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LONDON -- Celtics fans don't need to be reminded that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are Nemeses 1 and 1A -- the lingering memories from the Eastern Conference Finals more than suffice in that sense. But when it comes to matters of the Olympics rather than the NBA, perhaps their talents are easier to appreciate around here, at least for a couple of weeks. (No chance? Well, I tried.)
While LeBron has emerged as the single most indispensable player to Team USA with his myriad of skills on full display, Wade, of course, is not playing at all, having ceded his roster spot in June when he required knee surgery following the Heat's victory over the Thunder in the NBA Finals.
But Wade is in the city for a few days, and he'll be in attendance at Wednesday's medal-round opener against Australia. I caught up with him for a few minutes this morning at a Gatorade Sport and Science Institute event at the NBA House to catch his thoughts on the state of Team USA, among other topics.
1. Are you concerned about Team USA's slow starts? Other than the Nigeria game, it's taken them some time to get their bearings early in games.
Wade: "Yeah, a little. They're spending a lot of time feeling each other out, almost being too unselfish at times. I don't think they'll start slow now that it's the medal round, now that it's win or go home. You've got to understand one thing, too -- a lot of guys are so excited to come out and play the US team, and they're so fired up and energized that they play at a really high level. One of the best things about the US team is their depth. We wear on guys, wear on guys, wear on 'em until eventually they break."
2. LeBron has often been the facilitator of the offense early in games, but he's been able to completely take scoring-wise whenever necessary. Are you at all surprised that he's controlling play pretty much at will?
Wade: "Well, LeBron is one of the greatest players in the world, and he has the ability to help a team win probably more than anyone else in the game. You see it, he can turn it on scoring-wise, he can pile up rebounds, assists, whatever is needed. He's doing whatever it takes for the team to win. I expect him to be a little more aggressive as we get closer to gold medal time. But aggressive for him is just being out on the court and being able to do whatever he does best, which is everything."
3. You were supposed to be playing here, but gave up your spot when you needed knee surgery after the Finals. Was it frustrating not being out there with these guys?
Wade: "Well, I'm a competitor, and I watch the games and say, 'aw, I could help there,' or 'aw, I could do that.' I see myself out there when I'm watching. In that sense, I miss it. This could have been my last Olympics [he played on the 2008 gold-medal winning team as well as the 2004 squad that took bronze], especially if they put the age limit in, and in that sense there's a little bit of regret. But our game is in great hands. Some of the young guys who have filled in for guys like me and Derrick Rose who couldn't play have done great. I don't know about you, but I've got 'em winning the gold. They're growing as a team, and I think they're going to play better with each successive game. Whether they're winning by 83 or winning by 3, 4, 5, they're finding ways to win and believing in each other."
4. You're going to be here through the weekend. Will you have a chance to catch any events besides basketball?
Wade: "I got in [Tuesday], and you can feel it immediately, the excitement from fans all around the world, and it's a chance to see some amazing athletes. I'm going to enjoy it. I'm going to check out a few events. Obviously I'm going to go check out basketball and support my team but I'm also going to go catch soccer, the women's finals. I want to experience that. I've never been at a soccer game. I'm one of those guys from afar who doesn't know anything about soccer, so I want to go see what that's all about, to come up with a better appreciation of how great they are as athletes and how great their game is. It's so big around the world, I want to understand it."
5. Being from Boston, I've got to ask: You guys put the full-court recruiting pitch on Ray Allen as soon as Game 7 was over, didn't you?
Wade: Laughs. "Nah, but you know, when you get a chance to add one of the best shooters in history, the best 3-point shooter in history, and you're adding him and making your team better while at the same time hurting one of your biggest rivals, you're pretty happy when it works out. Ray's going to give us another element in our offense, another weapon, and he's really going to enjoy the golf courses, I know that."
LONDON -- Shawn Johnson's fame has grown exponentially at least twice -- after she won four gymnastics medals in Beijing in 2008 (a gold in the balance beam and three silvers), and then to an entire different stratosphere a year later when she was the Season 8 champion on "Dancing With The Stars.''
Her popularity is easily understood. Even after a long day of interviews and appearances on behalf of sponsors including Procter and Gamble, Johnson couldn't have been more gracious during a conversation Wednesday night at the P&G House, an impossibly stylish and cool place for US athletes and their families to relax out of the public eye during the Olympics.
Here is some of what Johnson had to say, which includes high praise for Needham's Aly Raisman.
1. You have a unique perspective on the current Olympic team. For a time, you had serious thoughts of being one of them until your knee injury led you to retire again in June. I've heard you described as the big sister to the girls who are competing here, someone they go to for advice, insight, or maybe even sympathy. Has that been an easy adjustment, or is it a little bit surreal?
Johnson "Oh, it definitely has been surreal at times, but I like that sister role. I'm close to them because I was training with them for a while and I still feel very connected, especially sitting in the stands watching them compete. I know everything about them. I watch them practice, the ups and downs. I've been through it and I can help them and tell them I know what they're going through. Especially Jordyn [Wieber, the world champion who was devastated when she didn't make the women's individual all-around]. I sent her a message just telling her to be strong and to hang in there."
2. Knowing them like you do, you must be able to read their facial expressions and body language and know exactly what they are thinking.
Johnson: "Oh, yeah, totally. I definitely see things that other people don't. Anybody that trains together, you know each other inside and out, especially with Gabby [Douglas], I know her so well, the way she walks, the way she warms up. I know whether it's going to be a good one or not. I do think I have a good sense for what we'll see [from Douglas and Aly Raisman Thursday], but in our sport, you never know. But both Aly and Gabby are extremely strong competitors and they don't let anything get to them, as we've seen so far."
3. How much of it is mental? You have a couple of days to think about it, but just a couple of minutes to perform. It seems like that requires almost unfathomable mental discipline, even more so than the physical commitment.
Johnson: "I would say 99 percent of it is mental at this point. They've trained their bodies their entire lives. There's nothing more they can do other than think right, act right, and be in the right mindset. Over the last couple of days, getting ready for it, and I know this sounds funny, but the one thing they shouldn't do is think about it. Because then it just builds and you get the nerves going and the adrenalin. It needs to feel like just another practice to them.''
4. You've been on all the talk shows, Letterman, Oprah, been a presenter on awards shows, and of course, you won "Dancing With the Stars." What's the most fun thing you've been able to do away from gymnastics? Was it the most obvious one, or something else?
Johnson: "Yeah, it was 'Dancing With the Stars.' Winning was shocking to me. I just wanted to get through Week 1 and not be the first one to go. No one wants to be the first one gone. That was really, really fun, because it took me away from this world and I got to do something that was fun and different. It was a lot of training, like 12-hour days, but physically it wasn't close to as demanding as gymnastics. It was kind of a break."
5. You know Aly Raisman well and have often spoken fondly of her. Do you take pride in some way in what she's achieved in London so far?
Johnson: "Aly, I love that girl. She's one of the strongest girls I've ever met. I feel like she's gone unnoticed for a long time because the public eye has been on Gabby and Jordyn. She's just as strong, and she proved it, and she deserves this position. Side story, the other night brought me and my friend to tears at the stadium. As soon as the team competition was over and they knew the scores and celebrated, the girls were walking in and meeting their coaches for the first time and hugging, but Ali went right to Mihai [Brestyan, her coach] and put her medal on him. I started bawling. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Aly has a great heart."
LONDON -- One of my favorite cool Carl Lewis facts -- and there are many, given that he is just one of four Olympians to win nine gold medals, dominated both sprints and the long jump, and was named the Sportsman of the Century by the International Olympic Committee -- is that he was drafted by both the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and the NBA's Chicago Bulls.
Neither was done with any seriousness in mind, though the Cowboys did like to convert track stars to receivers. But it's a quirky reminder of just how revered his overall athletic skills were during his heyday that began in 1979 and took him through the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
I had a chance to chat with Lewis, who is in London in part to promote the Doha Goals Forum, Tuesday night. Coincidentally, the conversation with the 51-year-old Lewis took place a few moments after another living Olympic legend, Michael Phelps, won his record 19th medal. Here are a few of his thoughts:
1. There are few people who can relate to Michael Phelps's place in sport, but as a four-time Olympian with nine gold medals, you are on that short list. How does someone not only achieve at that level, but sustain everything that goes into it over multiple Olympics?
Lewis: "Well, one of the challenges is that you're going back over and over and over, and it's a big challenge to stay focused. That's why I want to give Michael a lot of credit, because this has not been the easiest Olympics for him, and he's pushed through. Missing the podium in his first race [the 400 Individual Medley] could have affected his mindset, and it didn't. He's been able to stay focused and he's been able to focus on coming here to run -- swim, rather -- seven events and I'm going to do seven events, and nothing that happened in another event distracted him at the next one. Of course you have to have talent, that goes without saying, but It takes almost unfathomable dedication to become an Olympian, let alone one who has accomplished what he has. I have the utmost respect and admiration for him."
2. You're in London in part on behalf of the Doha Goals Forum, which is touted as a platform for world leaders to advance social initiatives through sport. How does this relate to your own background and upbringing in relation to sports?
Lewis: "There are a number of ways. No. 1, my parents were teachers and coaches .I came up in a coaching family. And in the process of being coaches, they started the track club that I ran with. They started the club in 1970, they established the infrastructure, and built it up. I saw how it brought a whole community together. We had 300-400 kids every summer who were practicing and ultimately we had five people eventually make the Olympic team. With the Forum, we're talking about how to build sports and how to build a program, though it's obviously something on a much larger scale. It fit right in to what I grew up around."
3. You've said you don't plan to attend the track and field events here, but you are trying to fulfill a quest to see every Olympic sport in person at some point.
Lewis: "One of the things that happened when I was competing was that I never saw another sport. So I decided that I was going to pick a minimum of two sports every Olympics to go to, not to just watch them, but to learn them. In that process, let's see, I've seen team handball, volleyball, beach volleyball, badminton, rowing, table tennis, and tennis, which of course I knew. This time around, I want to do that for fencing and BMX. So it's just something I want to get to, to see all 32 sports, and take advantage of my chance to be here."
4. What's your favorite? Handball seems to be the one that is blowing up in popularity right now.
Lewis: "Every one is unique, and it's funny, because when I started to do it, I was like, 'Aw, I know I'm going to like this,' but I ended up really liking curling, which I never thought I would like, I liked short-track speedskating when I went in the winter. Ping-pong has its own story. And badminton was pretty amazing. I don't know how they do that so fast.''
5. People said that about you once, you know.
Lewis Still do. Laughs
|Editor's note: Dana Barros played 14 seasons in the NBA, including six with Boston. He was named the NBA's Most Improved Player and an All-Star in the 1994-95 season, averaging a career-high 20.6 points per game. Ask him a question here.|
On Team USA's competition...
You definitely have Argentina and Spain. Maybe I'm a little biased because I'm a shooter, but if they defend the line, I don't think any team can beat them. There are a few teams out there that are going to make 10-20 3-pointers and cause some problems. The biggest thing is to use their athleticism to defend the 3-point line, which will eliminate 99.9 percent of the teams.
Spain has some size in both Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka. Where we really lack in depth is in the interior, especially with Tyson Chandler in foul trouble in some of these exhibition games, that's a team that has the wherewithal. They're not afraid because they play every day against those guys. That's the team that has the inside presence that has the one style other than the 3-pointer that could win, maybe not win, but that could create some issues at least.
On Team USA's search for a leader...
We won't really know who will be the leader until they hit some serious drama. Everything's gravy right now, but there could be a different situation when there's six minutes to go and the game is tied up. I think you'll find out who those players are or who that player is. I think each player may be capable of it, but in that locker room I'm sure there's going to be one or two guys that if they get tested will step to the forefront.
On Team USA's playing style...
In the first exhibition game, Team USA picked up full-court man-to-man on defense. The second unit came in and did the same thing. They used their athleticism. When you go past the starting five, it's a major drop off for a lot of those other teams and we don't have that. That constant picture not only eliminates the three, but it also enforces the athleticism that we are trying to create in the style of play and the speed of the game in the open court. They're playing a different style than you would ever see those guys playing in a season.
On Team USA's depth...
I think you'll probably see 10 guys go strong really early in the competition, probably everyone playing. If games get a little closer I think the rotation will tighten.
On Team USA's comparison to the "Dream Team"...
I think that the problem the team now would have is that they have no inside presence at all. You're talking David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone. This team has a much better athletic game, I wouldn't say they're better shooters, but their athleticism in the open court allows them to do a lot more things. But remember, I played in those times and there was no layup rules in effect. You couldn't go down the lane when Michael Jordan and those guys played.
I think that the '92 team would win, I honestly do. Over 10 games, they would win 6-7 games. To me, Kevin Durant is a good shooter, not a great shooter, he's a streaky shooter. Carmelo is a streaky shooter, LeBron is definitely a streaky shooter. If you pressure those guys and you don't let them drive to the basket, then I think they have problems scoring against those big guys inside.
LONDON -- Checking in with the West Springfield native, 1984 Olympic gold medalist, and NBC commentator for his thoughts on the compelling twists during the gymnastics competitions so far as well as what might happen during Tuesday's women's team final:
1. A quick question on the men's team competition Monday before we look ahead to the women's team event Tuesday. How surprising was it to you to see the judges adjust the scores, which gave Japan a silver when initial scoring indicated it wouldn't be on the podium?
Daggett: It was surprising, but really what it comes down is that those are the rules. Every coach on the floor was prepared to file an inquiry and they can only do that if they believe the difficulty score is incorrect. When they saw what he got for a difficulty score, they filed an inquiry right away. That's not atypical. What is atypical is for it to be granted. It was really the worst-case scenario [with so much at stake, it the apparent gold-medal team's host country] because the meet was over. It was on the last guy in the meet's routine. The meet's over, it's on the scoreboard, I don't know, five minutes or whatever.
2. Aly Raisman is an accomplished gymnast, is the captain of this team, and yet she had been in the background compared to teammates Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber until she made the women's all-around. What can we expect from her Tuesday in the team competition and Thursday in the all-around?
Daggett: I think you can expect the exact same thing she did on the qualifying day. That is what Aly does over and over and over again. Aly Raisman is one of those athletes that has that innate ability to take every extraneous thought or crowd or television cameras and just put them out of her mind. She doesn't see them, hear them, smell them, anything. She just goes out and does her job. Really, it's a very unusual quality to the level that she's able to do this. I'd be very surprised if she wasn't able to perform well in everything she's in.
3. Does Jordyn Wieber have that attribute in common with her? Obviously she is coming off tremendous disappointment after failing to earn one of the two US spots in the all-around.
Daggett: You know, my guess is that she's going to come out like gangbusters. She's about as tough as they come as well. She's cut from the same cloth as Aly, absolutely fierce. I would call Aly calm and I would call Jordyn fierce. The pressure doesn't get to her, but that said, this is a very big thing to overcome. Because, let's face it, if you are a little girl gymnast who has the dream to go to the Olympic Games, you do what it takes to get there, which is amazingly long, hard training and an incredible amount of discipline to follow that dream of being the Olympic all-around champion. That's the crown jewel of the sport, and she doesn't get a chance to show that she can be competitive in that field. It's devastating, but my guess is that she's somehow going to find a way to put that behind her.
4. You mention Aly being calm and Jordyn being fierce. As someone who has been involved in the sport your entire life and knows first-hand what it takes mentally to win a gold medal on this stage, is one of those character traits better to have than the other under these incredibly pressurized circumstances?
Daggett: Well, I think they both have all of those qualities, but it's just a little more pronounced with the fierceness in Jordyn, but she is also able to be calm and poised like Aly is. That's my way of saying I'm not sure which one is better [laughs], but they both have those qualities, and they are both necessary.
5. All right, I'm going to put you on the spot. Does the US win its first team gold since the Magnificent 7 in 1996?
Daggett: It's really, really possible. Does that count? As we saw with the US men, they qualified in with the highest score and had some really disastrous performances, and that went away very, very quickly. If the US does what they are capable of doing, my guess is that they're going to be able to win this championship. But you cannot count out, ever, the Russians, the Romanians, and the Chinese as well.
|Editor's note: Randy Thomas has been a part of Boston College's cross country program for 19 years. He has produced 46 All-America selections, three national junior champions and one Pan-American Games gold medalist. Ask him a question here.|
Four reigning Olympic champions and eight current world champions highlight the Team USA roster nominated to the US Olympic Committee by USA Track and Field. A roster of 126 men and women stand ready to represent the USA on this international stage.
After spending more than a week at the team's training facilities in Birmingham, coaches Andrew Valmon (men) and Amy Deem (women) helped move their athletes into the Olympic village on the eve of the opening ceremonies. While in Birmingham, the athletes had the opportunity to meet with more than 2,000 children who stopped by to check out their training sessions.
Four-time Olympians Aretha Thurmond and Angelo Taylor were selected by their peers to lead the Team USA squad as the men's and women's captains. One of their first tasks as Olympic team captains was to meet with the captains of all US Olympic sports to select the flag bearer for the US delegation in Friday's opening gala, an event that promises to ignite a very exciting two weeks of international competition.
The baton. Will we ever figure it out? - Norm Bayes, Double Oak, Texas
For sure, the US men's and women's 4 x 100-meter relay team has had its share of problems moving the baton around the track. I recently spoke with coaches Valmon and Deem, who are very committed to working out any issues with their relay members' baton exchange techniques. They are very confident that this has been solved and we stand an excellent chance of taking home two gold medals.
In the 100 meters, these guys are so fast, it seems like the smallest of things can affect the outcome. How do they train for consistency?
Consistency in practice is extremely important. A smooth transition from the starting blocks to the third step is critical as it is at this point where the sprinters assume a more upright position as they make their way down the straightaway.
LONDON -- Mariel Zagunis may lack the single-name fame of LeBron, Serena, and some of her United States Olympic team counterparts, but judging by her latest honor, the two-time gold-medal winning fencer is at least as respected.
By a vote of her teammates, Zagunis was selected late Wednesday as the flag-bearer to lead the 529-member US delegation in Friday's Opening Ceremonies.
"It means a lot to be picked by my fellow athletes,'' said Zagunis, who lives in Beaverton, Ore. "It's not just some random committee that's thinking somebody's deserving. The athletes are actually picking who they want to be at the Opening Ceremony. I can't believe I'm going to be the one who has that opportunity."
Zagunis, whose gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games was the first for a US fencer in 100 years, finished atop the podium again in Beijing four years ago. She is the first fencer to be the US flag-bearer since Janice Lee Romary did the honors in 1968.
"To be that representative for all of Team USA means so much to me. It's a huge, huge honor and it also goes along with so much that has gone on this year,'' Zagunis said.
Zagunis said the honor had additional meaning to her because this year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX. She noted that there are more women than men on the US team for the first time.
"I am where I am today because of the women who paved the way," Zagunis said. "They were the ones who got our rights and I was born in the right generation to have these opportunities to be there and available. I just think you have to fight in training and to be the best in your sport, but there was no fighting to have that opportunity."
|Editor's note: Ivan Ivanov is one of four Olympic experts volunteering to assist in our coverage of the London Games. Ivanov owns and is a head coach and instructor at Elite Gymnastics Academy in Ashland, Mass., and a national staff member for USA Gymnastics. He also competed in six world championships and two Olympics. Ask him a question here.|
The last time America won the gold medal as a team was in 1996. In my opinion, they are the most consistent team. They finished in second place behind China in 2008.
There are four teams that have a good shot of winning the gold medal in the women's competition. I think USA is the favorite, as they were the 2011 world champions, and the other three teams who have a good shot are Romania, Russia, and China.
Jordyn Wieber is the 2011 all-around world champion, so she's in a pretty good spot. She's had a great year so far, and I think she's the favorite to win. Gabby Douglas doesn't have as much experience as Jordan, but has a good shot. Aly Raisman, from Massachusetts, has a really good shot at winning the all-around gold medal.
Victoria Komova from Russia has been doing pretty good lately. I think she's a very good candidate for a medal.
Romanian LaRisa Lordache could sneak in for a medal, as Romania beat Russia in the European Championships this year.
Based on last year's world championships, I think Japan, US, and China have a really good chance to be at the podium. Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimura is the favorite to win in the all-around, as he has really dominated in the worlds, winning the last three.
As it was in 2008, the harder the trick, the higher the start value will be, giving them a better chance to get a higher score. Any score around 15.5 and up is a really good score. Based on the way that their routines are designed, gymnasts can get some bonuses for the difficulty of their skills.
The set of judges in panel A count the difficulty, while the other set of judges, panel B, only watch the execution. So, let's say the judges in panel A rate the difficulty to be 6.6, then the max score the gymnast can receive is a 16.6, with 10.0 coming from execution. That's how they get to the final score. Execution is still very, very important.
- July 28: Men's qualification
- July 29: Women's qualification
- July 30: Men's team final
- July 31: Women's team final
- Aug. 1: Men's all-around final
- Aug. 2: Women's all-around final
- Aug. 5: Women's vault final, men's floor exercise, pommel horse final
- Aug. 6: Women's uneven bars final, men's skill rings and vault final
- Aug. 7: Women's balance beam and floor exercise final, men's parallel and horizontal bar final
Why is it that younger girls tend to do better in major gymnastics while older men seem to do better? -- Jack, Framingham, Mass.
That's a good question. With girls aged 12, 13, 14, their weight is obviously smaller than it is at 15, 16, 17. A lot of times they are braver because they are younger, and they learn the skills faster. The juniors are almost as good as the seniors even though they don't have the experience because they learn the skills faster because their bodies are lighter, they feel stronger, they feel braver. When the guys are younger, their body is weaker. Around 19, 20, they gain strength and experience, that's why 23, 24 are great ages for men.
Gymnasts to watch
McKayla Maroney, USA
Sandra Izbasa, ROM
Oksana Chusovitina, GER ( This is her sixth Olympics -- very impressive. No female gymnast has accomplished this. Her first major competition was the world championships in 1991 in Indianapolis)
Victoria Komova, RUS
Beth Tweddle, Great Bratain
Huang Qiushuang, China
Gabby Douglas, USA
Sui Lu, China
Viktoria Komova, RUS
Catalina Ponor, ROM
Larisa Iordache, ROM
Jordyn Wieber, USA
Aly Raisman, USA
Larisa Iordache, ROM
Lauren Mitchell, AUS
Ksenia Afanasyeva, RUS
|Editor's note: Jeff Johnson is one of four Olympic experts volunteering to assist in our coverage of the London Games. Johnson has more than 30 years of coaching experience and is a three-time Boston Globe high school swimming coach of the year. Ask him a question here.|
The 2012 Olympic swimming team just finished up its preparation for the London Olympics in France and the athletes are now moving into the Olympic Village.
New England has two Olympic hopefuls in Alex Meyer in the 10K-meter open water (coached by Harvard coach Tim Murphy, who is also one of the Olympic coaches) and Rhode Island native Elizabeth Beisel (coached by Chuck Batchelor, Bluefish Swim Club), who will compete in the 200m backstroke and the 400m indivual medley.
The majority of US Olympic swimmers are in their mid- and late-20's. There are only a few teenagers on the team.
Women to watch
Missy Franklin one of the youngest members on the Olympic team and still in high school. She has the fastest times in the world in the 100m and 200m backstroke, her best event. She is also in the 200m and 400m free and two relays (400 and 800) and could medal in all events.
Allison Schmitt, who trains with Bob Bowman, who is Michael Phelps' coach, is in the 200m and 400m free. She has put up some nasty swims in these two events.
Rebecca Soni competes in the 100m and 200m breaststroke. Rebecca has been one of the top swimmers for the last four years in these events.
Men to watch
Ryan Lochte is going head to head with Phelps in two events: the 200m and 400m IM, which that should be very interesting to watch. It will come down to a good finish. Lochte is also in the 200m free and 200m back. He will be hard to beat in those two events.
Cullen Jones races in the 50m and 100m freestyle. He previously swam on the Olympic team in Beijing.
Matt Grevers is in the 100m backstroke. He also swam in Beijing, and is one of the best in the world.
Michael Phelps. I left Phelps for the end; it is obvious that he is the best swimmer in the world. He has worked for many years, as all the swimmers who do enormous meters to get enough background to compete at that level. Phelps competes in the 200m and 400m IM, which is very grueling, 100m and 200m butterfly (also grueling) and relays. Phelps is the one to beat.