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)

Monday Myriad, July 21: Spike and strike

This week: A couple of U.S. teams won world championships (one official, one nearly official), and we had a track meet with a series of dizzying performances.

We are the champions (I): U.S. men in the World League volleyball final.

We are the champions (II): U.S. women’s saber team in the fencing world championships.

And individually, Mariel Zagunis rocks on …

Don’t say I didn’t warn you: Remember when I did a few posts on the War on Nonrevenue Sports? (No you don’t, please don’t lie.) Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, also a U.S. Olympic Committee board members, sees a post-O’Bannon suit future in which men’s Olympic sports are gone.

Best doping excuse: Want to know why athletes often claim they doped accidentally or tested positive because of a contaminated supplement? Because it happens. Just ask biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle.

Speaking of the complex morality of doping …

“Daddy, can we ride the white elephant?”: No, because Barcelona is actually making good use of its Olympic venues.

Big things that happened at the Herculis Diamond League meet:

Take a look — Gatlin goes so fast he can hardly stay in his lane …

(Always a cynic …)

Over to the women’s 5,000 …


Then the women’s 800 for a big upset in a world-leading time by American Ajee Wilson, which you wouldn’t have expected even with 200 meters left …

And the men’s 1,500, where most of the top nine set some sort of mark …

And Tori Bowie — from unknown quantity on the track to dominance …

See the Daily Relay wrap.

Fond farewell: Thanks to Betsey Armstrong, you’ll no longer think of your 100-year-old distant cousin when you hear the name “Betsy.”

Woly Award: Miles Chamley-Watson, fencing

World Championship season is tough for those of us who try to pick an award winner. What do you do when you have someone who has won three straight world titles (plus the Olympics, plus two world indoor titles) in the women’s long jump, like Brittney Reese? Or an Olympic decathlon champion who repeated the feat at Worlds, like Ashton Eaton?

You give it to the fencer, of course.

Miles Chamley-Watson was just outside the top 16 seeds coming into the men’s foil competition at the World Championships, so he had to work his way through pool play before reaching the knockout rounds. Then he won his first bout 15-12. Then he came from 10-6 down to win 15-14 in the round of 32. Down 11-6 in the round of 16? Came back to win 15-14. Down 12-5 in the quarters? Oh, that has to be it — oops, he came back and won 15-14 again.

The semifinals and the final were comparatively easy. Watch his final performance in the playlist below.

He also picked up another medal today, earning silver in the team competition. That’ll be in next week’s playlist.

So Chamley-Watson is this week’s Woly Award winner, given to the best U.S. performance in Olympic sports this week.

The full list of highlights in the playlist here:

  • Fencing: Chamley-Watson, world men’s foil champion
  • Track and field: Reese, world women’s long jump champion
  • Track and field: Eaton, world decathlon champion
  • Beach volleyball: Jennifer Fopma and Brooke Sweat win first FIVB medal
  • Volleyball: Young U.S. team wins epic match with Serbia
  • Track and field: Usain Bolt isn’t American, but he’s in the highlight reel anyway — besides, Justin Gatlin was the only person anywhere near him
  • Fencing: Team bronze for the U.S. women in sabre
  • Fencing: One for the blooper reel
  • Track and field: Mo Farah at least trains in the USA, and he’s too good to ignore
  • Swimming: Thomas Shields wins 100-meter butterfly in World Cup
  • Swimming: Tyler Clary wins 400-meter butterfly, same meet
  • Badminton: Surreal end to a classic World Championship final between men’s singles legends Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei

Video ahoy:

[iframe src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/videoseries?list=PLWAQzaiNbisnUbuvswLTLQIMI7Uoiacn7″ width=”560″ height=”315″]

Monday Myriad, April 15: Life is a marathon

I admit: I tease marathoners from time to time. Just this morning, I told someone (not someone who involved with the Boston Marathon) that running a marathon really isn’t good for you. Our bodies aren’t meant to do that.

But all kidding aside, the marathoner’s perseverance is something to admire.

And that’s why some idiot terrorist picked one of most ridiculous targets possible today. And that’s why I have full faith that, without forgetting those whose lives were lost or forever changed, Boston and the marathon community will persevere.

I’ve never liked the cliche that “sports don’t matter” in the wake of tragedy. What matters is that we get to spend our lives in the pursuit of goals. That’s what sports are all about.

So with that in mind, l’m going to do a brief Monday Myriad, sans the snark:

Marathon: Shalane Flanagan and Jason Hartmann each finished fourth before today’s senseless attack, and U.S. Paralympian Tatyana McFadden won the women’s wheelchair division.

Figure skating: The USA won the World Team Trophy, which bodes well for the new team event in the Olympics. Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold finished 2-3 in the women’s competition, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates took first in ice dancing.

Fencing: Alexander Massialas won the world junior title in men’s foil.

Check out the rest of the week in Olympic sports.

When Olympians deserve better from the rest of us

I don’t mean to pick on Mike Wise here, because this isn’t the first column to take a couple of stray mixed-zone comments and berate an Olympic athlete as if she let down her family, country, boyfriend and dog.

He does take it to new heights, though, in this column.

“Pretty much all my mistakes cost me the bout,” Zagunis said, adding that any bout she ever lost had less to do with the skill, smarts and perseverance of her opponents than it was “my lack of concentration.

“Congrats to them for winning, [but] in my opinion, if I was completely 100 percent on mentally, then I would have been able to win again. It’s happened to me before.”

First, I’d like to see the full context here. Second, she’s basically saying she choked. That doesn’t strike me as arrogant or petulant.

Ready for it to get worse?

That is, no one but fencers care about fencing after the Olympics are over. And nothing is as over as when the Olympics are over.

So while they’re going on, niche athletes need to savor the Games and smile more often for those two weeks, give opponents that beat them credit more often — because they really matter to most of us only every four years.

So take THAT, Miss Not As Composed As Journalist Would Like After Shocking Loss On World’s Biggest Stage. You’re utterly useless the rest of the four years between Olympics, when you’re just off getting an education and winning the occasional world championship.

I sometimes wonder why people would want to be Olympic athletes. You devote your adolescent and young adult years to developing a rarified skill, and then if you’re anything less than perfect when the international broadcast feed clicks on, you’re subject to ridicule from an increasingly snarky media feeding off the perpetual snark of Twitter.

NBA and NFL players usually have one more game to play, and their mistakes are quickly forgotten. A media firestorm passes with time, and the player goes back to being an athlete. But if you screw up on or off the field, piste or pommel horse in that one instant America notices you before preparing for a fantasy football draft, and that window is gone.

Fair? Definitely not, even when the journalists are less explicit in their harrumphing than Wise is here.

We won’t change the armchair-Olympian attitude, though in the new media age, people can fight back:

Yes, that’s fellow fencer Tim Morehouse, who has also responded in more detail:

Mr Wise: Maybe she didn’t respond to defeat to your liking, but she didn’t make excuses, throw her equipment, curse anyone out or do anything but respond as best she could to an emotionally challenging situation.     I have seen far worst displays from athletes and this one certainly didn’t warrant the zeal to which you attacked her in your article.

It is legitimate to criticize athletes for their behavior (yes, even fencers), but your article was a personal attack.

And to the “every four years” point, Morehouse says this:

Fencing is a great sport and Mariel Zagunis is a great champion.  Whether people are writing about it or not over the next 3 years, she’ll be working hard to achieve her goals while conducting herself as a role model and contributing to our society.   She pursues excellence not for the Bob Costas sit down or the Wheaties box, but because she is trying to be the best she can be.    And in the end, that IS the Olympic spirit.

PS Don’t mess with the fencing team.   We have swords.(and twitter)

One more point, possibly self-serving: I’ve always tried, at USA TODAY and elsewhere, to get people to care about Olympic sports in non-Olympic years. And these Games have inspired me to redouble my efforts. That’s why this little blog is going to stick with Olympic programming. (And soccer and MMA, don’t worry about that.) When Zagunis wins another world championship, you’ll read about it.

And if we’re looking for Olympic controversies, shouldn’t we be looking at the boxing judges?

UPDATE: Wise has really gotten into it with some people on Twitter, alternating between gracious smoothing-over …

… and upping the ante on the attacks …

Being a Dukie who interviewed this fencing team in Beijing and had a funny conversation with Becca Ward about skipping the closing ceremony in favor of Duke’s freshman orientation (I told her she wasn’t missing much at the latter, but she insisted), I’m moderately curious about this. Ward went on to a fantastic college fencing career at Duke, in any case.

“She and her mother bully people and have a sense of entitlement” is “something positive”?

This is why people hate journalists.

2012 medal projection update: Fencing

The original post makes the requisite Inigo Montoya reference. Unfortunately, it also got some of the events wrong. They change up the team events from time to time. We’ll have a few corrections to make.

The federation has a handy list of qualifiers. See how they do that, other federations?

Here we go …

Continue reading 2012 medal projection update: Fencing

2012 fencing: My name is Inigo Montoya …

Another sport I covered in Beijing, and I can tell you first-hand that the action is a little faster than what you see in The Princess Bride, as marvelous as those sword-fighting scenes were. (Yes, fencers tend to be big fans of Mandy Patinkin’s work in that film.)

We don’t get another World Championship until October, but fencing persists in having even-year championships as well, so we have results from November. Fencing also has a vast array of World Cups and other events that count toward a world ranking, though such rankings often depend on staying active in little events rather than sitting home training for the big ones.

Continue reading 2012 fencing: My name is Inigo Montoya …