2010 to 2012 to 2016: The Olympics are contagious

Fans line the streets for the Marathon (Photo by Scripps London)

At the start of the games, Jacob Corrigan wrote a story about Olympic super-fan David Chin, who said: “This will not be someone’s first and only Olympics. They say you catch a bug. You have no choice but to come back.”

As the finals days of the Olympics winded down, I began to understand what Mr. Chin was saying. I can throw out a few sappy lines about having the time of my life in London, but instead I’ll give some concrete evidence. Everyday, whether it was at the venues, in the tubes or at Waterloo station, I found the red maple leaf. That’s right, the Canadians were one of the most visible fan bases at the games, even more so than American fans. Maybe the Americans are a little more discreet about showing their colors, but for Canada – a country who isn’t well known for their summer Olympic prowess – the turnout was unbelievable. I have to chalk it up to the Olympic fever spilling over from the successful 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

When I woke up in New York this morning, I had an Olympic hangover. I wished I could do it all over again. This time in my life, with an incredible group of people, in a city like London, truly once in a lifetime. As London 2012 passes the torch to Rio 2016, it’s tough to look forward because I have no idea where I’ll be at that point. If I get the chance, I’ll be there in Brazil cheering on the Americans, the Canadians, the host nation and all the athletes who sacrifice so much of their lives for one shot at glory.

With London still fresh in my mind, I think back to the Michael Phelps press conference I was lucky enough to get into. After Phelps took his final gold, he answered question after question about retiring, then left the future of U.S. swimming to his younger teammates. When the conference was over, Jake and I walked up to ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, one of my favorite sports personalities, to get his thoughts on the London games thus far.

“After 10 Olympics they all start to mesh together,” said Wilbon.

He asked us if we were enjoying our first Olympic experience, then posed for a picture.

“Your first Olympics will be my last.”

With a half smirk, he passed us the torch and walked off into the sunset. Or at least that’s how I’ll remember it.

British Culture: a day at the London Zoo

Since this is technically a study abroad trip, although it has felt like a lot more than that some days, there has to be lessons learned. As a student journalist, I’ve learned that when you’re backed up against the wall you have to think outside the box. There are great sources everywhere –you just need to have a fall back plan when your first, second or third choices don’t work out.

When Scott and I had not one, but two major sources cancel on us last minute, we decided to do what was right and turn left into Regents Park and head towards the London Zoo for a crash course on British Zoo culture.

What did we get out of spending two hours at the zoo?

An epic video that will soon go viral…

 

US Women set world record in 4 x 100 meter relay

LONDON — Before the Olympics, Carmelita Jeter wanted to make it known that her name wasn’t pronounced the same as the shortstop from the Yankees. After helping set the world record for the women’s 4 x 100m final, Jeter finally got the name recognition she was looking for.

For the first time since 1996, the Americans took gold in the 4 x 100m final, and did so in runaway fashion with Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Jeter teaming up to clock in at 40.82 seconds. The mark shattered the old record by almost half a second.

 

 

Krzyewski prepares Team USA for a gold medal final

Mike Krzyewski locked his hands behind his back as he stood with statuesque calmness in an East London gym, thousands of miles away from the indoor stadium where he’s affectionately known as Coach K.

Mike Krzyewski talks with the media before practice. (Photo by Kerry Crump)

“Really you’re always playing an away game,” said Krzyewski. “We’ve gotten as accustomed as we can to it.”

Krzyewski, the Duke head coach and West Point graduate, has to rally his troop of NBA superstars to perform on an international stage. In London, the stage is one decorated differently from when NBA fans last saw the Heat and Thunder battle it out in late June. A shorter three point line, 10 minute quarters and different substitution rules are just a few of the minor differences.

When it comes to the gameplay, even NBA players with otherworldly talent have to adjust their game if they want to beat their international counterparts.

“You see more zone defense, which makes holes to drive the ball, so you try and drive and kick,” said Oklahoma Thunder forward Kevin Durant.

Durant’s Thunder teammate, James Harden, has found that despite some initial challenges, the adjustment to international basketball after a long NBA season comes easier with this group of players.

“The whole game and style of play is different than the NBA,” he said. “There is no hard part when there are 12 of the best players in the world on your team.”

Even with Team USA’s experience, Krzyewski, Division I college basketball’s all-time wins leader, has been around the game long enough to know nothing is ever a sure thing.

“I get blinders on with everything,” he said. “It’s a huge game and I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a lot of huge games and this is the next one.”

Team USA, who took home the 2010 FIBA World Championship, has glided into the championship round of the Olympic tournament.

“We’re more prepared than most U.S. teams in the past for that, but the guys who have played now longer have become more familiar with it,” said Krzyewski

Sunday, Team USA will take on Spain, the team widely believed to give Krzyewski and his players their biggest scare yet. After telling the Associated Press that this game would be his final one as Team USA head coach, Krzyewski will get the chance to go out on top as an Olympic champion. But if he’s affected by the emotions of a gold medal chase, Krzyewski said he isn’t moved.

“I’m just focused as a competitor,” he said.

As BMX competition nears, a former gymnast takes to the dirt

London, UK — Four years ago, Alise Post watched one of her gymnastic heroes, 16-year-old Shawn Johnson, become the darling of the Beijing Olympics. At the time, Post was considered one of the top female BMX riders in the U.S., but wasn’t allowed to qualify for the Olympics because the cycling age restriction is 19.

In London, Post, now 21-years-old, is one of the main attractions for the female BMX competition. Originally a gymnast, the St.Cloud, Minnesota native decided to trade mats for dirt after it was announced that BMX would become an Olympic sport, starting with the 2008 games. “When I was a little girl I saw gymnastics and the Olympics on TV all the time and I wanted to be able to do that,” said Post. “I got to the point where it was either go towards the college division one sports thing or go for an Olympic deal.”

The second ranked rider in the 2012 UCI Supercross World Cup standings will be a leader for the US women after her close friend and top Olympic qualifier Arielle Martin suffered near-fatal lacerations after a crash on a test run just days before the team departed for London.

Top female BMX rider Alise Post answers questions at the London Media Centre on Saturday (Photo by Olivia Arbogast)

“The U.S has such depth thankfully that we are not replacing Arielle, but we have somebody that can step up into the plate,” said Post.

“It’s heartbreaking to see that happen to Arielle, but at the same time it’s an individual sport and we are all moving forward.”

Post can relate to the grief of being a top BMX competitor and not getting the chance to compete. After missing out on the 2008 Olympics, she responded by winning back-to-back USA Cycling National Championships in 2011 and 2012. Despite her inexperience on the Olympic stage, Post remains confident.

“As much as we are inexperienced in the Olympic games, we’ve achieved success on a high level,” said Post.

After graduating high school, Post left her small-knit St. Cloud community in pursuit of clearer BMX skies, a tough decision that has ultimately paid off.

“I think that it was hard growing up because it snows half the year in Minnesota, and we had one indoor track that we could ride at in the winter, and it was an hour and a half away from my house,” said Post. “I basically focused on gymnastics all winter then BMX in the summer/spring/fall season.”

She began training year round in Chula Vista, Calif. with US Cycling where the current group of Olympic BMX riders – two women and three men – all first-time Olympians, have been given a chance to showcase their sport on the world’s biggest stage.

“We have programs to go into and we get to compete on a world stage multiple times throughout the year so it’s definitely a quicker learning curve, coming up in the Olympic era of our sport,” said Connor Fields, one of the three men competing for Team USA in BMX.

Days away from her first competition, Post’s Olympic dream come will come true, just not the way the young girl back in St. Cloud imagined.

“I still miss gymnastics everyday,” said Post. “But not many people can say they’ve been in the Olympics so it’s a pretty cool honor to be here now.”

Don’t touch the grass

Wet Pitch at Old Trafford
A rainy pitch at Old Trafford after the USA Women’s Soccer Match vs. DPR Korea (Photo by Chris Longo)

On a group excursion to Oxford University this past Thursday, I was informed that the British get overly defensive about those green blades that shoot out of ground across the entire globe.

“Absolutely no one is allowed on the grass,” a polite warning from our lanky, blonde tour guide only made me want to roll around naked on those perfectly trimmed patches of grass surrounding the prestigious Oxford library even more.

As our group passed other areas of divine or “brilliant” lawn-care — as the Brits say — I wondered what is it about grass that makes them perfectionists.

The two most prominent international events held in Great Britain, the British Open and Wimbledon are both played on finely clipped, measured fields of grass. Let’s not forgot that cricket, rugby, polo and that sport where you kick the ball around on grass and try and put it through a goal are also played on lawns nationwide.

Despite these well-kept fields of play, Great Britain’s sports landscape has instilled their fans with cynicism that rivals the likes of the city of Cleveland. Couple cynicism with overwhelming heartbreak – like that of losing four straight Super Bowls (sorry Buffalo) – and you get the worn down sports psyche of Team GB fans.

We often hear the cliché that sports is a microcosm of life. Well, quite frankly it’s true. Sports aren’t always fair. The best team doesn’t always win and the unlucky, or cursed, sometimes have to wait 86 years to have their day. Sports make us believe. But even the most optimistic Great Britain fan has to realize that there’s no telling where the bounce of ball will take their side. For the Brits, the grass embodies something within sport that they have control over.

Late Sunday evening, Colin Brown and I took on a quick trip to the All-England Club to do a special report outside the venue.

In total we spent four hours, two train rides, a bus ride, tube ride and one long walk from the cozy Wimbledon village to the grounds of the club to not get a single interview or picture. Because of our inexperience with the transportation system and our inability to adjust to military time, we missed out on the fans leaving the match and had to settle for looking through the gates at dusk, wishing we could see tennis being played.

As a tennis fan, the journey to Wimbledon was, as my other classmate Danny Medlock said, “something that I can cross off my sports bucket list.” So on Monday, Colin, Danny, Megan Hickok and myself decided to try and scalp a ticket to watch the Williams sisters play doubles in what will most likely be their final Olympics. This time we knew how to get there in an efficient matter. Yet, once we strolled alongside the historic dark green gates temporarily plastered in bright pink and purple Olympic signage, it became clear that demand for tickets outweighed the supply.

We came to Wimbledon believing we’d get the chance to cheer on our favorite American players. We left on a shuttle bus tired, dejected and ticketless, much the same way my childhood tennis hero Andy Roddick has walked off the hallowed perennial ryegrass of Centre Court and through the gates of The All-England Club with three finals appearances and nothing to show for them.

Just a month earlier, it was another Andy, Britain’s top tennis player Andy Murray who rolled into the finals with the hopes of Team GB resting on his back, only to walk the same streets we did without a trophy in hand, a scene the British have become accustomed to, since Fred Perry last won in 1936. It’s yet another storybook ending for Great Britain that yet hasn’t been written.

Sports can be cruel to those who want redemption the most, but in England, the grass is greener.

Why?

Because if you can’t win the game, you should at least look good in defeat.