Woly Award: Katie Ledecky, swimming

It’s World Championship season. Everything that involves swimming, diving and water polo-ing is happening in Barcelona, while track and field athletes had their last Diamond League meet before their World Championships next month.

That gave us a lot of Woly Award nominees. Would Duke bias on your blogger’s part steer the award to Shannon Rowbury, who ran the fastest 3,000 meters of the year? What about any of the other five U.S. winners at the London Grand Prix? Or Megan Romano, with an anchor leg for the ages in Barcelona?

But we’re going with a world champion in an event U.S. women don’t usually win and have certainly never gone quite as fast …

Katie Ledecky is the first U.S. woman to break the four-minute mark (3:59.82) in the 400-meter freestyle and the first woman to win the world title in the event since Janet Evans did it in 1991. Allison Schmitt set the previous American record of 4:01.77 in taking silver last year in London.

And so Ledecky is this week’s Woly Award winner, given to the top U.S. performer in Olympic sports in the week. For our purposes, the “week” ends Sunday, so any winners in Barcelona on Monday will be eligible next week.

To show the rest of the action, I’ve made a YouTube playlist, mostly from Universal Sports.

[iframe src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/TeYxCh6YNLk?list=PLWAQzaiNbislX2gue96waJJBdzsUMnUzg” width=”560″ height=”315″]


Swimming: Katie Ledecky runs away with the 400 free world title.

Beach volleyball: Jen Kessy and April Ross rally from a set down to win the World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, Calif., the first FIVB event in the USA in 10 years.

Beach volleyball: Sean Rosenthal and Phil Dalhausser rule Long Beach.

Swimming: France with the stunning comeback to beat the USA (Nathan Adrian, Ryan Lochte, Anthony Ervin and Jimmy Feigen) in the men’s 4×100 free relay.

Swimming: Megan Romano comes back from 0.72 seconds down to give the USA the women’s 4×100 free relay title. Missy Franklin, Natalie Coughlin and Shannon Vreeland went the rest of the way to set the U.S. record (3:32.31).

Diving: David Boudia, Olympic champion and the man who gave Brandi Chastain a 10 on one of her dives on the show Splash, takes silver on the 10-meter platform in Barcelona’s stunning outdoor pool. Seriously — the scenery here is unreal.

Synchronized swimming: Solo and duet: Russia, China, Spain in all four events. Team: Russia, Spain, Ukraine in all three events. This video has Russia’s free combination routine.

Track and field: David Oliver wins the 110-meter hurdles; Aries Merritt stumbles.

Track and field: Allyson Felix holds off Shalonda Solomon to win the 200.

Track and field: Michael Tinsley is the only person to break 48 seconds in the 400 hurdles this year, and he’s done it twice. USA went 1-2-3-4.

Track and field: Nick Symmonds wins an aggressive 800 meters.

Track and field: Shannon Rowbury races away to a world-leading time in the 3,000 meters.

Track and field: Meet record (1:58.19) for Brenda Martinez in the women’s 800.

Water polo: The U.S. women cruise past Brazil 14-3 in the round of 16 and next face Spain, coincidentally the country that knocked the U.S. men out in the round of 16.

Open water: Close finishes in both of the 25k races, with Eva Fabian taking bronze in the women’s race and Alex Meyer missing out of the medals by a photo finish. Five hours, and it comes down to less than a second.

Open water: Haley Anderson wins the 5k race by 0.2 seconds. And check out the opening ceremony!

BMX: Connor Fields defends his world title in the time trial discipline. (Skip to the 14-minute mark if you like.)

Paralympic athletics: Tatyana McFadden wins her sixth gold medal in one World Championships, this one at 400 meters.


Men’s 400 freestyle: Connor Yaeger took bronze.


Full U.S. results: Day 1Day 2

The Daily Relay’s Monday Morning Run has more on British legend-in-training Mo Farah, the intriguing women’s 100 field, Caster Semenya’s failure to make the World Championships, and the big performances by Oliver, Rowbury and Martinez.


Lots of junior action in volleyball, rowing, basketball, modern pentathlon, field hockey and more in the Team USA roundup.

Washington Spirit vs. Boston: Defenders down

Hard to imagine a game more emblematic of the Spirit’s season:

– A defender was injured.

– The officials were atrocious, though they probably didn’t affect the outcome too terribly.

– The result was worse than the Spirit deserved.

– The fans stuck with the team. Take away the storms that magically cleared just before game time but killed their walk-up crowd, and the team would’ve drawn a respectable 3,000 or 3,500. The Spirit has one more midweek game, then two weekend games with a lot of drawing power — Seattle (Solo, Rapinoe) and Sky Blue (season finale). With decent weather, I’d expect 4,000 for each of those.

We had some debate last night about how much of a role luck has played in the Spirit’s season. I’d look at it this way: Let’s say the Spirit’s luck was even in the first six games (debatable, but let’s say it for sake of argument). They were 1-2-3 for six points. Extrapolate that over 18 games, and they would have 18 points — tied with Seattle for seventh place.

Instead, they’re 0-5-1 since Mark Parsons took over. He warned that getting the team on track would take a couple of games. Then his entire starting defense was injured.

This team could be starting Harris, Gayle, Chapman, Pressley, Krieger, Huster, Lindsey, Matheson, Pohlers, Ochs and Miller. Maybe even Jordan Angeli. An injury or two? Bring in Toulouse or Roberts.

Last night’s starters? Harris, Toulouse, Huster, Chapman, Taylor, Roberts, Lindsey, Matheson, Pohlers, Ochs, Spencer.

The youngsters and the misplaced players weren’t bad. The Spirit’s first goal — the first in the run of play since D.C. was covered in spring pollen — came through a superb, composed pass from Jasmyne Spencer, who had her best game.

Then within five minutes, Chapman was out. Boston scored the equalizer before the Spirit could replace her with Holly King.

Lindsay Taylor, a top scorer in college, had never played defense in a game before last night. King is at least a defensive midfielder. Each of them had a few strong plays at the back. But Heather O’Reilly is a handful for any defender. In the first Spirit-Breakers game, she ran at the relatively inexperienced Kika Toulouse on the Spirit’s left. In this game, she left Toulouse alone and ran on the other side of the field. That’s almost unfair.

At halftime, the Spirit had every reason to feel they were in the game. And they did indeed get that second goal, again from the run of play and finally getting that well-deserved opener from Conny Pohlers. But the third goal early in the second half was the dagger, with Ashlyn Harris bobbling a save and failing to collect it before Rhian Wilkinson ran in to pop it into the net.

Make no mistake — the Breakers deserved this win. They’re inconsistent but not bad. They outhustled the Spirit for the second and third goals. O’Reilly is still a fantastic winger. While the Spirit set up as many chances as the Breakers in the first half, Parsons lamented that the Breakers were making his team chase the ball. He doesn’t like that. Lisa Cole had to be thrilled. But as the Spirit’s record doesn’t reflect the talent and effort on display, 5-2 doesn’t reflect this game.

I asked Cat Whitehill what happened on her goal, the Breakers’ fifth. “It was luck,” she said.

Maybe the Spirit will know what that feels like one day.

Notes from a beautiful Spirit practice

The MVP of the Washington Spirit’s open practice was clearly the weather. That’s not a knock on any player or coach. The weather was that nice. After weeks of oppressive heat and humidity, we were suddenly enjoying the outdoors. Mother Nature was no longer assaulting us as soon as we walked out the door.

I think people were so stunned by the breathable air and lack of dripping sweat that they forgot what they were watching. On the hillside overlooking Field 12, it was more of a social hour than a viewing audience for an open practice.

And yet, the Spirit players seemed a bit nervous at first. Their touches and passes were not sharp. When they broke out of warmups into a small-sided modified scrimmage, sloppiness abounded. Between that and the fact that Ashlyn Harris was in the trainers’ hands rather than the nets, I’m surprised Twitter didn’t explode in panic in between news updates on the D.C. United stadium and the Gold Cup.

But I can pass along two bits of encouraging news for Spirit fans:

1. The level of play bounced upwards. Toward the end, we were treated to some outstanding moments. The best: Conny Pohlers slipping the ball backwards with the sole of her foot to Julia Roberts, who blasted the ball past Lloyd Yaxley in goal.

2. I don’t have details, but Harris should be fine. Of course, Chantel Jones looked sharp as well.

One new face was in practice: Jordan Angeli, the versatile Santa Clara and Boston Breakers alum picked in the third round of the supplemental draft. Dan Lauletta caught up with Angeli in February to see how she was progressing after knee surgery. Now we’re seeing if she is ready to be added to the roster before the freeze deadline July 31. One practice isn’t enough to tell — she had a few wayward touches, but so did a lot of people, and she was fully involved in each phase of training.

Ali Krieger was not. All she can do is wait and see.

For coaches, this practice was a dream. In a question-and-answer session with about 25 inquisitive folks, Mark Parsons and Lloyd Yaxley patiently went through their practice planning in detail that the casual fan would find excruciating. Those who have clearly gone through some USSF licensing courses, though, were enthralled.

Meanwhile, scores of kids lined the barrier after practice to autographs and pictures. Angeli and Ochs’ similar ponytails may have confused some kids who asked for Angeli’s autograph not realizing they had already received it. Krieger, though she didn’t participate in practice, was one of the last players off the field.

So the practice offered something for everyone. Friendly interaction with the players. A chance to cheer for actual Spirit goals. (Kika Toulouse had a nice one as well.) Some chalk talk and philosophical discussion with the coaches. More bonding for the Spirit’s tight-knit loyalists.

Now can we get the same weather for Saturday’s game?

American Professional Soccer: New league, new goals

Matt Driver is a Glaswegian, but he has seen all there is to see in American soccer. He played in the old APSL and has coached or operated teams in virtually every U.S. league — USL, NPSL, WPSL, WPS (original GM/coach for the Philadelphia Independence) and MLS (assistant coach for the New England Revolution).

And he believes there’s room — in fact, a need — for another professional league in the USA. The league is American Professional Soccer, due to launch next spring.

What is APS? Let’s start with what it’s not.

It’s not some hare-brained scheme to compete with MLS or the NASL. Driver and his fellow owners have more modest goals. “We not looking to be the biggest and highest-paying league,” Driver said.

It’s not designed to be costly. U.S. Soccer has set a very high bar for Division II soccer — $750,000 letter of credit, owner with a net worth of $20 million, etc. Even the Division III USL Pro league is expensive, and teams are opting to operate in the amateur PDL instead of the pro ranks. Just look at USISL/USL history — in 1997, the Division II A-League and D-3 Pro League combined for more than 60 pro teams. Today, the USL Pro (DIII) is planning for 15 teams in 2014; the NASL (DII) will be up to 11 or 12 in 2014 if they don’t lose anyone.

And no, promotion/relegation fans, it’s not bringing pro/rel to the pro ranks. Ask Driver about it, and you’ll get a lengthy response that starts with, “Never gonna happen, and here’s why …”

(There is another group, United States Association Football Leagues, which says it’s building from the grass roots up to a professional national level. If you’re impatient for pro/rel, feel free to go watch your local amateur league. My indoor team is struggling once again to maintain its foothold in Division II.)

The APS goals are:

– Sustainability. Driver doesn’t want owners who are swept up in shallow passion who want to spend a lot of money and then inevitably turn away when they’re losing a lot of money.

– Development. Driver sees a lot of talented players coming out of college who don’t latch on with an MLS team right away but could develop into pros. Like Jimmy Conrad:

The plan is slow, controlled growth. The 2014 teams will be concentrated on the upper East Coast. Don’t expect the league to add one California team and one Florida team in 2015. “Keeping travel costs down” is a more pressing priority than “building a national footprint.”

U.S. soccer has often found itself drowning in alphabet soup, with leagues splintering into more leagues shifting around this giant land mass of ours. But at the moment, youth players are overwhelmed with choices, and college players have no shortage of places to play in the summers. Young adults, including those who aren’t taking the college route, don’t have as much. If you believe the current U.S. system isn’t casting a wide enough net, you have to root for more lower-level pro teams to provide more opportunity.

As always, the big question is this: Can it be supported? By whom? We’ll see. But a league with reasonable goals may have a reasonable shot of making it.

(Update: Everyone knows this is a men’s league we’re talking about, right? Hence the discussion about NASL and USL Pro.)

Woly Award: Haley Anderson, swimming

The summer sports calendar is crowded these days — British Open, Tour de France, tons of soccer events, track and field meets/awkward press conferences — but the aquatic World Championships deserve some attention, too. The swimmers hit the pool next week, but water polo, synchronized swimming and open-water swimming are underway. Universal Sports has a ton of artistic videos.

And the USA has a world champion already — Haley Anderson, who added the 5-kilometer open-water world title to her Olympic 10k silver medal, winning by 0.02 seconds.

Anderson also has the coveted Woly Award, given to the top U.S. performer in Olympic sports this week.

Other performances of note:


Lots of Diamond League winners in Monaco:

– Justin Gatlin, men’s 100 (and anchor of the winning 4×100 relay)
– Jenny Simpson, women’s 1,500
– Duane Solomon, men’s 800
– Christian Taylor, triple jump
– Brigetta Barrett, high jump
– Queen Harrison, women’s 100 hurdles


The World Championships are underway in Lyon, France, and the USA has six gold medals:

– Tatyana McFadden, women’s 200 T54 and 5,000 T53/54. Yes, that’s an unusual combination.
– Raymond Martin, men’s 800 T52 and 1,500 T52.
– Jeremy Campbell, men’s discus F44.
– Jarryd Wallace, men’s 200 T44.

Not sure what those numbers mean? Check the Telegraph explanation from last year’s Paralympics.

Other events from the week included wrestling in Olympia, a triathlon mixed relay, and taekwondo’s World Championships.

Washington Spirit vs. Chicago: No recap for now

I’m not doing a recap of the Spirit-Red Stars game for the following reasons:

1. I had family things this weekend.

2. Though the Red Stars have just posted the archived video, I’d really like to keep an eye on the Euros right now.

3. The facts of the game are well-established. Three starting defenders were injured. Tiffany McCarty was forced into service at the back. Ashlyn Harris made a terrific series of saves, just as she did in the early part of the season before the defense improved. Then, because soccer karma still hates McCarty for some odd reason, an own goal went in off her head.

4. It’s clearly more important for me to get the deeper story at this point than it is for me to analyze this particular game in excruciating detail.

That said, I don’t want to oversell the book with promises of behind-the-scenes explosions. This isn’t magicJack. It’s an injured, inexperienced team that has nowhere to go but up. We just don’t know when “up” will happen, and it may be in the trainers’ hands as much as the coaches’ at this point.

That said, sure, you’ll learn more in the book about this streak than you will now. I’d better get back to work.

How not to hold a press conference, C. Jeter edition

Before the actual soccer started, the most entertaining thing I saw at a 2011 Women’s World Cup venue was a press conference that included one Sepp Blatter and a couple of other dignitaries of varying connections to women’s soccer. They had Steffi Jones, the beloved former German player and president of the organizing committee. They had Tatjana Haenni, head of FIFA women’s competition. And for some reason, they had FIFA executive committee member Worawi Makudi of Thailand.

Blatter artfully deflected questions about his old comments on women’s soccer and revealing clothes, and he declined to tackle the issue of Nigeria’s anti-lesbian purge. But at the very end, someone started to ask Makudi a question, somehow tying it to the tournament at hand but also steering it to recent alle-

Press conference over. Thanks for coming. Enjoy the whateverwurst.

Perhaps that abrupt conclusion was to be expected. The press conference was nearly over, anyway. The people behind the microphones said at the outset they were only going to talk about women’s football, and that question was a sharp tangent. We had managed to make it through 29 minutes or so of legitimate, if not particularly interesting, conversation.

Compare that with the curious case of Carmelita Jeter and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce.

From Christopher Chavez, who documented yesterday’s press conference (with video): The two sprinters, the reigning world and Olympic champions at 100 meters, sat down for their introduction from the press officer, who also tossed them the usual opportunities to speak a little. Then the press officer said there would be no questions about the doping issues that have hit the USA and Jamaica, their home countries, in recent days.

The first question, barely audible on the video, was rather innocuous. The second question, addressed to Fraser-Pryce, was about how the Jamaican team was dealing with the distraction of the doping issues.

The press officer snapped that the question was out of bounds. Reporters asked why. Then Jeter said bye-bye. So did Fraser-Pryce. So reporters got one question before the walkout.

For his part, reporter Simon Hart of the Telegraph is hardly apologetic.

And he’ll defend his right to ask the questions:

Check around on Twitter, and you’ll see Jeter has plenty of enablers telling her she did the right thing. That’s a nice reflection of how much people respect journalists these days and adore celebrities, even celebrities a vast majority of people don’t know.

The bottom line: She had an opportunity to show grace and determination at a difficult time in her sport’s history. Instead, she came across as petty and defensive. Casual fans — which would describe most track and field fans in the USA, despite my best efforts to get you all to read the Woly Awards and everything else I posted in 10 years at USA TODAY — would look at that video and think she has something to hide.

Maybe if she had at least waited until, say, an actual doping question was actually addressed to her?

Woly Award: U.S. women’s eights

If you’re looking for dominant U.S. squads, you have to consider the women’s eights, the marquee event in rowing. The USA won gold in 2008 and 2012.

But most of that team has moved on. Only Caroline Lind, a rower/debutante, returned from the London crew to row in the World Cup over the weekend in Lucerne, Switzerland.

They still won.

They still set a world record — 5:54.17.

And everyone in the boat — coxswain Katelin Snyder, Heidi Robbins, Vicky Opitz, Lind, Grace Luczak, Lauren Schmetterling, Emily Regan, Kerry Simmonds and Amanda Polk — will share this week’s Woly Award, given for excellence in Olympic sports by U.S. athletes.

The other top contender for the award this week: Triathlon newcomer Katie Hursey won a World Cup race in Palamos, Spain.

Washington Spirit vs. Seattle: The vigil continues

That’s what it is now, isn’t it? A vigil?

A vigil for the first win since May or even the first run-of-play goal since May. A vigil for Conny Pohlers to convert one of the opportunities she’s getting in increasing numbers. A vigil for Stephanie Ochs, lauded by every broadcaster as a fantastic talent, to turn one of her near-misses into a goal. A vigil for Diana Matheson to be as influential as she was in the Spirit’s promising start.

It’s no longer a vigil for personnel. Pohlers and Toni Pressley have arrived, and Mark Parsons has taken over as coach. For all the knocks on the Spirit’s reliance on young, local players, the only such players in the lineup yesterday were Julia Roberts and Kika Toulouse. The other second-year players in the lineup — Pressley, Ochs and Tori Huster — didn’t go to high school or college anywhere near the SoccerPlex, and they were key players for the WPSL Elite champion Western New York Flash last season.

It may be a vigil for health. Caroline Miller and Colleen Williams are already gone for the season. We don’t know when Robyn Gayle will return. Yesterday, Ali Krieger went off after a clash of heads, and Candace Chapman was down for a while after twisting awkwardly on the turf. Wouldn’t it be just the Spirit’s luck to see their offense come together at last, only to see the defense run out of healthy players?

Going back to preseason, I thought the Spirit would have the season the Reign is having — a dreadful start, then a promising streak. The Spirit surprised a lot of people early. Now all those same people are clucking, “I told you so.” I hate cynicism.

The slump’s timing was bad. Had the team hit the reset button going into its three-week break, everyone would have had time to work together on a new direction. Instead, the Spirit came out of that break playing terribly, and the reboot started after one game of a murderous stretch of five games in 17 days. As the sharp Fox Soccer broadcast team of Steve Cangialosi, Lori Walker and Heather Mitts pointed out, this team has had no time to practice.

But in some respects, the Spirit’s path forward is clearer. It’s about next year now. Chicago and Seattle now believe they can make the playoffs. After seeing both of those teams and the Holy Cow Did You See The Thorns-Flash Game in the past week, I’m not sure the Red Stars or Reign can rise to the level of the top four. Maybe another team will drop — FC Kansas City could implode in the wake of Chicago’s comeback yesterday, or Portland could become as bad as its critics think — but I’m still of the mindset that Boston’s the most likely team to sneak into the playoffs if someone collapses.

Building for next year, though, could further tax the patience of the Spirit’s terrific fanbase. Despite all the losses, the team has terrific chemistry now, and if the lineup stayed intact, it should get a couple of wins by the end of the season. But are those couple of wins the goal? Or is it a thorough evaluation of the players on hand, throwing out a couple of unusual lineups to let players audition to keep their places for next season?

One irony here: There’s an Internet meme that Spirit management doesn’t care about winning as long as the seats are full. Let me see if I can put this nicely: That’s ridiculous. You don’t bring in Conny Pohlers and Toni Pressley, then fire the coach, if you don’t care. If it’s all about the fans instead of the record, you don’t cut Domenica Hodak. They expected some early struggles, and perhaps they were too confident they could weather the storm until reinforcements arrived. They may have overpaid on particular players. But they care about winning. (And we have to repeat — the allocation process was not kind to them. They were playing catch-up from Day 1.)

And yet they’re in a place now in which winning now may be less important than preparing for next season.

So which do you emphasize? (I don’t know — that’s why I have comments here.)

I do have one bit of advice for Spirit fans. You’re underdogs. Embrace it. Keep up the constructive criticism, but don’t just look for easy ways to place blame within the organization. The allocations were unfair. The refs are unfair. The injuries are unfair. And people from elsewhere sneer about this team, griping all week that the Spirit game shouldn’t have been on TV. Everyone’s written this team off (except the Fox Soccer commentary team). Blame them. Certain WNT players thrive on striking back against mysterious “haters” — maybe it’ll work for the Spirit as well.

You’ve already built a terrific fan experience. It’s the best party in western Montgomery County.

So call it the Beer Garden Vigil. Down but not out. Patient but defiant.

In the meantime, here’s yesterday’s recap: Good 25 minutes for the Spirit, with Matheson converting a deserved penalty kick. Two defensive lapses in three minutes. A lot of chasing the game after that, with a couple of good opportunities squandered. 2-1 Reign. Game over. Time for rest, recovery and rebuilding.