Olympics

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.

One-and-Done: No Place for Cheaters in the Olympics

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-John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Usain Bolt was at it again on Sunday night, harnessing his energy like electricity flowing through his body to fuel his machine-like pistons for legs. He spurred ahead of the pack to take home the gold medal in the 100m sprint for the third straight Olympics.

Amongst those that he outraced was the United States’ Justin Gatlin, a rival that has gotten close to catching the world’s fastest man throughout the last couple of years. Like all other races before, he was unable to do so, but did put up a valiant effort in challenging Bolt.

As exciting as it was to see Bolt and Gatlin square off at the sport’s highest level, the allure was tarnished by Gatlin’s past.

The 34-year old Brooklyn native had been previously banned twice from track and field for doping.

Frankly, Gatlin should not be able to take home the silver medal.

He shouldn’t have had the opportunity to compete in the Olympics to begin with.

The anti-doping conversation began earlier in the Olympics, when American Lilly King took down Russia’s Yulia Efimova in the swimming pool. King publicly disparaged Efimova after the semifinals and backed up her point by winning gold in the 100m breaststroke.

Efimova tested positive for DHEA, a performance enhancing drug, back in 2013. As a result, she served a 16-month suspension that was lifted in early 2015. Back in March 2016, she tested positive for meldonium, the same PED found in tennis star Maria Sharapova (currently serving a two-year ban).

Efimova was banned from swimming once again, but it was put on hold while the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) further investigates. She was quietly reinstated into the Olympics, but the boos that came her way for every race she competed in were far from reserved.

After defeating Efimova, King became a firm voice in the conversation regarding where athletes caught doping should stand in the Olympics. She believes that there is no room for them at all–a point that isn’t just for Efimova and Team Russia, as it is investigated for a state-wide doping scandal.

“Do I think people who have been caught doping should be on the team? They shouldn’t,” King said, when asked about if U.S. athletes who had been caught doping in the past. “It is unfortunate we have to see that.”

Unlike the overwhelmingly villainous role that Efimova has been given, the reception for Gatlin has been mixed. Spectators were quick to shoot down Efimova, and deservingly so. Meanwhile, Gatlin has received both boos and cheers, with some coming to his defense.

It’s easy for the United States’ supporters to criticize those who don’t suit up for the stars and stripes, especially when it comes to Russia and the long-standing Olympic and historical rivalry between the two countries.

However, in this case, Americans should not support their own who cheat. Lilly King is correct, there is no place for cheaters–past or present–in the Olympics.

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-Vaughn Medley/Getty Images

While some pundits have criticized King for being a poor sport by being harsh towards Efimova, I applaud her for being able to voice her opinion and stand up for what is right–calling out cheaters. That is the opposite of being a bad sport. She won the gold medal fair and square.

This the highest level of athletic competition in the world, allowing those who have used PEDs to compete is placing a giant blemish on the integrity of the Olympics and the value of medals.

Like Efimova, Gatlin had been caught twice. He has spent a combined five years away from track and field. While he may adamantly proclaim his innocence and insist that he has served his time, he should not be able to compete in the Olympics.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) needs to place a harsh no-strikes rule for all cheaters who have used PEDs. One-and-done.

I do not buy an athlete’s excuse in claiming he or she did not know a banned substance was entering their bodies. An athlete claiming naivety is simply reckless. One needs to be far from reckless when it comes to training and preparation. In order to be in tip-top shape, especially at the rigorous level of the Olympics, you have to closely monitor what is going into your body. Aside from the athletes themselves, they have coaches and trainers who are also monitoring their activity. Someone has to know.

A one-and-done rule will bring athletes, coaches, and trainers to look even closer to see what substances are present in a supplement or diet. There should be no excuses to test positive for PEDs that bring a competitive edge.

Should an athlete appeal his or her ban, a further investigation should uncover the truth. If there is a mistake, he or she will be reinstated. A harsh, one chance policy will minimize on doping–especially when a life-long ban from the Olympics is at stake for those who cheat.

The IOC cannot be soft when it comes to dealing with PED users. We’ve already seen what happens when a league’s administration chooses to look the other way or fail to address its doping problem with Major League Baseball.

The MLB chose to look the other way when it came to steroids, as the sport needed to recover from low ratings around the time of the strike in 1994. There’s no coincidence that it was lax in testing its players–as the league saw excitement once again, with home runs flowing in the late 90s, and fans got to see the compelling home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

It wasn’t until the 2000s that baseball began to really crack down on steroid users, and it wasn’t just limited to star players.

The Mitchell Report in 2007 unveiled approximately 90 MLB players allegedly linked to steroids or other PEDs. The use of PEDs is an epidemic that the MLB is still trying to weed out and overcome today.

The Olympics doesn’t need to succumb to the same fate. The IOC needs to place a high standard for its athletes now. After all, this is a competition for the top athletes in the world–encompassing way less than one-percent of the human population. Allowing past or present PED users contaminates the field and harms the credibility of the competition.

There should be no sympathy for athletes who are known cheaters and PED users. They stole a spot on Olympic rosters from others who attempted to qualify cleanly, and some have even snatched a medal away from other competitors.

Gatlin, Efimova, and all others who tested positive for PEDs deserve their boos and criticism. It’s time for the IOC to set that clear, high standard moving forward so that there is no controversy and no questions to be asked.

PED users should not be allowed in the Olympic games and those caught with PEDs after the fact should have their results vacated and their medals stripped away.

Because, let’s face it–there is something off when an athlete with a tainted past represents a country or finishes ahead of the one who did things honestly and fairly.

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.

The Aftermath

-Washington Post

-Washington Post

Only a few days have passed since it occured, but by now you have probably seen or heard about what happened to Paul George. The gruesome injury has been replayed and discussed on all forms of news media. It was reminiscent of another grisly injury that took place a couple of years ago to Louisville’s Kevin Ware during March Madness. Team USA held an inter-squad scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. It gave fans a chance to witness what Team USA had in store for this year’s FIBA World Championships. During the fourth quarter, Paul George attempted to chase down James Harden’s layup. What happened next would shake up the basketball universe. On his way down from trying to block the shot, his right foot hit the stanchion and the awkward landing resulted in an open tibia-fibula fracture. George is expected to miss all of next season as he tries to recover from his injury. This is a big blow to USA Basketball as well as the Indiana Pacers.  In light of recent events, discussions regarding reform to international basketball have reemerged.

Maybe it’s time to go back to how it once was – sending amateur college stars and young guns to compete in the Olympics and other international tournaments. Keep the stars and big names out of it. Owners have anonymously commented on how anxious and nervous they get when they see their highly paid players run up and down the court for international games. However, there’s one NBA owner who is not afraid to share his thoughts with the public when it comes to FIBA, the Olympics, or any other international competitions. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is known for “telling it like it is.” He is never afraid to give his honest opinion and he has been one of the most outspoken people when it comes to changing how the NBA handles international play.

Cuban doesn’t like the risk involved when it comes to watching his players represent their national teams. Dirk Nowitzki, who has been the face of the Mavericks franchise for many years, has recently just retired from international play. However, he has represented Team Germany numerous times. With that comes the wear and tear for being the star of a team with little depth. He has had to carry and lead the Germany squad for years through games, scrimmages, and practices. This is all taking place during the short NBA offseason. With basically little to no time to rest, players who play internationally don’t get that time to reenergize for the demanding NBA season. NBA teams and owners don’t like that idea of players putting in extra mileage for extracurricular activity. The San Antonio Spurs kept Manu Ginobili from participating in this year’s FIBA World Championship for Argentina, citing that he needs to recover from an injury.

While it is rather selfish that NBA teams are in it for their own good, it is very understandable.  Owners who share the same opinions and beliefs as Cuban just want to be able to protect their investment – after all, money talks. Not only do the Indiana Pacers’ hopes for a deep run into the playoffs or even a championship look slim, but Paul George does not come at a cheap price either. George’s contract is worth up to $92 million over the course of five years. It has been reported that he will cost them up to $16.5 million for this upcoming season, which is a lot of money going down the drain. One of Cuban’s main arguments is that FIBA and IOC get all of the money and financial gain. In this case, they are gaining profit at the Pacers’ (and the rest of the NBA’s) expense. The NBA doesn’t get anything from international play. Basically, FIBA and the IOC get to rent high-profile players for free. Cuban is calling for change and that the NBA hosts their own World Cup, where they will be free from the international committees.

Not everyone is against international basketball, and the Indiana Pacers seem to be handling it all like good sports. Team president Larry Bird, who suited up for the blue and white in 1992 as a part of the Dream Team, issued a statement shortly after George’s injury, “We still support USA Basketball and believe in the NBA’s goals of exposing our game, our teams and players worldwide. This is an extremely unfortunate injury that occurred on a highly-visible stage, but could also have occurred anytime, anywhere.” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver seems to be diverging into a different direction than his predecessor David Stern. Stern pondered upon the idea of making Olympic basketball for those 23 years of age and under only. Silver said, “”I don’t anticipate a major shift in the NBA’s participation in international competitions.” However, he did mention that it would be discussed at meetings in September and October.

The NBA needs to calm down. It was an unfortunate injury, and we are lucky that this is the first injury sustained from international play that will require an extended recovery time. Since 1992, when Team USA opened the doors to professionals, players may have had little nicks and sprains here and there, but nothing as bad as a season ending injury. This is just one terrible injury that happened at the wrong time. International play helps build the league’s brand. Look at the impact the 1992 Dream Team had on basketball and the millons of people who witnessed the 2008 Redeem Team take home gold medals. It is exciting to see each country’s best of the best go against each other. There is nothing like seeing NBA superstars like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin etc. team up together. Aside from the FIBA World Championship, the Olympics, and other international competitions, there is no other opportunity to see these great athletes play alongside one another to represent the USA. If you look at it outside of the USA, many stars take great pride in representing their country. Manu Ginobili would have played for Argentina if he could. Dirk Nowitzki did it for Germany for a number of years. There’s a sense of patriotism involved.

If the rules do change and Team USA goes back to fielding college amateurs, it would be a great disservice to basketball. The product would not be as good as it could be; people watch to see the best of the best. Olympic soccer currently has an age restriction, and no one cares about it as much as the World Cup for a reason. The same arguments can be applied to college athletes. Why should they risk injury to represent Team USA? They are playing in college with hopes to make it to the NBA, they don’t have the millions of dollars or the stability that the pros have. One injury like Paul George’s and their draft stock plummets. While the NBA would miss out on millions of dollars, a college player would lose much more. They would not only miss out on a big contract, but also on their future, especially in this day in age, where college basketball is all about the one-and-dones.

One of the main reasons why the 1992 Dream Team was assembled in the first place was to relieve the public outcry. People were simply tired of seeing the USA lose in world competitions at their own sport. If we go back to the way it was, the evolution of basketball is hindered and the sport takes a few steps back.

Get better soon Paul George.