Day One of the 2012 London Olympics has come and gone and we’ve already seen some incredible last-second finishes, suspense, surprise and incredible feats of accuracy and athleticism. Here’s a synopsis of what we saw today. Please bear with me as I’ll pass on talking about stuff like weightlifting, air rifle and table tennis, which you’re welcome to check out if you’re interested on NBC’s website, http://www.nbcolympics.com.
I caught this on TV earlier and I think it’s worth mentioning. Ariel Hsing, a 16-year-old daughter of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants, made it to the second round of the table tennis tournament. This is a girl who calls Bill Gates and Warren Buffet “Uncle Bill” and “Uncle Warren” and plays ping-pong at Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meetings. That’s mind-boggling. Anyway, read more about the story here, all credit to NBC’s online writers.
Now for the good stuff:
Men’s 400m Individual Medley Final
Probably the worst-kept secret in America is now finally out in the open (thank you, tape-delay NBC broadcasts), and the world knows Ryan Lochte has finally established himself among swimming’s elite, handily beating Michael Phelps and six other swimmers for the men’s 400m individual medley gold medal. Lochte set himself up to win with a stellar 100m backstroke – which is his best stroke – but won with a phenomenal breaststroke. By the time he was finishing the freestyle, he was in no danger of losing the gold. Lochte is the fifth-straight American male swimmer to win this event.
First, let’s not knock Lochte for swimming collegiately for the Florida Gators after moving South from Rochester, NY. He’s an SEC man, and that’s good enough. And did you know he’s part Cuban? But to his credit, this isn’t that huge of a surprise. Lochte, who is only about to turn 28, has been a name to watch since the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, where he helped the USA win gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay (WITH Phelps) and won silver in the 200m individual medley. He followed that up by winning bronze in the 200m and 400m individual medleys, individual gold in the 200m backstroke and repeating gold in the 4x200m team free relay in world record fashion.
Let’s also not knock Michael Phelps for finishing a human fourth place by a handful of $5 footlongs. But this was an event he didn’t want to swim this time around, anyway. Arguably his best stroke – butterfly – was the first leg, and he’s only been training on this event for a matter of months, as opposed to Lochte’s obsessive four years of training. Oh, and by the way, as of today he only has 16 medals to his name. Was the all-time iconic performance in Beijing not enough to satiate our need for hero-worship?
Lochte will have more opportunities to win medals, competing in his best event, the 200m back, as well as the 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley. He’ll likely swim relay for the USA, too. Phelps still has the 100m and 200m fly, 200m individual medley 4x100m and 4×200 free relays and the 4x100m medley relays to go. He’ll have swum every event he won in Beijing except for the 200m free.
Which team are you on: Team Ryan or Team Michael?
Women’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay Final
Natalie Coughlin saw the sun set with a bronze tint on her Olympic career as the US women finished bronze in the 4x100m free. Coughlin earned the quickest time on the US team in the prelims but was passed over for the final relay team, though her earlier swim earned her whatever medal the final team won. Instead, she watched as the next wave of swimming stars – Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy, Lia Neal and Allison Schmitt – kept stride with Australia until the final lap, during which they were also passed by the Dutch by less than half a second.
Coughlin joins Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson with 12 medals, the most all-time by an American female Olympian. There’s a slight chance she could compete in 2016 in Rio, but it seems unlikely.
Women’s 400m Individual Medley Final
The USA performed well in the medleys today, as Elizabeth Beisel, only 19 years old, finished a distant second for the silver medal behind a world record performance by China’s Ye Shiwen. American Caitlin Leverenz was also in the final. Beisel faltered early in the butterfly but regained the lead during the breaststroke, only to see Shiwen power past her in the freestyle. Beisel finished with a time of 4:31.27, fractions of a second under the American record. Beisel is the only American Olympian from Rhode Island competing in London.
Men’s 400m Freestyle Final
It was a great day for swimmers from Rochester. In what may be his final Olympics, Peter Vanderkaay snagged the bronze in the men’s 400m free. Vanderkaay had previously won an individual bronze in Beijing and was a part of those golden 4x200m relays in 2004 and 2008.
American female swimmer Dana Vollmer – also from upstate New York – set an Olympic Record in the 100m fly with a time of 56.36, and Texan Claire Donahue also made it into final with a 57.42. Four-time Olympic medalist Brendan Hansen barely sneaked into the men’s 100m breaststroke final, finishing sixth in his heat but qualifying eighth overall.
Now both married (May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings), the greatest force in their sport’s history will operate as the No. 3 seed in a pairing that seemed finished after Beijing. Walsh Jennings, under the assumption that May-Treanor was done competing, asked Nicole Branagh to prepare to play in London as her partner. It wasn’t until May-Treanor woke crying one morning that she realized she wanted to compete one last time, so she initiated the conversation with Walsh Jennings, who then had the unpleasant task of informing Branagh.
The world benefited from the decision, however, and today the duo debuted against No. 22 Australian pairing Natalie Cook and Tamsin Hinchley. Three of the four athletes – Cook, May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings – are all gold medalists. It was a vigorous match throughout, with the Americans taking the first set 21-18 after trading points several times with the Aussies. Team USA seemed beatable, even though coming into the match they had NEVER LOST A SINGLE SET in Olympic play. It remained that way, as another back-and-forth set culminated with an absolutely incredible series of volleys. May-Treanor pulled several digs from the brink of scoring including an acrobatic left-handed dive, then fired into a push by Hinchley to clinch the match, 21-19. They are now 15-0 in Olympic play, winning all 30 sets.
The other US pairing of April Ross and Jen Kessy play Sunday.
Sean Rosenthal and Jake Gibb had less of a struggle in their opening match Saturday, defeating South Africa in straight sets, 21-11, 21-10. Gibb, a cancer survivor, led most of the statistical categories. The pair is the No. 2 ranked American team behind Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, who open play tomorrow.
The US Women shut out Colombia today, 3-0, with goals by Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe. You know the latter two as the Pia Sundhage played around with the lineup a bit to start the game today, replacing Shannon Boxx who was injured with Lloyd and starting Heather O’Reilly and Heather Mitts. Wambach’s goal was her sixth Olympic goal, which is the most by an American woman in history.
The game was chippy throughout, and that continued after the match off the pitch when goalkeeper Hope Solo sent a couple of snide comments Brandi Chastain’s way via Twitter. Chastain – an all-time great defender in her own right – is a commentator for the women’s games and offered some criticism of the US defense, which Solo didn’t take a liking to. But let’s let bygones be bygones – the US is in the quarterfinals.
What a dominant showing by Team USA against Croatia, at least in the closing quarter of the game. Croatia, not considered a relative powerhouse by any means, stuck with the Americans, who struggled to find shots and hit the glass on offense early. The lead was within single digits early in the fourth quarter before USA went on a run and won, 81-56.
A lot has been made of whether the current men’s roster would take out the Dream Team from 1992 (for that matter, would they beat the 1996 team?), but goodness, the women’s roster is incredibly stacked as well. Think of the consensus best players in the country in women’s basketball for the last several years. Got em? Chances are they’re in this list of women on Team USA: Seimone Augustus, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Tamika Catchings. Sylvia Fowles, Swin Cash and Lindsey Whalen were no slouches in their day, either.
The roster breakdown comprises six former UConn Lady Huskies, two Tennessee Lady Vols and two LSU Lady Tigers. Elite. Talent. Props also to Minnesota and Louisville for being represented.
Oh, and coaching maestro Geno Auriemma is in charge.
If you like elite talent in your men’s gymnastics, you might be disappointed this time around. Many of the top competitors underperformed during the qualifying events, including huge slip ups by powerhouses China and Japan. Team USA is sitting in great position for a medal, perhaps gold, when the team finals take place on Monday.
There are some great stories among the men’s team, perhaps none more interesting than that of John Orozco, a kid from the inner-city Bronx who has endured socioeconomic struggles and battled serious injuries on his way to London.
I actually really enjoy the Olympic rowing events, so I paid attention today as Team USA advanced to the finals of the men’s eight, an event dominated recently by Germany, and the US also put a boat into the women’s pair finals.
I know I posted previously, but a shout-out to the USA men’s archery team for clinching the first medal of the Games for us – a silver – and reminding me that even watching people shoot a bow and arrow at a target not only takes world-class precision and skill, but is also pretty entertaining when the chips are down.
I’ll post a schedule of events tomorrow morning! Enjoy your evening!