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

From A Distance, Debbie Meyer Seeing Herself Again In Katie Ledecky

RIO DE JANEIRO - Every day, as Katie Ledecky gets closer to matching Debbie Meyer’s singular Olympic swimming triple, Meyer finds herself feeling closer to Ledecky. 

In ways big and small. 

“The similarities seem more and more as time goes on,” Meyer said via telephone this week from Truckee, California. 

From some 7,000 miles away, she is assiduously following Ledecky’s quest to become the second woman to win the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in the same Olympics. 

Meyer did it in the 1968 Olympics. Now that Ledecky has won the 200 freestyle, the only race in which she was not an overwhelming favorite, it seems a foregone conclusion that she will attain the same elevated status as Meyer after Friday’s final of the 800-meter. In 2016, no one has come within 11 seconds of Ledecky’s time in the event, a world-record 8 minutes, 6.68 seconds. 

FOR MY WHOLE STORY ON TEAMUSA.ORG, CLICK HERE

 

With Plenty Of Pain, Ledecky's Gain Is 200 Freestyle Gold

RIO DE JANEIRO - This was a race, not a Katie Ledecky victory parade. It left her face contorted from exhaustion, the result of an effort that took every ounce of her physical and mental strength.

She had prevailed in a scintillating Olympic final of the 200-meter freestyle, the one individual event of her three in Rio where the challenge was an opponent, not the clock. She had held off the late surge of Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, who had the fastest 200 in the world this season – until Tuesday night.

Ledecky had won her second 2016 Olympic freestyle gold and now seems virtually certain to join compatriot Debbie Meyer as the only women to win the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in the same Olympics, with Meyer having done it in 1968.

“Katie is the queen of freestyle,” Sjostrom said.

The 800 remains, with the prelims Thursday and final Friday. The longer the distance, the more dominant Ledecky becomes.

FOR MY WHOLE STORY ON TEAMUSA.ORG, CLICK HERE