Athletes

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

Highlights of the 2012 Olympics

By JULIE JAG
jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

LONDON – In a whirl of color and sound bites of familiar tunes by British stars, London said goodbye to the Olympics.
Sunday’s closing ceremonies packed in the slightly stale stars and the crowds, filling the 80,000-seat Olympic stadium fuller than a steak-and-ale pie. Yet, that fanfare and the excitement over the torch being passed to Rio de Janeiro in 2016, paled in comparison to the Games themselves.
Perhaps it’s because this is the city’s third go-round with the Olympics, or my first time covering them live, but London seemed to know the script by heart. Here were some of the highlights:

Best Athletes in the Best Venues
The number of dream matchups that play out during a short 17-day span is mind boggling for someone who hasn’t been to an Olympics before. Every day I was here I felt like I saw one epic sporting event and missed three or four more.
I saw Serena Williams, probably at the top of her career, completely dismantle Maria Sharapova in the intimate atmosphere that is Wimbledon. A week later I went to Wembley, the historic soccer stadium, to watch the USA women’s team get its sweet revenge and a gold medal against Japan. In between, I crammed into a press box to glimpse Usain Bolt proving he really is the fastest man alive and snuck into swimming to see Michael Phelps get a step closer to the Olympic medals record. That list doesn’t touch the memorable moments from swimming, diving, equestrian, boxing, wrestling, taekwondo, volleyball, basketball and more that have sadly begun to blur together.

Giddy over Girl Power
Women had more of an influence on these Games than any other. The U.S. sent a higher number of women than men for the first time and they repaid the effort with far more medals than their male counterparts. So did the women of China and Russia. But that’s not what made this Olympics one of girl power. That had more to do their lasting impact.
Gabby Douglas stood out for more than her hair and may have altered the sport of gymnastics as a result. Gold medal beach volleyball players Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor gave a clinic in how far a strong bond, bolstered by some couples therapy, can take a team. And Claressa Shields and Marlen Esparza made a big impact by winning medals in women’s boxing, a new sport this Games, to show women can be tough and feminine and to keep the U.S. from its first-ever boxing shutout.
And that’s just for starters. The maturity, grace and freakishly fast swimming of 17-year-old Missy Franklin and the spunk of the U.S.’s first judo medalist Kayla Harrison made a lasting impression. So did the picture of a Saudi Arabian woman running the 800, marking the first time that country allowed a woman to represent it in the Olympics.

Brits Break Out the Olympic Spirit
It turns out the Olympic Spirit does exist, and not just in the text of the International Olympic Committee’s charter or the words of an official’s speech.
Though there had been some grumbling about the cost of hosting the Games during an economic downturn, the British turned out in droves to support “Team GB.” When local sweetheart Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon, they created more noise than a fleet of jumbo jets. But they didn’t limit their applause to the home team, [which is good since last-minute tickets weren’t available to foreign fans], giving rousing support to any valiant effort.
Nor did the British limit their goodwill to the stadiums, which seemed to take even them by surprise. In one press conference, a British reporter asked a panel of IOC and London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games [LOCOG] about the troubling trend of people actually talking to each other on the Tube, as the underground railway is called.
“I would like to unreservedly apologize to you for the outburst of excitement and commeraderie on the Tube,” Sebastian Coe, the LOCOG chair, responded in typically wry humor. He added, s“I think it’s fantastic.”
The pleasantries may not last long. One local reporter suggested they might be over before Sunday night’s dousing of the flame since two popular soccer teams with little love for each other, Manchester City and Chelsea, began their preseason Sunday afternoon.
Still, one can hope that the effects, like the careers of the many aging stars brought out for the closing ceremonies, will linger.

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Olympic photos: Day 17, final assignment

The day is here. Tonight is the Closing Ceremonies of the XXX Olympiad here in London and a few short hours after the torch is extinguished, Julie and I will be on a plane bound for home. And you know what? It’s time.

I’ve really enjoyed my month Across the Pond, shooting photos wherever I go and meeting very good people from all over the world. There was the nice man from Cameroon who played the sax on the train for Julie and I; the lawyer couple from Yorkshire who didn’t understand the American political process and shared my distaste of the Spice Girls; the Spanish man who loved everything about American culture and especially the sports (he’s a 49ers fan and watches the NBA finals live from Spain); and who could forget Charles, the Londoner who held and umbrella over my camera so I could photograph the women’s marathon in the pouring rain.

Someone asked me yesterday if I was homesick and it didn’t hit me until that moment but I really am. It will be nice to get a full night’s sleep and not have to sleep on an air mattress on the floor of a closet-sized dorm room. While I think the Tube is the greatest feat of public transportation in the world, it will be nice not to have to travel a minimum of 45 minutes each direction just to get to the action. That being said, I can’t wait to come back and see the UK properly, without the distraction of The Games. Though I will still have my camera in tow.

On this final day of competition, the men’s marathon wound its way through the maze that is the streets of London. Team USA’s Mebrahtom Keflezighi finished fourth after leading early. And with that, I’m off.

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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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Olympics photos: Day 16, women’s race walking

Race walking just doesn’t seem funny anymore, it seems hard. And this race was a great one, at least at the end. Olga Kaniskina from Russia lead the 20 kilometer race the entire way and was on a World Record pace when, with 1 kilometer left to go, her fellow Russian, Elena Lashmanova, stormed past her and took the gold medal AND the World Record.

Team USA’s Maria Michta didn’t do well compared to the rest of the field, but she did run a personal best time and did it with a smile on her face whenever she was near her friends and family in the crowd, which also happened to be near me, so I got a lot of photos of her smiling.

Like always, I had to get to my spot about 2 hours early to get a good spot. Met a nice couple from Yorkshire though and talked about our different culture and politics. Pretty funny to hear a Brit’s take on American politics. And yes, they told me I’d have to deal with The Wave being called the Mexican Wave since that’s what the entire world (except the US) knows it as.

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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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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

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

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