Paralympic wrap: Day 1

Quick look at the first day of the Paralympics from an admittedly U.S.-centric point of view:

– Six medals for the USA, including gold for swimmer Jessica Long. (Great global swimming roundup at

Matt Stutzman, the armless archer, took first in the ranking round (qualifying).

– Women’s goalball: USA 5-1 Sweden.

– Men’s wheelchair basketball: Turkey 59-50 USA.

– Women’s wheelchair basketball: USA 63-24 France.

(First person to make a comment about Title IX gets banned from this blog for life. Well, first person to make a dumb one, anyway.)

Total medal count so far: China 15, Australia 9, Ukraine 8, Britain 7. Tied at 6: Germany, USA, Spain.

Gold medals so far: China 6, Australia 3. Tied at 2: Britain, Ukraine, Germany, Russia.

Hope Solo: Too unique for a double standard

It’s tempting to respond to the cries of a “double standard” against Hope Solo with a segment of “Really!?! with Seth and Amy.”

Really? There’s a double standard against Hope Solo? She said something totally nasty about one of her teammates at the 2007 Women’s World Cup, but people actually like her because of it because it makes her seem like a badass. Really.

Really? A double standard? Landon Donovan quickly moved to apologize for talking in public about David Beckham — saying the same stuff that tons of Galaxy fans were saying as well — but there’s a double standard against Hope Solo? Really? Donovan and Beckham actually sorted it out while Solo still holds a grudge … and wait a minute, that grudge blew open with something she said? Really?

Really? Have any of Hope’s fans ever listened to a sports talk show? If a backup quarterback ever said, “I would have made those passes,” Colin Cowherd wouldn’t even need a microphone to broadcast his show nationwide. He’d just stand up on the roof at ESPN and yell.

Yeah, really! And then Solo does an interview with Jeremy Schaap, and her fans gripe that he asked her about her relationship with the older women’s national team players? After she wrote a book that talked about that relationship?

Really! If Jeremy Schaap interviewed Jose Canseco about his books, do Hope’s fans think he would not ask him about steroids? Really?

And the E:60 video is all Hope’s side! Where’s Cat Whitehill? Where’s Julie Foudy? Where’s Briana Scurry? Really!

Really! And yet Hope has fans on Twitter who say the old guard refuses to “pass the torch.” The Who can keep touring until they don’t have anyone left, but Brandi Chastain’s supposed to disappear at age 40 like some soccer-specific remake of Logan’s Run? Hope’s the one with a memoir out and the excerpts at espnW about her conflicts with the “old guard,” but they’re the ones keeping the past alive?

Really! Really? ….

(This has been “Really?! with Seth and Amy)

So yes, I’m a little skeptical of the “double standard” notion — at least in terms of how Solo and her book have been treated in the media.  The Schaap interview is labeled as “contentious” — which is often Schaap’s style, anyway — and yet Schaap didn’t really challenge anything she said in the book. Schaap didn’t fire back with, “You lost respect for Kristine Lilly? Really?” He asked her to name a name that’s named in the book so they could discuss it.

What I said the last time I wrote on this book two weeks ago is still valid — there are multiple sides to a lot of the issues in Solo’s book, and the other sides aren’t talking. That’s not acquiescence on the part of the “old guard” just because Solo’s book hit the NYT best-sellers list. A lot of NYT best-sellers are political smears, and the politicians in question often don’t respond to them, either. Silence is often a valid PR strategy in such cases.

With so few people speaking up, Solo is really getting a free pass on her unflattering portrayal of players who still have a lot of fans, no matter what Solo’s Twitter echo chamber may say. It’s all her side of the story — which, again, is the point of a memoir. If you lose respect for Lilly, Hamm, Scurry and company because of Solo’s book, that’s really your fault, not Solo’s.

So it’s difficult to make a case for a double standard in terms of the media coverage. What about elsewhere?

And here’s where it gets tricky. Would a men’s team ostracize a player the way the USWNT did to Solo?

I had a long private conversation with another journalist about this yesterday, and we couldn’t think of a case of another athlete being ostracized the way Solo was. But we didn’t know of someone saying the things Solo said in 2007. We also didn’t know of someone being benched the way Solo was — starting goalkeeper until the semifinals, then suddenly yanked from the lineup.

Maybe such a thing has happened to a hockey goaltender or football quarterback somewhere along the way. Men’s teams have their internal disputes as well, often protected by a code of silence and vague words in the media. Perhaps someone at this weekend’s Victory Tour game in Rochester will ask Abby Wambach why, as depicted in Solo’s words, she suddenly thought Briana Scurry was better-suited to the World Cup task than Solo was in 2007. I’d be surprised if the interviewer got a complete answer.

But it’s hard to come up with anything that matches every aspect of Solo’s case — the undisputed starter, with no injuries to consider, suddenly being benched.

Was Solo treated differently within the team because it was a team of women? We really don’t have enough evidence to say. We know men can be called out within the team for their practice habits — ask Allen Iverson. But even if someone were to claim flat-out that Solo was benched for her performance in practice, one of several possibilities floated and never nailed down, could we really compare Iverson’s case with Solo’s?

No. They’re just too different. And not just because they’re men and women.

Solo’s unique. That’s why she’s selling books. And that’s why people are going to discuss and debate what she says. No double standard there.

Paralympics underway with beautiful ceremony

I only had a chance to catch a few moments of the Paralympic opening ceremony, but what I saw was breathtaking. Stephen Hawking speaking (“There should be no boundary to human endeavor” is the best of many great quotes), Ian McKellen as Prospero encouraging a young woman in the role of Miranda, good music — this ceremony had everything.

In a world so dominated by cynicism, we can only hope people everywhere are inspired.

For now, at least, you can watch the ceremony in its entirety online. If you want to pick out some highlights, try matching up the video with the BBC’s wonderful live blog.

TV coverage is limited — NBC Sports Network has one-hour Paralympic specials (Sept. 4, 5, 6, 11 – all at 7 p.m. ET), and NBC has a big wrap-up Sept. 16. But it’s online at, and you should also check to help guide you through the events.

The official sites and the British media may be the best ways to follow the action, though I’ve seen correspondents writing for USA TODAY and The Washington Post.

The ceremony was nice. But I’m looking forward to some hoops.



Chess Olympiad – not just a night in Bangkok

The official site has live video in English and Russian.

The 40th Chess Olympiad is underway in Istanbul. The one thing we can tell you with certainty is that the country that has won it the most won’t win it this time — the Soviet Union no longer exists. But the former Soviet republics — Russia, Ukraine, Armenia — still dominate.

The last time a non-Soviet country won it was in 1978, when Hungary upset the Soviet Union but didn’t take the title very far away. Before that, in 1976, the USA won a boycotted Olympiad when most Eastern bloc countries refused to travel to Israel.

The USA isn’t bad in this event, placing on the podium in 10 of the 16 Olympiads since it won.

If that’s not enough history for you, check this lively account by Bill Wall to learn about the winners, the mugging victims and the fight with a couple of grandmasters playing Crash Davis and Nuke Laloosh outside the bar scrapping over an Australian player whose outfit is a little excessive for the Carolina League.

On to the present:

– Twelve of the top 16 players in the world are here. The big exceptions are world champion Vishy Anand (India) and top-ranked Magnus Carlsen (Norway). Anand hates the format.

– The U.S. team is seeded fifth but has two of the top 10 in the tournament — No. 5 Hikaru Nakamura (2778) and No. 10 Gata Kamsky (2746). Third-ranked American Alexander Onishuk (2666) also is on the team, but several of the next players in the rankings are not. Top 10ers Varuzhan Akobian (2617) and Ray Robson (2598) make up the rest of the team. Robson’s only 17.

– Can you guess the major country that is seeded only 92nd? And it’s not as if their best players are skipping the proceedings.

– Women can compete in the “Open” Olympiad (Judit Polgar is playing for Hungary) or the Women’s Olympiad.

– The U.S. women also are seeded fifth. The team by rating (among women actually playing in the Women’s Olympiad): No. 10 Anna Zatonskih (2512), No. 18 Irina Krush (2467), No. 55 Sabina Foisor (2356), No. 69 Rusudan Goletani (2341), No. 91 Tatev Ambrahamyan (2303).

– “Chess Queen” Alexandra Kosteniuk is playing. The “Anna Kournikova of chess” label once applied to her really shouldn’t. At least not since she won a world championship.

– A lot of top teams rested their first-board players in the first round. Teams have five players; only four play in each matchup.

– Some of the “countries” in the Olympiad aren’t really countries. The UK not only has separate entries for England, Scotland and Wales but also for Guernsey and Jersey. Host Turkey is entering three teams. Also entered: The International Braille Chess Association, the International Physically Disabled Chess Association and the International Committee of Silent Chess.

– Follow on Twitter? Why, yes. I also have a Twitter list called “mind games” that includes chess news and updates on how much money your favorite poker player made in the past six hours.

– The top four in the pre-tournament rankings: Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Hungary. The bottom four: Mozambique, Turkey’s third team, Rwanda, Nigeria.

– The top four on the women’s side: China, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine.

– Parity in women’s chess? Not really. The first round saw 46 scores of 4-0, eight more of 3.5-0.5, six more of 3-1 and just two 2.5-1.5.

– The men’s side also was rather lopsided, with 45 teams posting 4-0 wins. But only two of the top six (including the USA) did it. A player from the Dominican Republic (William Puntier, 2312) held Russian grandmaster Evgeny Tomashevsky (2730) to a draw, and Bolivian grandmaster Oswaldo Zambrana (2471) beat Armenia’s Sergei Movsesian (2698). The win that gives real hope to us non-masters: the Virgin Islands’ Reece Creswell (1765) drew Scotland’s Alan Tate (2332).

MLS academy vs. school: So far, school still winning

Do you know me? I’m an exception!

Soccer America raises a few questions about the MLS homegrown program, noting that a lot of players aren’t playing or have already washed out of the league.

One irony — a nice exception to the rule this year has been Jose Villarreal, who plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy. His coach, Bruce Arena, is the one who likened the current system to a “black hole” in a Washington Post interview.

One solution seems relatively simple — MLS should probably enter its reserve teams in the USL or NASL to get those players more meaningful games. Not that anything is simple in the turf wars of U.S. soccer.

The other solution: Let players try pro soccer, and if it’s not working out by age 20, let them go back to college. That just requires the NCAA to be reasonable.

(I almost said that with a straight face.)

Related in Soccer America: An interview with NSCAA CEO Joe Cummings, who seems as irritated as anyone else about the Development Academy banning its players from high school games.

Olympic sports roundup: Aug. 27

What did you miss while you were making Facebook photos superimposing Ted Lange’s face on a hurricane tracking map? Read on.

Basketball: The U.S. Under-17 women didn’t have much trouble with anyone at the World Championships. The 3-on-3 tournament was a little tougher. Literally. After beating France in the final 17-16, Chiney Ogwumike had this to say:

In the end, it’s better to be physical than to play like girls.


– Snowboarding: Already time for 2014 qualifying! And Kelly Clark is dominating the halfpipe.

– Rugby: The U.S. men qualified for the 2013 Sevens Rugby World Cup with a few dominating wins, then lost to Canada in the qualifying final. (The U.S. women had already qualified.)

– Nordic combined and other insane endurance events: Billy Demong won a running, biking, river-crossing and mud-traversing race in Utah.

– Archery: Miranda Leek won the women’s recurve in the SoCal Showdown with an X in the shoot-off.

Wrestling: Zain Retherford won the 63kg (138.75 pound) freestyle at the Cadet World Championships.

The Team USA wrap has more on bowling, beach volleyball, equestrian, baseball, triathlon, water skiing, sprint kayaking and track cycling.

Diamond League action not too surprising

A few quick words on today’s Diamond League meet:

– Tyson Gay hasn’t been running the 200 a lot. He was second here but still the top American.

– Hey, Angelo Taylor is suddenly back in form.

– U.S. steeplechaser Donald Cabral is getting into the mix. Third today.

– 110 hurdles: Aries Merritt 12.95, Jason Richardson 12.98. Whoa.

– Women’s 100: Carmelita Jeter 10.81, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce 10.90.

– Still sharp in field events: Jenn Suhr, Valerie Adams. Not as much: U.S. men’s high jumpers.

Full report/results: 2012 Birmingham Diamond League Results.

Lance Armstrong: What has been accomplished?

The columns on Lance Armstrong just get nastier and nastier. The LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik actually delves into neo-libertarian bullying, saying if the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s lawyers were any good, they’d have better jobs. (If you feel compelled to retort in personal terms, use any combination of the words “writer,” “J.K. Rowling” and “best-sellers list.” Or, as Chris Farley once put it, “Is that Bill Shakespeare I see over there?”)

Let’s clear up one myth. USADA chief Travis Tygart is being painted as some cross between Inspector Javert and Kenneth Starr. He’s neither. He has evidence that he believes is enough to persuade neutral parties (if any exist) that Lance Armstrong was not totally clean in his Tour wins.

And yet, USA TODAY finds, Armstrong might not have lost all his Tour titles had he cooperated. Not that this is the important part to Armstrong. It’s not about the titles now. It’s his rep.

In any case, USADA’s authority to strip the titles is highly debated. That’s evident even from WADA’s John Fahey in his widely circulated quote: “Olympic medals and titles are for other agencies to decide, not WADA.” (All of which leads to a brilliant parody: “I Am Stripping the USA Women’s National Soccer Team of Their Gold Medals!”)

And so we raise the question: What has been accomplished here?

I’m late getting to a couple more good reads on the topic:

Bonnie D. Ford, ESPN: “As many critics have correctly suggested, the majority of other men who populated the podiums in that era are suspect, as well, so what good would it do to reshuffle the standings and refit the yellow jerseys? Cycling in those years is rapidly approaching the point of no-there-there, unless we co-sign the cynical premise that doping was so endemic that the playing field was level anyway.”

Jim Caple, ESPN: “We must test. But we also must draw a line somewhere. And going after athletes for something they might have done seven to 13 years ago clearly crosses that line. Stripping Armstrong of his titles does far more harm than good. USADA should have let this one go. The agency exists to police sports, not destroy them.”

– And a powerful, personal read from the WSJ’s Jason Gay, usually seen unleashing his wit on Twitter: “There will always be the moral relativists, outraged by outrage. There will always be those who point to the epidemic of doping, and wonder if the playing field was merely leveled. Don’t be naive, they say—sports is about the furious pursuit of an edge. In full arc of Armstrong’s story, doesn’t the good outweigh any allegation? That latter argument is not an abstraction to me. More than 10 years ago, I got a cancer diagnosis. From the start, doctors assured me it was quickly treatable, and it proved to be. But it was still frightening.”

I’m not comfortable calling myself an Armstrong apologist or even saying that it doesn’t matter. (Another clunker in that LAT column: “These pitchers are taking testosterone. Is that worse than hitters getting Lasik?” Yes. The technical counterargument for comparing routine eye surgery with screwing up your body to make it more susceptible to cancers and other ugliness would be “Duh.”) But I’m not going to discount the good Armstrong has done, even if it’s ironic that he’s so much better loved outside his sport than within it.

Armstrong isn’t Joe Paterno. It’s not a question of whether a lifetime of good work can be undone by a shocking secret of horrifying negligence. We’re talking about someone who, at the very least, played within the bounds of what he knew cycling could reasonably test.

So don’t make Armstrong the spokesman of the new wave of clean cyclists. Aside from that, what else can we say about him at this point?

Lance Armstrong saga brings out the vitriol

Yoda-speak: Hate leads to anger, anger leads … to writing about Lance Armstrong.

As with the opinion on Jon Jones v UFC, mainstream punditry seems to have shifted. Or maybe it just depends on what news organization you read. You’re read my take — either nuanced or wishy-washy, depending on how charitable you are. And I already mentioned George Vecsey’s take, in which the great columnist thinks Armstrong likely wasn’t doing anything others weren’t doing as well.

Let’s see what else is out there:

At USA TODAY, my excellent former colleague Christine Brennan bluntly labels Armstrong a cheater.

The Washington Post, on the other hand, aims both barrels of anger at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Tracee Hamilton: “Either a drug test is the standard, or it isn’t.” (To which Marion Jones could respond, “Wait, I didn’t have to go to jail?”)  Sally Jenkins, who duly gives the disclaimer that she has written with Armstrong, says curiously uses alleged World Anti-Doping Agency misdeeds and ties them to what she sees an overzealous U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which is a bit like throwing Sepp Blatter’s problems at Sunil Gulati’s feet.

Jenkins also implores Congress to step in and do something about “the WADA-USADA system,” calling it “simply incompatible with the U.S. legal system.”

So … I guess we won’t be sending any more athletes to the Olympics?

That said — Jenkins raises and repeats valid concerns about WADA and international arbitration. But thinking Congress can sort it out sure feels like betting on the wrong horse.

(Update: The Post is far from unanimous — Mike Wise calls Armstrong’s move a vindication of his longtime critics. One point worth mentioning: Armstrong’s critics don’t gain anything financially. Far from it. They stand to lose a lot. It’s not like the old WADA days where Dick Pound used his position to keep his name out there and occasionally tweak Americans.)

How do Armstrong’s sponsors feel? Former USA TODAY colleague Mike McCarthy finds Michelob Ultra sticking with him, and Oakley basically says “Prove it.”

Slate offers two takes — Josh Levin says Armstrong has managed to keep a core of true believers (looking around the Web and my own Facebook feed, I’d argue it’s more than a small core) and his “righteous indignation.” Jeremy Stahl, who has covered cycling, echoes the points Vecsey and I have made — if you strip Lance, who of the other suspected or convicted dopers will take his titles?

The Economist’s Game Theory blog, a good quirky read for those of us who like quirky sports coverage, views the Armstrong saga as a tragedy.

Let’s leave it to Mike Lopresti, a pro’s pro among columnists, to add some gray to the black-and-white case:

What Lance Armstrong shows us is that human nature will never be as straightforward as a box score or a talk show. We are quick to build up and even quicker to tear down, because to do either draws attention. But sport, like life, is almost always somewhere in the middle. Too bad, Armstrong’s story is not neat. They seldom are, those epics cluttered by flesh-and-blood. No matter how much we yearn them to be.

Metric, one of my favorite bands, has this lyric on their new album: “They were right when they said we should never meet our heroes.”  Perhaps it’s not so much that we shouldn’t meet them. Perhaps we need to be careful not to see them in absolutes.