Olympic sports writing: 2004-2015

Selected features and interviews, plus coverage from several Olympics:


Sochi 2014

London 2012 (all Bleacher Report unless noted)

Vancouver 2010: Nordic sports and biathlon (all USA TODAY)

Beijing 2008: Everything, especially soccer (all USA TODAY)

Torino 2006 (USA TODAY)

Athlete interviews (all USA TODAY)

I’m back – what’d I miss?

My hand is out of a splint after three weeks, though my typing speed is still diminished by a bit of tape on my two still-aching fingers. I may need to put my goalkeeping career on hold for a while.

I’m also relatively not sick. I have no idea how I’ve had waves of sinus and throat problems through the most mild summer of my lifetime, but a doctor has assured me she’ll figure it out. I got back from vacation to find Northern Virginia had become a sauna to start September, and after leading a couple of youth soccer practices in Venusian conditions last night and walking a couple of miles this morning, I actually feel better. Go figure.

Enough complaining. I’m back, and it’s time to give a quick update on the blog, my writing priorities over the next few months, and what happened in the sports world while I was healing.

The blog: Expect more links and fewer 1,000-word pieces. I want to keep sharing Olympic sports news, but I’m going to do that more efficiently. No more Monday Myriad (in part because my youth soccer practices are on Mondays), so this will be the last “roundup” post for a while. My analysis will more commonly be on …

The podcast: Hoping to do another one this week, depending on my guest’s schedule.

Medal projections: By next year, I hope Olympic sports news will be in the context of my medal projections. I’ll be working on that, along with …

Enduring Spirit epilogue: The tentative plan is to re-release the book (electronically only) with the epilogue added. I’ll also release the epilogue separately at a low, low price, so if you already bought the book, you won’t be shelling out another six bucks. I’m going to do a few postseason interviews, so don’t expect this right away.

Single-Digit Soccer: This project keeps gathering momentum. I’m planning to speak and gather input at the NSCAA convention in January, and I hope to finish it by next summer.

Other than that, I’ll still be writing at OZY, a site you should check out even if you never read anything I write. And you may still see an MMA book I finished a while back.

So what happened while I was out? In no particular order:

Badminton World Championships: South Korea wins men’s doubles, China won three other events, and the women’s singles went to … Spain? First time for everything, and this is a terrific photo:

Judo World Championships: Olympic champion Kayla Harrison was the only U.S. medalist, taking bronze.

Rowing World Championships: Britain won 10 medals, New Zealand won nine, Australia and Germany eight each, and the USA won seven. The World Championships include a lot of non-Olympic events, so don’t use this for medal projections. These championships included some para-rowing events, which accounted for one U.S. medal. The sole U.S. gold went to, as always, the mighty women’s eight.

World Equestrian Games: The sole U.S. medals so far are in the non-Olympic discipline of reining. Britain, Germany and the Netherlands are cleaning up. Olympic quota spots (earned by the country, not the athlete) are available in dressage, eventing and show jumping.

Also, Ollie Williams (the man behind Frontier Sports) looks at the Olympic prospects of horseball. Yes, horseball. They compare it to a mix of rugby and basketball, but I think it’s a mix of polo and quidditch.

Triathlon, World Series grand final: Gwen Jorgensen didn’t need a great finish to clinch the world championship. She did it anyway. Too early to declare her athlete of the year?

Swimming, Pan-Pacific Games: Phelps, Ledecky and company have it easy compared to Haley Anderson, who won open-water gold after a jellyfish sting, a race postponement and a race relocation. 

Track and field, Diamond League finals: Half of the events wrapped for the season at the Weltklasse Zurich over the weekend; the rest finish up Friday in Brussels. Check the Monday Morning Run for a recap that includes fellow Dukie Shannon Rowbury diving along with U.S. teammate Jenny Simpson as the latter took the women’s 1,500 title in style.

Today’s Frontier Sports wrap has a couple of track and field links (along with helpful links on badminton and much more), including “the often-told, never-dull tale of how (Brianne Theisen-Eaton) almost impaled (Ashton Eaton) with a javelin.”

Overall Diamond League winners include Simpson, Michael Tinsley (USA, 400 hurdles), Christian Taylor (USA, triple jump, took title away from teammate Will Claye at final), Lashawn Merritt (USA, 400 meters, Kirani James wasn’t at the final), Reese Hoffa (USA, shot put), Veronica Campbell-Brown (Jamaica, 100), Dawn Harper-Nelson (USA, 100 hurdles — Americans won every Diamond League race), Tiana Bartoletta (USA, long jump) and Valerie Evans (New Zealand, shot put, swept).

Women’s soccer, NWSL final: I got back from vacation to see this, and I’m glad I did. It was a compelling final, and while Seattle would’ve been a worthy champion in every sense, Kansas City deserved it. The Lauren Holiday-to-Amy Rodriguez combo is as potent as anything you’ll see in soccer.

Kansas City now holds the top-division U.S./Canada titles in men’s soccer (Sporting KC, MLS), women’s soccer (FCKC), and men’s indoor soccer (Missouri Comets, coached by FCKC’s Vlatko Andonovski). The latter won the last MISL title before most of that league leapt to the MASL.

The league also announced it would play a full schedule next summer with a break for the World Cup, which means international players will miss a considerable number of games. The big worry: The season will spill into September, bad news for those counting on international loans or fall coaching jobs to supplement the league’s small paychecks. But the league didn’t have a lot of good options, and now they’re poised to ride a World Cup wave if one materializes again.

Basketball World Cup: Senegal over Croatia is the big upset so far, while France, Brazil and Serbia have created a logjam for second behind Spain in Group A. The USA is cruising through an easy group.

Men’s volleyball World Championships: Many people are watching.

The USA won a thrilling five-setter and lost an epic to Iran in early group play.

Modern pentathlon World Championships: Underway with relays.

MMA: The UFC 177 pay-per-view card had already been hit by a rash of injuries. Then one of the UFC’s most heralded recent signings, Olympic wrestling gold medalist Henry Cejudo, had a “medical issue” while trying to make weight. Then former bantamweight champion Renan Barao, set for a rematch against new champ T.J. Dillashaw, also couldn’t make weight. Joe Soto got the Seth Petruzelli-style bump from the undercard to the main event. Unlike Petruzelli against Kimbo Slice, Soto couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

So the most noteworthy things about the card, apart from Cejudo and Barao’s weight-cutting issues, were:

1. Bethe Correia taking out another of Ronda Rousey’s buddies, veteran Shayna Baszler. Now Rousey wants a piece of Correia, who’ll be happy to oblige.

2. Dana White launching an unholy rip of the media. Some days, I miss covering this sport — this would’ve been fun.

Overseas in ONE FC — I’m absolutely biased toward Kamal Shalorus, who works in our wonderful local dojo and is as nice as he could be. Glad to see him get a title shot, but Shinya Aoki was always going to be a tough matchup, and Aoki indeed kept the belt.

Chess: World champ Magnus Carlsen and top U.S. player Hikaru Nakamura are at the Sinquefield Cup, but Italy’s Fabiano Caruana has left them in the dust, beating Carlsen, Nakamura and the other three to go a perfect 5-for-5 halfway through the double round-robin.

And we’re a month away from Millionaire Chess. Ignore the monetary losses and enjoy.

Cycling: Vuelta a Espana in brief — Nairo Quintana fell, Alberto Contador took the lead.

Video games: A terrific glitch in Madden ’15 — a 14-inch-tall linebacker:

Coming up: Bloody Elbow is looking at the upcoming wrestling World Championships.

Glad to be back!

2012 medal projection update: Badminton

By popular demand, I’m updating the 2012 medal projections, now that the Games are in … two weeks and … yikes, I’d better get moving.

I started by tweaking the only two updates I had made since completing the original projections — athletics (track and field) and archery. That brings us up to one I hadn’t touched in a while — badminton.

Here’s the original post. Onward we go, relying heavily on the current rankings (nicely compiled on one page) and the 2011 World Championships, held in London. Projections are in italic; changes from original projections are in bold italic.

Men’s singles: China’s Lin Dan and Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei keep passing the top ranking back and forth, with Lin winning an epic final in 2011 to match their 1-2 finish in Beijing. Get the feeling everyone else is battling for third? China’s Chen Long and Chen Jin are next, then the top European, Denmark’s Peter Gade. Chen Jin and Gade split third place in Worlds. Was CHN, MAS, INA; now China, Malaysia, Denmark.

Men’s doubles: Another case of the top ranking being passed between two parties — China’s multiple-time world champions Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng, and South Korea’s Jae-Sung Jung and Yong-Dae Lee.  Another South Korean duo, Sung Hyun Ko and Yeon Seong Yoo, rank fourth behind Denmark’s Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen. The USA has an entry here — 2005 world champions Howard Bach and Tony Gunawan. Was KOR, DEN, CHN; now China, South Korea, Denmark.

Women’s singles: The bad news for China — they can only send three players, and the top four in the world are Chinese. The three making the trip are Wang Yihan, Wang Xin and Wang Shixian. (Not enough players named Wang? The U.S. entry is Rena Wang.) Still, a couple of players prevented a sweep at Worlds, where they hand out four medals — Chinese Taipei’s Cheng Shao-chieh took second behind Yihan, and Germany’s Juliane Schenk shared third with Xin. Schenk is still the top-ranked European (sixth), just ahead of Denmark’s Tine Baun (seventh). India’s Saina Nehwal is between the Chinese pair and the Europeans. Was CHN, DEN, CHN; now China, China, Germany.

Women’s doubles: The top two, by a very wide margin, are Chinese: Wang Xiaoli/Yu Yang and Tian Qing/Zhao Yunlei. That’s how they finished at Worlds. Then South Korea’s Jung-Eun Ha and Min-Jung Kim have a bit of a lead for third place — especially because China can only send two teams, so the fourth-ranked team is out. Japan has the next team on the list (Mizuku Fujii/Reika Kakiiwa) as well as a third-place team from Worlds (Miyuki Maeda/Satoko Suetsuna). The other third-place team, India’s Jwala Gutta/Ashwini Ponnappa, is far down the list. Was TPE, CHN, JPN; now China, China, Japan.

Mixed doubles: The top team and world champions are China’s Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei. The second-ranked team, by a close margin, is China’s Xu Chen and Ma Jin, but they took third in Worlds behind Britain’s Chris Adcock and Imogen Bankier. The host nation’s hopefuls have tumbled down the rankings, though, with two Danish teams ahead of them in Europe. Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen hold third by a slim margin over Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir, who joined Xu/Ma in third at Worlds. Was CHN, DEN, GBR; now China, Denmark, China

2012 badminton: Any hope for Europe?

Badminton is one of several Olympic sports that thrives in Asia, gets a smattering of interest in Europe and is mostly invisible elsewhere. In Beijing, the badminton venue flat-out rocked.

OK, so I can’t show you how loud it was. Pretty, though, isn’t it?

The hosts won eight of the 15 medals in this buoyant atmosphere, which was enough to turn a contender into a medalist. The other medals went to South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia. All hotbeds of the sport, all expected to win medals at any competition, anywhere.

But Europe has a few people who can play as well. Denmark has had a handful of Olympic medals, as has 2012 host Britain. Perhaps a friendlier atmosphere in London will help?

Continue reading 2012 badminton: Any hope for Europe?