Athens Native Returns Home from Olympics with Lifelong Memories

From small town aspirations, to international success. That has been the formula for Grenada national swimming coach Hollie Bonewit-Cron.

The 34-year old Ohio University graduate and Athens native coached Esau Simpson to a Grenadian best time in the 100-meter freestyle at the Games. Simpson finished first in his heat, but failed to advance in the competition.

“I am taking with me the memory of Esau’s preparation for the Games and his specific race,” said Bonewit-Cron. “It was so great to watch him win his heat in the morning and achieve a personal best time, new Grenadian National Record, as well as a new Grenadian Olympic Record.”

Bonewit-Cron was named the Grenada swimming coach after Simpson asked her to coach him in the Olympics. Bonewit-Cron coaches Simpson at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, where she is the head coach.

Athens native Hollie Bonewit-Cron coached the Grenada National swimming team at the 2012 Olympics. Photo Credit: NCAA.com

Even after being part of the biggest sporting event in the world, Bonewit-Cron is grateful for her hometown.

“I have often thought about my experience with growing up in Athens and feel that I am grateful for being part of such a great community,” said Bonewit-Cron. “But also having the initiative to achieve my goals, all of which I learned from growing up in a smaller town like Athens.”

Bonewit-Cron began swimming at the age of six after watching her brother compete. Bonewit-Cron was a three-time All-Mid-American Conference first team selection during her four years at Ohio University. She was a 17-time MAC Champion and during her junior season, was named the MAC swimmer of the year.

Following her time in Athens, she became the assistant coach at the University of Florida, before starting the program at Nova Southeastern.

“I could relate to athletes and learned to coach through my mentor,” she said. “I decided that I wanted to continue down the coaching road during my first year at Florida.”

Bonewit-Cron said she will always remember taking part in the Opening ceremony.

“I am so grateful to Grenada for selecting me to walk in the opening ceremonies,” she said. “The electric atmosphere as we walked out of the tunnel and into the stadium is indescribable.”

The Athens High School grad also said she thinks this will not be the peak to her career and wants the opportunity to coach at the Olympics in 2016 in Rio De Janeiro.

“If Grenada allows me the opportunity to coach for them in 2016 in Rio, I will definitely be there,” she said. “They are such a great country that welcomed me with open arms as an American.”

Bonewit-Cron plans to return to Athens and Ohio University this fall, when she will be inducted into the Ohio University Athletic Hall of Fame during Homecoming weekend in October.

 

Mangold fights injury to compete for her country

Holley Mangold is leaving London with a special sense of pride. The 5’8″ and 350-pound weightlifter from Columbus, Ohio proved many doubters wrong when she competed in the 75+kg division at the 2012 Olympics. Although she finished 10th of 14 competitors, Mangold said she isn’t upset about her finish.

“I am really happy and proud I was able to pull it together,” she said.

Mangold had to fight through a torn tendon and intense pain in her wrist to compete for her country. She had re-injured the wrist two days before her competition, but decided to fight through pain. She lifted 105 kilos in the snatch and 135 in the clean-and-jerk. She was also one of only two U.S. women to compete at the London Olympics in Weightlifting.

Mangold was one of two U.S. women to compete in the London Olympics in Weightlifting.

Holley has always been involved in a sport. Sometimes even multiple sports at once. At the age of 5, she was the speed rollerskating champion of Ohio.

“I started sports because my parents put (my siblings and myself) into them,” said Mangold. “I think my mom threw me into swimming as soon as I could float.”

Mangold even played football for 12 years, including playing in a Ohio High School State Championship Game. Her brother Nick is an offensive lineman for the New York Jets in the NFL, and Holley credits him as the reason she became interested in football. Although she didn’t necessarily pick the most popular sports among teenage girls, she said her family stood behind her every step of the way.

“My family was super supportive in both football and weightlifting,” she said. “It was great growing up in a sports oriented family. It meant I always had something to do and games to play.”

Her family also fostered some friendly competition among siblings.

“There was a lot of competition, not only in the sports we played, but in everyday activities,” said Mangold. “I believe that helped us always strive to be the best we could be.”

The Holley Mangold story doesn’t end in any athletic arena, though. Mangold had three majors during her time at Ursuline College – theology, sociology and philosophy – as well as a 3.8 grade point average. She had to learn to balance a heavy school load as well as the sports she loved.

“I fell in love with school,” says Mangold. “I wanted to learn as much as I could about the subjects that I was interested in. I became really good at school for the first time in my life. The more I did, the easier it became to balance.”

The 22-year old’s story of how she got into weightlifting only goes back a few years. When she was 18, she decided to change to weightlifting after finding her coach, Mark Cannella.

When looking back on her experience of competing at the Olympics and representing her country, Mangold is at a rare loss for words.

“It was an unforgettable experience,” said Mangold. “It is indescribable how proud and honored I felt.”

Holley plans to continue her training and compete in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in four years at the next Olympic Games.

Thanks for the memories

As I sit here in my flat at the University of Surrey, I’m struggling to wrap my head around the fact that today is really August 13.

For the past several months all I could think about was London: what I was going to pack, where I wanted to visit, and what types of stories I was hoping to pursue. Now, though, it’s over and in just two hours I’ll be turning in my key, hopping on a plane and flying out of the UK for what could very well be the last time.

Scott Hutchinson and Chris Longo take in track and field action at the Olympic Stadium.

Fortunately, I’ll have some incredible memories to take back with me.

We had our ups and downs out here in London, sure, but it’s the ups that I’m always going to remember:

Interviewing NBA superstars. “USA” chants at Olympic Stadium. Wetherspoon’s. Turning 15 strangers into 15 friends.

I could sit here all day and list the issues we encountered, the plans that could have run smoother and the mistakes we made along the way, but when I’m 90 years old reflecting on this trip, those things won’t even cross my mind.

Instead, I’ll be thinking about Trafalgar Square at the opening ceremonies, the late night train rides back to Guildford, and the awesome people I was lucky enough to enjoy this amazing experience with.

Thanks for the memories, everyone.

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.

The road outside London

Here I am again, packing my bags on the eve of my next big journey, the one that will take me home. While I stress about buying last-minute souvenirs and which famous American Olympian will be on the plane ride back with me, I can’t help but smile thinking about returning to the things I’ve missed during the last month—jay-walking without fear of being run over, half and half, central air, a functioning hair dryer—the list goes on and on. It’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed my time in the temporary center of the world; I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s that I know I’m not saying goodbye just yet.

I may never have to navigate the tube station or decipher my pounds from pence again, but I’m confident that the memories and friendships I’ve made, lessons I’ve learned and growth I’ve achieved during these three weeks will last far beyond my final hours in Heathrow Airport. I know I’m bringing home more than the ‘London Olympics’ t-shirts I jammed into my suitcase; I’m bringing home new lessons, ties, perspectives and insight that will last me a lifetime.

So, even if I can’t stay in the city forever, I like to think I will always have a piece of it with me. No matter where the next road takes me, I’m sure I’ll be able to find my way—nothing will ever be as confusing as the London Underground.

Pub Culture: One last cheers to the Olympics

Everyone knows that when the lights dim and the music heightens at 9 p.m. in the pub, socializing and laughter begins. The beers and ciders flow around a bar lined with youth.

Photo by Megan Hickok
Lincoln Arm opens at 10 a.m. for customers to come watch the day’s events.

Ever since London welcomed the entire world and its Olympic games, however, this party starts much earlier and lasts all day and night, said Hillary Barkwith, bartender at the Lincoln Arms.

“This place is drawing in way more people who want to watch Team GB with their friends,” said Barkwith. “It won’t be empty all day.”

Television screens throughout the Lincoln Arm captured customers’ undivided attention as the 1500-meter race finished. For most, their eyes focused on Great Britain’s runner.

“You should be here when our country wins a medal,” said Barkwith. “This place is packed and people start cheering, hugging and ordering more drinks.”

Pubs provide an opportunity for strangers to become fans together.

Joe Ashwitz, 32 of London, walked around the Lincoln Arm igniting energy and cheers for Great Britain.

“I see it as I live in London, why watch it from home?,” said Ashwitz. “The pubs are fun and you know they have the games on all day long.”

British people are known for enjoying a casual pint, said Barkwith. The difference, however, is the energy and community a pub forms during the day.

“Before the Olympics, people would sit around at their tables or stools and chat,” said Barkwith. “Now people are all cheering together and talking about the games.”

Walking into the Lincoln Arm, customers felt the unique Olympic atmosphere.

“Everyone comes out here when there is a big event on for Great Britain,” said Ashwitz. “If you aren’t going to watch, don’t come.”

Photo by Megan Hickok
Even early in the afternoon, customers enjoy chatting with strangers and drinking.

With the Olympics winding down and Heathrow Airport preparing for madness, Barkwith said she thinks the pub atmosphere will return to normal.

“I’ve enjoyed celebrating with people all day long,” she said. “I usually only see the bar this packed at night. I’m going to miss it.”

Olympic fans raising their pints one last time for their country during tonight’s closing ceremony will send the games off with one word.

Cheers.

Hopping on the Gymnastics Bandwagon

Guys, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

Gymnastics are awesome.

Seriously.

Nobody ever hears about gymnastics outside of the Olympics, but trust me, it is something unforgettable to see in person. I had the good fortune of having (really good) tickets to the men’s individual all-around finals on Wednesday night. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’d never seen a gymnastics event live before. Walking into North Greenwich Arena I was impressed by the set-up, but had no idea what I was looking at. There were some bars, some mats and some rings but I didn’t know how they were going to be used.

I attended the event with three other students from my program. We had just spent the afternoon hanging around the entrance to the Olympic Village, which is where the athletes stay. We didn’t have passes to go inside, but there were plenty of athletes coming and going. We took pictures with Japanese track runners, an American shot putter, and some Argentinean basketball players. A pin trader displaying his impressive collection gave me a London 2012 pin for free, which started my own collection (I now have four.)

By the time we got to the arena I was pretty excited. Gymnastics is one of those events you hear about during the Olympics. It’s one of the sports people talk about on the streets and follow on live chats throughout the day. We were lucky to have gotten these tickets; the few remaining seats available were going for about $630.

And our seats were awesome. We were in the lower bowl, the first section off of the floor. Our seats were directly behind the horizontal bar station. We could see everything, and even more importantly, take pictures of everything.

When the gymnasts came out to the loud rhythmic clapping of the spectators, my focus was entirely on John Orozco.  He was the only male gymnast I’d heard of before the event. A 19-year-old from the Bronx, Orozco was the popular U.S. choice for medaling.

Orozco was in the first group, and their first event was the floor routine. Maybe this is something those watching at home can’t quite grasp, but there are four different groups of about six gymnasts who rotate to different stations around the arena. While Orozco and his group were on the floor, another group was on the pommel, a third was on the rings, and the fourth was on the vault. It was impossible to keep an eye on all the action all the time.

I found myself getting more and more enthralled. I was learning about the sport while I was watching it. When Orozco stumbled on the pommel, struggling to rise into a handstand, I knew he’d lose a huge amount of points. When a Japanese gymnast stuck his landing after spinning off the parallel bars, I could tell he’d just moved up in the standings.

I was also becoming more and more impressed with the gymnasts themselves. The sheer athleticism on display was staggering. The strength, precision, and flexibility required for this event were beyond anything I’d ever seen.

One gymnast in particular began to stand out. Danell Leyva of the United States started to make a case for himself. Like Orozco, Leyva struggled on the pommel, but brilliant routine after brilliant routine brought him back into the running. He became my medal choice. His final station was at the horizontal bar. His coach (who is also his step-father) hugged him, kissed him on the forehead and then lifted Leyva onto the bar. If Leyva wanted a medal, he couldn’t hold anything back. This was his final chance to break into the top three.

Being the tallest gymnast there, Leyva shouldn’t have been as good on the bar routine as he was, but he flipped and flew and spun around like he was weightless. By the end, when Leyva stuck his landing and pumped his fists toward the crowd, his step-father was running back and forth along the platform, screaming and shouting and grabbing anyone within an arm’s length to hug.

When the final scores were tallied, Leyva was in third place. He went home with the bronze. I watched him receive his medal and salute the fans with his bouquet of flowers.

Am I a gymnastics fan now?

I’m not sure. There’s still so much about the sport that I don’t know, but I will say this. Those couple of hours I spent at North Greenwich Arena were the most entertaining hours of this trip by far. If I get the chance to go see a live gymnastics event some time in the future, I’m taking it. You should too. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Let the Games Begin!

Well the XXX Olympiad has now officially begun, and I’ve gotten my first story out of the events of the first day. But that’s getting ahead of myself. I want to talk about the Opening Ceremony that took place on Friday night.

Along with three other students in my group, I spent most of the day hanging around the Olympic Park. We didn’t have tickets so we couldn’t actually go inside, but there were plenty of athletes and super-fans walking around, so we started poaching pictures with whoever looked interesting. We snagged snaps with Cameroonian soccer players, Colombian boxers, Nigerian basketball players and French shooters. We posed with policemen and proud fans from California decked out in red, white and blue. It was, for lack of a better word, awesome. You could feel the excitement in the air and actually witness the coming together of hundreds of nations to one spot, for one event. It’s not something you can feel watching the Olympics on television.

As the clock ticked closer to the Opening Ceremony, my comrades and I set out to find a public viewing screen. Thus began a 3-hour odyssey through London. We were told to go to Hackney Central to get to Victoria Park. Victoria Park was nowhere near Hackney.

Then we hopped on a bus to go to Hyde Park. There was no screen at Hyde Park. Then we walked to Trafalgar Square. No screen.  But we did get to see the countdown clock wind down to its last two hours. Finally, we got on the tube and found Sloan Square, where a screen was set up and thousands of people were trying to cram into the tiny open area. We were hemmed in on one side by a gaggle of Chinese teenagers and on the other by a large family from Barbados. There were people from Spain, France, Canada, Germany, the U.S., Australia and of course Great Britain, along with dozens of others.

It started to rain, but this is England. We came prepared with umbrellas. We saw the jets fly over, leaving their colored smoke streams behind them, and then we counted down in one voice, like it was New Year’s Eve, as the final 10 seconds played across the screen. Then it began.

I have to say I enjoyed the Opening Ceremony, I found the Rowan Atkinson and James Bond bits particularly funny. The Industrial Revolution transformation was a remarkable piece of engineering and showmanship. But the highlight was, of course, when the teams came marching out to the cheers of millions around the world. That’s what the Games are about, after all.  The athletes. This is their show, their time to shine.

After that spectacle, I wasn’t expecting much out of the men’s cycling road race event I went to on Saturday. I lined up along the road in Surrey, near Box Hill, and waited for the cyclists with thousands of others, mostly British fans waiting to catch a glimpse of Mark Cavendish. When the first group came flying by, the force of the gust of wind that they brought with them forced me to take several steps away from the road. They were a blur of colored jerseys. I admit, I was a little disappointed. I’d been standing there for a few hours just to watch a few seconds of bikers going by?

Then the second group, the peloton, came up.  They whizzed by like the first group had, but then a few hundred feet up the road, the cars following the cyclists with spare bikes and tires all stopped. As soon as we realized someone was down, my colleagues and I took off at a sprint. News story! Journalists assemble!

There had been a collision, several cyclists lay in the road, but most got back on their bikes and quickly took off to try to make up time. One Iranian cyclist, Amir Zargari, sat in the grass at the side of the road being helped by paramedics. They braced his left leg and took him away in an ambulance. We spoke to several people who had been nearby when the collision took place, including some bystanders who had been caught up in the crash. It was a pretty good story and a great start to the first day of the Olympics.  I hope the other events I go to will be just as unexpectedly exciting. I can’t wait to find out.

First Impressions

Well, I’m here.  I’ve heard about this place my entire life. I’ve read about it, seen the pictures, watched the movies, played the sports, and witnessed the other members of my family traipse across the pond, leaving me behind. Until now. Now, I’m in England, and I’ll be able to experience the country in a way they never did.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be covering the London Olympics, as a journalist, while staying in and traveling around the country.  We’ve already hit Brighton and Oxford. Stonehenge is next on our list. The Opening Ceremony is Friday.

Four days ago, when I first set foot on European soil, I was jet-lagged, dazed, and a little cranky.  I never sleep well on planes. But after riding a double decker bus through London and recording a protest on London Bridge, I’m getting into the groove. The journalistic groove. I will be learning how to navigate the trains, tube, and other forms of transportation (i.e. my own two feet) until I can weave through London like a local.

This trip is equal parts work and wish fulfillment. I can’t wait for that torch to arrive in London, to the cheers of millions of people from around the globe. To experience a once in a lifetime opportunity in the field I want to work in, this is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Gabby Douglas hopes her gold medal inspires others

Sixteen year old Gabrielle Douglas earned the gold medal at the women’s gymnastics individual finals Aug. 2.

At a press conference on Thursday, she talked about being the first African American to win gold individually in women’s gymnastics.

“This quote you see ‘inspire a generation’ so, you know, I can check that off my bucket list,” she said.

Although she has already made history in her first Olympics, she looks up to the other athletes who have been around for many games.

“The swimmers are like, ‘OK when you’re, you know, done with your competition you guys can come over and sit with us,’ and we’re just like in awe,” she said.

All in all, it’s not about the fame for her but about being a role model for others and keeping her fans happy.

“I love the crowd; it definitely motivates me to do better greater things,” she said. “I’m going to put on a great show for them.”