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)

2012 medal projection update: Diving

Self-indulgence alert: Two Dukies made the Games — Nick McCrory and Abby Johnston.

For projection purposes, here’s a better piece of news: FINA’s rankings are nicely detailed.

As we said in the initial picks, we could just pick China for every possible medal and move on. But we’ll go into more detail …


Springboard: Gold medalist He Chong isn’t going anywhere — world titles in 2009 and 2011, first in the rankings. Qin Kai was only fourth at Worlds but is second in the rankings. Russia had two on the World Championship podium — Ilya Zaharov and Evgeny Kuznetsov. U.S. warhorse Troy Dumais placed fifth at Worlds; Chris Colwill is more of a long shot to reach the final but has done it before. Projection was CHN-MEX-USA; now China, Russia, China

Platform: Better medal prospects for the USA here — David Boudia is ranked second and placed second at Worlds. First in both was another Chinese diver, Qiu Bo. Germany’s Sascha Klein finished third at Worlds. The USA’s Nick McCrory was sixth at Worlds, ninth in the rankings. Britain has a couple of hopefuls here, with youngster and 2009 world champ Thomas Daley fourth in the rankings and 2004 Athens medalist Peter Waterfield fifth. Russia’s Victor Minibaev is ranked third. Was CHN-AUS-GBR; now China, USA, Britain

Synchro springboard: FINA ranks by country in the synchronized events, and it’s no surprise who’s first here — China. Then Russia and Mexico, following the World Championship podium. The USA, who’ll pair Dumais with Kristian Ipsen, ranks fifth after a fourth-place finish at Worlds. Was CHN-USA-CAN; now China, Russia, Mexico

Synchro platform: China and Germany were 1-2 at Worlds and 1-2 in the rankings. The USA (Boudia/McCrory) ranks third despite a fifth-place finish at Worlds behind Ukraine and Russia. Mexico ranks fourth. Was CHN-GER-CUB; now China, Germany, USA


Springboard: Wu Minxia took bronze in 2008 and is now No. 1 in Worlds and the rankings. China made it 1-2 with He Zi. After that, third place is wide open — Canada’s Jennifer Abel was third in Worlds, Italy’s Tania Cagnotto ranks third, and the USA’s Christina Loukas is fourth in Worlds and the rankings. Cassidy Krug snagged the second U.S. spot. Was CHN-MEX-CHN; now China, China, USA

Platform: Mexico’s Paola Espinosa won the 2009 world title. She slipped to fourth in 2011, when China restored order with Chen Ruolin and Hu Yadan finishing 1-2. They hold those spots in the rankings, with Canada’s Roseline Filion third. Americans Brittany Viola and Katie Bell are long shots. We’re going to leave the projection intact: China, China, Mexico

Synchro springboard: We’ll have to make at least one change here — Russia didn’t qualify. China is yet again the clear favorite, with World runner-up Canada second in the rankings. Australia finished third at Worlds but is tied for fifth in the rankings with the USA, all behind Italy and Ukraine. Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston are the U.S. divers. Was CHN-RUS-CAN; now China, Canada, Australia

Synchro platform: The USA didn’t qualify in this one. China is the clear No. 1 and Australia’s the clear No. 2, leaving Canada (ranked third), Germany (third at Worlds) and Great Britain (fourth in each, with home-pool advantage) vying for bronze. Was CHN-CAN-AUS; now China, Australia, Britain

2012 diving: Can we just say “China” and move on?

China dominates diving. Period. But we’re going to be thorough in these projections. And if you’re looking for American medals, this is a sport with some potential despite a shutout in Beijing.

In addition to the 2009 World Championships, we have good gauges of form in the 2010 World Cup and World Series.

Men’s springboard: 2008 gold medalist He Chong fought off North American challengers Troy Dumais (USA) and Alexandre Despatie (Canada) to win the 2009 world title.

2008: He Chong (China), Alexandre Despatie (Canada), Qin Kai (China)

Projection: China, Mexico, USA

Top Americans: Dumais just keeps going in search of an elusive Olympic medal, finishing fourth in the 2010 World Series. Chris Colwill has made finals at Olympics and Worlds.

Women’s springboard: 2008 gold medalist Guo Jingjing was so far ahead of the pack at the 2009 Worlds that botching her fourth dive barely made a dent in her lead. Canada’s Emilie Heymans and Italy’s Tania Cagnotto took second and third. But then everything changed in 2010, when Guo retired. Naturally, another Chinese diver emerged to dominate the competition in 2010 — Zi He swept the World Series and World Cup, with Wu Minxia and Mexico’s Paola Espinosa battling for second.

2008: Guo Jingjing (China), Yulia Pakhalina (Russia), Wu Minxia (China)

Projection: China, Mexico, China

Top Americans: Ariel Rittenhouse placed fifth in 2009; Christina Loukas was eighth.

Men’s platform: Somehow, this is one event that eludes the Chinese team. Britain’s Thomas Daley beat China’s Qiu Bo and Zhou Lüxin in the 2009 Worlds, with 2008 gold medalist Matthew Mitcham of Australia a close fourth. Qiu swept the 2010 World Series, but Mitcham beat him in the World Cup.

2008: Matthew Mitcham (Australia), Zhou Lüxin (China), Gleb Galperin (Russia)

Projection: China, Australia, Britain

Top Americans: David Boudia and Thomas Finchem have their moments but are generally better contenders in synchro.

Women’s platform: At last, we have a change-up — a Chinese diver failed to defend an Olympic title at the 2009 Worlds, as Mexico’s Paola Espinosa upset Chen Ruolin and another Chinese diver, Kang Li. Chen and Kang finished 1-2 in the 2010 World Series, and China’s Hu Yadan took the World Cup ahead of Chen and Australia’s Melissa Wu. Espinosa struggled at the World Cup but was third in the World Series.

2008: Chen Ruolin (China), Emilie Heymans (Canada), Wang Xin (China)

Projection: China, China, Mexico

Top Americans: No one stood out in 2010, but someone could surprise out of the solid synchro duo of Haley Ishimatsu and Mary Beth Dunnichay.

Men’s synchronized springboard: A definitive 1-2 at 2008 Worlds — 2008 gold medalist Wang Feng/Qin Kai, followed by Dumais and fellow American Kristian Ipsen. Canada’s Reuben Ross teamed with Despatie for third. Qin went through a couple of different partners in 2010 but kept winning. Dumais/Ipsen beat Ukraine’s 2008 bronze medalists for second in the World Cup.

2008: Wang Feng/Qin Kai (China), Dmitri Sautin/Yuriy Kunakov (Russia), Illya Kvasha/Oleksiy Prygorov (Ukraine)

Projection: China, USA, Canada

Top Americans: Dumais has outlasted several partners in the sport but is still a contender.

Women’s synchronized springboard: Gold medalists Guo Jingjing and Wu Minxia came back a year later at Worlds and posted the top score on all five dives. Italy’s Tania Cagnotto and Francesca Dallape were far ahead of a battle for third contessted by Russia’s 2008 silver medalists, Canada and Australia. With Guo retired, Wu simply teamed up with He Zi to win the overall World Series title and the World Cup. Russia’s Anastasia Pozdniakova and new partner Svetlana Filippova won one World Series event and took second in two other competitions. Canada’s Jennifer Abel went back and forth between Meghan Benfeito and Emilie Heymans, with consistent top-five results.

2008: Guo Jingjing/Wu Minxia (China), Yulia Pakhalina/Anastasia Pozdniakova (Russia), Ditte Kotzian/Heike Fischer (Germany)

Projection: China, Russia, Canada

Top Americans: Kelci Bryant and Ariel Rittenhouse were a solid sixth at 2009 Worlds. They competed with different partners in 2010 as three different U.S. duos took part in the 2010 World Series, each placing third in their respective meets. Kassidy Cook and Cassidy Krug — no, those names aren’t made up — finished fifth in the World Cup.

Men’s synchronized platform: Lin Yue and Huo Liang were in their teens when they won gold in Beijing, and they left everyone else competing for second place in the 2009 Worlds, racking up 10s from a couple of judges not just on their early easy dives but their nasty degree-of-difficulty final dive. Americans David Boudia and Thomas Finchum won a three-way battle for second over a strong Cuban entry and Germany’s 2008 silver medalists. But the Cubans and Germans were the only duos to compete together and post podium finishes in 2010, with China’s new representatives of  Cao Yuan and Zhang Yanquan sweeping everything in sight.

2008: Lin Yue/Huo Liang (China), Patrick Hausding/Sascha Klein (Germany), Gleb Galperin/Dmitriy Dobroskok (Russia)

Projection: China, Germany, Cuba

Top Americans: Boudia, Finchum, Nick McCrory and J.J. Kinzbach competed in different permutations in 2010, with McCrory/Finchem third in a World Series meet and McCrory/Boudia fourth in the World Cup.

Women’s synchronized platform: Tired of reading about Chinese divers defending their gold medals at Worlds? Too bad. Chen and Wang were 22.20 points clear of Australian silver medalists Briony Cole and Melissa Wu after three dives. The only surprise was that Cole and Wu faded to fifth behind duos from the USA, Malaysia and Canada. Naturally, the Chinese team mixed things up slightly in 2010, as Chen teamed with Wang Hao to sweep the World Cup and World Series. Canada’s Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito finished on the podium in all four meets, while Australia’s Melissa Wu had four podium finishes with two different partners. Britain has a couple of contenders, taking fourth in three of the meets with different duos.

2008: Wang Xin/Chen Ruolin (China), Briony Cole/Melissa Wu (Australia), Paola Espinosa/Tatiana Ortiz (Mexico)

Projection: China, Canada, Australia

Top Americans: Mary Beth Dunnichay and Haley Ishimatsu moved up from fourth to second on their final dive at 2009 Worlds, but they dropped to eighth at the 2010 World Cup.


Here comes the judge …

Time for that annual tradition for much of the country: Watching the Westminster Dog Show. (Or, if you work in journalism, creating Westminster-related content that will get startling traffic numbers.)

It’s fun to watch, but does anyone really have a clue about the judging? We see the judges peek in their mouths, stroke their coats and watch them trot, but if not for the expert commentators, most of us couldn’t tell first place from last.

That difficulty isn’t unique, though. Judging is an issue in MMA, even though the actions and their impact are often easy to see.

Then come Olympic sports — gymnastics, diving, figure skating, etc. The action is subtle and often goes quickly. Having seen Olympic diving first-hand in Beijing, I can offer this recap: Jump, flip flip flip, splash. Sure, you can judge the splash, but everything else happens too quickly for most mortals to process. The splash just tells us whether or not the diver got through the whole thing. (As Norm MacDonald once said, there are two types of cliff divers — “grand champion” and “stuff on a rock.”)

Which brings us to a poll …

[poll id=”5″]

Weekend wrap: Schizophrenic synchronized diving, more Messi, Horner’s hat

What did you miss if you were focusing on The Masters?


– Portsmouth made it to the FA Cup final against Chelsea, which would qualify the already-relegated Premier League team for the Europa Cup … if they can win an appeal after failing to turn in their paperwork on time. (BBC)

– Remembering Ruben Mendoza, who played in the youth system of Mexican club Atlante but was a U.S. national teamer in the 1950s and a U.S. Open Cup champion with St. Louis club Kutis. (US Soccer Players)

– Hey, we thought MLS was the only league that played on while national team players were elsewhere. (AP)

– Real Madrid has been giving Barcelona a good chase this year, but Messi’s club now has the look of a team on one of those majestic runs at which others can only marvel. The Spanish showdown this weekend: Real Madrid 0, Barcelona 2. (ESPN video)

– Bayern Munich was a little less emphatic in stamping its authority over the race in Germany, eking out a 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen (The Offside)


– This is not a leftover from last week — Fabian Cancellara broke away and left Tom Boonen behind to win the classic Paris-Roubaix race. Next up: Cancellara conquers America. (USA TODAY: Sal Ruibal’s blog)

Americans didn’t fare well in Paris-Roubaix, but check out the winner of the Tour of the Basque Country — it’s Chris Horner, who spent years dominating in the States before getting a consistent ride in Europe. (VeloNews)


Curling: Fourth place for Pete Fenson and the USA, first place for Canada at the World Championships. (Universal Sports videos)

Modern pentathlon: The BBC produced a 10-minute highlight/feature reel that’s a good introduction to the sport for those of you who didn’t spend a whole day covering the women’s event in Beijing. Top U.S. finishers, not appearing in this video, were Will Brady (19th) and Margaux Isaksen (24th). No word on whether Isaksen kissed her horse.  (BBC video)

Marathon: Ethiopia’s Tadesse Tola won the Paris Marathon in 2 hours, 6 minutes and 41 seconds. Let’s check the pace calculator here: That’s a 4:50 mile, repeated 26 1/4 times. (AP)

Triathlon: A couple of top-10s for U.S. athletes in Sydney (USOC),

Boxing: Evander Holyfield wins a world heavyweight title of some sort. So will you please retire for good this time? No? You want to fight a Klitschko? Please, no. (ESPN)

Diving: Diving ‘gainst myse-elf, oh oh, diving ‘gainst myse-elf! With a synchro selection giving coaches reflection, I’m diving ‘gainst myse-elf, oh oh … (USOC)

Tennis/cricket: Those of us in Duke-North Carolina marriages have nothing on this — Indian tennis star Sania Mirza and Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik married over the weekend. Congratulations and best wishes for peace. (BBC)

We covered the UFC bout that mattered (we’re ignoring Anderson Silva’s sleepwalking defense of his middleweight belt), and we’ll have an MLS/WPS wrap later today.