Olympic support, success for Great Britain at all-time high

The bell sounded the end of the third round and both fighters took to their corners. The audience was noticeably nervous to hear the judges announce the final result, but still bellowed with the support of a home crowd.

“And the winner, with a judges score of 14-11, is Luke Campbell of Great Britain!”

The crowd erupted in elation. Campbell threw his arms in the air, returning the crowd’s love. His job was complete;  he knew he had made his country proud.

Photo by Tim Dix
Photo by Tim Dix

This was the scene last Saturday at Excel Arena, where Campbell became one of Great Britain’s 29 gold medalists. In a Summer Olympics where hosting the games seemed exciting enough for many supporters of Team GB, they have managed to have their most successful Olympics in history.

“Really quite nothing like it in recent memory. Not football, not the Tour (de France); this has got to be the greatest moment in Britain’s athletic history,” said Oliver Perkins, of London, who had just returned from watching some of the Olympic events with his mates.

After winning the Tour de France in mid July, Bradley Wiggins, affectionately known as “Wiggo,” kicked off the games by winning gold in the cycling time trial. While supporters of Team GB were ecstatic with Wiggo’s gold, they had no idea of the dominance the game’s host country would display during the rest of the Olympics.

“I never thought it would go this well for Team GB, but I must say it is brilliant we’re doing so well,” said Tom Bellack, a gamesmaker. “It really has added to the all-around success of the games.”

Talk of Wiggins being knighted by Her Royal Majesty was rumored when Scotsman, Andy Murray, won gold against arguably the greatest tennis player of all-time, Roger Federer, in the men’s tennis singles final. After Murray’s redemption of his Wimbledon final against Federer, the dominoes began to fall.

Jessica Ennis won gold in the heptathlon, Zara Phillips (granddaughter of the Queen of England) won silver in equestrian, and then Team GB’s dominance of the Velodrome began. Winning 7 gold medals in just 10 events in the Velodrome, the results had other countries in bewilderment of how strong the British performances were. Isabella Gautheron, France’s cycling chief, even went as far to suggest they were using dirty tactics and “magic” wheels.

“They hide their wheels a lot. The ones for the bikes they race on are put in wheel covers at the finish,”  said Gautheron to French newspaper L’Equipe.

Photo by Scott Hutchinson

While some countries have questioned how they are doing it, Great Britain’s overall success cannot be denied. Team GB finished third in the final medal count, amassing 29 gold medals and 65 medals overall, making this statistically the greatest Olympics in their history. Team GB finished fourth in medal count at the Beijing Olympics, but that has not compared to the national pride felt from winning in these 2012 games, according to David Ackley, a fan of Great Britain and the Olympics. Being the host of the games as well as one of the top medal winners has support of Team GB at an all-time high.

“Having them do so well has really sparked Londoners interest in the games,” Ackley said. “I’ve never seen the city bursting with so much pride for our athletes.”

While larger countries like America and China dominated the overall medal count, Great Britain’s success has made the people of the UK proud, Ackley said.

“Hosting the games and competing like we have, has really made us all proud.”

The London Lowdown: Series Finale

London Lowdown-The End

As the Olympics end, Tim and Scotty host the final London Lowdown podcast from the UK. The boys attended the U.S. men’s basketball team practice prior to their gold medal game and interviewed multiple players about what winning the gold would mean to them.

 

Games Makers: Volunteers making the games possible

The 2012 London Olympic Games have given Britons much more than a unique opportunity to play host to the world’s largest sporting event. More than 70,000 volunteers have been enlisted to assist with the games, giving the International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Committee help from all over the United Kingdom.

As venues like BT London Live at Hyde Park attracted excited fans by the thousands, volunteers like Mark Fuller of Bexley were there to help with any request, sporting a smile.

“I think it’s fantastic that London has got the games,” he said. “I think the last time was in 1948, but I also really want to help visitors.”

Fuller, who was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but moved to the UK when he was four, volunteered to be a Games Maker as soon as he became aware of the opportunity. A Games Maker is an Olympic volunteer that can assist the games in any way from welcoming visitors to transporting athletes. Venues with higher attendance require more volunteers, and BT London Live, where Fuller is positioned, sees in excess of 50,000 visitors on certain days.

“It gives people who [don’t have] a ticket, a chance to see [an event] and enjoy the atmosphere,” he said. “Inside and out, it’s a great atmosphere.”

Another volunteer, Fred Moore of Norfolk, had been asked to control and direct the crowds. As thousands of people flow into different venues, Games Makers are there at every turn, Moore said. Becoming a Games Maker was something he felt would give him the opportunity to get involved and being that the Olympics has only come to London twice in the last 64 years, he said he wanted to take advantage.

“It was going to be a once in a lifetime sort of experience for me; I’ll never get to do it again. You know, I just wanted to be part of it,” Moore said. “I’m just glad that it’s going brilliantly, not just for the athletes, but for the spectators as well.”

Moore has been working as a volunteer since the beginning of the games and explained that while there have been problems with tickets at certain events, most of the Londoners he has assisted have been very enthused about the games. Told by his supervisors that the top priority was public safety, Moore couldn’t be happier with with the ways the games have gone.

In Dorking, nearly 30 miles away from London, the presence of Olympic Games Makers can still be felt. Earlier in the games, the men’s and women’s cycling road race ran through a multitude of cities. One Games Maker from Dorking, Piers Vaughn, described the effect that the games can have on a community.

“It’s a beautiful area and having an event such as this brings everyone out,” he said. “It’s really great to get everyone out to support all the competitors.”

 

 

Team Handball: The middle child of the sports world

Jerome Fernandez of France catches a perfectly placed no-look pass and squares up to his defender. He gives a strong head fake right, then dribbles left to the top of the key. Fernandez winds up and fires a screaming shot to the upper 90 of the goal. Croatian goalkeeper, Venio Losert, launches his entire body to the right as the ball soars past his extended arms.

What sport did I just describe? Basketball? Soccer? None of the above?

For a sport as intense and pleasing to the eyes as it is, team handball does not get the credit it deserves. We all probably remember playing some form of it in 7th grade and thinking, “I don’t know what that was, but it was kind of cool.” Handball combines some of the best elements of soccer, basketball, and one of my personal favorites, dodgeball, to create a sport that is as or more explosive than any of the three. Watch 10 minutes of team handball in the 2012 Olympics, and you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Diving shots, behind the back passes, absolutely insane saves; there isn’t a dull moment.

The team handball players aren’t just failed athletes at other sports, either. These are men. Fernandez, who I mentioned above, is a whopping 6′ 6″ and 234 pounds. Another Croatian, Mirko Alilovic, is an even bigger 6′ 7”, 243 pound brick wall. Dirk Nowitzki, former NBA MVP, was dominant in handball before he ever touched a basketball. They’re not jumping out of the gym any time soon, but hurling a ball at blinding speeds while your body is parallel to the ground still gets my blood pumping. But don’t take my word for it, turn on an Olympic match and just watch these guys.

The USA does not have a team competing in the 2012 Olympics, and this does not really come as a surprise. When was the last time you heard of the USHA, or the U.S. Handball Association? Never? Yeah, me too. I do, however, believe that handball in America could have a future.

How many wannabe basketball players does a randomly selected college rec center have? Trust me, if their were college dodgeball teams, I would be the first one at tryouts. All they need is a couple lucrative sponsorships and a TV deal with ESPN and we’ve got a blossoming new American pastime. Someone give the Donald a call. I’m sure he’d be gung-ho about investing in another sports league.

Until that materializes, we’ve got a once every four years look at a game that amazes and captivates unlike any other sport. Next time the guide on the T.V. says “team handball,” stop for a second and just watch a few minutes. Trust me, the six weeks in gym class did not do this sport justice.

U.S. men’s basketball team stays modest, but confident

They’re undefeated. They’re beating their opponents by an average of 37. They beat Nigeria by 83 points, but that hasn’t stopped the U.S. men’s basketball team from recognizing they could get even better.

As Team USA prepares to play Argentina for the third time in 17 days, multiple players harped on the team’s potential to thrive off of defense. While they have given up more than 90 points only twice in the Olympic tournament, large third quarter runs by opposing teams have Team USA ready to step up the defensive intensity.

Lebron James
Photo by Kerry Crump
Lebron James takes a free throw shot during team USA practice Thursday in London.

“The start of the first quarter and the start of the third, we have been kind of lax at times, but I think in these next few games you’ll see a change,” Kevin Love, of the Minnesota Timberwolves, said at Team’s USA’s Thursday practice. “If we play 40 minutes of great defensive basketball, then everything will trickle down and take care of itself and we’ll be able to play great offense.”

While Team USA began the tournament bulldozing its opponents, recent close games have warranted concern. In their last three games, USA has given up 94, 97, and 86 points and won by only five in the 99-94 win against Lithuania.

Deron Williams, who won a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, said he was aware of the defensive lapses Team USA has displayed during its last outings.

Deron Williams
Photo by Kerry Crump
Deron Williams speaks with reporters during Team USA’s basketball practice Thursday.

“We haven’t played well in the first half as of late, and we’ve always giving up a run of some sort,” Williams said. “You know we gave up a 12-0 run to start the third against Australia; things we can stop and will stop from happening.”

European basketball features more zone defense, something NBA teams use sparingly. Assisting Team USA’s defensive strategy is Syracuse men’s basketball coach, Jim Boehiem. Relying heavily on the zone defense with his own teams at Syracuse, Boehiem has been able to assist Team USA in implementing a successful zone scheme, as well as developing zone breaking offenses.

Miami Heat forward, Lebron James, who recorded the only triple double in USA basketball history Wednesday against Australia, was hesitant to blame the recent deluge of points on defense alone.

“I think we’ve played alright defensively, but you can’t learn defense in two or three weeks,” he said. “We’ve been able to make up for a lot of mistakes because we’ve talked through a lot of things. We’ve used our length and athleticism to get through a lot of situations.”

With Argentina featuring two of the Olympic’s top five scorers, Team USA is not looking passed the team they have already beat twice in the last three weeks. The winners of the ’04 Olympic games, Argentina has gained Team USA’s respect and attention.

While Lebron and Team USA are taking Argentina seriously, James said America will still have the edge on the court when they meet Friday at 9 P.M.

“They don’t have our number,” he said. “They’ve been in big games before and they play well together, but no, no they don’t have our number.”

 

 

 

 

 

The London Lowdown: Episode III

Tim Dix and Scott Hutchinson are back for another installment of the London Lowdown podcast. Episode three features interviews with Olivia Arbogast and Kayla Hanley, who covered a U.S. men’s basketball team practice and U.S. women’s team practice, respectively. Tim and Scott discuss the highlight of the games so far as well as Tim’s experience at men’s table tennis.

The London Lowdown 3

Table Tennis: A beautiful game

Applause rocked the stands. The floor vibrated, feet pounding in unison. The audience quieted as the next point’s serve was slowly tossed in the air. There were four table tennis courts in the arena, but only one was still in use. Only one was needed to demand onlookers’ attention.

As the battle between Ryu Seung-min of South Korea and Kim Hyok-bong of North Korea waged on, fans seemed to forget whether they were from Great Britain or Korea or Russia. Cries of “Come on, South Korea,” speckled the arena, reassuring both teams for whom the applause was meant. A bigger rivalry might be hard to find in the 2012 Olympics: Two countries that flirt with actual war, dueling it out over a 9-foot long, cobalt blue table.

Photo by Tim Dix
Ryu Seung-min (South Korea) beat Kim Hyok-bong (North Korea) in the final set of the Olympic men’s team table tennis to advance South Korea to the next round.

The game itself was beautiful; an immaculate display of elegance and power, incredibly pleasing to the eyes. Spikes and chop shots, unconventional serves and lunging returns; both players’ resiliency and skill were fully tested. With both men bouncing all over the court in an attempt to best the other, a chess match was being played before our eyes.

As Ryu fell down to Kim 10-7 in the final game of the final set, the air was sucked out of the building. In a game that is played to 11, the crowd knew Ryu could not slip up, even once.

Kim missed the next point long on an attempted smash, bringing Ryu within two points. The audience roared, but with an undeniable tone of skepticism. Ryu smacked the next point out of Kim’s reach, bringing the crowd back to their feet. Everyone in the building could feel the momentum sweeping the room. As Kim brought the score back to even, a smile cracked on his face. He knew the match was already over.

U.S. women’s soccer: A team full of hope

The sports world was captivated almost exactly a year ago when the U.S. women’s soccer made an amazing run to the 2011 Women’s World Cup final. While they lost in the championship game, the whole country stood behind a team in which they could be proud. In 2012, that same team returns for the London Olympics and is poised to recreate some of the same magic. On Tuesday, I was able to witness some of this magic first hand.

In a game against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), I could feel and see what captivated soccer fans across the world. From the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner to the entire team holding hands and bowing as the game ended, there was something about this U.S. team that transcended the game itself.

The U.S. women’s soccer team thanks fans after its 1-0 win over North Korea Tuesday, July 30.

Watching the women walk off the field, congratulating each other, I am genuinely proud to call these 18 women representatives of my nation. In an era of sports where egos and contracts are at such a massive level, this U.S. women’s team is above all of that. They aren’t playing for money; they aren’t playing for individual accolades. They want to win for each other, for us, and for everyone they represent.

I’m not overly patriotic. I sing my country’s national anthem with pride at ball games and wave a flag for the Fourth, but watching these girls play made me truly say I am proud to be an American.

Community and the Olympics

The Olympic Women’s Cycling Road Race held Sunday gave communities outside of London the opportunity to get involved in the Games. The Race ran through multiple cities and towns, giving spectators a chance to see an Olympic event in their home towns.