by John A. Anderson
Will Phelps’s win gold…again? Why can’t Bolt do the ‘triple-triple’? Why is golf just now being included again in the olympic games, and who will be golf’s first olympic champion in over 100 years? How will the U.S. Men’s Basketball team fare this go-round? There is so much to answer as we watch and wonder about the Rio 2016 games.
The Good & Bad
There’s been ample news preceding the RIO games, from the Russian athlete doping scandal and the ZIKA virus realities, to the politics and pollution in Brazil. Negative news seems to buzz before olympic games, but Rio 2016’s issues take the gold for the last three decades.
In terms of the athletes, there is no shortage of speculation and sourness leading into the games. Controversial South African runner Caster Semenya is hyperandrogenous, meaning she produces way more testosterone than most women, making her highly competitive (and highly favored) and throwing a wrench into the socket of an already tendentious sport. And sadly, due to leg injuries, we will be not be able to see sick history in the making as Usain Bolt three-peats the 100 and 200.
But, there’s still ridiculous history on the line in the Michael Phelps camp. Last go-round Phelps and the boys set the world record in the men’s 4×100-meter medley relay, and Phelps walked (er, swam) away as the most decorated olympian of all time. He has his mom to thank. “Even in high school, I’d tell my mom I was sick of swimming and wanted to try to play golf. She wasn’t too happy. She’d say, ‘Think about this.’ And I’d always end up getting back in the pool.”
While we’re still in the pool, Missy Franklin is making another olympic size splash. The then 17-year-old rocked the pool with a world record, four gold medals and a bronze. She’s certainly on the Rio medal tally watch. “The goal is to keep having fun. Not let that pressure get to me and still be Missy.”
Some would argue that Katie Ledecky is the more dominant women’s swimmer at these games. She won the 800-meter freestyle at age 15 in ’12. She’s also swept the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees in a major international competition since then. She’s another one that is chasing history. Is she stressed about the pressure? “I just have fun and enjoy it because there’s no guarantee I’ll ever be back there again.”
One of the more interesting stories is gymnast Uzbekestanian Oksana Chusovitina. She was fifth on vault in London, and second at the Asian Games in 2014. Why is that interesting? Well, she’s competing at age 41. That doesn’t matter to her. “When you are on the podium nobody is asking you if you are 15 or 30 years old. What matters is who can do great gymnastics.”
Speaking of gymnastics, is it the new ‘Fierce-5’ or the ‘Fiercer-5?’ Consider that gold medalist Gabby Douglas will be the first all-around champ to compete at back-to-back Olympics since Nadia Comaneci did in at the ’76 and ’80 games. She’s up for the challenge, “Gold medals are made out of sweat, blood and tears and effort in the gym every day.”
On the other end of the balance beam is Simone Biles, the projected successor to Douglas and contender for all-around gold at the Rio Games. What you might not know is that Biles is the most decorated female gymnast in history and says she’s ready to add an Olympic gold medal to her collection. “I’m out to prove what I’m capable of.” Watch out, gymnastics world.
In cycling there is Taylor Phinney, son of two former olympians, who is competing after a sickening cycling spill. It’s been a journey to get to these games. But he’s found some balance. Taylor says, “When I’m not training day in and day out I love to go out and dance, even though it is potentially in my contract that I’m not allowed to do that.”
163 lb London 2012 Gold medalist Jordan Burroughs comes to Rio hoping to repeat. Since then he and his wife have two boys, one born just last month. Could 28-year-old Burroughs be the first U.S. wrestler to repeat since John Smith in ’92? Burroughs feels successful no matter the outcome. “Success is the piece of mind knowing that you’ve given your all into achieving a goal.” And then he ads, “All I see is gold.”
Perry Baker, former Division II football player and arena footballer who is now competing on the rugby squad, and was selling pest control door to door just a few months ago. What’s tougher – football or rugby? “Rugby’s a little tougher, it forces you to think a bit more. In football you’re stuck in that one position, but in rugby,everyone’s like a quarterback so you got to be aware all the time.”
Did you know that the U.S. Men’s Boxing team failed to medal in 2012 for the first time in over 100 years? Crazy. All eyes turn to 132 pound, 19-year-old Carlos Balderas, grandson of a Mexican immigrant.
Talking tennis, powerhouse #1 world-ranked Serena Williams is defending her gold medal in singles and doubles (with sister Venus). When tennis history is written, Serena will be the greatest women’s tennis player ever. But she stays humble. “Am I the greatest? I don’t know. I’m the greatest that I can be.”
Is Ashton Eaton the world’s greatest athlete? Arguably, as he is Rio’s prohibitive favorite to become the first two-time decathlon gold medalist since Great Britain’s Daley Thompson repeat in ’92. As of 2012 Eaton holds the world record and broke it again at the worlds in China last year. Can he top it in Rio? It’s a good chance, if his mom is there and the crowd is on his side. “When I see my mom in the stands, it always pushes me to succeed,” Eaton says. “It’s the end of the race when the crowd really lifts me. That last 600 meters I am not running with my own legs. It’s incredible.”
Other Rio Games Storylines
Women’s soccer. 2016 is the sixth olympics to feature the sport. The U.S. Women’s team enter the games as the reigning World Cup champs. Interesting sidenote—no reigning World Cup champion team has won the subsequent olympics. But, remember that the U.S. Women’s Team has taken the gold in four of the five previous olympic tournaments.
On the men’s side of the field, The U.S. men failed to qualify for the tournament. But, you have to also wonder how Neymar’s Brazilian soccer team will fare at these games, considering the most successful World Cup team has never won a gold medal at the olympics. Does he feel the pressure? His response is, “There is no pressure when you are making a dream come true.” Guess that’s a ‘no?’
You don’t need a medal to be inspiring. Ibtihaj Muhammad is the U.S. fencer who chose the sport since, as a Muslim, she’s able to keep her head covered when she competes. “I wasn’t going to allow other people’s misconceptions to change my journey.”
The Paralympics has become one of the more inspiring elements of sport. There are so many examples of determination and greatness in this realm.
Let the games begin!