Track & Field Events

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

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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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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Maggie Vessey update

Maggie Vessey has been on a tear lately in Europe, making a strong comeback after missing out on a spot in the Olympic Games.

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Hammer throw video

Here’s a peek at what it’s like to throw the hammer, and the javelin for that matter — two little-known Olympic sports. Thanks to Geoff Foley, the UC Santa Cruz track club coach who holds all-comers throwing meets at Shaffer Park every Thursday and Saturday.

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Live Olympic team sendoff happening now!

Today until 2 p.m., to congratulate and wish the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team good luck, the USOC is engaging in the age-old tradition of sending-off Team USA. In order for Americans across the country to participate, this year’s farewell will be formatted as a Digital Send-off, featuring live athlete chats on Facebook, live athlete Q&A sessions on Twitter and editorial content posted to TeamUSA.org . To find out which athletes will be participating, click here.

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9 Life Lessons From Summer Olympic Athletes

One of our Across the Pond readers sent in this link to her own blog about the summer Olympics. It gives some nice historical perspective and a few reminders of why the Olympics seems to bring out the best in us.

Here is the link.

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Soquel’s Maggie Vessey discusses her Olympic Trials performance

It didn’t matter that Soquel High alumna Maggie Vessey entered the 2012 Olympic team trials 800-meter run final on Monday as a top prospect for one of three Olympic team spots. She couldn’t find her signature kick and finished a heartbreaking eighth in 2 minutes, 3.44 seconds. Here, she talks about it in a post-race press conference.

Watch more video of Maggie Vessey on flotrack.org

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Locals in Olympic Trials update

There is so much exciting stuff going on right now pertaining to the Olympics. I have been loving seeing the gymnastics, swim and track and field trials on TV, though I wish there was more of all of them. I wanted to see Stephanie LeFever jump today, but NBC didn’t show any of the long jump prelims.

In part because of that, I wanted to bring you an update on how our locals fared today. You can, of course, get complete coverage in Saturday’s Santa Cruz Sentinel.

No, he’s not local, but it’s a cool photo of Friday’s action.
David Oliver prepares to start in the men’s 110 meter hurdles qualifying round at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Friday, June 29, 2012, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) Oliver won his heat.

SWIMMING
Andrew Porter had never been in the same heat as Michael Phelps before, and it’s likely something he won’t soon forget.
The Monte Vista Christian School alum can still hear the “slap, slap, slap” of Phelps’ signature arm swing prior to Friday’s 200-meter individual medley event at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Neb.
“It was cool to hear that as the final thing before we dove in,” Porter said. “It reminded you of where you are.”
Not that Porter would forget. He recorded a time of 2 minutes, 3.67 seconds to finish 25th overall out of 116 competitors in the 200 IM, falling short of advancing to the semifinals by roughly six-tenths of a second. Afterward, the 18-year-old swimmer mentioned the stress of the big stage coinciding with his less-than-ideal time.

One athlete who shined on that stage and wasn’t supposed to, however, was Bellarmine Prep graduate Scott Weltz. Weltz won the 200-meter breaststroke over favorites Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau.

TRACK AND FIELD
Aptos High alumna Stephanie LeFever earned a mark on all three of her jumps at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. Unfortunately for LeFever, even the longest of them wasn’t enough to move her into Sunday’s final.
LeFever’s longest attempt of 19 feet, 10 ¼ inches placed her last of the 23 competitors who took to the runway Friday. She hit that leap in her second attempt, but also jumped 19-0 and 19-6 ¼.
“I’ve been jumping in the 20s and I wanted to get higher,” LeFever said. “But this was one of the not-so-good days.”
Janay DeLoach of Fort Collins, Colo., hit 23-5½ on her one and only jump to lead the list of 12 qualifiers for the final. Vashti Thomas, a graduate of Mount Pleasant High in San Jose, positioned herself in second with her lone marked jump of 22-10 ½. Each of the top five jumpers turned in just one scoring mark.

Also, Nikki Hiltz, an incoming Aptos senior, placed fifth in the Girls 1-mile exhibition race. Hiltz ran a time of 4 minutes, 57.35 seconds. That was considerably slower than the time of 4:43.24 she ran to win the California 1,600-meter championship at the state finals in June.
Hannah Meier, a junior at Michigan’s Grosse Pointe South High, won the race in 4:55.63. Her twin sister, Haley Meier, finished just ahead of Hiltz in fourth [4:56.65].

Categories: Olympic Preparation, Olympics, Photos, Running, Track & Field Events | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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