Author Archives: Julie Jag

Checking Olympics, and other items, off my bucket list

USA’s Serena Williams celebrates after beating Russia’s Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 for the Women’s Singles Tennis gold medal match at Wimbledon, Centre Court for the London 2012 Olympics in London, England on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012. (Nhat V. Meyer/Mercury News)

Julie Jag

jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

Gabby Douglas, 15, sat in a conference room, surrounded by reporters and Olympic officials with at least 20 years on her. One dusted off the cobwebs and mustered the saliva to ask Douglas, who days earlier became the first African American girl to win the gold medal in the gymnastics individual all-around competition, what she expected the impact of her historic victory to be.
“I’ve always wanted to inspire people,” replied Douglas, as she held court over the group.
“The thing about the Olympics, [there’s] this quote you see: ‘Inspire a Generation.’ You know, now I can check that off my bucket list.”
That moment near the end of my expedition into covering my first Olympics got me thinking about bucket lists. I hadn’t ever really made a physical list of the things I wanted to experience in life, nor taken an inventory. But Douglas’ remarks unlocked a mental file I had apparently stored away in the recesses of my brain. Attending the Olympics in an official capacity was right near the front.
While in the process of fulfilling that wish over the past month, though, I got the opportunity to places checkmarks next to several other life experiences — some of which I didn’t even realize were in the bucket until I’d experienced them for myself. This is the short list:
Serena Williams wins gold with authority
Whatever the reason, this stands out as one the highlights of my Olympic experience. Part of it can be explained by the intimate confines of Wimbledon’s Centre Court, where an entire crowd of 15,000 can share in an inside joke like friends at a dinner party. Part of it related to Williams’ demeanor, more powerful and amped up than ever in her 6-0, 6-1 dismantling of Russia’s Maria Sharapova. What really made it memorable, though, were the post-match antics — Williams dancing on the grass in excitement over her gold-medal performance and the American flag fluttering to the ground in the midst of the national anthem.
USA women’s soccer team gets revenge on Japan
This moment also had more to do with the building and buildup than the game itself. The USA and Japan entered with a tense history, especially from the Americans’ point of view. We were on the losing end of the same matchup for the Women’s World Cup championship in a game that went down to penalty kicks. The USA women made no bones about wanting revenge, plus they had barely escaped Canada in their semifinal. That led to the teams packing 80,200 vocal, flag-waving, sign-hoisting fans — an Olympic record for a women’s game — into Wembley, already one of the world’s iconic soccer venues.
The teams made the game almost as riveting as the anticipation. It was a close, well-played contest full of skillful shots and a couple rub-your-eyes-in-amazement saves by Hope Solo. As far as memories go, of course, it didn’t hurt that the USA came out on top.
Watching the fastest man alive with my own eyes (and seeing him be too slow to escape a gaggle of autograph seeking reporters)
Twice I headed to Olympic stadium to see Usain Bolt prove, again, he’s the fastest man alive. The first time I completed my own sprint, weaving through the thick crowds in my wedged sandals as I tried to get from the jam-packed Stratford train station to the stadium before the 100-meter final. When I got there, I was told the press seating was full. I’m more stubborn than that, though, so I sneaked into the back of an open-air broadcast booth and knelt down until the gun went off. Bolt finished not 100 feet from where I stood, the clear winner, albeit in a close race.
I thought about waiting around to hear his reaction in the press conference. One look at all the time he took “bolting” around the track and the long line of broadcast outlets waiting to interview him, and I figured it would be midnight and he would be exhausted, before the lowly print media got their time with him. Little did I know he planned to stay up until 3 a.m. celebrating with members of the Swedish handball team.
The second time I saw him may have been his last Olympic race. He was gunning for a trifecta by adding the 4×100 to his golds in the 100 and 200. Luckily, I was already at the stadium to cover the women’s 800 final and had snagged a nearly front-row seat. The seat became even better when I discovered that to my right sat an amicable reporter for the London paper The Sun, who happened to be a veritable expert on Bolt, having just finished writing a biography on the runner.
The race was riveting. Team USA and Jamaica quickly emerged as the leaders, but the chance of disaster cropped up at every handoff [in fact, the third-place Canadian team was disqualified for an illegal one]. It came down to the final leg, with the USA’s Ryan Bailey and Jamaica’s Bolt — who doesn’t usually run the anchor leg — taking the batons at the same time. But in a head-to-head footrace, Olympic rookie Bailey, who took fifth in the open 100, couldn’t keep up. Bolt not only broke the tape first, but had the consciousness of mind to immediately form an “M” atop his head in tribute to his friend and adored British distance runner Mo Farah, a two-time gold medalist in London.
The press conference that followed more than an hour later proved with the wait. In fact, it might have been more of a spectacle than the actual race. In it, Bolt’s relay teammate Yohan Blake said of the team: “We are not normal guys. We are from space, I am from Mars.” In a more bizarre outburst, “journalists” from around the globe asked Bolt everything from how did he expect to live a normal life now that, as they put it, he is “truly and by far the greatest athlete to ever live” to whether he would tweet a picture if he found himself in the company of Norwegian women’s handball players that night. As the capper, at least a dozen of these “journalists” rushed the stage after the conference to ask for autographs, while the rest of us cringed.
Feeling the bond of beach volleyball’s gold medal winners (even as the floor falls out from under them)
Standing on top of the podium together for the third time in as many Olympics, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor still couldn’t hold back the tears during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The best known beach volleyball players in the world went out on top, and this time they did it the hard way.
Life had changed so much for the two of them since winning in Athens and Beijing — two kids for Walsh, an Achilles injury for May-Treanor — that they needed couples therapy to get through it. Like any relationship worth fighting for, though, the tests only brought them closer, and that was clear in their cooperation on the court.
It was illustrated even more not 30 minutes after the medal ceremony, when they found themselves on rock-bottom once again. Actually, it was plywood bottom.
The floor of the packed “mixed zone” interview area collapsed under the weight of the unexpected mass of reporters who showed up to cover a sport they could no longer ignore now that the duo had hammered harder than one of Walsh’s spikes into the national spotlight. Walsh managed to hop to level ground and she quickly helped her teammate out of the hole she’d fallen into.
Hey, what are partners for?
“The bond we have and understanding we have for each other is so special,” May-Treanor said. “Kerri said it a couple of times, the first two medals, I think it was more volleyball. The friendship we had was there, but it was all volleyball, volleyball. This was so much more about the friendship, the togetherness, the journey, and volleyball was just a small part of it.”
Holding a historic Olympic medal
The Olympics revolves around medals — those who get one and those who don’t. Still, it didn’t occur to me to want to get a close look at one until Abby Johnston, half of the duo that won silver in 3-meter synchronized diving competition, noted how heavy her hardware was during a post-win interview.
How heavy is it? This question led to one of my coolest first-person experiences. There is something magical about a medal, even a silver one. They’re a piece of art and yes, they are heavy. In fact, they weigh about 14 ounces.
Somehow, though, they carry more weight when put into perspective. It was the United States’ first medal in synchronized diving since it became a sport in 2000.
Experiencing the pride of a country (or what moved Mo Farah)
All we heard heading into London for the Olympics was what a disaster they were going to be. The masses weren’t happy about having to pay for these frivolous stadiums and improvements to the train system, especially during an economic downturn. Then, once we got there, they weren’t happy about being turned away while empty seats glared at them from the TV screen. Making matters much worse, several days of competition passed without the Brits bringing home a single gold. Panic started to set in.
But on Day 6, a couple of female rowers broke the golden spell for the host country. Three days later, local darling Jessica Ennis nearly brought down Olympic stadium when she won the heptathlon. It bolstered the Brits’ the national spirit, uniting them in ways even they didn’t expect. When the medals started piling up, each one dusted off a little more pride. Londoners even started talking to each other on the subway, which apparently never happens.
By the time Mo Farah raced to victory in the 5,000 on the eve of the close of the Games, the country practically glowed with glory. They sent the Somali runner — considered by many a true symbol of the nations-uniting purpose of the Games — and the Olympics out with ear-rattling cheers that clanged through the 80,000-seat Olympic stadium.
Nice thing was, when they weren’t cheering for the home team, they respectfully applauded and lauded outstanding athletes from other countries, even the big, bad USA.

Categories: Archery, Athletes, Badminton, Beach Volleyball, Bevan Docherty, Boxing, Cycling, Events, Gabby Douglas, Gymnastics, Kerri Walsh, Olympics, Soccer, Swimming, Table Tennis, Tennis, Track & Field Events, Triathlon, Volleyball | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Girl power gets U.S. to top of medal count

By JULIE JAG
jjag@santacruzsentinel.com
LONDON – As the United States and Japan women’s soccer teams prepared to square off Wednesday for the gold medal before an Olympic-record crowd of 80,205 vivacious, flag-waving fans, a familiar Beyonce tune thumped through at Wembley Stadium.
Who run the world? Girls!
The women aren’t just running the world at these Olympics, they’re jumping throwing, punching, swimming and kicking their way onto the podiums and into the spotlight.
For the first time in history, the United States sent more ladies than men to the Games, and the women have shown they’re not letting that opportunity go to waste. With one day left, they’ve collected 58 of the country’s 102 medals. In Athens in 2004, for comparison, the U.S. earned 101 medals, 39 of which came in women’s events. In Beijng 2008, the number was split.
“I’m thrilled to see how the women have done, thrilled to see how the United States has done. It’s amazing to be a part of something so much bigger than myself,” said judo champion Kayla Harrison. “To be able to say I’m a strong, confident young woman and an Olympic champion is amazing, and I hope we have a million little girls who are inspired right now.”
Harrison played a big part in elevating the medal count by winning the country’s first gold in judo. The 3-meter synchronized diving duo of Kelsey Bryant and Abby Johnston brought home the first medal in that event and Santa Clara native Hayley Anderson won the USA’s first marathon swimming medal. Both took silver.
Also for the first time, the U.S. nabbed two medals in the three weight classes of women’s boxing, which made its debut at these Games. Middleweight Claressa Shields took gold and flyweight Marlen Esparza snatched a bronze.
In addition to their success, athletes with a history of bringing home hardware pushed the envelope, especially the teams. Women’s water polo, for example, finally found gold after taking silver in 2000 and 2008 and bronze in 2004. The USA women’s volleyball team also notched a silver after losing to Brazil on Saturday. The women’s soccer team three-peated for gold, while the basketball team won its fifth Olympic championship.
“I play a team sport so easy to connect yourself with all the other female athletes, but I’m just proud to see everyone doing so well and I’m just proud to see USA as a whole is doing awesome,” said water polo player Brenda Villa, a Stanford graduate. “So, it’s not just the females. But does it give you a smile? It does.”
But girl power isn’t just the result, it’s also the catalyst.
Sanya Richards-Ross basically ran a victory lap in the anchor leg of the 4×400-meter final Saturday after her teammates gave her a behemoth padding over the field. It was her third gold medal in the event, but also the most dominant, something she attributes to a closer connection with her teammates.
“Everybody was kind of in their zone and I think it was rubbing off,” Richards-Ross said. “I think this was the most time I’ve spent with my teammates at a Games, and I think we encouraged each other a whole lot and I think that makes a big difference.”
Scott Blackmun, CEO of the United States Olympic Committee, said the outburst from the ladies is a product of Title IX.
“If you look at the U.S. medal performance over the last 10 to 20 years, a lot of the success we’ve had in comparison to other nations is our women. We’re very proud of that,” he said. “I think Title IX really gave us a head start because of our national commitment to make sure women were getting the opportunity to be involved in sports.
It’s something we’re proud of but I think the rest of the world has clearly gone the same way at this point, but we’re glad we got ahead of the curve.”
True, the U.S. isn’t the only country tapping into its female talent. China, which is second in the medal table with 87 total has gotten 49 of those from women. Russia, fourth on the table with 78, got a whopping 43 from its females.
On the opposite end of the scale stands the host country, Great Britain. While third on the medals table with 67, just 19 of those were won by women. Then again, after the other three countries were through, there weren’t many more to go around.
“Our success here kind of speaks for itself,” said 17-year-old swimmer Missy Franklin, who won four golds and a bronze in her Olympic debut in London. “We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish not only as a women’s team but as the USA team.”
The question is, will what the women accomplished on the Olympic stage bleed over to life after the Games. The most recent incarnation of a women’s professional soccer league collapsed in 2010, the year Santa Clara team FC Gold Pride won the WPS title. Women’s professional basketball continues to draw a fraction of the crowds that turn up for the NBA and female cyclists get paid pennies on the dollar when compared to their male counterparts.
But Theresa Edwards, the USOC’s chef de mission for the London Games, said all that’s needed is a little time before girls start running the sports world outside of the Olympics.
“I just think that a lot of things take time,” Edwards said. “I think you just have to keep trying and working hard for it, but you can’t belittle the fact that we’ve come a long ways as women in sport and we enjoy doing what we do and we enjoy being the absolute possible best at what we do. And think personally we’ve got to keep doing that and allowing opportunity for young girls to come behind us and keep doing the same thing.”

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Alysia Montano boxed into fifth in 800

By JULIE JAG
jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

LONDON — Alysia Montano saw she had a chance at an Olympic medal in the 800 meters. A blink later, she saw it disappear behind a red-and-green lycra fence.
Montano, a Berkeley runner, got boxed in during the final 200 and couldn’t get out in time to catch winner Mariya Savinova of Russia. Caster Semenya of South Africa and Ekaterina Poistogova of Russia also passed her on their way to Olympic hardware, while Montano finished fifth, just four-tenths of a second off the podium in 1 minute, 57.93 seconds.
“It’s been such a long road to get here. It feels like it took forever and now it’s here and it’s gone. I wanted a medal,” a teary-eyed Montano said after the race. “You don’t just train for four years or for a year, you train your whole life. I went out there and fell short.
“I see myself making little errors and I saw that in the last 200. I kind of got stuck and that was the difference between a medal for me.”
Montano stuck to her typical style of leading early in the race, and she held on until midway through the second of two laps, when 2008 Olympic champion Pamelo Jelimo of Kenya passed her. The rest of the pack was gaining on her with 200 meters to go, and she knew it was time to sprint. But she was on the far inside of the turn and Semenya was on her shoulder and Elena Arzhakova of Russia ahead of her. She had no place to go.
“By the time everything opened up – those girls aren’t scrubs, you know — they were gone and I was just chasing after that,” said Montano, 26.
Montano qualified fourth for the race out of the semifinals and had the fifth fastest personal best time in the field. Semenya entered with the fastest time. She was competing in her first Olympics after being sidelined for nearly a year after being forced to undergo gender tests after shattering the year’s best mark in 2009. That mark previously had been held by Soquel’s Maggie Vessey.
“We all know each other. We all met in 2009. I knew how they would run,” said Semenya, 21. “The main thing was for me to run my own race. I just listened to my own coach and tried to do my best.”
Semenya got off to a rocky start as Montano set a wicked pace early. She recovered, however, to blaze down the straightaway, passing two runners on her way to second in 1:57.23. The winning time for Savinova, the 2011 world champion, was 1:56.19.
“Eight-hundred metres is such a tactical event. You have to be very smart to run the event. It’s compared with chess playing,” she said.“You have to think fast about which step has to be done, where you have to finish or delay the finish.”
Montano missed the Olympics four years ago, when she broke her foot during the semifinals. This year, she won the trials, beating out Soquel’s Maggie Vessey, who had a disappointing race and finished eighth after entering as a favorite to finish among the top three and qualify for the Olympic team.
“It’s been different for me,” said Montano, who had to use her elbow to keep from getting pushed off the track during the final turn. “In the United States, our women aren’t as aggressive.”
Though Montano was clearly upset at her result, it did nothing to deter her from shooting for Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“There’s no giving up, that’s not part of my DNA,” she said. “I went out there and I fought.”

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IOC testosterone policy is not gender neutral

By JULIE JAG
jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

LONDON – Claressa Shields, the 17-year-old boxer who claimed the first gold medal in the middleweight division in Olympic history Thursday, is proud of her masculinity in the ring.
“I know there’s not one male in this world that’s seen me box that’s said I fight like a girl,” Shields told a gaggle of reporters at a training session last week.
Strong, cocky and tough — traits normally associated with men — they helped her pummel all three of her opponents on her way to the gold. But Shields knows she is 100 percent female, which is why she wasn’t so keen on an idea being bounced around to make skirts a required part of the uniform for female boxers, who made their debut at the Olympics this year.
“I didn’t even understand that. I guess it was to separate the men from the women,” Shields said. “I was like, we got different names, women got breasts, we got butts. I can tell which is which.”
Yet if an official or opponent decides to question which Shields is, because she won’t wear a skirt or any other reason, her career may be what takes the knockout blow. According to researchers Katrina Karkazis and Rebecca Jordan-Young, a new testosterone testing policy put in place by the International Olympic Committee little more than a month before the London Games basically reinstitutes gender policing at the Olympics, a practice the IOC discarded more than a decade ago.
“This isn’t just about intersex women, this is about all women,” said Karkazis, a senior research scholar at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford. “If you have small breasts, big muscles and a lower voice, you are just as suspect. How is that different than Caster Semenya? It invites a kind of scrutiny that is really scary.”
The policy allows the chief medical officer from any country’s organizing committee, an IOC commission member or the athlete herself to question a female competitor’s levels of the androgen hormone. Androgen, the original anabolic steroid, occurs naturally in the body but can react differently than its synthetic form and appears distinctive from its synthetic form in doping tests. If the woman is found to have levels similar to a man’s and it gives her a competitive advantage, she could be required to undergo hormone therapy or be banned from competing in women’s events.
The policy ostensibly stems from the case of Semenya, an 800-meter runner who holds the fastest qualifying time for today’s 800 final at Olympic park.
At the 2009 World Track Championships, Semenya crushed the fastest time in the world that year — previously held by Soquel’s Maggie Vessey – by more than a second. It was also nearly four seconds faster than the South African runner’s previous personal record.
Skeptical opponents questioned whether Semenya was actually a woman, and their accusations set off a heated discussion of gender in sports. At the center was an embarrassed Cemenya, who had to sit out 11 months while undergoing gender testing before she was declared to indeed be a woman.
With the London Games upcoming and Semenya in position to qualify, the IOC met with various groups – including some representing hyperandrogenous and intersex people – in Miami in 2010, according to IOC media liaison Mark Adams. There they laid out a policy for differentiating between male and female competitors.
Since 1999, the IOC has recognized athletes’ gender to be whatever they claimed in their legal documents.
“It is important to emphasize that the policy does not include ‘gender testing’ or ‘sex testing,’” IOC spokesperson Andrew Mitchell wrote in an email. “Female competitions are for females, male competitions for males. The new rules are not intended to find a new definition for what is male and what is female. They only address the problem where females have functional androgene [sic] levels in the ‘male range’ [with consequent competitive advantages] and how such females should be judged in relation to their participation in competitions for females.”
That’s just the problem, say Karkazis and Jordan-Young. They say an athlete’s naturally occurring androgen hormone levels aren’t an accurate litmus test of how masculine or feminine a person is, even if the person is in the gray intersex range. Higher levels also don’t necessarily equate to better performances, even when a male or female’s body is receptive to the hormone.
Its may provide some advantage, they say, but no moreso than other traits like the cavernous lung capacity of British rower Pete Reed, who can take in nearly twice as much oxygen as Lance Armstrong, and the hyper-flexible joints of American swimmer Michael Phelps.
“It’s not like it’s irrelevant,” said Jordan-Young, an associate professor of women’s gender and sexuality studies at Columbia University. “But what you can’t say is you can predict strength and speed from testosterone.”
In addition, testosterone levels fluctuate. For example, the body naturally boosts testosterone levels in response to winning, and the first five placers in a final – the winners – are the ones who are automatically tested for doping. Athletes also generally produce higher levels than average. So a fit woman could win a medal, test for unusually high levels of testosterone and, if she also looks masculine, be singled out as a candidate for hyperandrogenism.
That raises another problem with the policy, according to the researchers. It unfairly places the spotlight on women who don’t conform to the popular idea of how a woman should look.
The year after Semenya was suspended from competition, Alysia Montano of Berkeley, who runs with a flower in her hair, took over the 800 world record for 2010. She, too, cut close to four seconds off her PR and was also coming off a foot injury that sidelined her for 2008 Olympic trials. Yet, her gender was not called into question.
“Could she have high testosterone?” Karkazis said of Montano. “Yeah, but the sense is no one is making a big outcry about it [because she looks more feminine].”
As with most things, the need for separation of the sexes mostly comes down to money. Medal winners receive usually receive cash from their country – the U.S. pays $25,000 for gold — and may receive additional bonuses from sponsors. As far back as 1936, then, there has been concern that men would enter women’s events to unfairly capitalize on those spoils. The IOC began gender testing in 1968 and it continued through 1996, when it stopped the process under social pressures.
Karkazis said she would like to see the IOC revert to a policy in which it does not gender test.
“Every biological way [of determining gender] has created these gray areas that make it sort of subjective, so we say [go by] legal sex,” she said.
Karkazis and Jordan-Young, who met earlier this week with Arne Lundqvist, chairman of the IOC’s medical commission, said they were told female athletes had requested a policy be put in place.
However, neither gold-medal boxer Shields, nor the women at a USA Track and Field team press conference last week, nor many of the wrestlers, weightlifters, swimmers and other athletes seemed to have given the policy much thought. They may not have even  known it even existed.
“Some things you don’t focus on,” said USATF head women’s coach Amy Deem. “You can only control so many things. I only focus on what I control, and I can’t control that.”

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USA’s win over Japan brings out the stars and stripes

United States’ Carli Lloyd, left, and United States goalkeeper Hope Solo celebrate after winning the women’s soccer gold medal match against Japan at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. The United States won 2-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

By JULIE JAG
jjag@santacruzsentnel.com

LONDON — They came wearing Uncle Sam hats and stars-and-stripes tights.
They came with flags on sticks and flags on their backs. They came with red-white-and-blue paint on their cheeks and hope in their hearts.
Somehow, some way, even though the organizing committee for the London 2012 Games made tickets nearly impossible for foreigners to purchase, the USA fans  found a way into Wembley Stadium to root on their women’s soccer team.
Then they roared louder than a jumbo jet as the players did the only thing they could to repay their fans’ loyalty: Win.
Carly Lloyd scored both goals for Team USA — one for each half — and Hope Solo served as a green-clad force field around the goal Thursday as the U.S. defeated Japan 2-1. The win served as a cup of revenge for a 3-1 shootout loss to the Japanese in the Women’s World Cup final last July.
“It’s amazing,” summed up fan Betsy Eisenhower. A Colorado native now living in Haslemere, England, about an hour away from the stadium, she and her husband, Frank, and their children Matthew, 14, and Laura, 12, waved red and blue cardboard U-S-A letters they had cut out the night before.
The players agreed.
“Man, I can’t put this into words. This is such an incredible feeling,” said Megan Rapinoe. “This is not quite redemption for what happened in the World Cup to Japan, but it’s a great feeling.”
“It’s great, and it’s going to feel extra good going home,” said Lloyd, a New Jersey native.
Lloyd missed her penalty kick in the World Cup shootout against Japan last year, sending it high over the crossbar. In the Olympics, though, she has been Team USA’s golden girl. She scored the only goal in a match against Brazil to bring home gold in Beijing in addition to her two goals Thursday.

The USA has won four of the past five gold medals, missing out in 2000.
Lloyd’s first goal against Japan came in the seventh minute. Cal’s Alex Morgan found herself directly in front of Japan’s goal but also in a swarm of traffic. So, she crossed the ball back toward Wambach on the far right side of the cage. Before it got to Wambach, Lloyd came barrelling in.
“I just ran for the ball. I passed Abby. I was just going for it,” said Lloyd, who scored the header past Japanese keeper Miho Fukumoto.
Solo got the rare assist on Lloyd’s second goal. Her long pass reached Lloyd just outside the box, where Lloyd made it a goal in two kicks by placing a high, arching punt over Fukumoto’s head in the 54th minute.
And the crowd went wild.
About half the 80, 205 fans — an Olympic record for a women’s soccer match — did all they could to make Lloyd and company feel right at home at Wembley. The other half cheered just as enthusiastically for Japan, making the stadium a rollicking place full of flags and camera flashes.
“It’s much better watching it here than on TV,” Matthew Eisenhower told his mother.
It was if you like drama. Solo played the heroine defensively, making just five saves, but doing it with flair. She punched two shots over the goal in the first 20 minutes and on another occasion stopped a two-on-one opportunity.
“If you have a keeper like her back there, you know she’ll save the day,” Lloyd said. “And that’s what she did.”
The players spent more than an hour soaking in the feeling after the medal presentation. They posed for pictures, fidgeted through interviews and danced across the field to the tune of Katie Perry’s “Fireworks” in celebration. Much of the crowd stayed too.
Nobody wanted to go home. Maybe because in a huge stadium in west London, they felt like they were already there.
“We had a lot of USA chants, a lot of friends and family that had travelled a long way,” said Christie Rampone. “To play in front of 80,000 people in a gold-medal match, it doesn’t get better than that.”

Categories: Alex Morgan, Athletes, Events, Olympics, Photos, Soccer | Leave a comment

USA defeats Japan, 2-1, for Olympic gold

By JULIE JAG

jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

LONDON — Cal’s Alex Morgan put the ball at Carli Lloyd’s feet and put the USA up early, Hope Solo  put a force field around the goal and then Lloyd also put on the exclamation point. The USA women’s soccer team got its sweet revenge — and the gold — with a 2-1 win in the Olympic championship match Thursday night at Wembley Stadium.

Lloyd scored her first goal in the seventh minute on Morgan’s near-goal cross in traffic and she put the USA up 2-0 with her insurance shot in the 54th. Hope Solo seemed  seven times wider than her svelte frame would suggest as everything the Japanese sent her way was tipped out. Shinobu Ohno, determined all match to find a way to score, finally uncovered a hole in the 62nd. She cut in for a wide open shot on the right side. Solo stopped that one, but the ball dribbled behind her slightly and was cleared by another USA player … right back to Ohno. She then crossed it over to teammate Yuki Ogimi for the goal.

That would be it for the Japanese, though. They attacked viciously in the first part of the second half, but the USA defense controlled the tempo and the ball most of the way until the end.

Canada, whom the USA defeated 4-3 on a Morgan goal in overage time in the semifinal, took bronze.

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USA vs. Japan women’s soccer showdown NOW

It is on! The rematch of the World cup match that the USA lost to Japan is taking place for Olympic gold at Wembleystadium.

Cal’s Alex Morgan had played a huge role in getting the USA to this game, scoring the winning goal against Canada, and she has already pitched in here. In traffic right in front of the goal she shot a cross to Wambach who shot it in with the side of her foot. 1-0 USA.
The crowd here is amazing. Seems like a few more USA fans than Japanese, but actually it’s pretty close. Chants of USA everywhere and a constant excited hum. The pints must not have settled in yet.

Hope Solo is doing more than just looking pretty in goal. She’s made two punching saves that have kept the USA in front. On another, she got a little help from Rampone when a shot went wide. 39:00 and still 1-0 USA.

HALFTIME: USA 1, JAPAN 0

Japan’s keeper Miho Fukumoto has had to make, unofficially, four good saves. She just let that one early one through for Wambach.

Solo’s had a couple of doozies herself, and this is still anyone’s match.

54:00

Carli Lloyd gathers up the ball and sends a high fier from the left to the right side, right into the goal. USA up 2-0. Then, she rushes to the far end to celebrate with the bench.

63:00

Yuki Ogimi in the right spot for an easy goal after Shinobu Ohno cuts in and gets a perfect pass. It’s deflected by Solo and a Team USA teammate picks up the dribble but her clear goes right back to Ohno, who sends it over to Ogimi for the score.

2-1 USA

FINAL: USA 2, JAPAN 1

An epic game. Japan pressured the USA women the entire time, especially Ohno, but Hope solo woulcn’t let anything through and revenge — and gold –

belongs to the Americans.

 

 

 

Categories: Alex Morgan, Events, Olympics, Soccer | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

USA strong in long distance swimming

I am now fully regretting not going out to long distance swimming with Tony. Then again, it’s probably much more fascinating on TV. How do these women keep up this pace for 6 miles? What makes it really interesting, of course, is that there is a somewhat local swimmer in it in Santa Clara native Haley Anderson, now of Granite Bay. She’s in fourth after just about two hours of swimming. Arms of steel.

Look at that! She just finished with the silver medal behind Hungary’s Eva Risztov. 1:57:38.2 for the winner, 1:57:38.6 for Anderson. Can you imagine .4 seconds being the difference after six miles and two hours of swimming. What a race, a sprint to the finish in marathon swimming!

 

Look for Tony’s photos soon.

Categories: Events, Olympics, Swimming | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Walsh and May-Treanor win third Olympic gold medal

Miss May-Treanor, left, and Kerri Walsh Jennings celebrate a win over April Ross and Jennifer Kessy during the women’s Gold Medal beach volleyball match between two United States teams at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

By JULIE JAG

jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

LONDON – Just like old times, one more time.

Former Scotts Valley resident Kerri Walsh Jennings and partner Misty May-Treanor looked every bit as in sync in winning their third straight Olympic beach volleyball gold medal Wednesday night as they had winning the previous two. But this one meant a little bit more.

“This feels very new for me. It feels way different than it ever has,” Walsh said. “It was the best. We saved the best for last.”

In the sand at Horse Guards Parade, a temporary venue surrounded by buildings steeped in history, beach volleyball’s most recognizable pair wrote the conclusion to their own. They added the 2012 medal to their collection from ’04 and ’08 with a 21-16, 21-16 victory over fellow Team USA players Jennifer Kessy and April Ross. Then, with May-Treanor sticking with her promise that this would be her last match as a professional, they closed the book.

“Emotionally, we have lived so much life together the past 12 years but especially the last two. We’ve really come together and we’ve been so connected,” Walsh said. “We really wanted to win a gold medal together, but we wanted to do it in a certain fashion. And we wanted to stay connected and create this bond that is unbreakable and to really cherish every moment, and we did that.”

As soon as Ross’ serve at match point sailed over her head, Walsh raised both hands in the air in victory. Then, faster than one of her hard-driven kills, the tears started falling. She raced over to the stands, where husband Casey Jennings picked her 6-foot-3 frame off the ground, then she, in turn, picked up her two young boys. Later on the medal stand, surrounded by Kessy and Ross and the bronze-medal winning pair of Juliana Silva and Larissa Franca of Brazil, both cried and sang like they’d never won before.

Truth is, they know how to step up on the podium almost as well as they know how to dig and block. Since they first partnered in 2001, they’ve won 40 of the 78 international matches and only missed out on the top four in 14 of them. In Olympic play, they went undefeated, dropping their first and only set in 12 years and 43 sets to the Austrian team earlier this week.

After they won their debut match of these Olympics, opponent and four-time Games veteran Natalie Cook of Australia dubbed Walsh and May-Treanor beach volleyball royalty.

“Just the amount of tournaments they’ve won – I know how much energy it takes to win a tournament – and for them to do it for years and years is impressive,” agreed Kessy. “My hat’s off to them. That is ridiculous in the end.”

Before they gave up their crowns, May-Treanor and Walsh wanted to add a little more gold to the treasury.

But everything wasn’t the same as they had left it in Beijing. May-Treanor ruptured her achilles while practicing for the show “Dancing with the Stars” and was trying to make a comeback with Nicole Branagh. Walsh, meanwhile, had taken some time off the court to give birth to her two boys – Joseph, 3, and Sundance, 2. When she returned to the sand, she tried to pair with a couple other partners, but none of them matched what she had with May-Treanor.

It took some needling, but in 2011, Walsh finally convinced May-Treanor to make another medal run.

Even after both committed to returning, though, their mojo didn’t. Walsh remained the dangerous net player she had been even when she was in high school at St. Francis in San Jose. May-Treanor still had indescribable defensive instincts. Together, though, they struggled to find their winning form, especially in tournament championships.

“I didn’t really understand what peaking meant, ever, until this time around,” said Walsh, who plans to find a new partner for 2016. “In the prior Olympics we didn’t have to peak, we were just feeling good. But this time around, we had a really terrible year up until about a month ago, and we had to work really hard to get where we are now. It was all emotional, all very mental, and we were in a place we’ve never been before.

“I truly believe going through those challenges the way we did made us even stronger than we were before.”

Once they reached London, the pair wasted no time digging their chemistry up from the sand inside Horse Guards Parade. With each win, their confidence and comfort level grew. It practically skyrocketed after a come-from-behind win over the Chinese team of Chen Xue and Xi Zhang in the semifinals.

Kessy and Ross, a team they’d beaten twice in three meetings this year and hold a 28-5 record against, didn’t give up the medal easily. They clung to within a point of their opponent for at least half of each set. When the pressure was on, though, Walsh and May-Treanor just had too much history together.

“It’s hard to stay on top. Winning the first gold medal, we were young, it was sweet, it was like ‘OK, we did it.’ Winning back to back gold medals is very difficult – the target’s huge,” May-Treanor said. “To go for a three-peat, I don’t know if you could write this script the way that it turned out.

“But, we believed.”

 

Categories: Athletes, Beach Volleyball, Events, Kerri Walsh, Olympics | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Live from the women’s beach volleyball gold-medal match

Former Scotts Valley resident Kerri Walsh and partner Misty May-Treanor will try to win their third straight Olympic gold medal in women’s beach volleyball in just about 15 minutes. Their opponent? No other than the other USA team, April Ross and Jen Kessey. These teams have played each other more than 30 times, so it’s sure to be a showdown.

Check back here to follow it blow for blow.

Here we go. Misty serves first. Kessey scores the first point with a lob but Walsh gets it back with a hard hit.

A hit on 2 by Walsh makes it 3-3, then a switch when Kessey’s hit off the net bounces out.

May’s pickup then pokey makes it 6-5.

Switch on 7-7 after a Ross pounding.

Nice to know I’m not the only one who one-overs. It’s a score for Kessey, even if accidental.

That’s a huge double block by Kessey– one on May and one on Walsh. She is fired up. Makes it 10-10 with a TV time out.

May and Walsh  got their biggest lead of the night at 13-11. Then Ross-Kessey caught up, but now they are down by 2 again, 15-13.

Kessey just won a joust w/Walsh

Kessey-Ross take a time out after an ace by Walsh puts that team up 17-14, their biggest lead so far.

Wow, great rally but Walsh wins it with a shot to the side.

HUGE block by Walsh! 19-14

Kessey serves out. Big error. Match point

Liner by May ends it 21-16. Game 1 to May-Walsh.

___________________________________
May’s crazy deep pokeys have put them ahead 3-2. But Kessey’s hard drive makes it 3-3

Straight down for Walsh on 2 after great save on the other side results in a free ball.4-3

sorry I left you hangin folks. Walsh and May are running away with it, 20-15.

That’s it, a third gold for Walsh and May-Treanor. Two scores of 21-16. Congrats ladies!

Categories: Athletes, Beach Volleyball, Kerri Walsh, Olympics | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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