We should probably dispense with the idea that Vladimir Putin timed the mess in Ukraine to occur after everyone left Sochi. Another wave is coming in right now for the Paralympics.
And while we in the USA don’t pay quite as much attention to the Paralympics as other countries do — though, in contrast to the Olympics, NBC’s networks will air the opening ceremony live and offer much more live action in the early morning hours — this is a large event that will be taking place under a large shadow.
As difficult as it may be to separate the geopolitics from the inspiring stories of athletes overcoming great challenges, we’ll have no shortage of the latter.
To be fair to NBC, it’s not as if the rest of the U.S. media rushed to fill the void in Paralympics coverage.
Perhaps one reason the Paralympics don’t get much play in the USA is that we forget to think of Paralympians as athletes. A BBC roundup of leading countries, their medals, and their media led to this conclusion:
Most news coverage has focused not on results or the medal chase, but on human interest stories or curiosities, with headlines such as “Shark attack survivor wins bronze.”
Contrast that with another quote in that roundup: Paralympian Josh George via The New York Times:
Even more amazing than the fact that Londoners have opened their arms and hearts to the Paralympics is the fact that they are interested in us for our athletic ability, not the fact that we don’t spend every day in our rooms crying about the fact that we can’t walk, or are missing a limb or two.
South Park has probably said it best on several occasions: People with disabilities often just want to live as everyone else does. And maybe we should focus on wheelchair rugby as a fun sport to watch instead of trumping up the “human interest” angle. We’re all “human.” Paralympians happen to be great athletes as well.
Then again, don’t we often hear the same criticism about NBC’s Olympic coverage?
Yes, the Monday Myriad is back! Mostly because I want to try to mention the big stuff and some fun stuff that happens on weekend, and soccer coaching/PTA/parenting duties don’t let me work an actual seven-day week. It only seems that way.
And we had a lot of long-term events wrapping this weekend. Feels almost like the end of summer, and not just because we have a nice cool front on the East Coast after the power-threatening storm front Saturday.
Here we go …
Paralympics: China dominated the final medal count with 231 medals, 95 gold. Britain was a distant second overall with 120; Russia a remote second in golds with 36. The USA finished with 98 medals (fourth) and 31 gold (sixth).
The U.S. highlights near the end were in the team events — silver in women’s sitting volleyball, bronze in men’s wheelchair basketball. The wheelchair rugby team lost 50-49 to Canada in the semifinals and rebounding to beat Japan for bronze. Women’s wheelchair basketball missed the podium, finishing fourth.
Also this weekend — Shirley Reilly got a long-awaited gold medal after several near-misses, winning the marathon in a sprint finish. Yes, that’s right — a sprint finish in the marathon. Think about that the next time your local pro athlete talks about a “gut check.”
As in the Olympics, the USA’s strengths were in the pool (41 medals, 14 gold) and on the track (28 medals, nine gold). Cyclists accounted for 17 more, six gold. The rest were scattered among wheelchair tennis (three), archery (two), judo (two), rowing, sailing and the three team sports above.
Chess: Armenia won the Olympiad, barely beating Russia on tiebreak. Ukraine took sole possession of third. China, which handed the USA its sole loss, took fourth. That left the USA in fifth, with Gata Kamsky and Hikaru Nakamura posting the eighth- and ninth-rated performances.
The U.S. women didn’t do quite as well, finishing 10th. They rebounded from some puzzling results with a nice run, only to run into Ukraine and then draw Mongolia. Top three: Russia, China, Ukraine.
Cycling: Alberto Contador won the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain, for the European language-impaired). We can only hope he gets to keep this one. Spanish riders dominated, while Britain’s Chris Froome should get some sort of endurance prize for finishing fourth after reaching the Tour de France podium and medaling in the Olympics.
Track and field: The Diamond League is done, and I’ll be parsing the results from the complete track and field year sometime this fall. Or maybe when the Diamond League site stops bogging down. Season winners from the USA: Aries Merritt, Christian Taylor, Reese Hoffa, Dawn Harper, Chaunte Lowe.
Tennis: Serena Williams was challenged in the U.S. Open final but pulled out another win. Rain pushed the men’s final to today. Check CBS at 4 p.m. ET to see Andy Murray go for that elusive Grand Slam title against Novak Djokovic. No British man has won a major since the 1936 U.S. Open. As Channel 4 put it — no pressure, Andy.
Gymnastics: Women’s soccer isn’t the only sport with a post-Olympic tour. The gymnasts are doing it, too, but Fierce Five members Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney have been injured. In related news, the “McKayla is not impressed” Tumblr is running out of good ideas.
Women’s soccer: Transfer speculation! Jeff Kassouf takes a good look at the latest rumors on big-spending Paris St. Germain, finding the Christine Sinclair rumors plausible and the Abby Wambach rumors far less plausible. He dares not speculate on Hope Solo. I’d have to agree on all three counts.
Wheelchair rugby is a good spectator sport for several reasons. One is that the confusing classification system, which leads to 11 gold medals being awarded in an event like the men’s 50-meter freestyle, is less of a factor. Coaches have to add up numbers to have fair teams, but viewers only see “USA vs. Great Britain.”
And if you like your sports a little wilder than the typical foot race, this is the sport for you. There’s a reason they call it Murderball, and there’s a reason Friday Night Lights sought it out as a new competitive outlet for paralyzed quarterback Jason Street. (Awfully convenient that so many U.S. national team players lived so close to Dillon, Texas, wasn’t it?)
The U.S. men are off to a good start, though they might want to work on the interview cliches:
And they are the defending champs, thanks to a late surge against Australia in the final in Beijing:
Unfortunately, even the Paralympic.org “smart player” is light on wheelchair rugby. The link for yesterday’s USA-Britain game goes instead to Brazil-Britain sitting volleyball. On the Paralympic YouTube channel, the link for yesterday’s USA-Britain game goes to Iran-Russia 7-a-side soccer.
Michael Phelps’ medal tally is impressive. But can he ski?
Somewhere in our ranking of great athletes, we have to set aside a place for those who manage Olympic medals in two different sports. And beyond that, we have to have another place for those who win gold medals in winter and summer Games.
Alana Nichols won gold in wheelchair basketball in 2008 and added a skiing gold in 2010.
Can any athlete match that in the Olympics or Paralympics?
The Olympics have had a few multisport athletes. This incomplete list (swimmer/triathlete/modern pentathlete Sheila Taormina was missing until I added her, so I don’t fully trust it) includes a lot of cyclists doubling up on winter sports that also require massive thighs. We also have a few combined-event athletes competing in a subset of those events (modern pentathletes in fencing, etc.) and a few track and field/bobsled folks.
Then we get some unusual combos. Bobsled and sailing. Bobsled and judo. Ice hockey and softball (add that to “things I’d forgotten about Hayley Wickenheiser.”)
The most accomplished dual-season Olympian is surely Canada’s Clara Hughes. She won two medals in cycling in 1996, tried again in 2000 and then shifted to speedskating. She claimed four medals in three Winter Olympics, then made another run in cycling just a few weeks ago in London. At age 39, she finished fifth in the time trial.
Paralympic records aren’t as widely tracked, but the Paralympic Hall of Fame includes one Jouko Grip, who doubled up on track and field plus cross-country skiing. He managed five gold medals in 1984, back in the days in which Winter and Summer Games were held in the same year.
The USA stands sixth in the overall medal count at the Paralympics, where China has been dominant.
As in the Olympics, the USA is strong in swimming, with a mix of veterans from past Games and veterans of a different sort.
Jessica Long, whose legs don’t extend past her knees,has been winning Olympic gold since she was 12. Now 20, she’s likely to surpass her 2008 medal haul of four golds, a silver and a bronze. She already has three golds and a silver. And you may have seen her in commercials:
Newer on the Paralympic scene is Brad Snyder. Less than a year ago, he lost his sight in an explosion in Afghanistan. (The Post also has a photo gallery.) He has two medals and seems to be one of the friendliest interview subjects you could ever meet:
A few other Paralympic notes:
– Oscar Pistorius is apologizing for griping about his opponent’s prosthetic blades just after he took silver in the men’s 200 meters. Gareth Davies, a name some of you might recognize from MMA circles, wonders if Pistorius has destroyed his “brand.”
– Soccer fans should check out Jefinho. As you can guess from the name, he’s Brazilian. And he does 1-on-4 dribbling with mesmerizing foot action. He plays in the 5-a-side soccer variety, which means he can’t see what he’s doing.
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.
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 paralympic.org, and you should also check usparalympics.org 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.
The Paralympic Games start Wednesday with the opening ceremony. Then we’ll have archery, track cycling, equestrian, goalball, judo, powerlifting, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, table tennis and wheelchair basketball on Thursday
No, I’m not doing medal projections. That’s a bit too complicated. But I will grab some of the more interesting things I see and pass them along.
– Tatyana McFadden is doing five events ranging from the 100 meters to the marathon. Let’s see Usain Bolt top THAT.