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USA Basketball on top of the World

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USA Basketball on top of the World

By Leland Stein III

COMMENTARY

LONDON – The United States Women’s and Men’s Senior National Basketball teams have proven that the round ball is truly American’s game. In spite of the fact international teams had over 20 players playing in the NBA, as opposed to the 1882 Dream Team having on 6 NBA players on international teams. The USA Basketball foundation and organization is firmly planted on solid ground and during the 2012 Olympic Games it once again proved that the best basketball in the world is played every year right here in the NBA.

The linchpin behind the USAQ Men’s resurgence has been the inclusion of Jerry Colangelo as the Managing Director of USA Basketball National Senior National team in 2005. Before his involvement Colangelo confidently rebuilt the program from the bottom up, obtaining the involvement of the NBA’s top players (Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James) and naming Duke University’s Hall of Fame mentor Mike Krzyzewski as the USA National Team head coach. In the 2004 Olympics the USA Men earned a bronze medal and in the 2006 FIBA World Championships the US Men earned another bronze.

“Coach K, LeBron and I met in Las Vegas to discuss being a part of the US team,” Anthony told me. “He said it would take a commitment, but in the end it would be worth the effort. LeBron and I are the only one’s remaining from the original teams in 2004. We endured the ups and downs and now we have put together a system that works.”

Added James: “Coach K and I have been a part of the whole USA rebuilding process. We share the same Olympic tract and that makes this win even that more special. I made a commitment to be a part of this. It was a long journey to get to 2008 and now 2012, but eight years later we are back on top.”

Through the solidifying efforts of Colangelo and Krzyzewski along with the commitments of Anthony and James, and, the wooing of Bryant in 2007, the foundation of USA Men’s Basketball is entrenched. In the 2012 Olympic Games Final, a rematch with Spain, young upstart Kevin Durant scored 30 points in a contest that featured 16 lead changes and six tied scores no matter, the U.S held off Spain for a 107-100 win to capture the Olympic gold medal.

While Anthony and James earned a second gold medal in a third Olympic appearance; three more were members of the gold-medal winning team in 2008, Bryant, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Playing in their first Olympics were Tyson Chandler, Anthony Davis, Durant, James Harden, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Andre Iguodala.

“It was very emotional,” Bryant said of his 2012 gold medal. “You just kind of think back on the journey, so to speak. Being here for your last go-round, wearing USA on your chest, it’s very emotional.”

Meanwhile, for the USA Women it was business as usual. Since the inclusion of the women in Olympic Basketball in 1976, where the Soviet Union won the first two Games, the captured its unprecedented fifth-straight Olympic gold (dating back to 1996), a feat never before accomplished in any women’s traditional team sport, the USA women have compiled a 41-game Olympic winning streak that began with the 1992 bronze medal game.

This time around the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team posted a 86-50 win over France at North Greenwich Arena in London, England.

“You know, you go into every game thinking that there’s going to be some things that you have to do, and if you do those things you’re going to have a chance you can win it,” said Geno Auriemma, USA and University of Connecticut head coach. “France was probably playing as well as anytime I’ve ever seen them, since I’ve been the coach.”

“I think that this is just so sweet to get the second one,” said Candace Parker. “You can stumble on a championship once, but it’s really hard to do it twice. And for USA Basketball to do it five times in a row, that’s truly special.”

The gold medal is a third for Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings. While Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Swin Cash, and Parker also earned their second gold. Tina Charles, Asjha Jones, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Mooremand Lindsay Whalen all got their first gold.

The Games’ in and outs

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By Leland Stein III

LONDON – MAKING HISTORY: Kim Rhode won the Olympic gold medal in women's skeet shooting becoming the first woman to win three gold medals in Olympic shooting. Rhode now joins basketball player Teresa Edwards, who is serving as Chef de Mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Delegation, as the only U.S. female athletes to win medals in five different Olympic Games, regardless of sport.

There were standout performances right across the program - from Felix Sanchez's golden night in the 400m Hurdles to Uganda's Stephen Kiprotich stunning the Kenyan challenge to clinch Olympic Games gold in the men's Marathon on The Mall.

In total, four world records were broken in London 2012 Athletics. Russia's Elena Lashmanova set one in the women's 20km Race Walk and the USA 4x100m Relay quartet of Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter blazed round the track in 40.82, beating East Germany's record of 41.37, which had stood since 1985.

TOO SMALL? The London 2012 Olympic Village located on the Olympic Park, had residential apartments for around 17,000 athletes and officials during the Games, along with shops, restaurants, medical, media and leisure facilities, and large areas of park and open space. However, if you were 6-foot-5 Usain Bolt or 6-foot-4 Michael Phelps if they decided to stay in the village, forgive them if they felt a little cramped. Each sparsely decorated room has two single beds next to bedside tables and small lamps. But the beds are only 5, feet, 8 inches long, meaning many athletes might need extensions to get a good night's sleep.

After the Olympics, the apartments will be transformed into 2,818 new homes. SHOUT OUT TO: Wrestler Jordan Burroughs out of the University of Nebraska. He came into the Games as the world champion in freestyle wrestling, having won gold at the 2011 World Championships in Istanbul. He fought through a tough draw and won the Gold medal in London.

Ashton Eaton is officially crowned the new "world's greatest athlete." Although, in case you're not up on your Latin, "decathlon" means 10 events. Eaton shattered the decathlon record scoring 9,039 points at the US Olympic qualifiers event. He held on and won gold in his specialty. Have to give it up for hurdler Lolo Jones was favored to win gold in the 100-meter hurdles at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, until a stumble on the final hurdle cost her a trip to the podium. She missed her window, but fought through the hurt and made the 2012 team. She finished fourth, but did run a season’s best time.

THE HURT: USA's John Orozco came into the games as a favorite to win at least one medal in gymnastics. Instead, his USA Men’s team did not medal nor did he make the all-around of individual medal events.

The Golden Girl - Gabby Douglas Douglas is ready to revel in the afterglow of Olympic history.

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By Leland Stein III

COMMENTARY

LONDON – USA gymnast Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas, 16, now has her picture on a Corn Flakes box, there’s a painted 9-by-30 foot giant mural in her honor in Virginia Beach with her holding a gold medal with an American flag backdrop, and, she is being recruited by one of the most prestigious black universities in the country – Spelman. In fact, the President of Spelman, Beverly Daniel Tatum came out to London and made sure Gabby got a Spelman gift bag containing a congratulatory note, school t-shirt and a CD containing a song produced by the college. Exclaimed Tatum: “A young woman who has demonstrated the drive and discipline needed to achieve world-class excellence is likely to have what it takes to be successful at Spelman, and we would welcome her interest in the college.” This is the type of accolades that come one’s way when an individual like Douglas puts in the work, the sweat and tears to achieve at the Olympic level in one of the most competitive sports contested at the Games.

Douglas’ flew, flashed, pranced and powered her greyhound-like frame into history. She came into the 2012 London Games like a flame in the night. Bubbly, effervescent, but she has the steel resolve of a heavyweight boxer. Douglas joined Dominique Dawes -- who was part of the Magnificent Seven team in 1996 -- as the only African-American woman to earn a gold medal in gymastics in the Olympics. However, Douglas became the first person of color to win gold in gymnastics’ premier event, the artistic individual all-around. Along with her team victory she earned two golds.

She also had a shot at two other medals as she earned the right to perform on the individual beam and uneven bars. She finished eighth on uneven bars and found herself hanging on to the beam from below in undignified fashion before dropping to the mat in her last competition. She finished seventh out of eight competitors. It was clear to me watching her in those two events that the euphoria of the USA team and all-around victories has drained her, and, after all the interviews and four-day she had kind of lost her mojo.

“I really could have done better in those two events, but I think I was mentally drained,” Douglas told me. “I was fatigued and a little tired, and, in gymnastics if you lose just a little concentration you will make mistakes.”

I was worry about Douglas before I talked to her. I was mistakenly concerned about her spirit after the tremendous highs of making history and then failing . . . all in the same Olympics. Much to my surprise she was upbeat and strong about her mistakes. “We’re not losers,” Douglas said. “We’re superheroes. We do tricks no one else can do. We’re all humans. We all make mistakes. We’re 16-year-olds and have a lot of pressure on our shoulders. That’s kind of a lot for a teenager. But I’m not complaining. I like what I do and I do it to the best of my ability.”

I asked Douglas if she had been to any other Olympic events and she said no. I was naïve about the pressure placed on those acrobatic ladies.

“No, I have not been to any other events,” she said. “We have been practicing and training and trying to keep our bodies in peak condition.” Douglas told me that when her competition was over she hoped to be able to go to some other Olympic events. I do not know if that happened or not. What I do know is that Douglas said she really wanted to go back home to Virginia Beach to visit the city for the first time in two years. She left home to live and train with another family for two years in Iowa.

“I look forward to going home,” she said. “I have been told there will be parades It’s gonna be insane, but I’m ready for it. I made the history books.” Indeed she did!

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII

Remembering the Olympics

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By Leland Stein III

LONDON – Surely the city of London was much different than Beijing and Athens and Sydney. However, the 2012 Games were all about the athletes that train and train and compete to get to the level of world-class.

Seems like everywhere I went there was the royal family. One time I went to boxing at the ExCel Exhibition Hall to interview US boxer Claressa Shields and Kate was sitting right in front of me. I asked security if I could take a picture to prove to my friends that what I was saying really happened. They said no go. Besides the Royals the real stars of London 2012 were the athletes that brought the world community together.

Sure the Jamaican phenomenon Usain Bolt made himself a true legend of sport with his unprecedented second gold triple double – winning the 100-, 200- and 4x100-meter relay. The 25-year-old Bolt in the face of stronger competitors than in Beijing, unleashed that intrinsic determination and drive that only a superior athlete can possess. “I have won both events twice at the Olympics,” Bolt said, “I have won World Championship gold medals, I have broken world records many times. My coach is leaning towards the 400meters - I am leaning away from the 400. It will be an intense conversation. Have you seen the training program for the 400?” My favorite male athlete has to be the 800-meter runner from Kenya, David Rudisha, who set a world record in winning the gold medal. I have never seen anyone with a more beautiful stride and running gait.

My favorite female athlete has to be sprinter Allyson Felix. I have known her since my days in Los Angeles when she was a young up and coming sprinter. In spite of Felix getting edged in the 2008 Games in Beijing and feeling sorry for herself, she went to work. Running everything from the 100 to 200 to 400, she has made herself the most versatile sprinter in recent American history. In London she was the second woman ever to win gold in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays, after American Chandra Cheeseborough at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games. In addition, Felix's three gold medals in London tie her for second among women in athletics for most gold medals at one Olympics – only four others have accomplished the feat.

Great Britain's Mo Farah came into his home Games under pressure to deliver medals in the 10,000m or 5000m - he won both in thrilling style, seven days apart. If there had been a roof on the stadium it would have come off as 80,000 people roared Farah to victory.

Farah became one of a handful of men in Olympic history to complete the long-distance double. He said: “It's an unbelievable feeling, the best feeling ever.” There were standout performances right across the2012 Games from Felix Sanchez's golden night in the 400-meter hurdles to Uganda's Stephen Kiprotich stunning the Kenyan challenge to clinch Olympic Games gold in the men's Marathon on The Mall. The London Games also saw Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (18, double that of the next highest record holders). In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four golds and two silver medals.

Serena and Venus Williams won their unprecedented third doubles gold medal. Sandra Richards-Ross finally earned that valued individual gold medal in the 400-meter run. The Olympics are a celebration of humanity and people, who all come together in a friendly spirit of competition that challenges not only their opponent, but themselves.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter at LelandSteinIII

Sheilds earns first US gold since 2004

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By Leland Stein III

LONDON – The United States of America has always been renowned as a boxing power in the Olympic movement.

However, in recent years the good old US of A has struggled mightily in a Olympic sport that has seen them produce Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya, just to name a few. Now we have Flint, Michigan native Claressa Shields, joining the aforementioned collective.

She made history in winning a gold medal in one of the three inaugural Olympic women’s boxing divisions. She beat a woman nearly twice her age, 33-year-old Russian Nadezda Torlopova, in the 75-kilogram (165 pounds) division. Shields, 17, won the first boxing gold medal for the United States since 2004. The US coaches said that Shields has become the face of US Boxing and has become an inspiration for the men and women.

When told that she was going to be the face of boxing she said, “That’s what’s up!” Sheilds said: “I hope I showed everyone that women can do this. I put my combinations together and tried to put on a show. I model my style after Sugar Ray Robinson.” Shields now has a dilemma. She needs money; however, there is really not strong market for female boxers.

The hope here is that she can find a grant source that will allow her to train over the next four years and defend her crown. To that she said I really need to help my family and I’ll have to see how it “all works out.”

Shields did note that she was very enthused that she rep’d women and the respond the fans gave women’s boxing was tremendous.

Leland Stein can be heard on WGPR Radio (107.5) every Sunday from 11 p.m. to midnight. He can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com.

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