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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Smith and Carlos to represent for Team USA. Right on.

Smith and Carlos to represent for Team USA.  Right on.

It was going to be just a gesture of reconciliation, a long overdue welcome back for sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, an invitation for them to be part of the Olympic family in the United States again after nearly 50 years as institutional outcasts.

Now, thanks to an accident of timing and the good intentions of the U.S. Olympic Committee leadership, it can be so much more.

There is a backstory here, and I will talk about it later.  But, right up front, it should be said that the USOC’s asking the two 1968 Mexico City medalists to be U.S. Olympic ambassadors and to accompany members of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic teams on their White House visit Thursday is an important statement in these troubled times for our nation.

“The conversation they started in 1968 is still relevant today.  They are still relevant today,” USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said.

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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 Olympic Swimmer Anthony Ervin Voyage Of Self Discovery Is A Long Strange Trip

The words from the Grateful Dead song, “Truckin,” are quoted so frequently they almost have become a cliché.

Yet they still are perfect for certain situations.

And one such use is to sum up the picaresque journey of Anthony Ervin, whose first 35 years on earth have indeed been, as the song goes, “a long, strange, trip.”

That’s in all senses of the word “trip,” as Ervin makes abundantly clear in his compelling, sometimes stream-of-conscious new memoir, “Chasing Water.”

The book’s subtitle is “Elegy of an Olympian.”

An elegy is a lament.

But the place in which Ervin finds himself now – and in the final pages of the book, which takes him through 2012 – is something to celebrate.

And so what if Ervin has no idea what the next step will be after he swims in the 2016 Olympics. After all, this is a guy who says, “I have no home other than where I rest my head.”

The future will likely be another episode on his personal discovery channel.

“Self-acceptance and self-knowledge is continually what living is for me,” he said.

Forget trying to figure out his identity from the labels that have been pinned on him for his heritage, age, years of rebellious and often self-destructive behavior, shoulder-to-wrist tattoos on both arms and ability to cut through the water like a knife. To all that, Ervin responds with the title of an Arctic Monkeys album: “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.”


Ibtihaj Muhammad’s Olympic Qualification A Ray Of Hope For Muslim-American Women

Ibtihaj Muhammad poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team U.S. Media Summit on March 9, 2016 in Los Angeles.

Ibtihaj Muhammad poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team U.S. Media Summit on March 9, 2016 in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES - Ibtihaj Muhammad was not making a fashion statement. What she wore at the Team USA Media Summit last month in Los Angeles spoke of something much more significant.

She was dressed in blue jeans, a white jacket with a red U.S. Olympic team logo and a charcoal scarf covering her head, ears and neck, lining the oval of her copper-colored face.

It was the scarf that had drawn all the attention. There is an irony in having that dark, monochrome scarf be the attraction, given that Muhammad has such a sense of style she has launched a clothing line full of distinctive apparel in bright colors and intricate patterns.

The scarf, known now as hijab although referred to in the Quran as khimar, is plenty eye-catching in one of Muhammad’s worlds, the world of Olympic sports, where few wear it.

For Muhammad and many Muslim women, hijab is a symbol of both their identity and their spiritual connection to God. And she is soon to be the first U.S. athlete who competes in hijab at the Olympics.