9 Aug 2012 Thursday
Day 13 of the London Olympics was overflowing with so many great contests as athletes battled it out for glory. And the difference between the victor and the vanquished would come down not just to skill, but to the heart of the fighter.
In case you didn't know, this is the year of the woman at the Olympics. Not only is this the first time that every country participating sent women athletes, but many of the women here have overcome unbelievable odds and fought their way to the top.
Speaking of fighters, this is the first time ever that women's boxing is a part of the Olympics. There were 3 weight classes, and the women who medalled in them make history as the first in the Olympic debut of the sport. In the Flyweight (51kg) division, Great Britain's Nicola Adams became the first female boxer to win an Olympic gold medal. And she did it by finally beating out her rival, China's Ren Cancan, who became the 2012 and 2011 world champion by defeating Adams. Cancan gets silver, and one bronze goes to American Marlen Esparza, and the other to India's Mary Kom.
In the Lightweight (60kg) division, Katie Taylor wins Ireland's first gold medal of the London Olympics, by beating Sofya Ochigava of Russia who settles for silver. Mavzuna Chorieva of Tajikistan takes one bronze, giving her country their first medal of the London Olympics; the other bronze went to Brazil's Adriana Araujo.
17 year old Claressa Shields of US has won the inaugural women's 75kg middleweight division. She becomes the second youngest boxer in history to win an Olympic title. The youngest would be fellow American John Fields when he won the featherweight title in Paris 1924, at 16 years old! Russia's Nadezda Torlopova takes silver. Jinzi Li of China claims one bronze; the other bronze went to Marina Volnova of Kazakhstan, adding another medal to the country's impressive medal haul.
History is made once again, as Japan's Saori Yoshida won a third successive Olympic gold in the women's 55kg freestyle wrestling. She accomplished this feat by beating Canadian Tonya Lynn Verbeek, which is the same thing that happened back in the Athens 2004 Olympics! Verbeek settles for silver once more. Colombia's Jackeline Renteria Castillo took one bronze, while Azerbaijan's Yuliya Ratkevich claimed the other.
Over at women's water polo, for the first time, the US wins the gold medal in the event, beating Spain and leaving them the silver. Australia takes bronze in a very close match with Hungary that had to go into extra time.
In diving, China's Chen Ruolin successfully defended her women's Beijing Olympics 10m platform diving title, taking the gold. Roulin has all ready won another gold in the synchronized diving event earlier in the games. Australian Brittany Broben takes silver, and Pandelela Rinong picked up bronze to secure Malaysia's first ever Olympic diving medal.
Over at track and field, Usain Bolt becomes the first man ever to win back to back Olympic sprint titles, after taking gold in the 200m race. He had all ready won the 100m earlier in the games. It was a clean Jamaican sweep, as his training partners Yohan Blake takes the silver and Warren Weir, the bronze. Bolt successfully defends his title as the fastest man in the world once more. Meanwhile, 23 year old David Rudisha of Kenya sets a new world record and wins gold in the 800m race in a time of 1:40.91. Botswana's 18 year old Nijel Amos claims silver, and 17 year old Timothy Kitum of Kenya takes bronze.
At the Decathlon, American Ashton Eaton takes the title of "World's Greatest Athlete" by winning gold. The title of World's Greatest Athlete came about in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, when American Jim Thorpe won the event, and King Gustav V of Sweden told Thorpe, "You, sir, are the world's greatest athlete." The decathlon takes place over 2 days, where the athletes compete in the following ten events: 100m race, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m race, 110m hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and the 1500m race. The winner is determined by a point system based on performance in the ten events.
It's a grueling sport, and athletes are known to withdraw during competition due to injuries. In fact, decathletes usually compete, even when they have injuries that they are still recovering from. Of all the sports in the Olympics, the decathlon is the most gentlemanly and courteous one, because the competitors themselves cheer each other on. They each know just how hard it is to train for the event, and they urge each other to do their best. I think that's the way games should be played. Eaton's friend and training partner, American Trey Hardee takes silver; and Cuba's Leonel Suarez claims bronze.
The track athlete with the most heart has to be American Manteo Mitchell, who broke his left leg during 4x400m relay qualifications. He was the first man in a team of 4 to start the 1600m race, and when he was at 200m, halfway to pass on the baton to his teammate, he heard a "POP" and knew that something was wrong, and then he felt increasing pain in his left leg. But he powered through the pain to pass the baton, and US team qualified for the final with the 2nd fastest time. After he had passed on the baton, Mitchell limped off field. Mitchell's sacrifice, his willingness to work through excruciating pain, ensured that the US team earned a spot in the finals. The US team are the defending Beijing champions, and they've always won the 4x400m relay every time they've competed in the event. Manteo Mitchell's courage and incredible will power to work through the pain showed what a big heart he has, putting the success of his teammates (and his country) first. If the Americans win the race once more, it will be because Mitchell made it possible. Manteo Mitchell is the greatest athlete of the day.
Perhaps the most exciting demonstrations of heart came in the beach volleyball matches. In the gold match, number one ranked Brazilians Alison Cerutti and Emanuel Rego lose the first set to number four ranked Germans Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann 21-16; the Brazilians bounce back in the second set 21-16. It would go to set three to decide the gold medal winner. I admit, I did not like the Brazilian team, because they came off as snobby and I did not like how they cheated, and got a point! They were in a double contact violation, but they didn't fess up to it. I don't like cheaters. And so I was greatly pleased to see the underrated and hardworking Germans bounce back in the third set and beat Brazil 16-14! It was an exciting match to watch.
But my favorite beach volleyball match was the one where Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins of Latvia go up against Reinder Nummerdor and Rich Schuil of Netherlands for the bronze. I have been a fan of Latvian Martins Plavins since Beijing 2008, when he and his partner at the time, Aleksandrs Samoilovs, beat number one ranked US pair Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser in the pool phase at the Beijing Games in 2008. Though Rogers and Daulhausser recover and go on to win gold, that loss to the lowest ranked, unknown Latvian team remains ones of the biggest upsets in beach volleyball history. I love watching underdogs come out and win!
That stunning upset by Plavins and Samoilovs at Beijing made beach volleyball surge in popularity in the Baltic nation of Latvia. Though they stopped being partners after Beijing, Plavins and Samoilovs come back to these London Olympics with new partners and surprise the world by showing that Latvia is an emerging force in beach volleyball. Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins once again defeat the Americans. This time, it's Sean Rosenthal and Jake Gibb who were favorites to win a medal! The other American team of Rogers and Daulhausser were knocked out earlier. I could not help but cheer for these underdog Latvians to win, because they showed so much heart, giving it their all, being fearless when facing tougher, higher ranked teams. They are truly passionate about the sport and just fight with everything they've got.
And it was a thrilling game as they played the much older, more experienced Dutch team of Richard Schuil and Reinder Nummerdor. The Dutch took the first set 19-21. But the Latvians fought back 21-19. And they would continue to fight hard for every single point, until they won the third set 15-11, and winning the bronze medal! That bronze medal is Latvia's first ever beach volleyball medal. It is also Latvia's first medal at these London Olympics. Latvian President Andris Berzins even called to congratulate the pair on a hard fought win. I was happy to see these Latvians win, because they worked so hard for it, and they showed a lot of heart in all their matches. I hope to see them go on to bigger and better things and maybe see them in Rio 2016.
Finally, what a glorious return to the top for the US soccer team. After a World Cup loss to Japan last year, based on penalty kicks, they come back and overcome tough challenges, spectacularly Canada, to make the final and win a record, 4th Olympic gold for the US-Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012-plus a silver in Sydney 2000. It is a rewarding redemption for the Americans, who win this rematch of soccer titans. Speaking of titans, Canada won a hard fought match against France to take the bronze.
Hats off to Japan, who came back from a 2-0 US lead and cut it down to a close 2-1. The Japanese team showed excellent technique and possession forcing the US to catch up and change game plans. But the Japanese team just couldn't overcome the stronger, bigger American team in the end, especially after that early goal and strong defenders and some missed opportunities. Still, they put up an amazing effort, making the Americans work hard for that gold. There was some controversy last month, when the public discovered that on the way to London, the Japanese men's soccer team was flown business class, while the women were flown coach! The reason? Japanese soccer officials say that the men are professionals while the women are just semi-pro! What the hell does that mean?
These Japanese women are the World Cup champions! They fought hard to win that title in July 2011, giving hope and lifting the spirits of the Japanese people who had suffered that devastating tsunami in March 2011, the one that destroyed cities, leaving thousands homeless, and killed almost 16,000 people, with nearly 3,000 still reported missing. Families were torn apart, children were orphaned, and many more died waiting for relief in the aftermath of the deadliest disaster to ever hit Japan. Winning the World Cup against a much bigger, heavily favored US team gave the Japanese people hope and something to celebrate amid the horrifying destruction that they were still struggling to comprehend and recover from. The Japanese women donated all their bonuses to help with the tsunami recovery effort.
To hear the Japanese soccer officials treat these heroes as second class compared to the men's team, who've never won a World Cup title and were knocked out of medal contention, is an insult and a disgrace. When questioned by the by media why they treated the World Champion women's team like second class citizens, the Japanese soccer officials replied that they had put the women in premium economy class. What the hell is premium economy? It's still coach! Do they get an extra bag of peanuts? Perhaps a second blanket? What kind of bull crap is that? And you know what the sad part is? Even now, the Japanese Football Association still hasn't decided to give these heroic, silver medal winning, World Cup champions any business class seats for the return flight to Japan! The reason being that there might not be enough business class seats after they accommodate the men!
What a load of crap! Those shortsighted idiots need to recognize and respect the great, amazing accomplishments these women have made for their country. These humble, unknown women gave hope to their country in its darkest hours. They gave the devasted people something to celebrate, a reason to go on living and keep hope, a light in darkness that had ravaged their world. These women are more than champions. They are heroes. And they need to be treated right with the respect and recognition they deserve. Maybe it's a cultural thing, and maybe I'm out of line here, but my advice to the Japanese Football Association is to get your act together and do the right thing. Treat these ladies like the champions they are. And if they still can't find enough business class seats for these amazing women, then let me give some advice to the men's team: If you can't be a champion, you can at least be a gentleman and give up your damn seat to these lovely, wonderful ladies.