Of The Golden Stars Of Rio – And Those Who Made All Medals Shine Brighter

Who was the biggest star of the 2016 Olympics?

It depends on your point of view.

From a global perspective, the answer is undoubtedly Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, because track and field is one of the two most widely followed and played sports in the worlds (soccer is the other). And the world’s fastest man is the most prized Olympic distinction. And Bolt’s triple-triple, consecutive Olympic golds in the 100, 200 and sprint relay, may last as long as our galaxy.

From the host nation’s perspective, it would have to be Neymar, who scored the lone goal and the decisive penalty kick as Brazil won its first Olympic title in soccer. Neymar was Sidney Crosby 2010 redux: the athlete assuring soul-salving gold in his country’s national sport.

From a U.S. perspective, the choice isn’t as clear-cut, as Sports Illustrated showed with a cover featuring swimmers Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps and gymnast Simone Biles, whom it called, “The Greatests.” Plural.

While that SI issue focused on just the first week of Olympic action, the three cover athletes essentially played a successful game of “Can you top this?” Ledecky won four gold medals and a silver and set two world records; Phelps won five golds and a silver, improving his record Olympic totals to 23 golds and 28 total; Biles won four golds, a bronze and the acclaim of venerable coach Martha Karolyi as the greatest gymnast of all time.

Whether you think someone topped those three as the No. 1 Team USA athlete will depend on whether you think an athlete who did brilliantly in his or her only Olympic event should get equal credit with athletes whose sports provide the opportunity to win multiple medals.

I tend to come down on the side of multiples, especially when the achievements were as remarkable as those of Ledecky, Phelps and Biles. If forced to pick one, I would go for…nope, not doing that. Sorry. Don’t want to be trolled to distraction.


Gorging myself on NBC’s moveable feast of Olympic viewing

Gorging myself on NBC’s moveable feast of Olympic viewing

I always thought the only disadvantage of being at an Olympics as a journalist was being able to see just the event I was covering and missing out on action that was more exciting.

Now that I am watching at home for the first time since the 1984 Summer Games, having spent just the opening eight days in Rio, I find myself so overwhelmed by choices provided by NBC and its partners that my brain is ready to explode – with joy.

I understand 1984 might as well have be the Middle Ages of communications.  A single over-the-air TV network provided all broadcast coverage to U.S. viewers, and the only other live information came from radio.

Even that knowledge did not prepare me for the shock of the new until I experienced it on three televisions, two computers placed side-by-side, a tablet and a mobile phone.

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Why Two Runners, One From The U.S., One from New Zealand, Deserve A Gold Medal For Their Humanity

“In the Olympic preoccupation with winners and losers, in the mania for counting medals, it is easy to forget what really constitutes triumph.”

I wrote that in 1992, as the first sentence in my story about British runner Derek Redmond’s “excruciating and exhilarating” demonstration of the human spirit as he staggered to a last-place finish with a torn hamstring in the Olympic 400-meter final.

Those words came back to me immediately as I saw and heard and read about what befell U.S. runner Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin – and, more importantly, how they reacted to it – in a Tuesday morning heat of the 5,000-meter in Rio.

D’Agostino, like Redmond, will win no medal. USA Track & Field announced Wednesday that the serious knee injuries she sustained after a tangle with Hamblin will keep D’Agostino from running Friday’s final.

What D’Agostino has won is more important. She has gained the respect of the whole world because, at likely the saddest moment of her athletic career, she looked beyond herself.

And so did Hamblin.

Each deserves a gold medal for her humanity – and selfnessness that put a golden glow on humanity at large.


For African-American Water Polo Goalie Ashleigh Johnson, The Medium Is The Message: Everyone Into The Pool

Swimming gold medalist Simone Manuel is not the only African-American woman with a landmark achievement in a Rio Olympic pool.

Water polo goalie Ashleigh Johnson also has made history for black women in the water, whether she wins a medal or not – and her team has a perfect (4-0) record going into Wednesday afternoon’s Olympic semifinal against Hungary.

Manuel, 20, of suburban Houston, became the first African-American woman to win an individual swimming gold medal. In her reaction to that moment of triumph in the 100-meter freestyle, she also won worldwide acclaim with an emotional and eloquent acknowledgement of those black swimmers who had inspired her and her desire to inspire others.

Johnson, 21, of far exurban Miami, is the first black woman to represent the United States in Olympic water polo.

She also hopes her presence will have an “if-you-can-see-it, you-can-be-it” effect in motivating other African-American kids to learn to swim, whether or not it leads them to compete in one of the sports.


For U.S. Swimmers, Team Effort Brought Stunning Success In An Individual Sport

Maya DiRado after her upset win over Hungary's Katinka Hosszu in the 200 backstroke.  DiRado had a full set of medal colors in individual events and a second gold in 4 x 200 free relay.

Maya DiRado after her upset win over Hungary's Katinka Hosszu in the 200 backstroke.  DiRado had a full set of medal colors in individual events and a second gold in 4 x 200 free relay.

Maybe it came from the team’s group music video, “Carpool Karaoke,” which has drawn 4.6 million YouTube views in the first 12 days since going online.

Maybe it came from the cowbell ringing in the warm-up pool to salute each U.S. swimmer as he or she went to the ready room before a race.

Maybe it came from assistant coach Greg Meehan’s history-lesson-cum-motivational-ploy of having each of the women swimmers plant an American flag on grass near their building in the Olympic village, claiming the land for their own the way the 1862 Homestead Act had encouraged settlers to move West.

Maybe it came from the “ice-breaker games” Meehan, the Stanford women’s head coach, had the team play at their pre-Olympic training camps in the U.S. Those games were designed to last five minutes but sometimes turned into 45 minutes of belly-laugh bonding.

Maybe it came from the positive vibes created as swimmer after swimmer had stunning performances in practice at those camps in San Antonio and Atlanta.

Or maybe it was all those reasons, both intangible and real, that explain how 47 athletes in an individual sport created a team that utterly – and a bit surprisingly – dominated the eight days of Olympic swimming that ended Saturday.