Soccer

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

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.

Categories: Alex Morgan, Athletes, Events, Olympics, Soccer | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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