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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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 MY COMPLETE 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