Thursday, July 05, 2012

London Olympics Matchups to Watch

Two months ago I wrote about Josh Dixon, who was vying to become the first out black gay US Olympian by making this year's men's gymnastics team and heading to London for the summer games, which begin in 20 days. Dixon unfortunately did not make it. I'm still looking forward to the men's competition, though, and to a number of other matchups that will take place once the games begin.
John Orozco and Danell Leyva (© Kyle Terada, US Presswire)

Leading the men's gymnastics team will be two gymnasts whose names may not be widely known yet, but if they perform to their peaks, they'll be be on cereal boxes as well as the medal stand. For the first time ever, two Latinos will lead the US men's team: Danell Leyva (Team Hilton HHonors (Universal Gymnastics)), a Miami resident whose family immigrated from Cuba when he was 1/2 years old, and John Orozco (Team Hilton HHonors (US Olympic Training Center)), a Bronx-native of Puerto Rican ancestry and the 2012 Visa National Champion, have talent, skills and the drive to win big. Either one could earn the all around gold medal, and together they put the US at the forefront of the team competition. They'll be joined by Sam Mikulak (Newport Coast, CA/Univ. of Michigan), Jake Dalton (Reno, NV/Univ. of Oklahoma), and Jonathan Horton (Houston, TX/Team Hilton HHonors (Cypress)). Three replacement athletes will also accompany this quintet to London: Chris Brooks (Houston, TX/Team Hilton HHonors (Cypress)); Steven Legendre (Port Jefferson, NY/Team Hilton HHonors (University of Oklahoma)); and Alexander Naddour (Gilbert, AZ/Team Hilton HHonors (USA Youth Fitness Center)).

Photos of Orozco and Leyva from the trials
Leyva on the rings
Leyva on the rings
Leyva on the pommel horse
Orozco on the rings
Orozco on the pommel horse
Orozco and Leyva congratulating each other
On the women's gymnastics side, representing the US will be 2012 Olympics trials all-around champion Gabby Douglas (Virginia Beach, VA/Chow's Gymnastics and Dance), who'll be joined by McKayla Maroney (Long Beach, CA/AOGC); Alexandra Raisman (Needham, MA/Brestyan's American Gymnastics); Kyla Ross (Aliso Viejo, CA/Gym-Max); and Jordyn Wieber (DeWitt, MI/Gedderts' Twistars USA), plus three replacement athletes: Sarah Finnegan (St. Louis, MO/Great American Gymnastics Express); Anna Li (Aurora, IL/Legacy Elite Gymnastics); and Elizabeth Price (Coopersburg, PA/Parkettes). Douglas beat out Wieber 123.450 points to 123.350 to take the title and an automatic berth. 2008 Olympic all-around gold medalist Nastia Liukin vied for a spot but failed to make the team.

Douglas's and Wieber's close finish bodes well for their medal chances in London, and as with Orozco and Leyva, they should be at or near the top of the standings in the all around competition and leaders of a very strong US women's artistic gymnastics team.  Will Wieber avenge her trials loss? Will both women perform even better under the international spotlight? Will the US women outdo the male counterparts? I can't wait to see.

Gabby Douglas, on the uneven bars
The men's track and field competition sprints outcomes will no longer be a foregone conclusion, as some might have thought. At Jamaica's recent Olympic trials, 2008 100m and 200m gold medalist and world record holder in both events (9.58 in the 100m, 19.19 in the 200m), Jamaican Usain Bolt, lost both races to his training partner, Yohan Blake, and may be recovering from an injury, or at the very least trying to restrike his confidence and dominance, right up to the start of the prelims. After stunning Bolt in the 100m with a time of 9.75, Blake came right back and won the 200m in 19.83.

Meanwhile, the US's top sprinter of recent years, Tyson Gay, finished second in the US trials to Justin Gatlin, who won the 2004 Olympic gold medal in the 100m (and the bronze in the 200m), but was subsequently banned from competition for four years after testing positive in April 2006 for a proscribed substance. He returned in 2010, and won the 100m Olympic trial final in 9.80, the best time in history for a man over 30 years old. Whether he has it in him to best Gay again, as well as Blake and Bolt, and anyone else (the UK's, France's, and other countries' top racers will be raring to going as well), is for track fans to find out in a few weeks.

Photos of Bolt, Blake, Gay, and Gatlin

Blake after winning the 100m in 9.75
Gatlin outpacing the field to win the US Olympic trials
Blake defeats Bolt in 200m

Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, Jamaican 100m & 200m champ
In the US women's 100m race, two runners finished tied for 3rd place: 200m star (and 2008 Beijing bronze medal winner in that race) Allyson Felix, and Jenebah Tarmoh, crossed the line at exactly the same time, in 11.86 seconds, as a high-speed camera even verified. Several options for deciding a winner, ranging from a tiebreaking run-off to more misogynistic suggestions, were bandied about, but in the end, Tarmoh chose the most sportspersonlike approach and gave her spot to Felix, choosing instead to accompany the team to London as a backup member. Felix will be aiming to score that elusive gold medal in the 200m, and to justify Tarmoh's decision in the 100m, so I won't be surprised if she runs the races of her life. Ready, set-->go!

Tarmoh at bottom, Felix above her, both tied at

In men's swimming, 2000 Olympic 50-meter freestyle gold medalist Anthony Ervin, who, it turns out, was the first person of (partial) African-American ancestry to win a swimming medal, decided, after prompting by his students, to return to the pool competitively and, at the age of 31, has made the team and will compete in his signature race at the 2012 London Olympics. He will be racing against another African American, Cullen Jones, of Irvington, New Jersey (just over the border from Newark), who gained great acclaim at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he was part of the gold medal-winning 4x100m race. This is surely a first.

Anthony Ervin & Cullen Jones, at the US Olympic swimming trials
Lastly, the men's basketball team roster is set, and it will be chockfull of superstars and superstar-level egos, as has been the case since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. This year's roster features the recent NBA Championship MVP LeBron James, of the Miami Heat, as well as several members of the runner-up Oklahoma City Thunder, among them NBA scoring whiz Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.  The oldest member of the team is LA Laker and 3-time Olympian Kobe Bryant. There are no weak links, and if they can play together as opposed to as a team of multimillionaires with dazzling skills and unmatched self-regard, they should win the gold medal with one hand tied behind half their backs. That is, if they can play together....

U.S. basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo (R) and the 12 players selected for the 2012 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team pose during a news conference at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada July 7, 2012. Back row (L - R) Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Front row (L - R) Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, James Harden, Andre Iguodala and Kobe Bryant. REUTERS/Steve Marcus
Certainly there are so many more fascinating pairings and stories that will unfold in London, not least the frightening militarization of the city that the British government has undertaken to address terrorism fears, so I, like many others, will be staying tuned (and hoping that the only brouhaha involves scores and times, and nothing worse)!

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