Posts Tagged With: 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

Julie Jag: Wimbledon the perfect arena for the drama of the Olympics

 

Serena Williams’ tiny Navy blue tennis skirt flutters in the wind, rising dangerously high.
A fan whistles. The entire crowd giggles.
She doesn’t flinch. Then she serves the ball hard, deep and straight down the middle. It looks like an ace, though it is later ruled out. The crowd, put in its place, responds with an appreciative ooh.
This is tennis at Wimbledon. It’s a setting so intimate a crowd of 15,000 can share an inside joke, yet so Romanesque that Williams and Russia’s Maria Sharapova, whom she beat 6-0, 6-1 for the 2012 Olympic women’s tennis singles gold medal Saturday afternoon, can only be described as gladiatorial.
The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club was the crown in my list of must-visit Olympic venues. I’m not tennis fanatic, but there are some sporting venues that, if given the chance, one needs to go out of her way to see. They are the ones with history, esteem and intrigue. Wimbledon has it all.
In fact, the man in line behind me as I prepared to go through the full airport-security scan required of anyone visiting an Olympic venue – but which he said is unheard of at The Championships — offered that Wimbledon was the best presented, best orchestrated sporting event he’d ever been to. To go with his British accent he was wearing a Team GB polo shirt and an Olympic credential, but that didn’t mean he was an expert.
He did, however, know what he was talking about.
From the outside, the venue isn’t particularly special. A giant green Wenlock, the Olympic mascot, made from succulents stood out as the most striking feature. Walk inside Centre Court, though, and you feel like you’re walking into Shakespeare’s Globe or an open-air sister of the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. It’s almost as cozy as a dinner party, with nary a bad seat in the house.
Yet that’s not the first thing I noticed after waiting for what seemed like forever for a point to be scored so the ushers would to let us up the steps to our seat. Williams’ ripped physique commanded my attention the moment I walked through my gate. Already on court, she had her hair banded up in a mane and prowled the backline like a lioness, in her navy, white and red tank and tennis skirt. Her taut muscles were ready to spring and her enraged glare was trained on Sharapova, who more closely resembled an obstinate antelope.
“She’s playing incredibly confident tennis, ever since she won Wimbledon,” Sharapova later said. “Even against the wind today, her shots were very powerful.”
It wasn’t until I settled into my seat that I noticed the sounds: Sharapova’s signature shriek, the “Huh!” call of the ref when a hit went long, the soft thump of a racquet-dribbled ball and the scuff of a shoe as Williams served. And there was the lack of sound, the startlingly quiet hush that settled over the crowd before each serve. Even libraries don’t get this quiet.
The crowd had a role in this drama, and every member played it well. So attentive were they to their roles and the action in front of them that few people ate or drank during the performance, except for the occasional glass of pseudo-Pimms.
Speaking of which, this was not the Wimbledon that appears lush and green on TV every summer. Purple banners bearing Olympic rings covered the venue, including over the Centre Court sign and the large Rolex clock, because neither are official sponsors of the Games. Even Pimms, the vodka-like drink associated with The Championships, has been removed, only to be replaced by a very similar, non-branded version called No. 1 Cup. A far as I could tell, though, the strawberries and cream didn’t bear the logos of McDonald’s or Coca-Cola.
That didn’t take anything away from my experience, which Williams made even better with her historic win. The five-time and reigning Wimbledon champion added her first singles Olympic gold.
“I have singles, doubles, actually everything there is to win in tennis,” she later said. “Where do I go from here?”
Even when the American flag slowly fluttered to the floor after it came untacked while being raised during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner in honor of Williams, I had to gasp and then chuckle.
It was just another piece of history for this place, and I got to be a part of it, along with about 15,000 of my new friends

Categories: Athletes, Events, Olympics, Tennis | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

SJSU volleyball player making Brits proud

Britain’s Savanah Leaf, left, spikes the ball as Algeria’s Sehryne Hennaoui, (1) and Lydia Oulmou defend during a women’s preliminary volleyball match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 30, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

By JULIE JAG
jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

LONDON – Savanah Leaf simply wanted to return to her roots when she decided she would try out for the Great Britain women’s volleyball team almost a year ago – before she even knew the squad would be competing in the 2012 Olympics. Now the 18-year-old Marin Academy graduate is making the Brits roar on the sport’s biggest stage.
“I didn’t think I would be here four months ago, I didn’t think this would be possible,” Leaf said following Great Britain’s 3-0 loss to Italy in pool play Wednesday night at Earls Court. “I see my family up in the stands, and it’s just incredible. It’s amazing.”
Leaf, who at age 8 moved with her mother, Alison, from London to the Bay Area, was considered a long shot to make the GB team. At 18, she holds the distinction of being the youngest British volleyball player at the Games of any discipline and the only American on the team. She played just her freshman season at San Jose State after graduating from Marin Academy in 2011, and she has no international experience.
So it would seem playing at the Olympics in front of a capacity crowd of 19,000 – many yelling “GB!” and “Smash it!” – would be intimidating.
“The first game definitely got me nervous, especially since we were playing really tall Russian players that are really well known, so that gave me some butterflies,” the 6-foot tall Leaf said. “But I’m actually kind of getting used to that big crowd and actually I’m feeding off of them. It’s helping me so much.”
Team GB coach Audrey Cooper said that is true of the entire team, which may have contributed to some of their somewhat unexpected success.
“When they give you that roar, that just gives you a lift. It just gives you a real boost. Everyone’s reacting to that,” Cooper said of the crowd. “It’s like a cauldron to do battle. No sign of nerves.”
The volleyball team’s historic first Olympic win came in wee hours of the morning Tuesday when GB defeated Algeria, 3-2. To advance after losing to Russia and Italy, it will need to win one more match and claim a few sets in the other. The team finishes Pool A play against the Dominican Republic on Friday and Japan on Sunday.
Leaf has tallied seven kills and two aces in limited play at the Olympics. On Wednesday, she made three kills and an ace in two sets against the strong Italian team.
“She is an absolutely delightful, mature 18-year-old. She’s just lovely,” Cooper said. “She has made a significant impact on the team already and she is pushing for that starting six position. She’s a little like a sponge as well, she picks up information quickly and asks superb questions. She has a really bright future.”
About 18 months ago, Leaf decided she wanted to play for Great Britain and sent Cooper a recruiting film her mother, an animation director at Pixar, put together. Cooper invited her to join the team for a training camp in Sheffield during Christmas break when Leaf planned to visit her mother’s hometown of Wetherby nearby.
“First I was thinking about the team, I wanted to make the GB team,” Leaf said, adding her motivation initially was to play in front of her English friends and family. “And then when I found out about the Olympics, I was like I really want to try out for this team.”
Leaf’s dark-horse status may have been what initially endeared her to Cooper and the GB players, most of who have been competing together for four years or more. Locally, Team GB has earned the nickname the DIY team because it has supported itself by holding bake sales and adopt-a-player drives after it was cut off from its public funding in 2010. Players have also left behind mortgages and boyfriends to be part of the first united Great Britain team – until 2006 it was divided into Britain, Scotland, Ireland and Wales — to compete in the Olympics. The team qualified automatically as the representative from the host nation.
“She’s gotten along really well,” said Ciara Michel, 27, a middle who made six kills and three blocks against the Italians. “She’s so young and such a raw talent. She goes out there and plays big, like we’re all trying to.”
Leaf already has plans to return for the European Championships in September, when she will also be starting her first season with the University of Miami, where she transferred after the 2011 season. Right now, she’s trying to believe she’s actually at the Olympics, playing in front of a packed stadium of hometown fans and, of course, staying at the Olympic village.
“It’s like a dream, kind of,” Leaf said. “There are so many athletes that you watch on TV and so many amazing athletes from around the world that you meet every day and everyone’s telling you their stories. It’s crazy.”

Categories: Athletes, Events, indoor, Olympics, Volleyball, Your neighbors | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crazy Olympics schedule

So, I was just sending our Assistant Sports Editor Jim Seimas, who is fabulously manning the Sports desk while I’m in London, an email explaining why I had turned my story in late yesterday. Then I realized some of you might be interested in how a day in the life of an Olympics reporter goes.
So, this is my Thursday, the night before the Opening Ceremony:

Wake up at 9:30. Catch the 11 a.m. bus to the media center. Get there at 12:15. Get settled into my locker, do a little research on the weightlifter and boxers i am supposed to be covering.
Leave by 12:30 to catch a train to the boxing press conference. Get there at 1:15. I hoped to be back for the weightlifting press conference at 2 and a Olympics-related computer seminar at 3 and a swimming conference at 3:30, but boxing goes all the way until 3:30.
I get back to the press center at 4, catch the tail end of the swimming conference (Ryan Lochte is cute up close, and Missy Franklin is adorable), then go straight into a diving conference, where the girl I need isn’t there.
I bolt early but got to tech support because i can’t connect my phone to the internet at the press center. It takes an hour to figure out what’s wrong with it. Never really do figure it out, so i resort to using my computer.
Go to a gymnastics conference that is packed. Go to get something quick to eat at McDonald’s at the food mall nearby since I haven’t eaten since 10 am and it’s 8:30. McDonald’s is slooooooooow service, but the fries are good and I can get a latte or a shake with my meal deal.
Finally sit down to start writing at 9:30 or so. Finished the column by 10:30 and sent it to Tony to edit but forgot to post it when I caught the bus and got back to the dorm at midnight. Started writing my preview story, finished by 2:30, had Tony edit it and we posted it and photos by 3:30 a.m. London time.

It’s fun and worth it, but it’s also a heck of a lot of work.

Categories: Olympic Preparation, Olympics | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Olympics top 10 storylines

By JULIE JAG
jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

LONDON — It’s the Olympics. No other event is so chocked full of accolades and admonishments, showdowns and breakdowns. It’s a time to see unbelievable feats of athleticism and triumphs over the unimaginable.
The 2012 London Olympics, which kick off today with the opening ceremonies and run through Aug. 12, will be no different.
Every Olympics is a spectacle, and these are just the storylines already bubbling at the top. No one knows what’s brewing beneath the XXX Olympiad, but there’s a good chance it’s going to be worth watching.

1. Ryan Lochte vs. Michael Phelps
Phelps enters this Olympics without much to prove except perhaps that a toke here and there never hurt anybody. Phelps won a record eight gold medals in Beijing, bringing his grand total for his Olympic career to 14. Five more medals and he can unseat Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina with the most medals won by an athlete. Or maybe he’ll try to stretch his lead even farther than he can stretch his gumby-like arms, to 21.
Lochte, meanwhile, didn’t do much to bolster his reputation as a party boy when he mentioned Thursday that he lifts kegs as part of his workout regimen. He also flips tires and pulls chains, giving him a farmboy physique he feels is enough to gain him at least one gold.
“I can tell you no other swimmer in the world today is doing what I’m doing on dry land,” Lochte said. “I haven’t heard of anyone else lifting tires, throwing kegs or dragging chains. … It had to have helped.”
Here’s guessing he’d give up a night with Australian swimmer Blair Evans, with whom he’s rumored to have romantic connections, to beat Phelps in the 200 and 400 individual medley relays.

Men’s 400 IM Final: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Men’s 200 IM Final: Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m.

2. Brits: Bring on the Bikinis
Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor almost didn’t happen this year. Walsh, who lived several years in Scotts Valley, had to talk May-Treanor out of retirement, and the two didn’t start pairing together until February. There was plenty to catch up on, since their lives have changed considerably since the pair won gold in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2012. Walsh became a mother twice over and May-Treanor found even great celebrity when she appeared on “Dancing With the Stars” before blowing out her Achilles tendon while practicing the jive.
Similarly there have been vast changes in their sport. The AVP, once the king organization for professional beach volleyball, disbanded. It has since experienced a reboot, but is vying with several other groups for favor with the players. Speaking of royalty, the sport has also experienced an uptick in popularity of late and even Prince Harry plans to attend a match in London.

Women’s Final: Aug. 8, 7 p.m.
Men’s Final: Aug. 9, 7 p.m.

3. Bevan Docherty goes for gold, again
Docherty, a triathlete representing New Zealand, moved to the Westside of Santa Cruz in 2010, six years after winning silver by a second and two years after taking bronze in Beijing. Since then he’s dumped his coach, had two kids, topped Lance Armstrong in a half Ironman and started a trend of elite athletes moving from high altitude to sea level to train. Docherty, 34, has made it clear he plans to pass on the Olympics after this year. So, the questions remain: Will the changes pay off and can he put himself in enough pain to complete his medal collection? He’ll have to upset the UK’s Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan, to do it.

Men’s Triathlon: Aug. 7, 11:30 a.m.

4. BOXING WELCOMES WOMEN
When the father of Marlen Esparza went looking for a boxing trainer for his 11-year-old daughter, few would take on the job. Finally, he struck upon Rudy Silva.
“The other trainers used to ask him, ‘Why do you even bother with her? She’s just going to get pregnant,’” Esparza said Thursday.
Instead, Esparza became the first woman to qualify for the Olympics for Team USA. An aspiring doctor, she will also be one of the first to fight – in shorts, not a skirt, which were almost made mandatory — when the Games open the rings to the ladies for the first time in history.

Women’s Boxing Finals [all weights]: Aug. 9, 4:30 p.m.

5. GYMNASTICS FLIPS
Jordyn Wieber won the world championship and was the Team USA trials favorite heading into San Jose last month. Then, bubbly Gabby Douglas bounced her with a effervescent performance worthy of the national title. The two will toe a taut line between teammates and competitors over the next couple weeks as they move from the team to the individual competition.
The USA women are strong favorites to take gold, but there’s also plenty of opportunities for drama. How will McKayla Maroney handle only competing in the vault, as she said Thursday that she expected to do after reinjuring a broken toe in June. Also, what will the team do without the support of Anna Li, one of the elder statesmen, albeit as an alternate, who left London on Thursday after reportedly pulling a ligament in her neck during practice. Lastly, can the girls live up to Shannon Miller’s prediction for Yahoo Sports that they’re even better than Miller’s own 1996 team that took gold in Atlanta?

Women’s Gymnastics Team Final: Tuesday, 4:30 p.m.
Women’s Gymnastics Individual All-Around Final: Aug. 2, 4:30 p.m.

6. No legs better than two?
Oscar Pistorius, created a stir in 2008 when he nearly made the South African Olympic track and field team as a double amputee. His near miss – he placed third but didn’t meet the A standard – prompted the IAAF to draft a rule banning the use of springs and other artificial devices. That rule was overturned later in 2008, and Pistorius will line up on the track for the 400 meters in London to test his Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon fiber transtibial artificial limbs against the fleet feet of Team USA’s Lashawn Merritt, the defending gold medalist. Pistorius will also race the 4×400 relay.

Men’s 400m final: Aug. 7, 6:50 p.m.

7. Weightlifter Zoe Smith takes on her Internet haters
The country hosting the Olympics should be the first to regale its qualifying athletes, but such is not the case with Zoe Smith, a weightlifter from Great Britain.
One of London’s famous tabloids earlier this week screamed the headline “Weightlifter is Bloke, Lesbian” of Smith, 18, who is considered the UK’s best chance for a medal. But Smith, who competes in the 58kg [130-pound] division, knows how to throw her weight around. She recently posted on her blog: “Most of the people who do think like this seem to be chauvinistic, pig-headed blokes who feel emasculated by the fact that we, three small, fairly feminine girls, are stronger than them. Simple as that.”

Women’s Weightlifting Final [58kg]: Monday, 3:30 p.m.

8. REVENGE A DISH BEST SERVED COLD, RAINY
Abby Wambach does not seem like the kind of person one would want to make angry. Yet, that’s just what Japan did in the final for the 2011 World Cup. It swiped the title right out from under the U.S. forward, her sexy sidekick and goalkeeper Hope Solo and their American teammates, who finished the match tied 2-2 but lost 3-1 on penalty kicks.
As evidenced from her TV commercial, though, Wambach can spot weakness a mile away. And it’s a sure bet Team USA plans to pounce on the weaknesses of its opponents all the way to the final, and beyond. The Opening Ceremony isn’t even until tonight and the women have already notched their first victory, making France surrender 4-2.
The weather has been scorching so far, but when the rains come back, as they are predicted to Sunday, don’t expect the Americans to washout.

Women’s soccer final: Aug. 9, 7:45 p.m.

9. DIVE-DIVE, WIN-WIN
Santa Cruz native Ariel Rittenhouse and partner Kelci Bryant got as close as any American has been to winning a synchronized 3-meter diving medal when they took fourth in Beijing. A lot can change in four years and, after going through burnout and then a revitalization, Rittenhouse, competing in the individual 3m, didn’t make the team bound for London. Bryant did, however, and will try to break the U.S. into the medals with new partner Abby Johnston.
The best chance for a synchro medal, however, lies with the men. Stanford student Kristian Ipsen of Walnut Creek and his partner Troy Dumais, a four-time Olympic veteran out of Ventura, won 3m synchro at the US Trials. Dumais finished fourth in 3m synchro in 2000, the first year it was recognized as an Olympic sport. The men’s 10m synchro team of David Boudia and Nick McCrory also stands a medaling chance after dominating the trials.
“There are crazy things that happen in the Olympic synchro finals, which Troy is used to, so he helps me through it as best he can,” Ipsen said. “Our most realistic medal chance is in synchro. There are only eight teams, and three get a spot. I think we have a good chance.”

Men’s synchronized 3m final: Monday, 3-4:05 p.m.
Men’s synchronized 10m final: Sunday, 3-4:15 p.m.
Women’s synchronized 3m: Sunday, 3-4 p.m.

10. Will the Saudi Women Even Show Up?
After much political pressure, Saudi Arabia, the only country in the Games to have not sent a woman, agreed to designate two female representatives. The women selected were not particularly steeped in the soil of the country, with one being UCLA 800-meter runner Sarah Attar, who was born in California and holds dual citizenship. Yet, it was a small first step for a country with intense restriction on women in sports.
There has been much speculation, however, as to whether the women would actually make it into the competitive arena. On Wednesday, the International Judo Federation issued a ruling that Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani would not be allowed to wear her traditional hajab during competition. Shahrkhani, 18, who has never competed, has not issued a response as to how she plans to handle this rule change, if at all.

Women’s 800m Final: Aug. 11, 6:45 p.m.
Women’s Judo Final [78kg]: Aug. 2, 2 p.m.

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

I drink beer … oh, and more photos

When there are so many pubs around all the time, it’s hard not to have a pint (or two) with my bangers and mash or fish and chips (hold the mushy peas). Julie is starting a whole series of me drinking, but I’ll let her post those.

The Games are really starting to show their presence here now. Our first day or two was pretty quiet at the place we are staying but is now buzzing with activity. The city seems a little more crowded as well but that could have a lot to do with the nice weather we had today. You’d think the sun hadn’t been out in years with the way people were loving it. Hyde Park was full of people just chillin’ on the grass or tossing a disc.

The London Underground is my new favorite way to travel (sorry BART). Why can’t we have this efficiency in the States? I thought I’d have a hard time since there are so many lines and transfers but it’s super easy. And the people are mostly great. Julie and I were even serenaded on our way home by an saxophonist from the Republic of Cameroon in town for the River of Music Festival. We’ve already traded emails even. He invited us to Cameroon and I invited him to California to play at one of our many fine jazz clubs.

Speaking of both the Games and the Underground, all the stations are clearly marked with venues to make traveling even easier. Of course, when the Games start things could completely fall apart. But for now, things are good.

I think Julie has some more Team USA practices and press conferences for us to go to. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get access to all of them, but I’ll try. I’m hoping for at least boxing. Basketball and my $50,000 one-on-one game with Kobe will just have to wait (you’re welcome Kobe).

For now, enjoy some photos from Across the Pond.

Categories: Behind the Scenes, Olympic Preparation, Olympics, Photos | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beach volleyball the No. 2 spectator sport in 2012 Olympics?

There is a lot of history in London. It’s amazing the way it’s around every corner and on every lamp post. Even the Starbucks and Subway chains are in stone monoliths of buildings.

If you can’t tell, Tony and I went to the city center today and it is awe-inspiring. As soon as we came out from the underground we were at the base of Big Ben — which, we learned, refers to the bell and not the tower or its four clocks. Pretty crazy. We also saw the parliament buildings, of course, and did a great tour of Westminster Abby, perhaps the most beautiful church I have ever visited. Before we headed over to Buckingham Palace and eventually Picadilly Circus for a pint and dinner, we walked by Horse Guard Park, where the beach volleyball will be held (nice that it is in the city center). We chatted with the guards watching over the entrance to the construction (we didn’t see any sand by the stands, so they have a little ways to go before that venue is finished — like me, they must live for deadlines). They said they expect beach volleyball to draw the second biggest crowd of the Games, right behind the men’s 100 meters. Not sure I believe it, but that’s pretty exciting for the sport if it can outdraw gymnastics and swimming. Might have something to do with girls in bikinis ….

Anyway, people here seem to be getting ramped up for the Olympics, and we are too. We shared a train with the the Belgium field hockey team on the way under the Chunnell — a fairly anticlimactic experience considering we were flying along at the bottom of the English Channell — and we saw someone waiting for the Togo table tennis team when we arrived. I hoped to see the men’s basketball team, which is training here, but they have that gym locked down tight. Guess I’ll have to wait until the actual Games to see Lebron and Co. in action.

I’m trying to enjoy a couple more days of peace before really delving in head first, but I am also eager to dive in, so to speak. Wish me luck, and send us ideas of what you’d like to see covered. Some of the events I’m considering, in addition to full coverage of our local Olympians, include: the first Olympic women’s boxing match ever, a match by one of the first women ever sent to the Olympics by Saudi Arabia and the showdown between US swimmers Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. Like those ideas? Hate them? I’m here to write for you, so let me know what tickles your fancy. Hey, I’ll even park myself in a boozer all day, get slaughtered and scapa through Leicester Square.

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

An introduction to Julie Jag

When she was in elementary school, Julie Jag wore a leotard just like Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton's to her Jazzercise gym class.

 

The Mary Lou Retton leotard — white with red stripes and blue accents — that I wore during Jazzercise in my elementary school gym class should have been a dead giveaway.
I was born to go to the Olympics.
OK, I’m not going to compete, but this is almost as good. In 100 days — on July 27 to be exact — I will be at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, covering it for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, of which I am the sports editor. It’s quite the honor —  the Sentinel is one of, if not the, smallest papers to receive a credential for these Games. My husband, Sentinel graphic designer and freelance photographer Anthony L. Solis, didn’t have a leotard and hasn’t been quite so lucky. He’s going as well, but will be covering the games from outside the venues unless his fortunes turn around and a press credential comes his way.
Like any decent athlete, I’ve been training hard for my Olympic debut. So far, I’ve worked on my weightlifting, fencing and gymnastics skills. I’m hoping to try a few more before we leave. Stay tuned to the Sentinel and this blog to read about my adventures in the world of obscure Olympic sports.
Once the Games begin, keep an eye out for updates on local athletes competing in the Games as well as a few touching stories about those from a little farther away. We’ll also try to show you what the Games look like from the inside — from the food at the athlete’s village to the green rooms, where sporting types psych themselves up to perform on their biggest stage.
It’s going to be fun and frenetic. We’d love to hear from you along the way, so email us at jjag@santacruzsentinel.com or direct message me on Twitter @julie_jag.
Now excuse me while I work on my floor routine.

Categories: Olympics, Photos | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 401 other followers

%d bloggers like this: