< Back to front page Text size +
all entries with the category

Summer Olympics

Closing Ceremonies put a musical wrap on London's wonderful Olympics

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 12, 2012 03:50 PM

LONDON -- The London Olympics concluded Sunday night with a Closing Ceremonies that emphasized Great Britain’s rich musical history, from The Beatles to Queen to The Who and so many classic songs and musicians in between.

(The Spice Girls were also reunited, for one night only.)

And as the Ceremonies appropriately wrapped up two weeks of extraordinary competition and athletic feats, surprisingly cooperative weather, and a city that was a fabulous, organized, collectively charming host, you were left with one thought as Roger Daltrey closed the festivities with “My Generation.”

If only London could come out for an encore.

The Closing Ceremonies, which were less elaborate, slightly more musical (who knew Take That could sing like that?), and much more relaxed than the Opening Ceremonies, were a celebration of a Games that began plagued by concerns about travel, security, and logistics, but will end up remembered for the extraordinary performances of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Brits Mo Farrah and Jessica Ennis, among so many more.

Sebastian Coe, the legendary distance runner who served as the chair of the London Organizing Committee, summed it all up perfectly in his speech near the end of Sunday’s Ceremonies, and you could almost hear him exhale:

"When our time came, Britain, we did it right."

It’s hard to imagine anyone who was here for the extraordinary spectacle would disagree.

Live updates from the Ceremonies are below. Thank you for reading, everyone. And thank you for everything, London.

* * *

12:01: London has countless options for a musical closer, but they chose a great one: The Who, singing "Baba O'Riley."

11:51: Take That takes the stage, singing "Rule The World." Winding toward the finale now as fireworks light up the sky.

11:49: Rogge declares the Games closed. Someone should start an impromptu game of handball just to spite him.

11:44: Coe: "When our time came, Britain, we did it right." Truth.

11:39: Sebastian Coe, the chair of the London Organizing Committee, and Jacques Rogge take the stage for the closing of the games. When Coe pauses after "... wonderful city,'' there's an enormous roar.

11:37: Pele!

11:31: Samba time. It's Brazil's party now.

11:28: Time to look ahead. The Road to Rio -- site of the 2016 Games -- is underway, with the Brazilian anthem playing to signify the transition.

11:17: Gold lights flash to the beat all through the top deck as May segues into "We Will Rock You." Jessie J. will apparently try to do her best Freddie.

11:16: Brian May and the surviving members of Queen take the stage. Crowd is bouncing.

11:14 Huge video board shows Freddie Mercury performing live at Wembley Stadium in 1986, doing an amazing call-and-response with the audience. This is tremendous.

11:12: Muse performing the official Olympic song, "Survival." It will not top what Eric Idle just did. That's the official song.

11:05: Eric Idle. Always a good idea. Always looking on the bright side of life.

11:05: Someone is climbing into a cannon as ELO's "Blue Sky'' plays. I don't think it's the Queen, but I'm not writing anything off after that stunt she pulled at the Opening Ceremonies.

10:58: Liam Gallagher singing "Wonderwall.'' I swear I've heard that song twice as much as any anthem this week.

10:55: I was on the right track -- it's the Spice Girls. Reunited for one night only!

10:54: Ten black cabs drive on to the stage. I suspect David Beckham is driving all of them.

10:51: They're joined by Taio Cruz, and break into the Bee Gees' "You Should Be Dancing." They couldn't have paid Barry Gibb a pound to come sing it?

10:47: Jessie J. hands off to Tinie Tempah, and as he sings "Written In The Stars,'' this place has turned into the most athletic dance club ever.

10:39: Russell Brand is singing "I Am The Walrus.'' Yes. But he gets a huge cheer when he duplicates Mo Farrah and Usian Bolt's trademark celebrations.

10:36: Ed Sheeran performs Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here'' very, very well, the album cover is recreated with a tightrope walker, and suddenly it's a few hours beyond midnight and I'm in college again.

10:32: Cannot tell if this is Annie Lennox, Zombie Annie Lennox, or just Marilyn Manson amping up the makeup a smidge. She is the figurehead on a ghost galleon, singing "Little Bird." (File that one under sentences you never expect to peck out as a sports writer.)

10:26: I believe cartel of British supermodels has arrived. A tribute to the British fashion industry. And to hitting underlings with telephones.

10:23: Some guy who is much younger than Roger Daltrey sings "Pinball Wizard.'' Presuming he's from the "Tommy" musical. Also presuming this is a clue that pinball will be an Olympic sport in Rio in 2016.

10:13: It's George Michael! No, not the one from "Arrested Development." The one from the '80s! A little grayer, but looks the same. Believe the song he is singing is not longer called, "Freedom '90," though. Because that would make it seem old.

10:11: Fragments of a sculpture are used to form the face of John Lennon, with clouds projected above it. Feels silly writing that, but it was very cool. Who think of this stuff?

10:09: Freddie Mercury's voice echoes throughout the dark stadium, singing the first few lines of "Bohemian Rhapsody,'' followed by "Imagine.'' Chills.

10:05: As "Here Comes The Sun" plays, athletes pay homage to the more than 70,000 "Games Marker" volunteers. Nice touch, because they really did a tremendous job, offering knowledge and good humor when ever a clueless reporter (ahem) or such had a question.

10:01: Jacques Rogge, the life of any party, hands out the final medals of the Olympics to the men's marathoners.

9:53: The athletes have all arrived, settling into their colorful wedges. A group of drummers then follows, decked out in white. They're followed by performers (maybe this is where Kate Moss comes in?) carrying a total of 303 white boxes, which represents the 303 Olympic events. Pretty sure at least 103 of them were in swimming. The music of choice is Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill.'' For once, it's not "Wonderwall."

9:48: French athletes are taking turns doing backflips. I'm just going to assume they're gymnasts and not bodybuilders.

9:44: This isn't a ceremony. It's a party. Everyone is smiling.

9:39: Among the US athletes expected to be in the crowd are Aly Raisman, Kayla Harrison, and Missy Franklin.

9:33: The Parade of Athletes is underway -- lots of flags, lots of smiles, and a few medals here and there. Sailor Ben Ainsley carries the flag for the Brits. An enormous graphic on the stage transforms from the Union Flag to an enormous circle of light with more than 200 flags representing the countries competing here each taking up a wedge. It looks like the world's coolest and most colorful "Trivial Pursuit" board.

9:15: Michael Caine delivers his classic line from the film "The Italian Job." (No, not the Mark Wahlberg version -- the 1969 original): "I told you to blow their doors off!"

9:05 Fascinating list of performers scheduled, including: Queen (who sings?), The Who, The Spice Girls, Take That (anyone remember Robbie Williams as the next-big thing?), Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, the Pet Shop Boys, One Direction. Do not see Sir Elton John listed. Several perform during an 11-minute segment called "Street Party." Gotta say, "West End Girls'' holds up.

* * *

LONDON -- Hard to believe the Closing Ceremonies are upon us already, isn't it? Feel like just a few days ago that the Queen was jumping out of a plane with James Bond and Paul McCartney was leading everyone in Olympic park in a "Hey, Jude" singalong.

But Sunday night brings the formal conclusion of a Games that confirmed the greatness of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, awed us with wonderful stories such as Kayla Harrison, Katie Taylor, Mo Farrah and Guor Marial, among so many more. Now it's time to celebrate the past two weeks, and the city that was an amazingly sunny (literally and figuratively) host.

I'll post live updates here throughout the festivities (provided the wireless doesn't keep kicking out). Beware of spoilers -- I'm presuming you probably don't need a warning at this point -- and enjoy the final chapter on a Summer Olympics that exceeded expectations.

Scattered Saturday thoughts on the Olympics

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 11, 2012 01:58 PM

bryantkobefinn811.jpg

LONDON -- Fleeting thoughts crossing my mind while waiting for Usain Bolt to cross the finish line one more time ...

The US basketball guys are still huge worldwide, and to a man they've done a remarkable job of being accessible and part of the Olympic experience; I half expect the ubiquitous Kobe Bryant to be walking around Olympic Park in one of the purple-and-red volunteer shirts, helping a puzzled family from the Netherlands find its way to the field hockey venue. But let's put it this way: If Usain Bolt and LeBron James walked into a pub at the same time, LeBron could go sit in a corner booth, enjoying his fish and chips and beverage of choice undisturbed and barely noticed. It's Bolt's world, and everyone else is a bystander.

London is exactly as I imagined it (OK, minus the imagined random acts of hooliganism and sightings of a blinking, stammering Hugh Grant), and by that I mean it is awesome. Spectacular architecture, a fun pub on every corner, and the people have a generally charming and witty way about them. The accent is so killer, it makes me not even want to talk. The myth about bad food in London is just that, too, unless you happen to be stranded at the Main Press Center with nothing but pork, mayonnaise and feta subs to choose from.

You don't have to watch it for long to recognize that it's a grueling, serious sport, but I just don't get racewalking at all. Every time one competitor is gaining ground on another, I have to suppress the urge to yell, "Run! Run! She's closing the gap! Forget heel-to-toe! RUN!"

Have not met an Olympic athlete yet who didn't seem genuine, engaging, and impossibly down-to-earth, and that includes Michael Phelps. (I should note I did not meet the apparently monosyllabic Ryan Lochte, though he seems decent enough in his Spicolian way. Jeah! ) Ashton Eaton, the decathlon gold medalist who is roughly the size of a Division I football safety, couldn't be a nicer guy. There are no Josh Becketts here.

Being over here for the past 20 days, the depth of my knowledge regarding NBC's coverage boils down to what I read and hear from those back home. (Boo tape-delay, yay Michelle Beadle, more or less, which sounds about right to me.) I'll catch up with that on the DVR when I get home. But while I've been in London, I've been absorbing BBC's coverage, and it has been exceptional. No treacly melodrama, no teasers to features that run two commercial breaks later, no Seacrest, just smart, spirited coverage and analysis. And I'd wager that two of BBC's primary studio analysts -- Olympic legends Michael Johnson and Ian Thorpe -- are as insightful, articulate and in Thorpe's case, sharp-witted -- as anyone NBC is using in a similar role, save for perhaps Doc Rivers.

Joe Posnanski absolutely nails it here on what it's like to cover the Olympics. I found this passage particularly true:

I don’t think anyone cares — or should care — about the various inconveniences of being a sportswriter. It is a dream job, and when you are sitting in the stadium watching Usain Bolt run, or you are at the beach volleyball gold-medal match and can check the time by turning to Big Ben, or you are interviewing athletes after a team handball match and suddenly find yourself talking to the irrepressibly cool Ólafur Stefánsson, well, who really cares about any of that other stuff anyway?

So true. It's exhilarating and exhausting, often within the same hour, but you never let yourself forget the privilege of being here. But it's also true -- and this is something Joe elaborates on with his usual perfect aim -- that the thrills are sometimes surrounded by tedium, that as the days go on home feels farther and farther away, especially when you miss a meaningful moment or milestone. (Happy 6th birthday, bud. Hope you got the R2-D2 and "Three-Creepy-Oh" you wanted.) This is my second Olympics, but the inevitable juxtaposition is already familiar: In the final days of the Olympics, you can't wait to get home. And once you're home, the magnitude of what you got to do sinks in, and you wonder why it had to end so soon and hope you'll get another chance again.

Kayla Harrison press conference transcript

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 11, 2012 11:18 AM

harrisonkayla811.jpg.jpg

LONDON -- Judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison of Marblehead was one of four athletes who spoke at a United States Olympic Committee press conference this morning to discuss the state of the Games so far. Here are her thoughts:

On the Closing Ceremony Sunday night:

Harrison: "My roommate and I have been practicing the Spice Girls, so we're ready."

On the fascination of looks in media coverage of female athletes:

Harrison:"I think our society puts into women and how they look and what they wear or how they dress and I think that being a strong female competitor is the best thing we can do to fight that. It doesn't matter how we look, we just won the gold medal. It doesn't matter what we wear, we're part of Team USA and there's no better colour than the American flag."

On whether winning is the most important thing at the Olympic Games:

Harrison: "The Olympic motto is faster, higher, stronger and I think every American came here to do that. I came here to perform at my very, very best and make America proud as a result."

On the success of women on Team USA, who have compiled more medals than their male counterparts:

Harrison: "I've been thrilled to see how well US women have done. It feels amazing to be apart of something so much bigger than myself, I definitely feel connected. To be able to say, 'I'm a strong confident young woman and an Olympic champion is amazing and I hope we have a million young girls inspired right now."

Today at the Olympics: Bolt's last race, women's basketball gold

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 11, 2012 07:34 AM

boltfinn811.jpg.jpg

LONDON -- Welcome to Day 16 of competition, the penultimate day of the London Games and yet one of the biggest days in terms of total medals being awarded. Fifteen different sports will distribute gold, silver and bronze Saturday, including eight in athletics alone.

Saturday's must-see event: Bolt. There's probably no need to elaborate beyond the most famous and appropriate surname of these Games, but perhaps a reminder is needed that the 4x100-meter relay will not only be Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt's final event of London, but there's a chance it's the 27-year-old's final Olympic appearance. He is expected to run the anchor leg for favored Jamaica. One more gold and one more electric moment seems like something he'll be able to conjure up.

Also worth watching: The official term for it is the women's Olympic basketball gold medal game. I prefer calling it the UConn Alumni Game better. Team USA, which is coached by Geno Auriemma and features four Huskies legends (Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Swin Cash) as well as the likes of Candace Parker and Tina Charles, takes on France with the gold medal at stake. History suggests it's a formality for Team USA, which is going for its fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal and 41st straight victory.

Friday's big story: No botched handoffs. No mishaps. Just blazing leg after blazing leg, until the US women's 4x100-meter relay team had overcome its odd recent history and shattered a 27-year-old world record in the event.

It was Carmelita Jeter who ran the anchor leg as the US completed the event in 40.82 seconds, more than a full half-second faster than the dubious standard set by East Germany in 1985. It was the first time the US had won the event since 1996, notoriously fumbling the baton both in 2004 and 2008 when they were among the favorites.

“I was thinking Olympic record, and when I saw world record I said, ‘Oh gosh,’ ” said Allyson Felix, who ran the second leg. “This is crazy.”

Tweet of the day: "WORLD RECORD, IT FELT AMAZING." -- @CarmelitaJeter, after the women's 4x100-meter relay.

Mind the gap, and stick around right here for further updates throughout the day.

Five questions with Ashton Eaton

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 10, 2012 05:33 PM

eatonashtonfinn810.jpg.jpg

LONDON -- Had a chance to catch up with decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton Friday afternoon at the P&G House, the home-away-from-home here for United States athletes and their families. For a guy who was just newly-minted as the World's Greatest Athlete, he's about as affable and laid-back as it gets. Must be his Oregon roots. Here are his answers to our five questions:

I know it's just Day 1 for you as a gold medalist, but often things change immediately after someone gets to the top of a podium here. Have you been recognized or approached more?

Eaton: "I think after Eugene [the site of the US track and field Olympic trials], it was more like that, so I was kind of used to it. But you know, I can be walking around over here and someone with a Union Jack painted on his face will come up and say, 'Hey, can we get a picture with you?,' and I'm always still a little surprised. But I haven't got my medal yet so I can't walk around with it or anything like that. I have a bunch of family and friends, high school and college friends, who came over here to watch. And they have access to the village, so I was like, 'Guys, I've got to go to bed,' but they talked me into going out with them, and I hung around with them a little bit. I didn't get done NBC stuff until like 2:30 a.m., so it ended up being pretty laid back."

2. Usain Bolt likes to refer to himself as the world's greatest athlete, and he can make a pretty good case. But after he won the 200 meters, he said it was you because you do 10 events. Had you heard about that?

Eaton: "I heard about that, and it was cool. But we each have our own accolades and accomplishments and things we do well. He's the fastest man who has ever walked the face of the earth. That's what the 100-meter guy gets. The winner of the decathlon gets world's greatest athlete. I do see the decathlon as one big event. I think about it as a whole. The whole thing is challenging, there's never one event that I was super-good at. One day I'll do the shot-put and I just may not be getting it and I'll be super frustrated. The next day it may be the discus that I'm not getting and I'll be super frustrated. It's mostly equal across the board."

3. Do you feel like there's some kind of expectation of you to bring the decathlon more into the sports consciousness in the United States? It has this rich history, from Jim Thorpe to Bruce Jenner and more recently, Dan O'Brien, and yet it has this perception as sort of an afterthought compared to what it was a couple of decades ago.

Eaton: "I don't really feel the pressure of it. I think no matter what people say it's always ebb and flow in terms of popularity. This may be a new height, who knows, or it may be coming up right now. I love it, and I hope I help some other people love it like I do. But it's not really something you can control beyond being a good representative of the sport and giving it your best every time you compete.''

4. Dan O'Brien has said you're the best ever. You have the world record for total points in a meet [9,039], and now you have a gold medal. How much higher can you go? Is there a specific goal?

Eaton: I think I can eventually score a lot of points. I used to have a set number, but you know, I got to it. That's why I don't set goals, because I'm like, 'Who knows?' But I would like to score 9,200 points. I think I can do that.''

5. Was there ever a sport or a discipline that you didn't really take to? Tell me you weren't much of a pee-wee hockey player or something like that.

Eaton: Nah, I don't know that I played hockey. I was one of those kids who everything I tried sports-related I liked. You know what I wasn't good at? Swimming. No swimming for me. Terrible. If they add that as an 11th event, I'd have to get [Michael] Phelps to do it for me."

Who will carry the US flag in Closing Ceremonies?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 10, 2012 01:35 PM

Actually, the question in the headline should probably ask "Who should carry the US flag in the Closing Ceremonies'' since the matter of which athlete will carry it won't be announced until tomorrow at the earliest, and probably not until the buildup to the event Sunday night. The focus, still, is on the competition, not the conclusion.

But that won't stop us from speculating, based mostly on educated guesses and relevant history.

Our first clue comes from the announcement of a press conference Saturday at 2 p.m. for the United States Olympic Committee to ostensibly provide the media "an overview of the achievements of the United States Olympic Team at the London 2012 Olympic Games.''

Four gold-medal winning US athletes will be present at the press conference: Ashton Eaton (decathlon), Missy Franklin (swimming), Brenda Villa (women's water polo), and Wakefield's Kayla Harrison (judo).

In the past, according to my colleague John Powers, who has covered every non-boycotted summer and winter Olympics since 1976 in Montreal, it is often an athlete who is invited to this traditional press conference who ends up as the flag-bearer.

Carrying the flag in the Closing Ceremonies isn't quite as prestigious as doing so in the Opening Ceremonies; the athletes tend to enter en masse, in more of a scrum than the formal country-by-country introductions at the beginning of the Games.

And proximity is also a factor - many of the athletes who competed earlier in the Games have already gone home, such as many of the swimmers.

The USOC also tends to honor the spirit of amateurism -- snicker here if you must -- rather than selecting the most-medaled athlete or the biggest star, say, someone like LeBron James or Michael Phelps. It is not believed that Needham's Aly Raisman, who won three gymnastics medals here, is under consideration.

Perhaps it could be a retiring star -- beach volleyball three-time gold medalist Misty May-Treanor would qualify -- but often it is someone who has overcome unusual odds. In Beijing, it was archer Khatuna Lorig, a native of the Republic of Georgia who became a US citizen in 2007, who received the honor.

Our hunch is that it will be someone on the podium at Saturday's press conference who is chosen.

And we can't imagine there would be a more fitting choice than Kayla Harrison.


Chat Olympics (and other sports stuff) with Chad Finn at 2:30 p.m.

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 10, 2012 01:31 PM

It's Day 19 for our Boston.com reporter in London. Check in below to join his chat.

Harvard's Meyer 10th in open water swimming

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff August 10, 2012 11:23 AM

Alex Meyer, the Harvard grad who sometimes trains in Walden Pond in Concord, finished 10th in the men's open water swimming race at the Olympics on Friday.

Meyer completed the 10-kilometer race in 1 hour, 50 minutes and 48.2 seconds. Winner Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia clocked a 1:49:55.1.

Meyer was the only American in the race, held at the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park.

Boston.com's Olympics interns filed the video report above from today's event.

Today at the Olympics: US hoops faces Argentina again, women's 4x100 relay

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 10, 2012 07:14 AM

LONDON -- Welcome to Day 14 of competition -- yep, we're two full weeks into this thing, with three days of Games left to go. Hard to believe this is coming to an end faster than Usain Bolt coming around the turn (OK, not quite that fast), but there's still plenty of good stuff yet to come. Today's docket includes medals in athletic, boxing, BMX cycling, field hockey (a very fun sport to watch live), sailing, soccer, swimming, synchronized swimming (where Harvard's Alex Meyer competes in the 10-kilometer open water race) , taekwondo, and wrestling.

Friday's must-see event: On most days -- perhaps all of them before today -- a medal event would be mentioned in this space. But the most intriguing competition Friday is a rematch of a game that actually happened Monday, and wasn't even close. The United States men's basketball team takes on Argentina in the semifinals, four days after beating them by 29 points (126-97). Another blowout is possible with the talent on the US roster and LeBron James playing as well as he ever has, but history suggests Argentina will make a game of it. In an Olympic tuneup less than three weeks ago, the winning margin for the US was just six (86-80), and the more recent game was close into the third quarter until Kevin Durant matched the entire Argentinian team with 17 points in the frame. Argentina was the first team to beat a US team constructed of NBA stars (2002 World Championships), and they took them down two years later to win the gold in Athens. With proud, tough veterans such as Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola, Argentina should provide the US with its toughest test in the tournament.

Also worth watching: Medals will be awarded in six athletics events today: the men's 4x400 and pole vault, and the women's hammer throw, 5,000-meters, 1,500-meters, and 4x100 relay. It's the latter that should stand as the most compelling competition. The US blazed through its qualifying heat (41.64 seconds), but in recent Olympics the team has had a history of mishaps and has not won gold since Atlanta. That could change Friday with Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter leading the US foursome, but Jamaica, with 100-meter gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown on its side, should be right there stride for stride.

Thursday's big stories: Gotta go plural here, or at least one Big Story, Team Division and one Big Story, Individual. The first is the US women's soccer team's 2-1 victory over Japan, avenging their loss on penalty kicks in the World Cup final last year, a disappointing defeat that served as motivation to accomplish what they did Thursday night. “They snatched our dream last summer,” Megan Rapinoe said. “And this kind of feels like the nightmare turned back around.”

As for the individual who stole the night, well, who else but Usain Bolt? The transcendent, so-cocky-it's-comical sprinter completed his double-double, winning the 200-meters for the second straight Olympics just as he had in the 200. His breathtaking acceleration coming around the turn was reminiscent of Michael Johnson doing the same in Atlanta in 1996. In his usual humble way, he declared himself a "living legend'' afterward, which of course is entirely true.

Tweet of the day: While the media is pumping up the familiar names @CarliLloyd was focusing on making sure she outworks everyone and outshines everyone. -- James Galanis ‏(@coachgalanis), a former coach of US women's soccer standout Carli Lloyd. Lloyd, who had both US goals in its 2-1 victory over Japan, retweeted the sentiment.

Mind the gap, and stick around right here for further updates throughout the day.

US women's soccer wins gold medal with 2-1 win over Japan

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 9, 2012 02:36 PM

LONDON -- Members of the United States women's soccer team have spoken passionately about avenging its 2011 World Cup final loss to Japan virtually since the moment it was decided on penalty kicks.

Thursday night at Wembley Stadium, vengeance became theirs. And so did the gold medal.

The United States defeated Japan, 2-1, in the final of the Olympic women's soccer tournament.

Carli Lloyd scored both goals for the US, which took a 1-0 lead into halftime, built it to 2-0 in the 55th minute, and then held on for their third consecutive Olympic gold medal.

Yuki Ogami scored for Japan in the 63d minute, but despite a persistent offense that gave the US trouble for long stretches of time, that's all it could muster.

Japan's Mana Iwabuchi had Japan's best shot to tie the game in the 84th minute, but US keeper Hope Solo made the stop to hold the lead.

* * *

81:00 Rachel Buehler off for the US, with Becky Sauerbrunn subbing in. Have to figure it's an injury to the dependable Buehler.

79:12: Attendance is 80,203, meaning there are 2,797 open seats. Those 2,797 who had something else to do are missing a good one. Maybe they all went to watch Bolt run the 200.

76:12: Alex Morgan flashes some fancy footwork to elude one defender, but he shot attempt sails high, and she missed an open Wambach.

63:11, US 2, Japan 1: You thought Japan, which played so well in the first half, would settle for silver without a fight? Not happening Yuki Ogimi collects a loose ball and scores, and the margin is suddenly a single goal again.

59:12: Cheney subs in for Megan Rapinoe after the goal.

55:10, US 2, Japan 0: Carli Lloyd gets her second of the game, dribbling through three defenders at full speed and scoring with a bomb that crossed into the far corner.

47:00: The teams are back on the field for the second half. Amazing atmosphere here. Wembley holds more than 88,000 and this place looks full. It's expected to be the largest crowd ever to watch a women's soccer game.

Halftime, US 1, Japan 0: The US gets a second to exhale, but it must know it's fortunate to be at the break with a lead. Japan's swarming defense frustrated the US more and more as the half went on, and if not for a couple of shots hitting crossbars, this one might be tied or have Japan in the lead. The missed call on an obvious handball is also a significant break for the US.

41:03: Team USA coach Pia Sundage is letting her defense have it after Japan's Shinobu Ohno nearly ties it.

37:09: Solo gets an assist from the crossbar a second time, when Japan captain Aya Miyama appears to have an open net but shoots too high. Momentum is in Japan's favor right now, and has been for the last half of the game.

27:08: A break for the US -- Tobin Heath gets away with an obvious handball on a Japanese free kick. Missed call. Somewhere, Team Canada nods in agreement.

21:06: US is doing it everything it can to get Morgan the ball in the open field. Watching her speed reminds me of Tyler Seguin with open ice. Breathtakingly fast.

18:06: Two huge stops by Hope Solo on Hope Solo on Japan's Yuni Ogimi, including one point-blank.

14:33: There's something you won't see often -- Wambach whiffing on an attempted shot. The US nearly got something out of it, though, when Megan Rapinoe collected the bouncing ball and fired from the far post, only to have her shot sail high.

7:57: Correction: It was Carli Lloyd who scored in the crowd, not Wambach.

7:37, 1-0 United States: Well, that was quick. Make it 12 goals in 15 Olympic and World Cup knockout games for Abby Wambach, who takes a feed from Alex Morgan -- those two sure know how to work together -- and scores from 9-feet out at the far post to give the US a quick lead. Beautiful goal.

LONDON -- Checking in from Wembley Stadium, where upwards of 80,000 fans began filing in hours ago in anticipation of the gold medal match between the United States and Japan.

The US, which defeated Canada, 4-3, on Alex Morgan's header to advance to the final, is attempting to avenge a loss on penalty kicks to Japan in the World Cup final. "I’m still heartbroken about losing the World Cup in the way we did,'' said Team USA co-captain Abby Wambach.

The US is 1-1-1 against Japan, a finesse team that defeated France to reach the final. "We think it’s fate that us and Japan are playing,'' said Morgan. "It could have turned out so differently.”

The US has made one lineup change, starting Shannon Boxx in place of Lauren Cheney at center midfield.

Stat of the day, courtesy of Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl's twitter feed: Wambach has 11 goals in 14 career Olympic and World Cup knockout games. Mia Hamm had 2 in 19.

Stay right here for live updates.

Alex Morgan reveals who she would like to see in the crowd

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 9, 2012 02:29 PM

As superstar-in-waiting Alex Morgan prepared to play in her first Olympic gold-medal game, she was asked, of course, about her soccer heroes. There can be only one.

"Mia Hamm is a legend,’’ she lauded. “I remember becoming passionate [about soccer] because of Mia Hamm."

Mrs. Nomar of course, played for the national team from 1987-2004 and is widely considered the First Lady of soccer.

“I hear that she’s coming to our game and we inspired her to take a flight over to London to come to our gold medal match,’’ said Morgan, who was hoping the real First Lady would also be watching.

“I would love to see Michelle Obama at our game because [she] is all about fitness and making sure that you’re healthy and that you’re living an active, healthy lifestyle.’’

"We met her last year in the White House and so I would love to see her watch us."

Today at the Olympics: Bolt goes for double in 200, US women's soccer looks for revenge

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 9, 2012 05:36 AM

LONDON -- Welcome to Day 13 of competition, during which 10 sports will award medals. The schedule is dotted with exciting events all over the city, including the women's soccer final against Japan, the gold-medal women's water polo match, the final five events of the decathlon (American Ashton Eaton enters with the lead), and, yes, the more compelling athlete here sprinting for another slice of history.

Thursday's must-see event: At first, I had trouble deciding between a couple for this designation this morning, but then somewhere after the first cup of coffee the truth, as obvious as it should have been all along, became evident: Anytime Usain Bolt is involved, it is the must-see event. And that goes double when he's going for a double -- Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter and world-wide icon whose status here exceeds even that of the Team USA basketball players, will try to become the first ever to win the 100- and 200-meter races in back-to-back Games. He'll be in pursuit of more history, starting with the Olympic record in the event (19.30 seconds). In pursuit of him will be his countryman and training partner Yohan Blake, and it would be a shock if anyone else in the field challenges them. Bolt says this is his favorite race because it's more tactically challenging than the 100 meters. Chances are he'll reaffirm that after winning it Thursday night.

Also worth watching: The United States women's soccer team takes on Japan in the Thursday's gold medal match. Japan beat the US in a shootout in the World Cup final. How hungry is the US to avenge that loss? Abby Wambach can tell you:

"Every single player on this team, whether they're even here or not, even players that are left back in the United States, they've given us all an opportunity to train, to work, to dedicate, to sacrifice, every single day since the World Cup, so that we can have this one chance, the one more chance, the 90 more minutes," said Wambach, who scored the tying goal in the US's thrilling 4-3 win over Canada in the semifinals.

"All of us have dreamed about it. We've had nightmares about it even, what happened last summer. This is an opportunity for us for not even redemption, but to prove ourselves, to let whatever happened last summer go -- and be in a position to go after and take the gold medal because we believe that we've earned it. It's going to take 90 minutes of a great performance of the best team in the world, and that's going to be the team that's going to be sitting on the top podium."

Yeah, I'd say they're ready for this. But it almost seems destined to come down to a shootout again, doesn't it?

Wednesday's big story: Allyson Felix is just 27 years old, but she's been the golden girl of US track and field for nearly a decade. Yet until Wednesday night, she had never won an Olympic gold medal in her signature event, the 200 meters, having finished with a silver medal in 2004 in Athens and four years ago in Beijing, the latter a disappointment that left her in tears after the race. So when Felix breezed to gold in 21.88 seconds, beating a field that included two-time defending gold medalist Victoria Campbell-Brown, it was both cathartic and fulfilling.

"Gosh, it's been a long time coming," said Felix. "I think the moment that motivated me most was losing on the biggest stage. At the time I said I'd give all my world championship medals [10] for that gold. Now I can say I embraced the journey."

Tweet of the day: I want to apologize for my stupid act at the end, I showed a bad image of France and myself, Congrats to team Spain. -- France forward Nicolas Batum (@nicolas88batum), apologizing for punching Spain's Juan Carlos Navarro in the groin during Spain's medal-round basketball victory Wednesday. He wasn't quite so remorseful at first, saying he did it because Navarro and the Spain guards wouldn't stop flopping.

Mind the gap, and stick around right here for further updates throughout the day.

Nic Batum apologizes for punching Juan Carlos Navarro in groin during game

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 8, 2012 04:21 PM

LONDON – At first, France's Nic Batum wasn't exactly remorseful after punching Spain's Juan Carlos Navarro in the groin during the teams' matchup Wednesday in the men's basketball medal round.

"I wanted to give him a good reason to flop," Batum told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

If Batum's motivation for the cheap shot is indeed what he told Wojnarowski -- that he was sick of Spain players flopping during a 66-59 victory -- it's probably a good thing for triple lindy specialist LeBron James that Team USA won't play France again in the Olympics.

Batum, presumably after being sent to his room to think about his bad behavior, did apologize via Twitter later on his account, @nicolas88batum

I want to apologize for my stupid act at the end, I showed a bad image of France and myself, Congrats to team Spain.

No word whether Navarro accepted his apology. Or for that matter, whether he has uncoiled from the fetal position.

Five questions with Dwyane Wade

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 8, 2012 11:49 AM

wadedwyanefinn.jpg.jpg

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."

Today at the Olympics: Allyson Felix goes for 200-meter gold, beach volleyball showdown

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 8, 2012 07:13 AM

LONDON -- Welcome to Day 12 of competition, during which eight sports will award medals, including four in athletics. Athletics sounds way more official than calling it track and field, doesn't it? I'm gonna go with it.

Wednesday's must-see event: Allyson Felix's run of success in the 200 meters is prolonged and impressive. She won world titles in the event in 2005, '07 and '09, and she owns a pair of silver medals in the event from 2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing. Wednesday she is favored to wind up one step higher on the podium.

Felix, who won one of three semifinal heats Tuesday in a time of 22.31 seconds, will have some competition from teammate Carmelita Jeter and Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown, who won gold in the event during the previous two Summer Games.

But it would be a major surprise if Felix doesn't capture the gold.

Athletics medals are also up for grabs in the women's 400-meter hurdles and long jump and the men's 110-meter hurdles, while the US's Ashton Eaton will be among the athletes competing in the first day of the decathlon, which begins with five events.

Also worth watching: Beach volleyball at the Horse Guards Parade venue sometimes seems more like party central than the site of serious athletic competition. But the place is certain to have the latter vibe Wednesday when the all-American final featuring decorated duo Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings take on the lesser- known tandem of Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, who upset top-seeded Larissa Franca and Juliana Felisberta Silva of Brazil in the semifinals,

It's not a rivalry in the truest sense because the scale tips entirely in May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings's direction when overall accomplishments are weighed -- they've won the previous two gold medals and have won their last 20 Olympic matches. But both tandems are motivated beyond the obvious desire to win gold. This is the last hurrah for May-Treanor, who is retiring after the Olympics, and the last scene of the script isn't supposed to include departing in defeat. As for Kessy and Ross, they are propelled by the chance to seize some of the spotlight focused on their more decorated countrywomen, has Sports Illustrated's Phil Taylor notes:

There is some edge to the relationship. Kessy and Ross have watched May-Treanor/Walsh Jennings get far more media attention than they have, or any other team for that matter, and though they can't argue that it is undeserved, they would like to serve notice that there is another women's team worth everyone's notice.

They'll get that notice today. What remains to be seen is whether it will come because they defeated May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings, or because they were their final victim.

Tuesday's big story: Aly Raisman sure has a knack for memorable endings. The Needham native was the anchor when the US women clinched the team gymnastics gold, and Tuesday, she wrapped up her Olympic experience with a pair of medals, winning the gold in the floor exercise and bronze in the balance beam. While charismatic teammate Gabby Douglas was the all-around champion and has the Corn Flakes box to prove it, Raisman's superb performance in London -- particularly her daring in the floor exercise, when she ratcheted her degree of difficulty up to 6.5 and then nailed her routine -- will not be forgotten.

Tweet of the day: "Yay Aly, Gold for Floor Exercise! Go USA!!" -- @SamuelLJackson, Needham's Aly Raisman won the gold Tuesday. Yes, that Samuel L. Jackson, whose habitual tweeting on the Olympics has been an absolute riot. Jules Winnfield, Olympics junkie. Who would have suspected?

Mind the gap, and stick around right here for further updates throughout the day.

Aly Raisman wins gold in floor exercise, bronze in beam

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 7, 2012 10:35 AM

607raismangold.jpg

Aly Raisman won the gold medal in the floor exercise over silver medalist Catalina Ponor of Romania (right) and Aliya Mustafina of Russia (left).

LONDON -- Versatile and unassuming, and said to feature more steadiness than flash in her repertoire, Aly Raisman ceded much of the attention to teammates Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber in advance of the Summer Games.

But after her two-medal performance Tuesday in the final day of gymnastics competition here, she departs knowing that in the end, the floor belonged to her.

300raismanfloor.jpgRaisman, a Needham native who'd be wise to set aside some time for a parade in her hometown, became the first United States woman ever to win the floor exercise at the Olympics, upping her degree of difficulty and nailing her routine to score a 15.6 and easily top silver medalist Catalina Ponor of Romania (15.2). Russia's Aliya Mustafina took the bronze (14.9). Wieber was seventh.

"It was the best routine I've ever done," Raisman said. "My coach [Mihai Brestyan] said it was the best routine he'd ever seen me do."

The floor exercise is Raisman's strongest event, and she won it in confident fashion, executing a version of her routine with a high (6.5) degree of difficulty and earning a 9.1 on execution, a very high score. She went for it, and it paid off.

What was somewhat unexpected was her bronze medal not much more than an hour earlier in the balance beam, which came after winning an appeal with the judges and then a tiebreaker with Ponor.

"Today has been a dream come true,'' said Raisman. "I'm so glad I got the medal I wanted."

Overall, Raisman won three medals in London -- she also anchored the United States's team gold, it's first since 1996. The US women won five medals overall, their lowest total since 2000. They collected eight in Beijing, six in Athens.

The circumstances with the balance beam were remarkably similar to the outcome of the women's all-around, when Raisman finished tied for the third-best score with Mustafina but lost out on a medal because of a tiebreaker.

The difference, of course, is that this time the tiebreaker worked in Raisman's favor.

After the inquiry, Raisman's degree of difficulty score was boosted 0.120, changing her score from 14.946 to 15.066, equaling Ponor. Raisman was awarded the medal because her execution score (8.766) was higher than Ponor's (8.466), which was the tiebreaker.

China went 1-2 atop the podium, with Deng Linlin getting gold (15.600) and Sui Lu the silver (15.50).

All-around champion Douglas fell during her routine, catching herself on the beam with her leg and pulling herself back up. She was seventh (13.633).

Despite a smooth routine with just one wobble, a hop on a dismount, Raisman's initial score of 14.946 put her a fraction of a point behind Ponor and apparently off the podium.

As the crowd booed, seemingly recognizing that she had been misjudged, her coach, Mihai Brestyan, filed an immediate appeal, requesting a review of her score.

When her new score was announced,the crowd roared. It wouldn't be the last time Tuesday they would do so for Raisman.

Live updates: Aly Raisman wins gold in floor exercise

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 7, 2012 09:39 AM

LONDON -- Needham's Aly Raisman has won the gold in the floor exercise, bringing the gymnast's medal count to two Tuesday and three overall at the London Games.

She is the first US gymnast ever to win the event.

Raisman finished with a score of 15.9, easily topping silver medal winning Catalina Ponor of Romania (15.2) and bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina of Russia (14.9)

Earlier Tuesday, Raisman won a bronze medal in the beam, winning an appeal and then a tiebreaker with Ponor.

She previously won a gold medal in the team competition.

12:09: Aliya Mustafina also scores 14.900. Raisman is assured of silver as the last competitor, Romania's Sandra Raluca Izbasa, begins her routine.

12:02:Ferrari gets a 14.9, so Raisman is assured of a medal with two gymnasts left to go.

11:59: Italy's Vanessa Ferrari is up next. Unless she can score above 15.600, Raisman is assured of a medal.

11:45: Looks like Aly Raisman has an excellent shot at a second medal Tuesday and third during these Games. She earns a 15.6 on her floor exercise routine, earning huge cheers from the crowd at North Greenwich Arena. Her teammate, Jordyn Wieber, struggled in her routine preceding Raisman, earning a 14.5 score with a 0.1 deduction for stepping out of bounds.

After a lengthy wait while Wieber's score was posted, Raisman went with the more difficult version (6.5) of her routine which included a layout and earned a score that figured to put her on the podium, possibly on the top position.

11:40: The floor exercise is underway. Raisman is trying to make history in theevent, where the Americans never have won gold, although Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin finished second and third in the event in Beijing

Floor is her best event -- Raisman finished third there at last year's world championships behind Russia's Kseniia Afanaseva and China's Sui Lu. And with Sui failing to qualify and Afanaseva having fallen on her face during the team final, Raisman's chances of winning seem strong.

Afanaseva will lead off, followed by Jordyn Wieber and Raisman, with Romania's Catalina Ponor, the Athens champion, following and teammate Sandra Izbasa, the Beijing titlist, coming up last.

* * *

11:23: Dutch gymnast Epke Zonderland pulled off a huge upset on the horizontal bar, knocking off Chinese defending Olympic and world champion Zou Kai to become his country's first medalist in Games history.

Germany's Fabian Hambuchen, the 2008 bronze medalist, upgraded to silver ahead of Zou.The American men ended up without an apparatus medal for the first time since 2000 as Danell Leyva and Jonathan Horton, the Beijing runner-up, placed fifth and sixth.

Back with the women's floor exercise momentarily where Raisman will go for her second medal of the day.

* * *

In the end and on the beam, it really did all balance out for Aly Raisman.

The Needham native won the bronze medal in the women's balance beam Tuesday when her initial score was adjusted after an inquiry, and she then won a tiebreaker with Romania's Catalina Ponor.

300raismanbronze.jpgThe situation was remarkably similar to the outcome of the women's all-around, when Raisman finished tied for the third-best score with Russia's Aliya Mustafina but lost out on a medal because of a tiebreaker.

The difference, of course, is that this time the tiebreaker worked in Raisman's favor.

After the inquiry, Raisman's degree of difficulty score was boosted 0.120, changing her score from 14.946 to 15.066, equaling Ponor. Raisman was awarded the medal because her execution score (8.766) was higher than Ponor's (8.466), which was the tiebreaker.

China went 1-2 atop the podium, with Deng Linlin getting gold (15.600) and Sui Lu the silver (15.50).

All-around champion Gabby Douglas fell during her routine, catching herself on the beam with her leg and pulling herself back up. She was seventh (13.633).

Despite a smooth routine with just one wobble, a hop on a dismount, Raisman's initial score of 14.946 put her a fraction of a point behind Ponor and apparently off the podium.

As the crowd booed, seemingly recognizing that she had been misjudged, her coach, Mihai Brestyan,, filed an immediate appeal, requesting a review of her score.

When her new score was announced,the crowd roared.

The medal is Raisman's second in London, having been the anchor during a gold-medal performance in the team victory.

10:31: Raisman wins the bronze. The judges adjust her score in degree of difficulty after an inquiry, and she wins a tiebreaker with Romania's Catalina Ponor.

Despite a solid routine with just one wobble, Raisman finished fourth behind the two Chinese and one-tenth of a point behind Ponor. Her coach, Mihai Brestyanm filed an appeal, however, requesting a review of her score. If her placement stood, it would be the second fourth-place finish for the Needham, Mass. native, who also missed the stand in the all-around.

After reviewing Raisman's routine, the judges awarded her third place on a tiebreaker ahead of Ponor. It was a reversal of the all-around, where Raisman finished behind Russia's Aliya Mustafina on a tiebreaker,

10:24: She won't. Despite what looked like a smooth routine other than a hop on the landing, Aly Raisman ends up with a 14.900, which is good for fourth at the moment. Raisman's coach is filing an inquiry.

If it stands, China's Deng Linlin gets gold (15.600), China's Sui Lu the silver, and Romania's Catalina Ponor takes the bronze. Stay tuned.

10:24: Smooth routine for Raisman, save for a hop at the end. She's staring down the scoreboard. Will she medal?

10:18: Russia's Victoria Komova falls twice -- 13.100. It's Deng, Su, and Ponor in the top three right now, with the beam taking its toll. With Komova coming off the beam and then falling on her backside, Raisman is well positioned for the podium, needing just a 15.067.

10:17: By the time Douglas got her turn, the new leader was Deng with a 15.600, with Sui in second. When Russia's Kseniia Afanaseva wobbled and then took a big step backwards on her dismount for a 14.583, the bronze, at least, was in play, But Douglas, who'd been last in Monday's uneven bars, had an unfortunate outing, losing her balance with her right leg at a 90-degree angle and then coming off the apparatus, hanging on from underneath. Her 13.633, which put her last, marked an unfortunate end to what had been a magnificent Games with team and all-around golds.

10:16: Douglas scores a 13.600. No third medal for the all-around champ. The door is open for Raisman.

10:12: Douglas falls on a split jump, catching herself with both hands and hooking her leg around the beam.

10:06: After three gymnasts, China's Deng Linlin leads with a 15.6, with teammate Sui Lui second at 15.5 and Romania's Catalina Ponor third (15.066). Douglas will be the fifth to go.

Sui, up first, set the benchmark. Then Ponor, the Athens victor who was plucked out of retirement to reinforce a young Romanian squad, had a rough re-entry, nearly falling twice and scoring a 15.066 that figured to keep her off the podium. When her teammate Larisa Iordache did fall and was hung with a 14.200, that opened the door for the Americans, who were 1-2 in Beijing with Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin.

9:53 a.m. The gymnasts competing in the balance beam are being introduced to the crowd. Raisman will go last.

* * *

LONDON -- The first event of the final day of gymnastics has just wrapped up here at North Greenwich Arena. As expected, Feng Zhe of China won the gold in men's parallel bars with a score of 15.966. Marcel Nguyen of Germany (15.800) took silver, while France's Hamilton Sabot (15.566) won the bronze.

China won the men's parallel bars event for the third time in four Games. Feng had the top score on difficulty (7.000) and had an 8.966 in execution.

The US, which hadn't won a medal since Jair Lynch's silver in 1996, had no representative after world champion Danell Leyva failed to qualify.

Next up is women's balance beam where the Chinese world champion Sui Lu was favored. With global bronze medalist Jordyn Wieber not making the final, the US hopes rode with all-around champion Gabrielle Douglas and Aly Raisman, who was fourth last year.

Douglas qualified third in the event, while Raisman was fifth.

Stay right here for further updates throughout today's remaining events.

Travel note: Engineering the blame

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 7, 2012 08:58 AM

LONDON -- Boarded a train at a stop called Cockfosters at the end of the Picadilly Line Tuesday morning. The car was on Platform 3. After waiting about five minutes, an announcement was made that we would have to get off and get into the train at Platform 1. We did so. After five more minutes an announcement was made saying that we needed to go back to the original car at Platform 3. As we're doing that, another announcement was made saying we should return to the Platform 1 train.

After a few more minutes, the driver picked up his mike. "I'll tell you what the problems are," he said. "The problem is not with the drivers. The problem is with incompetent management. They don't know what they're doing."

Today at the Olympics: Raisman goes for more gold, another hurdle for Lolo

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 7, 2012 05:55 AM

LONDON -- Welcome to Day 11 of competition, in which we'll bid farewell to one of the Summer Games's signature sports, gymnastics, while another, athletics, continues to roll along with four medal events, including the highly anticipated women's 100-meter hurdles final.

Tuesday's must-see event: The individual competitions -- balance beam and floor exercise -- should put the coda on a very successful trip to London for the US women's gymnastics team, which won its first team gold medal since 1996 and saw the electrifying Gabby Douglas win the all-around. Douglas, on the short list of true breakout stars from these Olympics, has a chance to add another medal to her collection during the balance beam, for which she qualified third.

But the gymnast with the best medal hopes for the US Tuesday is one who just missed out on one the last time we saw her compete. I'm talking of course about Needham's Aly Raisman, who tied for third in the all-around but missed out on the bronze because of a tiebreaker. Raisman qualified first in the floor exercise (teammate Jordyn Wieber is also in the mix in that event) and is considered the gold-medal favorite, and she'll also compete in the balance beam. For the men, medals in the high bar and parallel bars are also up for grabs.

Also worth watching: The four medal events in athletics Tuesday are the men's 1,500, high jump and discus, and the women's 100-meter hurdles. It's the latter that is drawing the most buzz, not just because of a deep field. Lolo Jones, the charismatic American who qualified first in her heat this morning, has been the target of recent backlash because her fame probably exceeds her success to some degree. Most notably during a recent piece in The New York Times in which Jere Longman wrote:

"Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign. Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses."

The perspective there is tough to fathom; it's as if he's saying Jones should be deducted points for her accessibility and honesty. The most clear-eyed explanation I've read regarding why Jones is compelling and justified in her approach was written by Sports Illustrated's Sarah Kwak:

"In a landscape where we complain that athletes have become so cookie-cutter, rehearsed, cliché and protected, Jones is being lambasted for trying to have a sense of humor and a personality. She's being criticized for sharing her compelling life story. However well-publicized her family's struggles may be, that doesn't make them any less true. Track was always her ticket out, and she's not the first athlete to see sports that way. Can you really blame her for taking advantage of an opportunity that only comes around once every four years?"

Exactly. There are plenty of reasons for cynicism in sports. Lolo Jones is pretty far down that list.

Monday's big story: To apply a hockey term to soccer, Alex Morgan's hat trick. No, she didn't have three goals in the US women's soccer team's thrilling, controversial 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Canada in the semifinals. That distinction belonged to Canada's Christine Sinclair. But Morgan did have a hat trick of a quirkier sort, scoring the winning goal on a header from six yards out in the final minute of injury time, while also providing us with the quote of the day following her goal ("I've said the whole time I don't care who scores as long as we friggin' score") and, before the game, a very prescient ...

Tweet of the day: LIVE IN THE MOMENT -- Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13), a couple hours before scoring the winning goal Team USA's 4-3 victory over Canada in the women's soccer semifinals.

Little did she know how good her instincts were.

Mind the gap, and stick around for further updates from gymnastics and track, as well as a column on USA basketball from yours truly.

After gold, Clary has another dream in mind

Posted by Scott Thurston, Globe Staff August 6, 2012 02:39 PM

clarylochte816.jpg

LONDON -- When these gilded American swimmers leave London and return home, off to do the obligatory sitdowns with Letterman and Leno, Hoda and Kathie Lee, Kelly and whomever, the inevitable question (after “how does it feel?’’ of course) will be “So what are you going to do next?’’

Michael Phelps is retiring and wants to travel the world, maybe play some golf. Ryan Lochte is going to jump back in the pool and is eyeing Rio in 2016. Ditto 17-year-old Missy Franklin and 15-year-old Katie Ledecky.

As for Tyler Clary, 23, who set an Olympic record in winning the 200-meter backstroke, he’s likely to keep on going, too, But what he really aspires to do after he’s done splashing around is to sit for a while. Behind the wheel.

“I want to take a serious shot at being a professional race car driver after swimming’s over,’’ he said in an interview on SPEED that aired Sunday night. “ It’s funny because when you initially tell people that, you get laughs, complete surprise, but I know that this is something I could be really good at.''

Clary, 23, who hails from Riverside, Calif., said one of his former swim teams ran one of the merchandise booths at Auto Club Speedway. “So I’ve seen plenty of NASCAR races and just something about it, I always wanted to be in the driver’s seat.’’

Last year, in fact, Clary said he was part of the off-road racing team with La Paz Party Mixes, learning a few things about the sport. And by the time the three-time former NCAA champion at Michigan told his new buddies he really had to get back in the pool so he could fully focus on the Games, he was doing everything except stepping into the car.

“I was working with them as kind of a fabricator, welder, mechanic and pit man, and basically doing everything except for driving,’’ he said. “I’m really looking forward to using all that and trying to take a step forward.”

But expect him to keep going backward going forward. At least in the short term. A gold medal will do that to a guy.

“There obviously is more motivation to continue going now,’’ he told SPEED. “Not that there was a lack of motivation before; it’s just that extra kick in the pants because of what happened [in the final last Thursday]. But I still really want to make that endeavor after swimming’s over, and over the next couple of years, I really want to do everything I can to get as much experience in the seat as possible so that once it comes time for me to make a step away from swimming, people really can see that I’m not just talking about it.

“I just really have a passion for auto racing and I really want to drive.”


Doc Rivers, Kayla Harrison become fast friends

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 6, 2012 09:53 AM

Kaylaanddoc.jpg.jpg

LONDON — Kayla Harrison is a self-described “huge” Celtics fan and admirer of coach Doc Rivers.

During a chance encounter with Rivers at the NBC broadcast headquarters Thursday night, the judo gold medalist from Marblehead, Mass., discovered that the admiration is mutual.

Rivers is here moonlighting as a studio analyst for NBC’s coverage of the basketball competition. He was preparing to do a segment when Harrison, who was scheduled for a later interview, walked in.

“I just get done hair and makeup, go in the green room, and there’s Doc Rivers, and I just yelled, ‘Ahhhh, it’s Doc!’ Harrison said, “and he comes over all excited and shakes my hand and says, ‘Is that a gold medal?’ He was so nice, so genuine. I was jumping up and down because I was so already excited.”

Rivers was so impressed that he asked to abbreviate his segment and have Harrison come on the set with him because, he said, “she’s a better story than anything we were going to talk about. I wanted to talk to her. I tell you, what an incredible person. It was so cool.’’

Harrison said she fell for the Celtics instantly when she moved to Massachusetts in 2007 as a 16-year-old. She attended a game at TD Garden with her fiancé as recently as April, sitting in the third row.

“People say all the time, ‘I’m a Celtics fan,’ and you’re like, ‘OK,’ because you find out maybe they don’t know who Paul [Pierce] is or something,’’ Rivers said. “But I can tell you, she is legit.’’

Rivers, who knew about Harrison’s back story as a sexual abuse survivor before he met her, is going to arrange for her to be honored at a Celtics game during the upcoming season.

“It would be great to get all the Boston-area Olympians on the floor,” Rivers said. “But I want to make special mention of Kayla, do something special.

“She’s a true survivor. I love that she talks about her story and wants it out and wants to help people.”

While Harrison knows plenty about Rivers’s sport, well, that isn’t mutual.

“I know nothing about judo,’’ Rivers said. “Actually, her manager was trying to explain it to me because I told him that I saw a match that morning and it lasted about 10 seconds. The person was flat on her back and I wasn’t sure what happened. But I told Kayla I needed her to teach all my bigs how to block out. She got a big kick out of that.”

Today at the Olympics: Men's hoop vs. Argentina, Douglas takes on uneven bars

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 6, 2012 07:24 AM

LONDON -- Welcome to Day 10 of competition, which is not shaping up as a big day for marquee events, though there's plenty going on, with medals being awarded in eight sports, including five in track and field.

Monday's must-see event: Last time it took the court, the United States men's basketball team played lethargically against Lithuania and didn't lead for good until there were less than six minutes to play before winning, 99-94. Monday night is its first time on the court since the near-upset, and the Americans will be playing Argentina, a team they defeated by just 6 points in a pre-Olympic tuneup in Barcelona. While the US is all but assured of clinching the top seed in its pool even with a loss in its final game before the medal round, it hardly looked invincible against Lithuania. And with a roster that includes Manu Ginobili (get ready for some referee-duping flopping) and Luis Scola, Argentina is equipped to put a scare into the US if the sluggishness continues.

Also worth watching: A lot, no matter what your interests. Individual all-around gold medalist Gabby Douglas competes in the women's uneven bars, one of three gymnastics medals that will be awarded, along with men's vault and rings. Hope Solo and the US women's soccer team take on Canada in the semifinals. At the track, the most compelling race could be the men's 400, which changed in tenor when favorite LeShawn Merritt, the gold medalist in Beijing, suffered a hamstring injury in the preliminaries and had to bow out.

Sunday's big story: How about we answer this one with a Local Newspaper Medley?

The Guardian:

bolt1cover.jpg

The Independent:

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bolt2cover.jpg


The Sun:

murraycover.jpg

The Sun goes with the local angle -- Andy Murray's gold medal in men's singles tennis. The other two go with the most anticipated event of the London Games, the men's 100-meter race, which lived up to its billing and then some when Usain Bolt blazed a 9.63 to repeat as the gold medalist Sunday night. He sure knows how to rise to the occasion, doesn't he?

Tweet of the day: Big congrats to @HolleyMangold for her competition at the Olympics! As an older brother I couldn't be more proud! #TeamUSA -- Jets center Nick Mangold, who left training camp and flew to London to watch his sister compete in the weightlifting competition. She finished 10th in the 75-kg group Sunday.

Mind the gap, and stick around for further updates.

Video: Women's marathon highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff August 5, 2012 02:39 PM

Boston.com's Olympics interns joined thousands in London to check out the Olympic women's marathon, one of the events for which no ticket was needed. Check out their video report above.

Live updates: Andy Murray defeats Roger Federer to win men's singles tennis gold medal

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 5, 2012 09:13 AM

WIMBLEDON -- Andy Murray prevailed on the court where he was a runner-up just a month ago, winning the gold medal against the same opponent who defeated him at Wimbledon with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory over an oddly overmatched Roger Federer.

Murray, who desperately wanted to become the first Brit to win the Wimbledon men's singles title since 1938, exacted some measure of revenge against Federer Sunday, winning nine games in a row at one point stretching over the first set and into the second.

He closed it out in style, with three consecutive aces, then dropped to his knees as the adoring crowd chanted his name.

"The atmosphere was unbelievable. I didn't feel that nervous, strangely,'' he said after becoming Great Britain's first men's singles gold medal winner since 1908. "They helped me get a few miles per hour on my served at the end there."

11:16: Ace. And like that, it's over. Andy Murray beats Roger Federer, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 to win the men's singles gold medal. Amazing.

11:13: And then another. 40-15. Match point.

11:12: Murray's long on a looping return, and it's 15-15, but he follows with a blistering ace to go up 30-15.

11:10: Federer holds serve -- 5-4, Murray.

11:08: Federer serving to try to stay alive in the match after Murray wins his fifth game of the set with a little touch shot at the net.

11:05: Murray whacks a backhand into the net, and Federer holds to make in 4-3.

11:00 It's taking on the feeling of inevitability, with Murray taking a 4-2 lead in the third set, winning the last point on a crosscourt forehand just inside the line.

10:55: Murray goes up 3-2, breaking Federer's serve with a lasered cross-court backhand. If he wins this thing in three sets, there's your pivotal moment.

10:53: Federer and Murray both hold serve, and it's 2-2 in the third set.

10:45: Federer gets the first one of the third set, serving to love, but Murray counters by doing the same.

10:40: Murray holds serve, with Federer returning game point long, and Murray wins the second set, 6-1. What's up with Federer? Perhaps its the swirling wind, though it's had no effect on the Scotsman Murray. And his serve has been erratic. But losing 12 of 15 games? Hard to fathom.

10:36: Federer has one answer, holding to win his first game in the last nine.

10:31: Murray, 5-0. Federer has no answers.

10:27: Federer double-faults on break point, and Murray is up 4-0 in the second set. Now there's something you never expect to see.

10:20: If Murray wins this thing, the third game of the second set may well be considered the pivotal moments. He survived six break points, finally beating Federer when the Wimbledon champ's return sailed long, and he's won seven straight games. His court coverage has been better than Federer's, and his forehand has not failed him. Extraordinary performance so far.

10:07: Beautiful exchange of shots ends with Murray ripping a cross-court forehand past Federer to go up, 2-0, in the second set. Dare we say Federer looks rattled? He's lost six straight games. Unusual amount of unforced errors, especially at the net. Or is this when he turns it on?

10:00: Murray wins the first game of the second set, acing Federer at 40-15. Federer looked annoyed on a late "out!" call that made it 40-15, but replay showed it was long.

9:55: Which one of these guys is the machine again? Murray breaks Federer's serve and wins the set, 6-2, the winning point coming on a lasered backhand down the line. Missed opportunity for Federer came when he hit into the net at 15-15 with open court in front of him.

9:52 A pair of aces after getting to deuce, and Murray is up 5-2. Pretty effective way of holding serve right there.

9:45 Murray's aggressiveness is paying off so far. He goes up 4-2 on Federer, getting the advantage after deuce with a ripped forehand, then breaking his serve on the unforced error. The crowd keeps getting louder, and Murray is thriving.

Checking in from the men's singles final at suddenly sunny Wimbledon, where the great Roger Federer is going for his first Olympic gold medal -- he's 0 for 3 in his career -- against favorite son Andy Murray, the Brit who lost a memorable final to Federer less than a month ago on this same court.

Earlier, Serena and Venus Williams provided a terrific opening act on Centre Court, winning the women's doubles title over Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, 6-4, 6-4. That, too, was a rematch from Wimbledon.

Murray has the crowd behind him -- cheers of "Go, Andy!" -- punctuate every break between points, and he's up 3-2 in the first set. But Federer isn't exactly the type to get fazed by such things. Stay right here to see whether Murray can get a bit of redemption for Wimbledon, or whether Federer will get the singles gold he covets.

Today at the Olympics: Bolt in the 100-meters, Federer vs. Murray

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 5, 2012 06:43 AM

LONDON -- Welcome to Day 9 of competition, which is already underway on this drizzly Sunday, with Ethiopia's Tiki Gelana winning the women's marathon. Marblehead's Shalene Flanagan was tenth on a challenging course through downpours and puddles. There's plenty more on the docket to come, including arguably the most anticipated event of these Olympics:

Sunday's must-see event: It should be the fastest and most electrifying 10 seconds -- actually, it won't last that long -- of the London Games. of the We're talking, of course, about the men's 100-meter final, which pits brash world-record holder Usain Bolt against a loaded field, including his countryman and training partner Yohan Blake and Americans Tyson Gay (owner of the second-fastest time in the event) and Justin Gatlin, who was blazing in the preliminaries. It was fascinating to watch Bolt in his prelim -- he's about a head taller than anyone else, gets out of the blocks comparatively slow, and then makes up ground so fast that he glides through the finish line. Bolt humbly touts himself on Twitter as "the most naturally gifted athlete the world has ever seen,'' and he does make it look easy. But against Sunday's field, he'd be wise to beware. Because chances are it won't be.

Also worth watching: Roger Federer takes on Brit Andy Murray in the men's singles tennis final at Wimbledon (my home base Sunday) in a rematch of their epic Wimbledon final a little less than a month ago. Murray broke down in tears at Centre Court after falling short of his attempt to become the first home-grown Wimbledon champion since 1938. He gets his shot at redemption Sunday, and in 16 career matches against the indomitable Federer, he has beaten him eight times. But Federer is going for one of the few things he has not achieved in his brilliant career -- this would be his first Olympic gold medal in singles.

Saturday's big story: In London, it was the success of the home team, with Mo Farah winning gold in the 10,000 and Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon. But for Team USA, it was the final event of Michael Phelps's unprecedented career, and an appropriate ending. The pool has closed for the summer, with the US leaving the London Aquatics Centre with 30 medals -- six owned by Phelps, who closed his phenomenal career by giving the US the lead in the third leg of the 4x100 medley relay en route to gold. Phelps, who has shown his introspective side here, said afterward: "As soon as I stuffed up on the podium I could feel the tears start coming. I said to [teammate] Nathan [Adrian], 'oh no, there they come, it's going to be pretty brutal'. They just started coming. I tried to fight it but I just decided to let it go and whatever happened, happened. I was just taking in these last moments of my swimming career."

Tweet of the day: ‏Shaq on the free throw line today!!! My bad USA. Good win for us. Needed a game like that. On to the next. -- Team USA forward Kevin Love (@kevinlove), after hit just 3 of 8 free throws in a 99-94 squeaker over Lithuania.

Mind the gap, and stick around for further updates, including live coverage of the men's singles final.


Phelps wins 22d medal, 18th gold in final race

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 4, 2012 02:33 PM

finnphelps44.jpg.jpg

LONDON -- The final tally after Michael Phelps's final race:

Twenty-two medals. Eighteen golds. And a place in Olympic lore all his own.

In what he insists will be his last competition as an Olympian, Phelps authored a memorable ending, putting the United States ahead on the third leg of the 4x100-meter medley relay en route to the gold medal.

The United States finished in 3 minutes 29.35 seconds, a mere 1/100th of a second from tying its own Olympic record. Japan took silver, while Australia claimed bronze.

Phelps stands atop a figurative podium that no athlete in history has approached. He has more gold medals than any other athlete in Olympic history has total medals, and he has twice as many gold as anyone else.

There was some uncertainty around the outcome of this one, at least until he took the pool.

Matt Grevers gave the United States a small advantage over Japan on the first leg, finishing the backstroke in 52.19 seconds. But the US dipped to second in an event it has traditionally dominated when Brendan Hansen gave up the lead in the breaststroke, with China leading at 1:50.26 after 200 meters.

That only set the stage for one more fantastic Phelps moment, and it was only right that he swam the pivotal leg. No other script would suffice.

So the four-time Olympian, who now has four gold and two silver medals in London after hauling in a record eight in Beijing four years ago, performed like what he is: The best swimmer the world has ever seen.

When his leg was through, the US was in first at 2:40.48.

Nathan Adrian blazed through the final freestyle leg to put the perfect cap on the race, and his teammate's swimming career.

Phelps savored the moment, grinning broadly, hugging his three teammates, and high-fiving Adrian. He has said he prefers the camaraderie of the relays to his individual pool pursuits, and the shared joy was evident in his final, victorious moment as an Olympian.

3:18 p.m. Considering the names and accomplishments of the members of the United States women's 4x100 medley relay team, a world record wasn't out of the question. Maybe it was even expected.

But it sure was impressive to watch them actually pull it off.

Missy Franklin (backstroke), Rebecca Soni (breaststroke), Dana Vollmer (fly) and Allison Schmitt (freestyle) won the gold -- and set that new world standard -- just moments ago, completing the race without suspense in 3 minutes 52.05 seconds. Franklin gave them the lead on the first leg, Soni and Vollmer built on it, and Schmitt touched the wall to set the new world mark.

It's the first time the US women have won the event since the Sydney Games in 2000.

The four US swimmers in the relay have combined for 16 medal in London, with Franklin leading the way with four golds and a bronze.

Up next: Phelps and friends, and his farewell.

2:50 p.m. After a strange false start, China's Sun Yang sets a new world record in the grueling 1,500-meter freestyle, winning in 14 minutes 31.02 seconds. That's three more than three seconds better than the old record, held by ... China's Sun Yang.

Connor Jaeger (Fair Haven, N.J.) finished sixth in the men's 1500m freestyle at the Aquatics Centre in London's Olympic Park Saturday evening. Jaeger's 14:52.99 was 21.97 seconds behind the world record time of 14:31.02 by China's Sun Yang.

Canada's Ryan Cochrane earned silver (14:39.63), while Tunisia's Oussama Melluili won the bronze (14:40.31.)

American Connor Jaeger was sixth.

Next up: The women's 4X100.

2:31 p.m.: The first, and briefest, race of the night is complete, and it ended in an Olympic record. Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands set a new standard in the women's 50-meter race, winning in a time of 24.05 seconds.

The silver medal went to Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus won silver in 24.28, while Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands took bronze (24.29). American Jessica Hardy was seventh.

* * *

LONDON -- The eighth and final night of swimming is about to get underway at the London Aquatics Center. Four medals are at stake as the United States tries to build on its count of 28 so far in the pool.

The marquee event is the 4x100 relay, better known as the final event of Michael Phelps's Olympic career. (Presuming a stunning change of heart.) Swimming the butterfly leg, he'll be going for his 22d medal overall and his 18th gold. Should the relay team win -- and it is a heavy favorite -- he will have more gold than any other Olympian ever has total medals.

Also on the docket: the women's 50-meter freestyle, the men's 1,500-meter freestyle, and the women's 4x100 relay. Stay tuned for live updates.


Would-be Dream Team gets a wakeup call

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 4, 2012 11:26 AM

finnlebron44.jpg.jpg

LONDON -- The comparisons to the 1992 Dream Team were foolish enough in the first place, driven by shrill sports debate shows, a coincidental anniversary, and utterly devoid of any historical context.

But it's probably an even better idea now to abandon any stray inclination to suggest that the current United States Olympic men's basketball team could give the Larry-Magic-Michael originals from 20 years ago a run in their heyday. Team USA fended off hot-shooting and disciplined Lithuania Saturday, 99-94, after trailing in the fourth quarter, taking the lead for good on a Chris Paul 3-pointer with 5:38 left.

LeBron James, who finished with 20 points, took over down the stretch, something he apparently learned to do in the hours before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

While no one expected LeBron, international force Carmelo Anthony, and the rest of their NBA superstar teammates to demolish Lithuania by 83 points as they did to Nigeria Thursday, the prolonged tension in this one was surprising. Team USA led by 8 after the first quarter, 33-25, but rather than subduing the drama, it only built the rest of the game, with Lithuania outscoring the US over the final 30 minutes.

The purely basketball reasons the Lithuanians made a game of it were apparent. They shot 58.5 percent, running an effective high screen-and-roll offense, though with too many turnovers (23). The perception that Team USA's one relative area of weakness might be its defense in the pivot has grown after Saturday's outcome. While Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler did not play poorly, it was LeBron who was at center at key points. Believe it or not, a team of such extraordinary ability actually misses Dwight Howard, though considering his recent image-destructing decision-making, he might have demanded a trade to Lithuania in the third quarter.

Lithuania's approach could be a blueprint to attack the US later in the tournament, The Americans next game is Monday against Argentina, which played them close, losing by 6, in an exhibition two weeks ago. Argentina is also the last team to beat Team USA in the Olympics, in the 2004 semifinals. James and Anthony were members of that team, which ended up with three losses and a bronze medal in Athens.

This team should and most likely will be two spots higher on the podium than those Athens disappointments, even with the potential flaws that were revealed Saturday. Team USA shot poorly from the free throw line (61 percent, prompting Love to compare himself to notorious foul-line mason Shaquille O'Neal afterward), too often played lethargically on defense, and didn't move particularly well without the ball.

Yes, the gap has closed since 1992, when the Dream Team -- the one and only, forever beyond compare -- won every game by at least 32 points. The world has gained ground and Lithuania has a handful of players with actual NBA talent, particularly young big man and Raptor-to-be Jonas Valanciunas. But I can't see Linas Kleiza being permitted to drop 25 on M.J. and that crew, you know?

Today at the Olympics: Phelps's last race, and 100-meter prelims

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 4, 2012 06:28 AM

LONDON -- Welcome to Day 8 of competition, which marks a transition in focus from the pool to the track. Michael Phelps will swim his final race, the butterfly leg of the 4x100-meter relay, while Usain Bolt has all eyes on him in the fascinating field competing in the 100-meter preliminaries Saturday morning.

Saturday's must-see event: Phelps's farewell. A medal would give him 22 overall -- for some perspective, that's 12 more than Carl Lewis -- and should he win gold, it would be his 18th, which would surpass all-time medalist runner-up Larisa Latynina's total count of 17. Colleague John Powers told me that Phelps, who has been more reflective here than he was in Beijing, has always enjoyed the team competitions more than his individual events, so the camaraderie that surround his final race is an appropriate final chapter on his transcendent Olympic career. Given that the US has won the 4x100 in every Olympics in which he has competed in the event, one last golden moment for Phelps looks inevitable.

Also worth watching: Plenty of good stuff going on in track -- excuse me, "athletics,'' as they eruditely call it over here. Bolt (10.09), and Americans Tyson Gay (10.08) and an absolutely blazing Justin Gatlin (9.97) all won their heats in the 100-meter preliminaries, the final of which is set for Sunday. The final of the women's 100 is Saturday night, with Carmelita Jeter of the US and Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown among the medal contenders. And two of the home team's favorites compete Friday, with Mo Farah trying to become the first Brit to win gold in the 10,000-meters, and Jessica Ennis the favorite entering the final events of the heptathlon.

At Wimbledon, Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams go shot-for-shot in the women's tennis final, with both trying to win singles gold for the first time. The men's doubles gold is also at stake.

There will be medals awarded Saturday in badminton (women's singles and doubles), cycling (men's sprint, women's team pursuit), fencing (women's team epee), rowing (women's single sculls, men's and women's lightweight double sculls, men's four), shooting (women's trap and rifle 3 positions), women trampoline, women's triathlon, and weightlifting (men's 94-kg).

Friday's big story: It's hardly just Phelps who's hoarding medals in the pool for the US. The overall swimming medal count is up to 28 -- 14 gold, 8 silver, 6 bronze, and 19 more than second-place China -- after Friday night's haul that included Missy Franklin's third gold and fourth medal overall here. In setting a world record in the 200-meter backstroke, the 17-year-old Franklin became the first American since Melissa Belote in Munich 40 years ago to win the event. Saunderstown, R.I.'s, Elizabeth Beisel won the bronze to go with her silver earlier in the 400-meter individual medley.

The youngest member of the US swimming team, 15-year-old Katie Ledecky, broke a record that had already lasted seven years when she was born. Ledecky won gold in the grueling 800-meter freestyle with a time of 8 minutes 14.63 seconds, which broke the longstanding American record set by Janet Evans in 1990.

Tweet of the day: Even men in prison get their wives to visit. -- Sprinter Kim Collins (@kimcollins100m), who was not permitted by St Kitts and Nevis officials to run in the 100-meter prelims, reportedly because he stayed with his wife and kids overnight.

Mind the gap, and stick around for further updates.

Gabby Douglas news: An Olympics anagram and look who's on boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes

Posted by Staff August 3, 2012 05:51 PM

Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas may be known as the "Flying Squirrel," but did you know that the gymnast's last name is an anagram of "USA Gold"? Pretty cool.

In other Douglas news, her image has landed on boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

corn2.jpg

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

Adrienne Lavidor-Berman can be reached at adriennelb@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @adriennelb.

Video: Spirit of a champion

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff August 3, 2012 04:44 PM

The video above was produced several months before the Olympics to go along with a feature story by Shira Springer about Wakefield's Kayla Harrison.

Following Harrison's gold medal performance on Thursday, it's worth presenting again. In it, she discussed dealing with being sexually abused by a former coach, as well as her aspirations in the Olympics.

"Every day in my mind, when I go to sleep, I win the Olympics," she said.

Track begins, and so does the anticipation for Usain Bolt vs. the field

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 3, 2012 03:24 PM

usainbolt607.jpg

Jamaica's Usain Bolt, center, will be the man to watch as the track field heats up in London. (Gary Hershorn / REUTERS)

LONDON -- Despite the Twitter gripes and badminton scandals and any other secondary silliness, the reality is that these Summer Games have lived up their expectations so far.

And many who had golden aspirations -- or had enormous expectations placed upon them -- have delivered. Michael Phelps his run his medal count to 21, and his 17 gold medals are just one behind the all-time record for total medals won by anyone not named Michael Phelps, who may possibly be revealed to have dolphins in his family tree any day now.

Gymnast Gabby Douglas became America's sweetheart with her scintillating gold-medal performance in the women's individual all-around, and while Needham's Aly Raisman just missed bronze herself, her performance here, whether qualifying for the all-around or anchoring the team gold, proved once and for all she's not an athlete to be underestimated.

Great stories. Great, great stories. And did we mention the ridiculous badminton scandal?

But now? Now, it might get even more compelling, so much so that NBC won't be required to edit any plot twists.

Track and field -- or "athletics,'' as the home team here elegantly refers to them -- began Friday, with medal events in the men's shot put and the women's 10,000 meters, as well as qualifying in the women's 100. There are 47 total events under the "athletics'' designation, but one is anticipated more than than all of the others, and it's the one that will be over the fastest.

No offense to Phelps and Ryan Lochte, but the marquee event of these Games is the men's 100 meters, featuring Beijing breakout star and world-record holder (9.58 seconds) Usain Bolt, his nemesis and countryman Yohan Blake, and another fellow Jamaican, veteran Asafa Powell. That's staggering amount of talent and enough genuine story lines to make a fascinating race between just three of them. But add Americans Tyson Gay and would-be redemption story Justin Gatlin to the field, and there is potential for a classic outcome no matter who gets to the tape first.

Bolt is as charismatic an athlete as there is here, and his confidence cannot be dented. So it may come as a surprise to him that he's not invincible. Blake, his training partner, beat him in both the 100 and 200 in the Jamaican Olympic trials, and Bolt has battled back and hamstring issues this year. With Gay, who owns a best of 9.69 in the 100 and desperately wants to shed his "second-fastest man alive" label, and Gatlin, returning at age 30 from a doping ban, there will be a fascinating narrative to be discussed and dissected no matter what the outcome.

There are plenty of other fascinating events and angles in track and field, of course. American speedster Alyson Felix's showdown with Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown in the 200-meters Wednesday will be must-see, and more immediately, Mo Farah will have the eyes and weight of a nation on him when he tries to win Great Britain's first gold medal in the 10,000 meters.

Athletes we already recognize by name and accomplishments will achieve even more, and some relatively unknowns will reveal their greatness with unexpected victories and feats. Four years ago, Bolt was already a star, but it took him precisely 9.58 seconds to rocket to an entirely different stratosphere. Barring disaster in Saturday's preliminary heats, he'll have some extraordinarily fast company alongside him during Sunday's final, with gold, bragging rights, and so much more less than 10 seconds away.

Chat with Chad Finn at noon

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 3, 2012 08:50 AM

Boston.com and Globe reporter Chad Finn will check in live from London to talk Olympics and the other usual sports and media stuff Thursday at noon.

Today at the Olympics: More swimming, and the start of track

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 3, 2012 07:25 AM

LONDON -- Welcome to Day 7 of competition, where there's a ton going on -- 12 sports will award medals Friday, including swimming, which takes the spotlight for one more day ...

Friday's must-see event: Michael Phelps will take aim at his 21st Olympic medal when he competes in the 100-meter butterfly, his final individual Olympic race presuming there's no change of heart about taking a shot at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio as a 31-year-old. Missy Franklin will be 21 when the next Summer Games roll around, and there's a good chance she'll be Phelps's successor as the biggest fish in the Olympic pond (or pool, I guess). At 17, she's already a star, effervescent and apparently immune to pressure, having won gold in the 100-meter backstroke and 4x200 freestyle relay here, and today she goes for another in the 200-meter backstroke. She'll be challenged in that event by Saunderstown, Rhode Island's Elizabeth Beisel, who had the fastest time in qualifying.

Also worth watching: Track and field gets underway, with two medals to be awarded (women's 10,000 meters, men's shot put), and several preliminaries, including the women's 100 meters featuring US gold hopeful Carmelita Jeter. And singles tennis semifinals begin early at Wimbledon, with high-profile matches featuring Roger Federer vs. Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova vs. Maria Kirelenko, and Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka.

Thursday's big story: Where to begin? Kayla Harrison seems like a good place. The Judo gold medalist who trains out of Wakefield is being hailed for her courage -- and that has little to do with what she's accomplished in her sport. Harrison speaks openly about the years of sexual abuse she suffered. Thursday marked the culmination of an extraordinary turnaround in her life. “I still feel like it’s a dream,” said Harrison. “I’m Olympic champion.” Talk about extraordinary strength.

There was plenty more: Swimmer Michael Phelps won his 20th overall medal, 16th gold, and first individual gold here, beating silver-medalist Ryan Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley. Phelps became the first male swimmer to win an event over three consecutive Olympics.

Carmelo Anthony dropped 10 3s and scored 37 points as the US demolished Nigeria in men's basketball, 156-73. If you knew that Stephon Marbury held the previous US record for single-game scoring (31 vs. Spain in 2004), I'm guessing you're probably Stephon Marbury.

And in the marquee event of the day, Needham's Aly Raisman finished tied for third in the women's gymnastics individual all-around, but missed out on the bronze because of a tiebreaker. Her teammate, supercharged 16-year-old Gabby Douglas, took the gold and has the Corn Flakes box to prove it:

AzXfdzRCYAA-M1s.jpg

Tweet of the day: Look out London: Ryan Lochte is done for the meet, will not swim on medley relay Sat. And tomorrow is his birthday. -- @YahooForde (Yahoo! sports writer Pat Forde).

Mind the gap, and stick around for further updates.

Tiebreaker scores push Aly Raisman to fourth in gymnastics all-around

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff August 2, 2012 02:11 PM

300raisman.jpg


Less than a point difference in tiebreaker scores was the difference between a bronze medal and a fourth-place finish for Needham's Aly Raisman in the women's gymnastics all-around event Thursday in London.

When two gymnasts tie in total score, which happened when Raisman and bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina both finished with 59.566, the tiebreaker is based on the sum of the execution and difficulty scores for each gymnast’s top three apparatus scores. By that measure, Mustafina had 45.933, Raisman 45.366.

"Of course it's a huge bummer, but I'm still fourth in the world, so that's something to be proud of," Raisman said. "It's also a bummer that they can't just let us both get a bronze medal, but I'm happy for the girls that are on the podium."

Raisman had scores in the 14s in bars and beam, so one had to count. Mustafina got to drop her 13.633 on beam and had a 16, 15 and 14 to Raisman’s 15, 15 and 14. Bars was the difference – it’s Raisman’s weakest event and Mustafina's best.

Mustafina finished first on bars, while Raisman tied for ninth. Raisman finished higher than Mustafina in each of the other three events.

"It is what it is," Raisman said. "I feel sad because I was so close to getting a medal but I'm still fourth in the world so I'm really proud about that."

Here's a breakdown of the scores by event for each gymnast, with their finish position in parentheses

VAULT
Raisman (2):
6.5 difficulty, 9.4 execution, 15.9 total
Mustafina (5): 5.8 difficulty, 9.433 execution, 15.233 total

UNEVEN BARS
Raisman (t9):
5.9 difficulty, 8.433 execution, 14.333 total
Mustafina (1): 7.0 difficulty, 9.1 execution, 16.1 total

BEAM
Raisman (10):
6.2 difficulty, 8.0 execution, 14.2 total
Mustafina (18): 6.1 difficulty, 7.533 execution, 13.633 total

FLOOR
Raisman (2):
6.3 difficulty, 8.833 execution, 15.133 total
Mustafina (6): 5.9 difficulty, 8.7 execution, 14.6 total

Video: Finn and Thurston on Raisman, Phelps, and Lochte

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff August 2, 2012 11:23 AM

The Globe's Chad Finn and Scott Thurston discuss swimming and gymnastics events, including athletes Aly Raisman, Michael Phelps, and Ryan Lochte.

Five questions with Shawn Johnson

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 2, 2012 10:47 AM

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."

Today at the Olympics: Raisman goes for it in the all-around, Lochte-Phelps II

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 2, 2012 06:12 AM

LONDON -- Welcome to Day 6 of competition, where some familiar names will be back in the spotlight ...

Thursday's must-see event: Random thought: Comcast SportsNet New England must be feeling pretty good about the terrific Aly Raisman documentary director Torey Champagne put together in advance of the Olympics, huh? Raisman, the Needham native whose superb anchor performance wrapped up the team gold for the US women's gymnastics team, has already established herself as one of the darlings of the London Olympics -- betcha there's a Wheaties box in her and her teammates' future. She has a chance to enhance that profile further in the individual all-around Thursday, where she and teammate Gabby Douglas will go for gold. Getting this far was unexpected -- Raisman outperformed world champion Jordyn Wieber in the qualifier to earn one of the US's two spots. But after proving her mettle throughout these Games, no one will be surprised by anything Raisman accomplishes Thursday.

Also worth watching: Have you heard about these Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte fellas? Do the names ring bell? Well, you see, they're swimmers and ... OK, OK, facetiousness aside regarding the oft-rehashed rivalry between Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, and Lochte, who has become a household name over the last few weeks, Thursday brings their second and final compelling matchup here when they go head to head in the 200-meter individual medley. Phelps will be trying to win the event for the third consecutive Olympics. Lochte will be going for either his second gold or third gold here, depending upon how he fares barely a half-hour earlier when he tries to defend his gold medal from Beijing in the 200-meter backstroke. Also in the pool, Rebecca Soni, who set a world record in her 200-meter breaststroke semifinal, is the favorite for gold in that event.

Wednesday's big story: You know what they always say: The Olympics have never really begun until there's a badminton match-fixing scandal. Sure, there's a serious element to Wednesday's news that eight players had been disqualified for tanking matches to get favorable draws in later rounds -- if the Olympics don't have an honest spirit of competition, what's the point? Still ... it's badminton, a sport many of us take seriously only when we're getting pathetically competitive hitting the ol' shuttlecock around with cousin Larry a couple of Budweisers into the family reunion barbeque. Plus, the video of the tanking is kind of hilarious:

Personally, I was disappointed to discover Thursday morning that none of the London tabloids had gone with a "BADminton!!!" headline. But I guess when the mayor gets stuck on a zip line, badminton isn't the priority.

Or, what Johnny Weir said:

Tweet of the day:A scandal in badminton? What's next? Slip n' Slide Oil rigging? Dodgeball judge pay-offs? Croquet beat downs? -- figure skater Johnny Weir-Voronov ‏(@JohnnyGWeir), after eight badminton players were booted from the Olympics Wednesday for trying to lose matches.

Mind the gap, and stick around for further updates.

Five questions with Carl Lewis

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 1, 2012 09:46 AM

lewiscarlcard.jpg.JPG

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

Today at the Olympics: An all-around opportunity for men's gymnastics

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff August 1, 2012 08:00 AM

LONDON -- The buzz on Day 6 of competition is still more about the events of Tuesday than what's ahead. The headline on The Guardian this morning says it succinctly regarding Michael Phelps and his all-time record 19 medals, a quest he completed Wednesday with a gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay:

phelpsguardian.jpg

And there's still plenty of talk about Jordyn Wieber's redemption and Aly Raisman's impeccable anchor performance as the US women won their first team gold medal in 16 years. Raisman still has the women's all-around Thursday, but given her brilliance Tuesday, they probably should start planning a parade in Needham, right?

Wednesday's must-see event: Medals will be awarded in 11 events, and while nothing probably quite matches the must-watch status of Tuesday's dual blockbusters (NBC's ratings should be enormous), plenty of compelling drama will unfold. The men's gymnastics all-around is the marquee event, with Americans Danell Leyva and John Orozco having legitimate podium hopes. But all eyes will be on Japan's Kohei Uchimura, a silver medalist four years ago who since has been the dominant performer in the sport, with three straight all-around world titles.

Also worth watching: There's plenty more action at the pool, where Japan's Kosuke Kitajima will try to win the 200-meter breaststroke for the third consecutive Olympics. American Nathan Adrian will try to challenge world champion James Magnussen of Australia in the 100-meter freestyle. And big names (Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Novak Djokovic) are in action on the Wimbledon grounds as the third round of singles play gets underway.

Tuesday's big story: Or stories, which you already know well. I've probably looked back enough already in this post that's generally supposed to be looking ahead. But I can't resist posting this clip of Phelps's mom Debbie reacting at the end the 200-meter freestyle when it appeared her son had gold in his grasp, only to end up with silver when South Africa's Chad le Clos touched the wall 0.05 of a second sooner:

Tweets of the day: Twitter has become such an essential way to follow the Olympics (unless your account gets suspended) that it's always tough to pick just one on any day. So the heck with procedure, I'm going to cheat today and go with two on the same subject:

‏Number 18 and 19 for my career so far!!! Omg I'm speechless right now! --- @michaelphelps

And then, a shout-out from POTUS:

Congrats to Michael Phelps for breaking the all-time Olympic medal record. You've made your country proud. -bo — @BarackObama

As Ryan Lochte said Wednesday morning when asked about Phelps getting Twitter props from the president: "That's pretty tight."

Mind the gap, and stick around for further updates.

Allison Schmitt wins gold in 200m, breaks record

Posted by Robert Burgess July 31, 2012 04:21 PM

LONDON (AP) -- Allison Schmitt of the United States set an Olympic record to win the 200-meter freestyle at the London Games on Tuesday.

Schmitt clocked 1 minute, 53.61 seconds, shaving more than a second off the mark set by Italy’s Federica Pellegrini four years ago in Beijing.

The 400-meter champion Camille Muffat of France touched in 1:55.58 to take the silver and Bronte Barratt of Australia finished in 1:55.81 to get bronze.

American teenager Missy Franklin finished fourth and world-record holder Pellegrini was fifth.

Phelps breaks medal record

Posted by Robert Burgess July 31, 2012 04:16 PM

LONDON (AP) -- First, Michael Phelps had his record-tying 18th Olympic medal, though its hue changed at the last possible second.

Then he and his teammates left no doubt as they claimed gold in the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay to make Phelps the most decorated Olympian ever with 19 medals.

Earler, what looked like certain gold for Phelps in the 200-meter butterfly turned to silver on the final stroke when South Africa’s Chad le Clos touched the wall 0.05 seconds sooner.

LeClos won the event in 1 minute 52.96 seconds, while Phelps, who led the entire race, came in at 1:53.01.

Related
Schmitt wins gold, Franklin 4th in women’s 200-meter freestyle

While the plot twist is just the latest unusual one for Phelps so far in London, the most shocking being his fourth-place finish in the 400 Individual Medley Saturday, he is now tied with Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina for the most medals in Olympic history.

Among his collection are 14 gold, 2 silver -- both won during these Games -- and a pair of bronze.

US women roll to gold in gymnastics

Posted by Scott Thurston, Globe Staff July 31, 2012 01:32 PM

LONDON -- The US women's gymnastics team won its first gold medal at an overseas Games Tuesday evening, destroying the Russians by more than 5 points (183.596-178.530) as the Chinese defending champions finished fourth behind Romania. Needham native Aly Raisman capped off the triumph with a thunderous floor routine as the Americans won the title for the first time since the Magnificent 7 did it in Atlanta in 1996.

The Americans started off soaring in vault, their best event, led off by world champion Jordyn Wieber, who evidently had shaken off the disappointment of missing the all-around final, where she was favored for gold. Wieber stuck her landing and after Gabby Douglas did the same, McKayla Maroney, the global titlist on the apparatus, capped things off with a monster Amanar vault that earned her a 16.233 score.

That gave the US a comfortable cushion of 1.733 points over China heading into the uneven bars, its weakest event and where slippage was overall expected. It was a long wait for the Americans, who'd quickly completed their work on the vaulting strip and had to wait more than 40 minutes for the Russians to finish on bars before their moment came.

When it did, the US performed solidly with Wieber posting a 14.666, Kyla Ross 14.933 and Douglas 15.200. That kept the Americans ahead of the Russians but the gap had been narrowed to .399 going into beam, which figured to be the pivotal event where Raisman, who'd topped the US table in qualifying (second overall), was scheduled to make her first appearance.

After Ross (15.133), in her final event of the Games, and Douglas (15.233) both survived slight wobbles, up came Raisman, who had a lengthy wait for Douglas's score to be posted. Though the team captain has a couple of unsteady moments of her own, she earned a 14.933 mark. That increased the US lead to nearly 1.3 points over the Russians, who struggled with shaky performances from former world champion Aliya Mustafina (14.533) and Victoria Komova (15.033). The Chinese, who won gold in 2008, were out of contention after coming to grief on beam.

So they went to the floor, where the Americans saw their golden chances vanish in Beijing and where Wieber and Douglas both stepped out of bounds in qualifying. If they reined it in this time, Raisman, the world bronze medalist in the event, was expected to cap things off.

Five questions with Tim Daggett

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 31, 2012 10:49 AM

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.

Today at the Olympics: US gymnastics goes for gold, Phelps goes for history

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 31, 2012 04:48 AM

LONDON -- Zipping off for an early Carl Lewis press conference this morning
(pretty sure he's not coming back to challenge Usain Bolt, but you never know), so here's an abbreviated morning update as we enter Day 5 of competition. I'll pop back in later to beef this up in what should be the most memorable day of the summer games yet, with two huge events.

Tuesday's must-see event: Michael Phelps's official coronation as the winningest Olympian of all-time. Should Phelps medal in the 200-meter butterfly and 4x200 freestyle relay tonight -- and he should -- he will be the most decorated Olympian of all-time, with 19 medals, surpassing gymnast Larisa Latynina. These Olympics may have started slowly for Phelps when he failed to make the podium in his first race, the 400 individual medley. Tonight, he can reclaim his place in the spotlight, though he may end up sharing it with ...

Also worth watching: ... the United States women's gymnastics team. The team final would qualify for the Must-See Event designation on most any other day, and there's sure to be plenty of drama Tuesday. Led by captain Aly Raisman of Needham, the five-person squad was first after qualifying and is in an excellent position to win its first team gold since Kerri Strug and the storied Magnificent Seven of 1996. Raisman could play a significant role on how the US fares -- she is in the lineup during the final two disciplines, the balance beam and the floor exercise. Can't wait to see her parents' reaction tonight.

Tweet of the day: "heard @FranklinMissy is a fan of mine. now im a fan of hers too. CONGRATS on winning GOLD! #muchlove --- @justin bieber, after Missy Franklin's victory in the 100-meter backstroke Monday.

The 17-year-old swimmer's response:

@FranklinMissy: ” I just died! Thankyou!

Mind the gap, and we'll have a ton on the blog today, so stay right here for further updates.

Reporter's account suspended by Twitter after harsh criticism of NBC's coverage

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 30, 2012 05:39 PM

LONDON -- NBC's decision to show tape-delayed events in prime time has generated a steady whirlwind of criticism on the social-network site Twitter.

But for now, one particularly harsh critic will no longer be allowed to use the outlet to do so.

Twitter suspended the account of journalist Guy Adams after he sent out the NBC e-mail address of NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel and encouraged his followers to send him their complaints.

Adams, a Los Angeles-based editor for "The Independent,'' wrote about his suspension Monday night, explaining that during his frustration with NBC's tape-delayed coverage of Friday's Opening Ceremonies, he tweeted: “The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven't started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what u think!”

After he discovered his account had been suspended Sunday morning, he sent a request to Twitter asking why. The response, which Adams said he believed was an automatically generated reply, said:

Your twitter account has been suspended for posting an individual's private information such as private email address.

It included an image of his Tweet about Zenkel.

Posting private information such as an e-mail address is a violation of Twitter rules. But as Adams noted, Zenkel's e-mail address is a corporate one easily found on Google.

The suspension generated speculation that NBC has been involved in Twitter's decision since they are partners during the Olympic Games. There is no indication that is the case.

"We filed a complaint with Twitter because a user tweeted the personal information of one of our executives," NBC Sports said in a statement Monday night. "According to Twitter, this is a violation of their privacy policy. Twitter alone levies discipline."

Update: Adams posts an update writing that NBC blames Twitter for the complaint that led to Adams's account suspension:

This evening, an ominous development: according to an NBC spokesman called Christopher McCloskey, it was the micro-blogging site [Twitter]– and not NBC – that was responsible for initiating the complaint that lead to my suspension in the first place.

US men stumble to fifth in team gymnastics

Posted by Scott Thurston, Globe Staff July 30, 2012 01:30 PM




The US men's gymnastics team, which had dreams of gold after topping the standings in the qualifying round, finished a disappointing fifth Monday night. With only the high bar to go, the Americans, who'd won bronze and silver at the last two Games, were buried in sixth place, nearly 10 points behind the Chinese. But a strong finish on the last rotation helped the men avoid their worst finish since 1992, when they were sixth in Barcelona.

The US came to grief on pommel horse, traditionally its weakest event, as its top two stars failed. Danell Leyva came off the apparatus and John Orozco broke his routine and ended up sitting atop the horse. Then Orozco splattered his landing on vault.

Great Britain was initially awarded the silver, and Ukraine the bronze. But Japan asked for a steward’s inquiry into the pommel horse and went from fourth to second. Britain ended up with the bronze.

Today at the Olympics: Men's gymnastics, Lochte, and Franklin

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 30, 2012 05:10 AM

LONDON -- As Day 3 of competition dawns with men's gymnastics and more swimming atop the daily docket, a mild controversy is brewing about plenty of good seats being available -- or appearing available, anyway. I've been at the swimming venue the past two nights, and it was stunning how many prime seats were empty, particularly Saturday night for Phelps-Lochte I. The IOC said in a press conference this morning it's working to remedy the situation.

Monday's must-see event: While one wouldn't have to look back beyond Jordyn Wieber's disappointment Sunday to realize that the unexpected can make itself known at any time in artistic gymnastics, the United States men's artistic gymnastics team is justifiably confident entering the team final today.

Led by Danell Leyva, who was tops in qualifying for the all-around, the US was first in the qualifying round and will attempt to capture its first team gold since Tim Daggett, Bart Conner, and future "American Anthem" star Mitch Gaylord put the US atop the podium in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Also worth watching: The spotlight remains on the pool at the London Aquatic Centre, where Ryan Lochte goes for his third medal and second gold in the men's 200-meter freestyle. Lochte is the leading man of these Olympics so far ...

... so it was a bit jarring to see him run out of gas and give up the lead in the 4x100 freestyle Sunday night as the US settled for the silver.

Lochte's event is one of four in which swimming medals will be awarded, with the main event on the women's side being effervescent 17-year-old Missy Franklin's quest for her first gold in the 100-meter backstroke. She's going to have a busy Monday -- she'll swim in the 200-meter freestyle semifinals less than a half-hour after the 100-meter backstroke.

Other medal events include diving (men's synchronized), fencing (women's individual epee), judo (men's 73-kg, women's 57-kg), shooting (men's air rifle finals), and weightlifting (men's 62-kg, women's 58-kg).

Tweet of the day: It's hard to explain these feelings. But I'm extremely honored to be an Olympian and be part of this team. -- @jordyn_wieber, tweeting four Instagram photos that show her stunned disappointment as she realizes she failed to qualify for Thursday's all-around competition in artistic gymnastics.

Sunday's big story: If you're from New England, the stunning outcome of the women's gymnastics qualifications were probably regarded as a thrilling twist for Needham's Aly Raisman, who earned one of two spots for Thursday's all-around and is suddenly the United States' best bet for individual gold.

But elsewhere, the story begins as one of disappointment, for the world champion Jordyn Wieber's failure to make the field is, as the Globe's John Powers wrote, "one of the biggest shockers in Olympic gymnastics history."

This is how it happens in this sport and in the Games. One step too far, one untimely wobble, and a lifetime dream vanishes in a puff of chalk.

Wieber and Raisman are close friends and roommates here, and while Wieber wore an unmistakeable look of devastation in the aftermath, she has been remarkably gracious after the initial shock, as the preceding tweet suggests. In a way, her grace amid disappointment is as much a part of the Olympic ideal as winning a medal.

Mind the gap, and stay right here for further updates throughout the day.

Live updates: France catches US in 4x100 freestyle; Vollmer wins gold in 100m butterfly

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 29, 2012 01:57 PM

Four years ago, Michael Phelps collected the second of his record haul of eight gold medals with one of the most tense and memorable races in Olympic history.

His Phelps's teammate on the 4x100 relay, anchor Jason Lezak, caught France's Alain Bernard in the final 50 meters and beat him to the wall by a fingertip. It was instant Olympic lore, enhanced by what was at stake.

While the stakes were not quite so high Sunday night at London's Aquatic Center, France exacted its revenge in similar fashion. And while the manner in which their swimmers might have imagined payback playing out probably involved catching Phelps or the veteran Lezak on the last leg, the reality was even more shocking:

They caught Ryan Lochte.

Specifically, it was Yannick Agnel who caught Lochte, the gold medalist in the 400 individual medley Sunday night and one of the marquee stars of the sport. He did so on the final leg, making up a 0.55-second deficit after three legs to overtake Lochte over the last 50 meters to claim gold -- and yes, revenge -- in an overall time of 3 minutes 9.93 seconds.

"I'm kinda bummed," said Lochte in the mixed zone afterward. "When we go up on the blocks, we want to win."

The US, which led after each of the first three legs, swum by Nathan Adrian, Phelps, and Cullen Jones, took silver (3:10.38). Russia won the bronze (3:11.41).

The medal is the 17th of Phelps's career, and his first silver, to go with 14 golds and two bronzes.

* * *


3:54: Missy Franklin takes first in her semifinal of the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 58.12. She was second overall, behind Australia's Emily Seebohm.

3:20: Dana Vollmer isn't the only swimmer breaking records Sunday. The second world record of the day's competition falls when South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh blazes to gold in the 100-meter breaststroke, winning in a time of 58.46 seconds.

Brendan Hansen of the US won the bronze. Australia's Christian Sprenger took silver.

In the women's 400-meter freestyle, France's Camille Muffat set an Olympic record of 4:01.45, while Allison Schmidt collected the US's third medal of the night with a silver and a new American record. Great Britain's Rebecca Adlington took bronze.

Also, Americans Matt Grevers (first) and Nick Thoman (fifth) qualified for the men's 100 backstroke final.

* * *

3:01: Americans Rebecca Soni (second) and Breeja Larson (fourth) qualify for Monday's final in the 100-meter breaststroke.

2:48 p.m.: Ryan Lochte has qualified fifth in the 200-meter freestyle, while teammate Ricky Berens missed the cut by just .07 seconds, finishing ninth.

Lochte finished second in his heat for the race, which takes place Monday night. China's Sun Yang was first.

* * *

2:33 p.m. One race down, one gold medal for the US.

Dana Vollmer sets a world record -- and wins the first gold for the US women-- with a blistering time of 55.98 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly.

Lu Ying of China won the silver, while Australia's Alicia Coutts took the bronze.

* * *

2:15 p.m. We've got the first bit of news from the Aquatic Centre, at which four swimming medals are at stake Sunday night.

Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps will swim during the 4x100 meter relay tonight, along with teammates Cullen Jones and Nathan Adrian.

None of the four swam during qualifying earlier in the day. It was believed, though not certain, that Lochte and Phelps, who went head-to-head in the 400 individual medley Saturday night, would compete tonight, but the confirmation just came a few minutes ago.

The race will give Phelps a chance to collect his first medal of these Olympics and his 17th overall. Lochte will be going for his second medal in London after winning gold in the 400 IM while Phelps finished a stunning fourth.

Lezak, who anchored the US's gold-medal winning 4x100 relay in Beijing, isn't one of the four chosen for the final, but as one of the swimmers who participated in prelims, he will receive a medal should the US make the podium.

The other medal events tonight are the women's 100-meter butterfly, women's 400-meter freestyle, and men's 100-meter breaststroke.

Final: Team USA 98, France 71

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 29, 2012 09:25 AM

The US proves the favorites in more ways than one, getting a huge ovation from the capacity crowd in the final seconds of its opening preliminary-round victory.

France stuck around for a while, trailing just 22-21 after the first quarter.

But behind Kevin Durant (22 points, 9 rebounds), Kevin Love (14 points), and LeBron James (9 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, plenty of highlights), the US gradually pulled away, playing stifling defense and overcoming some curious officiating to top a talented French team, which got 12 points from Ali Triore and 11 from Tony Parker.

That'll do it from the basketball arena. Be sure to check the Olympics Blog later, when I'll be posting from the Aquatic Centre as Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps, and Missy Franklin are among those competing Sunday night.

3:20, fourth quarter: Travel on Deron Williams. Did Mark Cuban put a hex on him? US leads, 89-64.

5:15: Two minutes after checking in, Davis misses on an alley-oop. He'll get plenty of other chances. Genuinely curious to see how he does playing with the truly elite.

9:25: Anthony Davis is the only player yet to see time for the US. C'mon, Krzyzewski, bring on The Brow!

End of third quarter: Deron Williams, one US player who has looked completely out of sorts, misses a three, but Kevin Love hauls down a one-handed rebounds and plows the ball through the hoop at the buzzer. Remember when this was close? The US is up, 78-51.

1:49, third quarter: LeBron has 9 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and probably six plays that, love him or hate him, remind you why he's the best player in the world. The US leads by 23, 74-51.

5:46: Unstoppable baseline jumper by LeBron off a spin move. Hard not to have a Game 6 flashback after that.

in an unrelated note, France is 1 of 11 from 3-point range.

8:17, third quarter: The US builds it lead to 22, 60-38, thanks to an 8-2 run to start the quarter, highlighted by a Durant three. He may be the only great shooter I've ever seen who looks like his shooting down at the basket.

Halftime: US builds it lead to 16 (52-36) despite some absolutely baffling refereeing. [Insert your favorite Tommy Heinsohn ref-blasting phrase here]. The scoreboard doesn't list individual fouls, but France has 20 attempts from the line, and LeBron in particular has been hit with a couple of calls that are dubious at best. Offensively, Kevin Durant leads the US with 15 points, and while he's just 4 of 8, he's had a ton of open looks. LeBron has been the facilitator, with a game-high six assists. For France, Florent Pietrus leads the way with 8. Maybe he could have hit a few shots for the Celtics in June.

By the way, I'm 99.9 percent sure the in-house announcer here is Coach Willie Maye.

3:20: France and the US are both shooting 38 percent, but the US has 11 more attempts. Not coincidentally, the US has a 29-20 rebounding margin.

4:02: Timeout, France, as a Kevin Durant three puts the US up, 40-28. Durant leads the US with 10 points. Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler are the top rebounders with 7 each. Because the Knicks are such a rebounding force as a team, you know.

4:50: James Harden gets his first action at the 5:32 mark, and in 42 seconds manages to hoist three shots, making one and missing back-to-back threes on the same possession. France does not fear the beard so far.

5:32, second quarter: Mickael Pietrus is not playing for France, but his older brother Florent has four points on 2 of 3 shooting.

6:20, second quarter: The US is trying to take any drama out of this. Kobe hit a pair of free throws and LeBron added a 3, and the lead is nine, 33-24.

LONDON -- Checking in from the overstuffed basketball venue, where LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant and company are opening play against France, which has more than a few recognizable names for hoops fans, among them Tony Parker (wearing protective goggles after getting hit by Chris Brown/Drake/Rihanna love triangle shrapnel), Nic Batum, and Boris Diaw.

Team USA may not match up to its legendary Dream Team forefathers of 20 years ago, but don't tell the international media; the place is so flooded with press that volunteers put many in the stands. So far, they're seeing quite a game -- though perhaps not the one they expected. The US led, 22-21, after the first 10 minutes, shooting just 29 percent from the field. There were plenty of highlights -- LeBron's long bounce pass between two defenders that found Kevin Durant in stride was spectacular even by his standards. But had France not shot just 4 of 9 from the free-throw line, it could have the lead.

One other thing: Mike Krzyzewski used a timeout. That's one more than Chuck Daly used the entire time in Barcelona.

Today at the Olympics: Gymnastics begins

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 29, 2012 05:46 AM

LONDON -- The deep, well-rounded and inexperienced United States gymnastics team begins competition, LeBron, Kobe and Co. -- I really should include Kevin Durant in that intro -- tip off against Tony Parker and France, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps dive back into the pool, and it's raining at Wimbledon. Yep, the Olympics are officially in full swing. Here's your rundown for Sunday, the second day of competition.

Sunday's must-see event: In terms of popularity and ready-made drama, gymnastics is of course one of the cornerstone events of the summer Olympics -- not to mention NBC's prime-time broadcasts. So it's no surprise that there's already much buzz around the US team, which includes captain Aly Raisman of Needham, Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber, entering today's qualification round. It is the first step in its quest to win the team gold for the first time since Kerri Strug and the Magnificent 7 finished atop the podium in Atlanta in 1996.

Also worth watching: There's plenty of action in the pool, with medals set to be awarded Sunday night in the women's 100 butterfly, the women's 400 freestyle, the men's 4x100 freestyle relay, and the men's 100 breastroke. Michael Phelps didn't swim in the 4x100 prelims Sunday morning but is expected to be part of the final four.

Ryan Lochte, who said he didn't go to sleep last night until around 2 a.m. after winning the gold in the 400 individual medley, is also a candidate for the relay. Lochte qualified for the semifinals of the 200 freestyle Sunday morning.

Missy Franklin won her qualifying heat of the women's 100 backstroke Sunday morning. The semifinals are later.

Medals will also be awarded today in cycling, where Acton native Evelyn Stevens is one to watch, as well as archery, diving, fencing, judo, shooting and weightlifting.

Tweet of the day: Lay off commentating about defending & gking until U get more educated @brandichastain, game has changed from a decade ago. --- @hopesolo, the US women's soccer goalie, calling out Chastain, apparently for critical comments the former Team USA star has made as an NBC analyst about the team's defensive play.

Hmmm. Maybe we should stop debating about how the current US men's basketball team would fare against Larry, Magic, Michael and the 1992 Dream Team and instead ask this: Could Solo and her teammates beat Chastain, Mia Hamm and the gold-medal-winning US World Cup team of 1999? Discuss.

Saturday's big story: Well, it relates to our silver medalist for Tweet of the Day, which would have won pure gold if graciousness had been the determining factor:

Congrats to @ryanlochte ... Way to keep that title in the country where it belongs!! -- @michaelphelps

Of course, there are still plenty of waves in the pool the morning after following Phelps's disappointing fourth-place showing in the 400 individual medley Sunday night, the first time he had failed to medal in an Olympic event he competed in since 2000 in Sydney when he was just 15.

Lochte, who beat the field by such a margin in the 4x100 that one wondered whether he had a secret outboard motor attached, acknowledged that it was strange not have Phelps on the podium alongside him. But what it really means seems to be open to a wide spectrum of interpretation this morning.

The Christian Science Monitor asked, What happened to Michael Phelps? The AP's Paul Newberry noted that while Phelps dominated the 400 IM for years, he's openly loathed the grueling race and only recently began training for it again. Joe Posnanski, writing for Sports on Earth (look for its sister site Sports on Venus soon) offered an ode to aging that could either turn out prescient or premature. As is the standard approach in matters of Olympic debate, I turn to colleague John Powers as the voice of expertise and reason, and he emphasizes this morning that Phelps is not done, for his Olympics have barely begun:

Phelps, who needs three more medals to break the career record set by Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina between 1956 and 1964, could have six more chances here. He’s a candidate for Sunday’s 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay, where he won gold in 2008 and bronze in 2004. He’ll be favored in Tuesday’s 200 fly and should claim another gold as part of the 4 x 200 freestyle relay. On Thursday, he’ll have a rematch with Lochte in the 200 IM, will be favored in Friday’s 100 fly, and will swim on the 4 x 100 medley relay in Saturday’s finale. “The next races that he’s in, he’s going to light it up,” predicted Lochte.

We could find out as soon as Sunday night. Mind the gap, and stay right here for further updates, which will be reported ...

***SPOILER ALERT***

... live. You've been warned, those of you who want your news when NBC decides to give it to you, not when it actually happens.

I'll be checking in from the US men's basketball team's opener against France as well as the swimming events later.

Beisel takes silver in 400 IM

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 28, 2012 03:22 PM

LONDON -- Elizabeth Beisel won a silver medal in the women's 400 individual medley Saturday night at the Aquatic Center at the London Olympics, finishing behind China's Ye Shiwen, who set a world record.

"I'm totally satisfied," said Beisel, who finished fourth in the event four years ago and was aiming to become the first US woman since Janet Evans in 1988 to win the event.

"A gold would be a little bit cooler but I can't complain. I'm just really excited right now."

The Saunderstown, Rhode Island native, the reigning world champion and considered by many the favorite, finished in a time of 4 minutes 31.27 seconds, nearly three seconds behind Ye's record time of 4:28.43.

She topped the standard of 4:29.45 set by Australia's Stephanie Rice four years ago in Beijing.

China's Li Xuanxu won the bronze (4:32.91).

Beisel, who had the fastest time in the morning prelims, started slowly and was in eighth place after the first leg, the butterfly. But she moved up to second during the backstroke, and led by .81 seconds after the breaststroke, the third leg of the race.

But Ye caught and passed her during the final leg, the freestyle. The 16-year-old had a perfectly reasonable explanation afterward.

"In the last 100 meters, I thought I was behind so I tried as hard as I could to catch up," she said.

* * *

Natalie Coughlin won her 12th career medal when the US women won the bronze medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay, but she did not swim in the race.

Coughlin, who tied fellow swimmers Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres for the most medals by a female US Olympian, was left off the final four after swimming during the preliminary heats earlier in the day.

Australia won the gold, while The Netherlands claimed the silver.

Lochte wins gold in 400 IM, Phelps fourth

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 28, 2012 02:14 PM

LONDON -- Ryan Lochte made sure his first showdown with Michael Phelps was no showdown at all.

Perhaps more like a coronation.

Lochte, the mellow Florida Gator by way of New York, breezed to the gold medal in the men's 400-meter individual medley Saturday night at the Aquatics Centre, winning in a time of 4 minutes and 5.18 seconds, more than three seconds ahead of silver medalist Thiago Pereira of Brazil.

Lochte was the favorite, but no one expected it to be anticlimactic.

"I'm happy I was able to do that,'' said Lochte, who took a victory lap (walking, not swimming) around the pool after the race with the other medalists. "I heard the fans screaming all through the race, had my family right there. It definitely helped me a lot."

As for Phelps, the 16-time swimming medalist, it was a shockingly unfamiliar outcome, particularly in an event he dominated for so long: he left the pool with nothing but frustration and a fourth-place finish.

"Just a crappy race,'' said Phelps, who was the first swimmer out of the water after the event while Lochte accepted congratulations from other competitors. "It was frustrating. They swam a better race than me, a smarter race, and were more prepared. That's why they're on the medal stand."

Phelps fell short in his bid to become the first male swimmer to win a specific individual event in three consecutive Olympics, finishing .34 seconds behind bronze medalist Kosuke Hagino of Japan in a time of 4:09.28. Pereira and Hagino both caught Phelps during the freestyle.

It is the first time Phelps has not medaled in an Olympic event he competed in since he finished fifth in the 200 fly as a 15-year-old in the 2000 Summer Games.

Lochte, the world champion in the 400 IM who beat Phelps by approximately half a body length at the Olympic Trials, is the world champion, while Phelps is still the world-record holder, which he set in Beijing four years ago. Lochte was on a pace to break Phelps's world record for much of the race, but his pace slowed during the freestyles.

Lochte said he thought Phelps, who never much enjoyed the 400 IM despite his dominance, gave it all he could.

"That's all you can really ask for,'' he said. I'm going to go talk to him, see how he felt."

Perhaps there was a harbinger in the morning heats when Phelps was the eighth and final swimmer to qualify for the finals. He wound up in a disadvantageous outside lane while Lochte was near the middle in the third lane, where he led at every split and essentially had Phelps defeated after the fly leg of the race given that the backstroke, the third leg of the race, is Phelps's weakest discipline.

* * *

Round One goes to Ryan Lochte.

Lochte cruises to the gold medal with an unofficial time of 4:03.84.

Michael Phelps is fourth -- and misses out on his 17th medal -- at 4:09.28, .34 behind bronze medalist Kosuke Hagino of Japan.

Thiago Pereira of Brazil takes the silver.

Last 100 I sat hose guys out there. They swam a better race than me. They swam a smarter race than me. They were more prepared."

We'll be back with more shortly.

* * *

Lochte still leads after the butterfly.

* * *

Lochte touches the wall in the lead at 1 minute 56:23 seconds after the backstroke.

* * *

According to the media information provided by Atos, the event about to get underway here at the Aquatics Center is called the 400 meter Individual Medley. But let's not be so formal, since the chief and long-anticipated story line is at the center of tonight's event: The first of two showdowns during the London Games between US swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

Phelps, who owns 14 golds and two bronzes during his Olympic career, is two medals away from tying for the most in history. He'd love to get one tonight against Lochte, his friendly rival who

The drama nearly ended before it really began. Phelps, who is trying to become the first male swimmer to win a single individual event in three consecutive Olympics, barely qualified for the final during Saturday morning's preliminaries. He won his heat wit ha time of 4 minutes 13.33 seconds, which put him in the eighth spot.

Lochte, who beat Phelps in the 400 at the Olympic trials, qualified third (4:12.35). He could have a relevant advantage over Phelps -- he will swim in the middle of the pool in the third lane, while Phelps has a less-desirable outside spot.

The in-house monitor is showing footage of Phelps and Lochte pacing in a hallway with their game-faces (and in Phelps's case, headphones and robe) on, so we're just a few minutes from getting going here. Stick around for updates.

Today at the Olympics: Phelps-Lochte I

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 28, 2012 06:00 AM





LONDON -- The final notes have long since been sung on Sir Paul McCartney's rendition of "Hey Jude,'' which was aided by the 80,000 or so backup singers filling the stands at Olympic Stadium Friday night. The smoke has cleared from the technicolor fireworks display that put the final exclamation points on a dazzling Opening Ceremony, revealing another blue sky here as a backdrop for the first full day of competition. The Games have officially begun. Here's your rundown for Saturday.

Saturday's must-see event: The headline above has Michael Phelps's name ahead of Ryan Lochte's, but that's no suggestion regarding the order they will finish in tonight's 400 Individual Medley, the first of two highly-anticipated showdowns the American swimmers will have here. In fact, Phelps nearly didn't make it to this showdown at all, becoming the eighth and last swimmer to make the final in Saturday morning's preliminary heats, winning in a time of 4 minutes 13.33 seconds. It was more a formality for Lochte, who beat Phelps in the 400 IM during the Olympic trials -- he checked in with a time of 4:12.35, the third-best during prelims. We'll be watching to see whether Phelps picks up the pace -- and wins his 17th Olympic medal -- in the final, or whether his charismatic countryman Lochte steals the show when they return to the pool for the final at 2:30 p.m. EST.

Also worth watching: Phelps isn't the only decorated US swimmer with something at stake today. Eleven-time medalist Natalie Coughlin will swim a leg of the women's 4x100 freestyle relay, her only event during her third Summer Games. Should she wind up on the podium, she will tie Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres for the most swimming medals by a US woman. The women's 400 IM -- in which Saunderstown, R.I.'s Elizabeth Beisel is favored -- and men's 400 freestyle are also swimming medal events today. Medals are at stake in six other sports today, including road cycling, where local icon Mark Cavendish is the favorite for gold in an event that concludes just a few pushes of the pedal away from Buckingham Palace.

Tweet of the day: You'd think all these great athletes could walk faster. --- @Bruce_Arthur, National Post columnist, on the Parade of Nations that lasted a little less than two hours.

Friday's big story: The Opening Ceremony, which save for some criticism for not acknowledging the Israeli athletes who were killed 40 years ago in Munich (that's on the USOC, not Danny Boyle), have received mostly rave reviews. The Globe's John Powers puts the meaning of the Ceremony into historical context, and asks this about a certain helicopter-jumping, nail-picking, James Bond wing-woman: "Now, what will Her Majesty do for an encore at the Closing Ceremonies?" And Sports Illustrated's Alexander Wolff, who writes that Boyle "outstripped the previous host city by flaunting what the Chinese naturally suppressed,'' had me at the phrase "traumatized pasture animals.'' This morning's Daily Mail basked in the world's praise.

Mind the gap, and stay right here for further updates. I'll be checking in from the men's 400 IM final later.

Opening Ceremonies a wonderful spectacle

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 27, 2012 03:25 PM

LONDON -- They don't give out golden trophies for producing the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, and Danny Boyle won't get to make an acceptance speech.

Which is too bad, because the acclaimed filmmaker's direction of Friday night's formal opening of the Summer Games here was a wonderful contemporary spectacle of extraordinary tone, production, and entertainment.

If there's been a superior Opening Ceremonies in terms of pure enjoyment, I must have missed it. Perhaps NBC is still waiting to air it on tape delay?

The three-hour-plus ceremony served as more than a beginning, for it was a celebration of so much that came before, of Great Britain's rich history, culture and tradition. Smoke stacks that rivaled sky scrapers in height and magnitude rose from the ground in homage to the age of industry. Children danced as a symbol of London's beloved Great Ormond Street Hospital. JK Rowling read "Peter Pan.''

But there was also humor in unexpected places -- Queen Elizabeth II made her acting debut in a short film featuring the current James Bond, Daniel Craig, and appeared to parachute out of a helicopter. Rowan Atkinson -- the goofy Mr. Bean -- reinterpreted a classic scene in a classic film. The music was relentlessly spectacular, from the Beatles and the Who to Queen and the Sex Pistols.

And the athletes -- current, future, and present -- basked in the scene, particularly during the Parade of Nations. Even Kobe Bryant looked mesmerized by it all.

David Beckham proved an able boatman. Sir Steven Redgrave was prominent in the cauldron lighting, joined by seven children to represent the future. The only surprise was that Sir Roger Bannister, the odds-on favorite to light the cauldron, was nowhere to be found.

One disappointment must be acknowledged, though it was probably no fault of Boyle: a failure to acknowledge the Israeli athletes killed at the Munich Games 40 years ago. That belongs on the shoulders of the IOC.

The night, however, belonged to the British, and Boyle, who orchestrated it all. And in the end, he even had the perfect coda: Sir Paul McCartney, leading the crowd in a chorus of "Hey Jude.'' It was a flawless ending to a nearly flawless beginning. The Games have formally begun, and it couldn't have been better.

* * *

12:40: Sir Paul McCartney is in as the closer, first with a few bars of "The End,'' then "Hey Jude.'' After a brief glitch at the beginning, he sounds pretty great. Na na na na, and let the games begin.

12:37: The cauldron is lit, the sky is a palate of fireworks for as far as the eye can see, and it is beyond spectacular.

12:32: Redgrave passes the torch to a young athlete, who is joined by six others in circling the track, passing the torch to one another. When they complete their lap, they are joined by British Olympic legends Lynn Davies, Duncan Goodhew, Dame Kelly Holmes, Dame Mary Peters, Shirley Robertson, Daley Thompson, and Redgrave, who pass each of the young athletes a torch as they begin jogging toward the current Olympians. Anyone who bet on Roger Bannister lighting the torch is panicking right now.

12:25: David Beckham arrives on his trusty speedboat, with young soccer standout Jade Bailey riding shotgun carrying the torch. Bailey pass the torch to Sir Steven Redgrave, the five-time rowing gold medalist, who carries the flame into the stadium through an honor guard of 500 construction workers. They're the ones who built this place.

12:20: Eight of the nine flag bearers, among them the great distance runner Haile Gebrselassie, carry the white five-ringed flag. They are then joined at the end of their march by the greatest, Muhammad Ali.

12:19: Rogge: "I now have the honor to ask the Queen to open the gates to the 30th Olympiad." Queen: "I guess." (OK, she was more eloquent than that. Then, fireworks.)

12:09: The Artic Monkeys, straight out of Sheffield, play "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor" and "Come Together" during segment celebrating bicycles, followed by speeches from LOCOG chair Sebastian Coe and IOC president Jacques Rogge. Interesting juxtaposition there.

11:55: And here comes the home team. As David Bowie's "Heroes" blasts and confetti falls from the sky, cyclist Chris Hoy leads Great Britain -- wearing white outfits not-so-subtly trimmed in gold -- out to raucous cheers. Great stuff.

11:50: And here comes the US. Mariel Zagunis flashes a medal-winning smile while carrying the flag. The members of the US men's basketball team are easily spotted because of their height -- LeBron James, a smiling Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony holding a video camera. Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, who are swimming in the 400 individual medley Saturday, are missing the ceremonies to rest up for their competition. Oh, and the berets? Totally cool.

11:47: For anyone who wants to suggest that the Parade of Nations drags, keep in mind that for most of the athletes, this is the pinnacle of their Olympic experience.

11:44 U2's "Beautiful Day" plays as Trinidad and Tobago marches in. Appropriate song for this occasion, but I'll always associate it with the Patriots' Super Bowl victory over the Rams.

11:37: Pau Gasol happily leads the Spain contingent, happily oblivious to Kobe Bryant staring daggers at him from the US contingent behind the glass. C'mon, you know he was.

11:34: A beaming Novak Djokavic leads Serbia, energetically waving the flag. He's right there with Bolt among the most engaging big-name athletes participating.

11:21: The Netherlands come out in orange and blue outfits that look like something Dr. Timothy Leary would have designed for the New York Mets. They never disappoint.

11:07: Usain Bolt gets a huge roar as he leads the Jamaican delegation. It's possibly the slowest he's ever moved.

11:03 Love the team of Independent Olympic Athletes. Worked in Concord, N.H. when one of them, marathoner Gwor Mariel, was in high school there.

10:57: As far as I can tell, not a single athlete has picked the apple Travolta-style during "Stayin' Alive." Missed opportunity there.

10:54: "The Bee Gees for Fiji?" (Hat tip, assistant sports editor Scott Thurston.)

10:49: Notable flag-bearers we haven't seen yet: Usain Bolt (Jamaica), Pau Gasol (Spain), Novak Djokavic (Serbia), Caster Semenya (South Africa), Maria Sharapova (Russia), and of course, Mariel Zagunis (United States).

10:41: Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls'' plays as hoopster Yi Jianlian carries the flag for China. No one ever said it was logical.

10:32: The music during the Parade of Nations is played at 120 beats per minute to encourage the athletes to walk a little bit faster. Sort of the Olympic equivalent of the orchestra starting up in the middle of an acceptance speech.

10:21: The Parade of Nations begins, of course, with Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics. The 203 other nations participating will follow, alphabetically but for the host, Team Great Britain, which will be the last to enter the stadium.

10:15 Moving moment: Spectators who presented images of deceased loved ones see their photos on a digital wall while the hymn "Abide With Me'' plays. However, it's accompanied by the inexcusable: no specific tribute to the Israeli athletes killed in Munich 40 years ago. Hard to fathom. Will Costas acknowledge them later?

10:11: General thought: This is really, really good.

10:06: Save for "Relax,'' the music during this segment has been affirming: The Stones, The Beatles, Queen, The Sex Pistols, Prodigy, Bowie.

10:02: Queen, absolutely. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, pass. We may be in London, but this definitely has a major Hollywood feel to it.

9:57: So far, the star of a segment titled "The Family" is a Mini-Cooper, though the theme is how a lost phone leads to a budding romance for one of the sisters. It's a tribute to Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, and presumably, Al Gore's arch nemesis.

9:48: Mr. Bean, an instrumental song that hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1982, a Rosie Ruiz imitation, and a fart joke. That's all I'll say.

9:38: JK Rowling makes a rare public appearance to read the first paragraph of Peter Pan during a segment on the beloved Great Ormond Street Hospital for children, and the United Kingdom's National Health Service. (All 600 dancers during the segment are NHS staffers.) Following her wonderful if too brief reading, some of the great villains in British literature appear as puppets, including her own Voldemort. They are banished, of course, by Mary Poppins -- about 50 of her, actually. What, you thought the Spice Girls?

9:32: Told you it wasn't really her. The Queen enters the stadium with her husband the Duke of Edinburgh and Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee. I bet she's wondering where Daniel Craig went.

9:29: The helicopter has arrived at the Stadium. The Queen parachutes out. I'll believe it's Frank Drebin before I believe it's her.

9:26: Another short film, with James Bond (his IMDB page refers to him as Daniel Craig for some reason) arriving at Buckingham Palace and leading Queen Elizabeth to a helicopter. I think we all know where she's headed. (No, not Detroit.)

9:19: Five metal rings weld together in the sky, closing the segment. The Olympics have arrived.

9:16: The Beatles -- or faux Beatles, since Sir Paul will be part of this ceremony later -- are supposedly at the end of a parade that includes trade unionists who fought for workers' rights, Suffragettes who won the right for women over the age of 30 to vote in 1918, and past kings and queens. Haven't seen and mock mop-tops yet, though.

9:12: Seven massive chimneys rise from the ground during a sequence on the age of industry. They look like cigarette-shaped skyscrapers, and they are staggeringly impressive. The smell of sulfate is in the air.

9:04: There was much whispering about real livestock being utilized during the ceremony, and here it is -- 40 sheep, 12 horses, 3 cows, 10 chickens, 2 goats ... and, well, you get the picture. It's part of a scene designed to look like a British meadow, with citizens following the traditional country pursuits. Must have been disappointing for the chicken who found out he was the 11th-best during tryouts.

9 p.m. British Summer Time Gorgeous beginning, with an opening film following the River Thames from Gloucestershire to London, with various iconic stops along the way. The music included in the film would make a fine playlist, including the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen'' and The Clash's "London Calling.''

* * *

LONDON -- Seven years after this city won the rights to 2012 Summer Games, its moment has arrived, and wouldn't you know it, the sky just opened up and it's pouring.

That's a quintessentially British plot twist, but it's also no detriment here, where the Opening Ceremonies at Olympic Stadium will formally signal the commencement of the London Games at 9 p.m. local time.

In fact, rain was a scheduled prop: Danny Boyle, the superb director of such films as "Trainspotting" and "Slumdog Millionaire" and the mastermind of the festivities, intended to use fake rain at one point during the Ceremonies if the real stuff wasn't falling.

Stick right here to find out when Boyle's rain is necessary and other live updates throughout the Opening Ceremonies. And no, we still don't know who is lighting the cauldron either, though the Opening Ceremonies media kit promises plenty of surprises that you'll surely enjoy.

Oh, right, and let's not forget the obligatory warning:

This entire blog post beyond this point will serve as a spoiler.

The 9 p.m. start here equates to a 4 p.m. start on the East Coast -- but NBC won't begin its taped telecast until 7:30 p.m.

So again: This post contains lots of stuff Bob Costas isn't going to tell you until later.

There. Got that out of the way. Now stick around. This going to be fun.


Who will be the final torch-bearer? Odds favor Roger Bannister

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 27, 2012 09:47 AM

LONDON -- The first to break the 4-minute-mile barrier, Sir Roger Bannister's legend is based on that ability to get to the finish line first. But during Friday's Opening Ceremonies, tribute may be paid to his feat by choosing him to be last.

Bannister, who earned a permanent place in sporting lore when he ran a 3:59.4 mile on April 2, 1954, is the favorite to light the cauldron tonight during Opening Ceremonies for the London Olympics.

Bannister, now 83 years old, is such a favorite, in fact, that one prominent odds-maker is no longer taking bets on who the choice will be. A spokesman for the betting agency William Hill said it ceased taking wagers on the identity of the torchbearer after there was a "monster gamble" Thursday. He did not say who the bet was placed on.

Another prominent betting house, Ladbrokes, has Bannister at a 5/2 favorite. He had been at 20/1 as recently as last week.

It is remarkable that the choice remains a mystery with the Ceremonies, helmed by acclaimed director Danny Boyle, just hours away. During a press conference Friday morning, British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Hunt would reveal only that the choice was also agreed upon by Boyle and organizing committee member Paul Deighton.

"I'm pleased with the outcome,'' Hunt said. "It's a good one.''

Bannister would fit the historic theme that will be a significant element in Boyle's production, and it would come without any controversy. But if there's something working against Bannister as the choice, it's that he never won an Olympic medal, something he has in common with soccer icon David Beckham, who will also be involved in the festivities. Sir Steven Redgrave, who won five gold medals in rowing, and decathlete Daley Thompson, who won gold in 1980 and '84, also were considered as possibilities.

(Quick digression: Thompson isn't exactly fond of Redgrave. Today's Daily Mail included a feature in which Thompson listed his 10 favorite British Olympians. His comment on Redgrave wasn't exactly an endorsement: "As I understand it, for most of his gold medal career he wasn't even the best rower in his boat. So how he considers himself the greatest is beyond me. The greatest Olympians compete solo. I was going to put him 10th but, to show there are no hard feelings between us, I've moved him up to ninth.'' It's probably safe to presume they will not be passing the torch to one another.)

If even more intrigue is required, consider this: Often, the final torchbearer does not participate during the flame's long journey to the cauldron. But both Bannister and Redgrave carried the torch previously -- and on the same day, June 10.

The educated guess says the choice is Bannister, and it seems as if the money does as well. But only Boyle and a select few others know for sure.

As a BBC News anchor put it this morning, "We love secrets. They have kept a good one."

Today at the Olympics: A ceremonious beginning

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 27, 2012 05:33 AM

More than a few Union Jack umbrellas may be evident tonight at the Opening Ceremonies, but London's first rain in five days won't dampen the mood as the city's third time as host (and first since 1948) officially get underway. As the Olympic flame makes its way through the city -- it is aboard the rowbarge Gloriana on the Thames at this writing -- here are a few other burning thoughts this morning as the festivities finally begin ...

Friday's must-see event: Did we mention the Opening Ceremonies is tonight? Masterminded by acclaimed director Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting," "Slumdog Millionaire"), the main details of three-hour-plus official commencement of the Games mostly have, stunningly in the age of Twitter, kept under wraps per his request, though a short preview clip was made available this morning that featured, among other things, winged cyclists pedaling in unison to "Come Together" by the Beatles.

Further details we do know: Actor Daniel Craig -- the current James Bond -- will appear in a short film during the festivities that apparently features Buckingham Palace as a backdrop and a cameo by Queen Elizabeth II. (Timothy Dalton, however, is nowhere to be found.) Paul McCartney, who has been spotted and heard by star-struck reporters on multiple occasions this week rehearsing at the venue, will apparently sing "Hey Jude.'' And Roger Bannister, the first man to break the 4-minute mile, is the odds-on favorite to light the cauldron. (More on that later.)

Also worth watching: Not a whole lot quite yet. Archery is underway, with the men beginning with a preliminary round of 64 that sets the seeding for the following rounds. Fans were not allowed in, however -- tradition is that the first round is held in private, though there was some confusion when it was listed as a non-ticketed event.

Tweet of the day: So proud & honored to be the captain of this team. I love these girls so much! We are so excited for Sunday!!! So proud to represent USA :) --- @Aly_Raisman, the Needham native who will lead the US women's gymnastics team in its quest for its first team gold since 1996.

Thursday's big story: Michael Phelps, who arrives here with 16 Olympic medals -- two shy of the all-time Olympic record of 18 (which he's easily expected to break) -- and his US swimming teammates met with the media.

Phelps and coach Bob Bowman went first on the podium, with Ryan Lochte, the extraordinarily enthusiastic Missy Franklin, and the rest of the team following a half-hour or so later.

Some took that as a sign that Phelps is selfish and separates himself from the team, but that's not the vibe I got at all. Phelps couldn't have been more at ease or engaging, showing a dry sense of humor while being candid and introspective.

While perhaps there's some envy, as Ryan Clary awkwardly suggested a few weeks ago, of Phelps's natural ability, his teammates seem to genuinely like him, including his friendly rival Lochte. And no one had an issue with him having a separate meeting with the press. As Natalie Coughlin put it, "I don't mind it all. If Michael is here with us, he gets about 30 questions, and we sit here like this,'' she said, putting her hand on her cheek and feigning boredom.

I don't know, looks like a pretty likable and united crew here:

Mind the gap, and stay right here for further updates.


Michael Phelps is relaxed, ready

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 26, 2012 01:12 PM

LONDON -- Sitting alone except for his coach in front of dozens of reporters at the Main Press Centre Thursday, Michael Phelps found the one person among the horde who could almost identify with him.

The particular reporter, rather familiar to viewers of recent Winter Olympics and currently moonlighting for NBC during the Summer Games, was identified by the public relations person selecting questioners at the press conference as "the man in the blue shirt.''

Phelps laughed. "His name's Apolo,'' he deadpanned.

Yes, that one. Apolo Anton Ohno, an eight-time medalist in short-track speed-skating, asked Phelps a question about keeping things simple, one Olympic legend to another. But Ohno's presence also stood as a reminder of just how dominating Phelps has been, not just in his particular sport, but in Olympic lore.

He has 16 medals -- twice as many as Ohno, whose career total Phelps matched in gold during his record-setting performance in Beijing. In London, it's practically a formality that his collection will grow to a record number.

Phelps, 27, has a record 14 golds among his 16 medals, and should surpass the 18 won by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina sometime in the middle of next week if all goes according to plan. He is competing in seven events this time around, starting with the 400 individual medley Saturday when the swimming competition begins.

"This is the last competitive meet I'm going to have in my career," Phelps said. "It's big. It's something I've never experienced. I'm going to have a lot of firsts and a lot of lasts this week."

Phelps casually but firmly insists that medal counts and records aren't driving him, using the analogy that whatever he wins in London are "the toppings on the sundae."

"You guys are the ones who keep bringing medal counts up,'' he said. "I've never once in my career said anything about medal counts. I'm here to swim as fast as I can, and if I do that, it's all that matters. I've said this before and I'll say it again. The only person I can control is myself.''

Relaxed and at times reflective, he said he's trying to enjoy the camaraderie of what he has repeatedly said will be his final Olympics, though often he finds himself killing time by watching movies and episodes of "The Wire" in the common room.

He's savoring his surroundings and the experience, something that wasn't always possible because of the pressure that accompanied his bid for eight golds in Beijing.

"I think it's sort of hard to compare myself now to then,'' Phelps said. "The goals are different. In Beijing, we were trying to conquer anything and everything. We're a lot more relaxed. We're having fun."

He joked Wednesday about walking out of the cafeteria in the village, only to spot three Russian female athletes walking his way -- all taller than his 6-foot-4-inch frame.

"Geez, I thought I was tall," he said. "But that's the cool thing about coming here and being in the village and getting to experience all of that. I know I have a very full schedule this week, but [coach] Bob [Bowman] and I have prepared ourselves to do the best we can."

Phelps reiterated he had no issue with teammate Tyler Clary telling the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise recently that Phelps doesn't work as hard as less-gifted swimmers and that it's "a shame.''

"Tyler said everything was taken out of context, he has apologized,'' Phelps said. "I said he doesn't need to say anything. He sat in my room for 10 minutes talking about it. He did not need to do that. Whatever you say, you say. I spent a year at school [Michigan] with Tyler. We have known each other for a long time. In Team USA we have always come into the competition as one and left as one."

Phelps joked that perhaps he takes a different approach to training than teammate, friend and rival Ryan Lochte -- "Ryan might be throwing a tire. I don't see myself throwing a tire,'' he said -- but it's apparent the respect Phelps receives from his Team USA teammates, who followed him as a group on the podium.

"When he's with us, he's just ... normal. He's like all of us,'' Lochte said. "We don't see him as anything different. He definitely does get more exposure after what he did in 2004 and 2008. He deserves it.''

Mariel Zagunis chosen to carry US flag

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 26, 2012 12:29 PM

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."

Some good pub for the London scene

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 25, 2012 12:14 PM

LONDON -- The old saw that "there's a pub on every corner" here doesn't quite tell the entire story. Oh, there is a pub on every corner, the Sports Page to the left, maybe an O'Reilly's to the right. But the notion is actually understated, because in the journey from one block's endpoint to the next, the open-door temptation of a Guinness or Newcastle usually offers itself once or twice somewhere in the middle.

This abundance of beverage establishments is hardly overkill, especially during the next two weeks beginning with the London Olympics' official commencement Friday.

The locals are probably going to require a personal visit to every last pub, and not just because of the helpful but unintentionally humorous suggestion by the London Olympic Committee that rather than returning home immediately after work, commuters should stop to have a refreshment rather than hopping immediately on the Tube, the subway system that is typically congested at rush hour even when thousands upon thousands of extra visitors aren't hovering in the neighborhood.

With the Tube certain to be overstuffed and commuters, particularly cab drivers, already frustrated with the congesting side effects of the Games Lanes -- which opened Wednesday exclusively to athletes, media, and others involved with the Olympics -- the Games aren't so much a thrill as a nuisance to many Londoners, particularly those on the West End. And so the bartenders at all those pubs will be lending a friendly ear and frosty glass to many a local over the next 17 days or so as they endure the Olympic invasion not just in terms of people, but corporations. Seeing the slogan "London's Calling" on the sides of Vodaphone vehicles is enough to make one wonder what Joe Strummer would have to say about that.

But the residents, frank though they are, generally are friendly, and if you're a visitor rather than someone whose routine is being unceremoniously interrupted for two weeks, it's hard to imagine the scene could get any better. The weather, wet, cool, and uncompromising during the recent Wimbledon, has been reminiscent of a perfect July Sunday on your favorite New England beach. (That may change Friday, however, when the Games formally begin.)

Green Park, a tube stop near Buckingham Palace, is the edge of the social center at the moment, at least until Olympic Park lights up Friday. A cacophony of languages -- an informal accounting indicates every other voice here is speaking English -- fill the air near Buckingham Palace, where the stoic, impressive routine of the changing of the guards provides a classic London photo op, though perhaps one not quite as trendy as catching a glimpse of, say, Will and Kate, or perhaps habitual scene-stealer Pippa.

Turn away from the palace's gilded gates a full 180 degrees, and one immediately realizes the palace's role in these Games is in part as the spectacular backdrop for the end of many of the distance events, including the marathon, which will finish with a gold carpet marking the final strides to the finish line. It's not quite paved with gold, but it will suffice.

In nearby St. James Park, couples, sunbathers, and locals taking a lunch break mingle, some basking in the sun, others ducking away in the shade. The bobbies and military personnel are ubiquitous and engaging, with some accommodating tourists by snapping their photo with Big Ben as the backdrop.

Sometime around the beginning of Friday's Opening Ceremonies, the shift will happen, and Olympic Park in renovated and transformed East London will be the center of the competition and the social scene. But for the moment, it looks like a carnival waiting for the gates to open, with beige and white tarpaulins covering would-be food and drink stands on the new wooden pathways between the various venues.

Soon it will be bustling, but in the hours before the 2012 Summer Games begin, it looks, well, not quite finished, or at least unchristened. En route to the venues, even someone fortunate enough to cruise through the Games Lane can't help but notice a message in large black lettering on a nondescript gold building: "Sorry! The lifestyle you signed up for is currently unavailable.''


John Isner goes from Lobsters to London

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff July 24, 2012 12:01 PM

LONDON -- John Isner is best-known for playing the longest match in tennis history, an 11-hour 5-minute epic played over three days against Nicolas Mahut in 2010 at Wimblebon.

But it was a quick turnaround that made good-natured Isner the temporary center of attention Tuesday during a press conference featuring Serena and Venus Williams, Andy Roddick, and the rest of the United States Olympic tennis team.

Before the formal question-and-answer session began, Roddick, who seems to revel in an easygoing leadership-by-wisecrack approach, could be heard teasing Isner about his particular tennis commitment the night before.

Isner could be found at the Ferncroft Country Club’s Joan Norton Stadium in Middleton Monday, representing the Boston Lobsters against the Philadelphia Freedom in World TeamTennis.

Isner lost his singles match, then won at doubles and mixed doubles before departing to a standing ovation from the nearly 2,000 in attendance, headed for Logan Airport and a late-night flight to London.

Isner, the 6-foot-9-inch University of Georgia product who will be participating in his first Olympics, had some fun at his own expense regarding his unusual prelude.

When Isner was asked whether he'd had a chance to enjoy the Olympic experience yet, he had his tongue-in-cheek answer queued up and ready to go.

"Well, the atmosphere at the Lobsters,'' he said, pausing for a beat, while teammates and reporters laughed, "is second to none. Basically, it gets me well-prepared for the Olympic games."

Isner of course enjoys playing for the Lobsters, as anyone who has seen him engage the crowd while playing can attest. And he's made his mark on tour, as the 11th-ranked player in the world. But he admitted the Olympics are a whole different experience, albeit one he's not quite familiar with yet.

"Everyone just got off the plane, just being near the Olympic park, you can kind of feel this energy in this place," he said. "To be honest, I don't know what to expect, as of right now. But it's going to be a thrilling experience, especially because it's my first one."

This is not a new experience for the Williams sisters. Venus is the most decorated player in Olympic tennis history with three gold medals (one singles, two doubles), while Serena is aiming to become the first player to win all four Grand Slams and Olympic singles gold in her career.

"When you're at tournaments and they announce your name and you have the word 'Olympian' behind you, it's so cool to hear,'' said Venus Williams. "It's not something you ever get over."

Serena Williams, who won her fifth Wimbledon women's singles title earlier this month, said she's excited to be back in London so soon.

"You usually have to wait 12 months to walk back on Centre Court and feel that moment that you feel,'' she said. "I'm going to be excited to have such a quick turnaround and get back on the grass and play.''

Survey: Americans ready to tune in to Olympics

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff July 23, 2012 08:30 PM
A survey conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and the school's Center for Sports Communication has found 80 percent of Americans surveyed plan to watch at least some part of the Olympics, which begin Friday in London.

The number was lowest in the under-30 age group, but even that demographic showed 74 percent of respondents would watch some of the Olympics. It was highest in the over-60 group, at 84 percent.

The survey also revealed a number of interesting statistics, including:

  • Watching Americans win medals was more important than watching athletes set records (50 percent to 43 percent)
  • China was viewed as the top competition for the US in the medals race at 41 percent. Next was Russia (15), followed by Canada (8) and Great Britain and Australia (7 percent each)
  • Gymnastics (30 percent) was the sport respondents were most looking forward to watching, followed by swimming (23), track (18) and basketball (11).
  • Michael Phelps was a landslide winner (50 percent) as male athlete who will be the biggest star of the games. LeBron James was second at 17 percent.
  • Serena Williams was the women's biggest star winner at 43 percent, followed by soccer player Hope Solo (11), sprinter Lolo Jones (9) and gymnast Jordan Wieber (7).
  • More than 61 percent of those surveyed plan to watch the Olympics only on television.
View the complete poll results and data at Marist's web site.

Olympics bloggers

Look for updates, news, analysis and commentary from the following reporters:.

Headlines

DAN EGAN COVERAGE POWERED BY
Killington
Coors
Nashoba Valley
Nashoba Valley
archives