastics after capturing hearts across the world, and a couple of gold medals, during the 2012 London Olympics. Her status and fame made her seem a lot bigger than just her 5-foot-2 frame.

Fast forward four years later to this year’s games at Rio, where Douglas and her teammates struck gold yet again in team competition. However, this time around, Douglas has been shrunk down by the American public and placed under the microscope, with criticism and torment launched at her for every move she makes.

Douglas has been unfairly targeted and disparaged by some members of American society that deem her “unpatriotic.”

On August 9, the “Final Five”–the nickname given to the team of U.S. gymnasts composed of Douglas, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, and Madison Kocian–stood atop of the Olympic podium, as they listened to the Star-Spangled Banner play throughout the arena.

It was a beautiful moment for a team whose 8.2 point difference over second-place Russia, the largest margin of victory in 56 years, capped off a successful title defense.

However, some armchair and couch-sitting “Olympians,” watching from their households back in the United States, noticed something that made them furious. Something that enraged them enough to mock, berate, and bully Douglas on social media.

Four out of five members of the Final Five had their hands placed on their hearts as the national anthem played. The last person didn’t–that person being Douglas.

To them, the golden moment was tarnished, and it was only the beginning of the attacks towards Douglas.

Since then, she’s still receiving hate-filled, racially-charged insults for her behavior on the podium, comments on her hair, and being called selfish for not cheering on her teammates “hard enough.”

Douglas should not apologize to these critics, but she did–all before sobbing privately after the press conference.

She is the one donning the red, white, and blue. She trained to represent Team USA. Her gold medal performances in London seemed long forgotten. She helped her team win again for the United States.

Yet, she’s getting unfair criticism from those who are sitting at home. The ones who didn’t train at the highest level to represent their country at the world’s biggest stage. From people who didn’t sacrifice hours and years of their childhood to train in order to fulfill an Olympic-sized dream.

Douglas didn’t do anything disrespectful, she stood at attention. She hasn’t cheated, used performance-enhancing drugs, or sabotage her fellow competitors. She won gold for the United States fair and square.

Go to any major sporting event nowadays and you will see that a majority of people don’t put their hands over their hearts while the Star-Spangled Banner plays. Others don’t even remove their hats. Some are giving their orders at concession stands or walking to the bathroom.

Why is this a big deal?

In the 2012 London games, McKayla Maroney became famous for her unamused scowl, as she stood with her arms crossed on the podium. No one criticized her then. In fact, she became a viral internet meme, a hilarious joke that was celebrated.

Michael Phelps laughed during a medal ceremony last week while the national anthem played because of an inside joke between him and his friends. The joke involved the Baltimore tradition of screaming “O!” during the anthem. His hometown pride was appreciated. No one called him un-American for laughing.

The 1992 Dream Team–regarded by many as the best basketball team to ever grace the hardwood–only had a couple of its members salute the flag while standing on the podium. 11 of the 12 players on that team became legendary Hall of Famers.

Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Michael Jordan–yes, his Airness–are among some of the Dream Teamers who did not salute the flag. They didn’t get criticism.

This is not a knock on any of the aforementioned athletes; they have achieved gold medals in the name of the United States. It’s more of a critique on how the American people received them in comparison to how some are treating Douglas.

She stood respectfully during the anthem. She did not gesture wildly, flip off audiences, or dance gleefully for winning a gold medal. She didn’t showboat, nor were there any displays of bad sportsmanship or treason.

Why should Douglas be held to an unfair double standard?

At 20 years old, she’s considered old in the sport of gymnastics but still very young in the game of life.

Maybe it’s her youth that make some people feel the need to give patriarchal or parental advice, with adults feeling the need to impose their wisdom on a younger Douglas. Based on looking at some of the tweets on social media, it’s clear that some of the vitriol is racially motivated.

Let’s face it, women are looked at much more closely in regards to their appearance, how they compose themselves, and how they act in comparison to men. They are judged a lot more for their behaviors. Throw race into the picture and the magnitude increases, especially given the racial tensions that are prominent in the news and today’s society.

Regardless of what the motive may be, whether it may be related to gender, racial, or just an overall disdain for Douglas, only one thing should matter in an American and Olympic context–the colors red, white, and blue.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. While some have voiced their support for Douglas, using the hashtag #LOVE4GABBYUSA or through other means over social media, the positive messages won’t stop the continued downpour of venomous messages from pundits.

The only unpatriotic act that has been committed in all of this mess are from those who wish to see her fail.

Shame on them.

Douglas continues to compete, despite the negativity. She could have withdrew from her events, give in, and make it about herself.

But she didn’t.

She isn’t the one being un-American. Those that go out of their way to wish for ill will on Douglas, who has won gold in the name of the stars and stripes, are the ones who disrespect the flag.

They owe an apology.

The Silver Lining in Michael Phelps’ Final Individual Race

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-Stefan Wermuth/TSRIO2016 REUTERS

Michael Phelps has certainly built quite the resume to be called the greatest of all time–he is the most decorated Olympic athlete with 27 medals and has the most gold medals with 22, shattering numerous Olympic and world records along the way.

Some would even say that Phelps is immortal in the swimming universe, especially after breaking a 2,168-year old record for most gold medals in individual events. It’s a feat that seemingly withstood the test of time, until he set a new mark earlier this week.

However, on Friday night, the world got a reminder that Phelps is not immortal. And frankly, it’s not a bad thing.

In fact, it’s actually beautiful poetry.

There was no Kodak moment, no splashing in celebration, and no opportunity for Phelps to raise four fingers into the air to signify a four-peat as a gold medalist in the 100m butterfly.

Instead, Phelps’ streak of gold medals was put to a shocking halt by Singapore’s Joseph Schooling. The 21-year old swimmer set an Olympic record en route to holding off Phelps and the rest of the pack to victory.

It might not have been the send off Phelps wanted in his final individual Olympic race but in some ways, it was.

Phelps’ mentality started to change since the London Olympics in 2012. Medals and accolades are certainly great for his legacy, but he also wanted to be an ambassador and a pioneer to bring more change and attention to the sport of swimming.

This change was realized on Friday night.

It was a coronation for the new generation of swimming. Not only did Schooling beat Phelps, the man he grew up idolizing as a young swimmer, but he also beat South Africa’s Chad Le Clos and Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh–two of Phelps’ rivals in the last couple Olympic games.

Going in, many thought that the 100m butterfly would be a three-man race between Le Clos, Cseh, and Phelps.

Le Clos and Cseh wanted to beat Phelps, just as he wanted to beat them–but it wasn’t their night. Neither one was able to achieve aquatic supremacy and instead tied one another in historic fashion, as they deferred to Schooling, who beat them by nearly a full second more.

In fact, he schooled them in the qualifying and semifinal heats, clocking in the top times in each round before going into the finals.

Schooling first met Phelps shortly before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The United States Swimming Team was training in Singapore, when Schooling–as a 13-year old–got to meet his idol. He excitedly got a picture with Phelps and received his autograph too.

Surely, he couldn’t imagine what would transpire eight years later.

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-Reuters

Aside from besting the most dominant swimmer the world has seen for over a decade, Schooling began his own path as an Olympic trail blazer. After all, it runs in the first time Olympian’s family.

His granduncle, Lloyd Valberg, was Singapore’s first Olympian, competing in the 1948 London Olympics. He inspired Schooling to strive for the Olympics as a young boy. Now, his Olympic record finish brought home the first ever gold medal to Singapore.

It’s a feat that demonstrates the growth of swimming worldwide. The sport is starting to take shape and foundations are being created in other countries–some of which, you won’t expect or wouldn’t have been quick to name as a contender.

It’s a medal that Phelps won’t be able to challenge in the 2020 Tokyo Games, and an Olympic record he won’t get to race for.

It’s a changing of the guard, the post-Phelps era has already begun.

Phelps set out to change the swimming world and to inspire others, Schooling is that idea personified. He is the new champion of the 100m butterfly, dethroning Phelps and his rivals himself.

The swimming world doesn’t have to worry. While one of it’s most iconic faces will be stepping away from the pool at the conclusion of the Rio Games, there shouldn’t be any shortage of exciting competition in the years to come. Phelps’ defeat reaffirms that.

There will be more new faces and swimmers by the time the next Summer Olympics roll around and while it will be a strange sight not seeing Phelps don his black swimming cap with the United States’ flag emblazoned on it, he will get to marvel at the future of swimming and where the sport is headed.

For now, this is it for Phelps. If he doesn’t change his mind, the sport will be just fine in the hands of Schooling and every one who wants to be like Mike.