As Winter Games loom, skier and skater were world's best in an odd 2017

As Winter Games loom, skier and skater were world's best in an odd 2017

The Olympic cycle, like the calendar, has odd years and even years.

The even years, like 2018, include an Olympics, in this case the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The odd years, like the one that just ended, are not devoid of big events in international sports.  And 2017 was full of them, but the overriding feeling was of a year that was just plain odd – and, at times, depressingly sad.

For the second annus horribilis in a row, athletes have saved Olympic sport from itself and its feckless leaders.  Celebrating their excellence is the best way to express hope for a better 2018.

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Athletes save the Olympics from their leaders' big lies

Athletes save the Olympics from their leaders' big lies

Oh, how the International Olympic Committee must yearn for the good old days of 1999, when revelations of bribes for bid city votes led to the worst scandal in the hoary (or should that be whorey?) history of the IOC.

Because as bad as that was, 2016 was even worse.

That is a painful irony given that years with an Olympics usually leave enough good recollections to wipe the seamier ones from the public memory bank.

Not so in 2016, even if the underlying point of this column, as it has been in each of the 30 years for which I have given international sports awards, still is to celebrate the best athletes in sports for whom an Olympic gold medal is the ultimate prize.

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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.

FOR THE WHOLE STORY ON TEAMUSA.ORG, CLICK HERE

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.

FOR MY WHOLE STORY ON TEAMUSA.ORG, CLICK HERE

 

For Biles And Ledecky, Greatness Comes From Going Beyond The Top


RIO DE JANEIRO – In two hours Thursday afternoon, I went from watching Katie Ledecky, who defies the clock in a pool, to watching Simone Biles, who defies gravity on a gymnastics floor.

These two 19-year-olds, born three days apart in March of 1997, each dominates her sport in a way that leaves their rivals in awe.

“If Katie swims the way she can, we all are swimming for second or third,” Denmark’s Lotte Friis, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, told me two months ago.

“I knew Simone was going to win; I was just hoping to get second,” her U.S. teammate, Aly Raisman, said early Thursday evening, when Raisman had done just that as Biles took the Olympic all-around title by 2.1 points, the largest victory margin in the last 40 years.

Biles has a team gold medal. And the all-around gold. And she will be favored to add three more in the individual events.

Ledecky has three golds and a silver. She is heavily favored to win a fourth gold Friday after setting an Olympic record in the 800-meter freestyle preliminaries Thursday.

What Biles and Ledecky share is the same plan for getting farther ahead of the opposition when triumph already is a foregone conclusion.

FOR THE WHOLE STORY ON TEAMUSA.ORG, CLICK HERE