Wednesday, August 27, 2008

AFC Preview

Now that the NFC Preview is up we move on to the AFC. It's been the Patriots' world of late and everyone else was just living in it. Will this be the year things change for good?

AFC East - The Patriots appeared poised to take a step back overall but there is no reason to believe they won't still dominate their division. There is really no one else in the East that has the weapons to challenge them. Favre to the Jets will obviously make for some great T.V. but New York simply doesn't have the talent to go toe to toe with New England no matter how well Favre plays. Buffalo should be improved with stability at the QB position under Trent Edwards but they still don't look like a playoff team. Miami is still a mess. Look for the Pats to take a small step backwards. Their LB core in particular is extremely thin and aging rapidly. And you know every Defensive coordinator in the league had nightmares all off-season of Randy Moss and Wes Welker running wild in their secondary and will devote extra time to finding a way to slow them down.

AFC North - Definitely the most intriguing division in the AFC with all 4 teams having a shot to make some noise. Pittsburgh remains the favorites led by their stellar defense and improved running game, bolstered by the addition of Illinois product, Rashard Mendenhall. He should provide a nice 1-2 punch with Willie Parker that will make Pittsburgh's running game one of the best in the league. The Bengals remain a force offensively but have many questions including the health of Chad Johnson and the ability of Chris Henry to be a key part of the team after his ongoing saga of off field problems. The strongest threat to the Steelers appears to be the much improved Cleveland Browns. Led by breakout QB Derek Anderson the Browns surprised everyone last year by posting a 10-6 record, tied for best in the division. Unfortunately for them they lost tiebreakers to both the Steelers and the Titans and spent the playoffs at home. Perhaps their biggest question is the durability and effectiveness of Jamal Lewis. He was outstanding in his debut season in Cleveland but the depth chart gets thin in a hurry if he goes down.

AFC South - Arguably the most talented division in football, the AFC South division should go down to the wire. The Colts and Jags should be among the top 3 teams in the AFC this year and in any other division the Titans and even Texans would be contenders. This should however be the year the Jags finally get over the hump. Powered by the best backfield combo in the league of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, Jacksonville can take over games with their running game. Their big physical line opens huge holes that Taylor and Jones-Drew are more than capable of shooting through to wreak havoc on opposing defenses. David Garrard showed he was more than capable of leading an offense who's only question might be who is going to catch the ball. Look for a breakout year from second year player John Broussard on one side of the field but to have sustained success the Jags need production from longtime Raider, Jerry Porter and former Viking Troy Williamson who were acquired to stretch the field to open up the running game and take advantage of Garrard's big arm. The Colts won't go down without a fight and should still be a playoff team but after missing the entire off-season and seeing Marvin Harrison continue to get older, Peyton Manning figures to have his work cut out for him. Don't overlook Tennessee, they were a playoff team last year and with electric Vince Young at the helm are always a risk to breakout. If anything AFC South teams may suffer from having to play each other twice.

AFC West - San Diego remains the team to beat out west regardless of Shawne Merriman's status. The All-Pro linebacker is at risk of missing the season due to his ongoing knee problems. For the time being he intends to play but I can't imagine he'll be anywhere close to his normally explosive self if he does take the field. You can't help but wonder what role steroids played in his on-going injury situation after he was suspended for 4 games during the 2006 season for apparent steroid use. San Diego still figures to have plenty of weapons to subdue the rest of the pretenders out west. As long as Ladainian Tomlinson can stay healthy they figure to be players in the race for the AFC crown. Denver remains an enigma with potential to contend for a playoff spot but far more questions than answers. If there is a team out west that might surprise it could be the Raiders. Led by breakout candidate Jamarcus Russell at QB and what should be an effective rushing game with Justin Fargas and 1st round pick Darren McFadden, the Raiders could breakout in a fairly weak division. The Chiefs are happy to have a healthy Larry Johnson back in the fold but have too many other questions to get excited about.

Picks to break out
Jay Cutler QB, Broncos. His weight loss and lack of zip on his passes last year was solved by his diabetes diagnosis and now with proper treatment of his disease is back up to his former playing weight and throwing the ball all over the field with authority in workouts.

Troy Williamson and John Broussard WR's, Jacksonvlle Jaguars. Broussard is a 2nd year player who showed flashes of talent last year but struggled to keep up as a rookie. That should change now with a year under his belt and increased familiarity with the system. Williamson is of course a former first round pick from Minnesota who never seemed to fit into the Vikings offense. Both should get plenty of chances as teams stuff the box to stop the vaunted Jags rushing attack leaving plenty of one on one coverage for the WR.

Picks to break down.
Ladainian Tomlinson RB, Chargers. Entering his 8th season as the starter, Tomlinson has been a workhorse his entire career with well over 300 carries in every season of his career. With Michael Turner now in Atlanta and a lack of quality depth behind him Tomlinson will be asked to do even more this year. Can he hold up?

Marvin Harrison WR, Colts. People have been predicting his demise for going on 5 years now but at 36 one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank.

AFC's Best Offense
It's still New England until someone else proves otherwise. Their defense may be aging but Brady's bunch should still wreak havoc on the offensive side of the field. Even with a season's worth of film to review, teams will still struggle to slow Moss, Welker and Mauroney on a regular basis. It also helps that they get to play 6 games against their lowly division rivals in the AFC East.

AFC's Best Defense
Pittsburgh Steelers. They led the league in total defense last year and there is no reason to think that will change this year as standout safety Troy Polamalu will continue to lead this stellar unit that boasts talent and depth at almost every position.

Bold prediction
Your AFC Superbowl team will be the Jacksonville Jaguars. They will out duel the Colts in the regular season and then wear down an aging Pats defense in the AFC Championship Game with their stellar rushing attack. They have been on the cusp for a few years now but stand poised to take the next step. This should be the year that things fall into place.

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NFC Preview

Well its that time of the year again, my favorite time of the year when it comes to sports. Baseball is headed down the stretch run, College Football kicks off this Saturday and the NFL is just around the corner. Here is the Sportfellas NFC preview for 2008. The AFC will be soon to follow.

NFC East- It seems like the Cowboys have been on the brink of being something special for about 5 years now, but one thing or another has prevented them from really doing something big. Last year's 13-3 performance was good enough for the best record in the NFC, but they tripped up against the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants in the wildcard round. The Giants on the other hand looked like a borderline playoff team that somehow ended up doing something special. This year I think things will change. The Cowboys should repeat as division champions and will be the last ones laughing this year. The Giants really weren't all that great to begin with, but now with the losses of pro-bowl DEs Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, they look to be headed towards a postseason full of Tv watching on their couches. The Eagles and Redskins are both talented teams who always have the potential to make some noise, but this year is the Cowboy's year in the East.

NFC North- One of the more interesting divisions in football this year. The big storylines of course are the exit of Brett Favre and the emergence of Adrian Peterson as a premier back. Last year the Packers surprised by racking up 13 wins but will Aaron Rodgers be able to repeat the success of Brett Favre? The Vikings looked poised to become one of the better teams in the NFC. Their rushing game has become the best in the NFL behind a strong line and their defense made huge strides last year. Of course like the Packers and Bears QB play will be a huge question for the Vikings. If Tavaris Jackson can play smart enough to avoid mistakes and let his running game and defense win the game this should be the Vikings division to lose. The Bears lack quality skill players and are battling some injuries as well, they are unlikely to make much noise this season and the Lions.... well they are the Lions.

NFC South- THe Bucs may have been the most surprising division winner last year. They were able to squek by with the division title with only a 9-7 record in a weak division. This year I expect this division to bounce back a bit. The Saints were a big disappointment last year but they have too much talent to let that happen again. Look for Drew Brees and company to win 10 games and take the South this year. The Bucs still have a solid but not great team as well, they will be in the picture in both the division and the wildcard. The Panthers who were among the best teams in the league for a few years have fallen a bit. They got no production out of Steve Smith last year and they have no proven running back. They have a chance to be a solid team but it looks like a 3rd place finish. The Falcons are a non-factor again this year.

NFC West- Quite possibly the weakest division in all of football. The Seahawks have won this division each of the last 4 years. Every year it seems we hear how this will finally be the Cardinals year to break out but so far they have failed every time. The Seahawks have lost some WR depth as well as Shawn Alexander so if the Cardinals can get good QB play from either Warner or Leinart they may be able to come away with this one. I still have to think its more likely the Seahawks win this division for the 5th time in a row. The Rams are a young team that has improved some but they still look to be a year or two away and the 49ers are a mess, going with JT O'Sullivan at QB over struggling former #1 pick Alex Smith.

Picks to break out
Jonathan Stewart RB, Carolina
Stewart will share carries with D'Angelo Williams in the Carolina backfeild to start the season, but there have been great reports out of Panthers camp on Stewart. Every year in the NFL we see a rookie Rb breakout and Stewart is a food possiblity to be that guy this year.

Laurent Robinson WR, Atlanta
Robinson became a starter for the Falcons late in the season and I was very impressed with him. He is expected to be the full-time starter this year in Atlanta opposite Roddy White. Of course Falcons QB Matt Ryan will have to perform for Robinson to put up big numbers, but if so I think he will.

Picks to break down
Marc Bulger QB, St. Louis
Bulger has been the starter for the Rams seemingly forever and has been very consistent. However fir the first time last year we saw signs of him breaking down. One more poor year from Bulger and the otherwise young Rams may choose to draft a QB in the off-season and move on.

Ahman Green RB, Houston
Green has been a consistent performer for a long time and is still listed on depth charts as the Texans starting RB but he is coming off a shaky year and has not looked good this preseason. THe Texans have a couple young RB in Chris Taylor and Steve Slaton that could take over the Texans job if Green struggles again.

NFC's best Offense
New Orleans Saints. Despite their 7-9 record last year the Saints finished 4th in the NFL in total offense. They have a plethora of talent at the skill positions to go along with Drew Brees who had another great year. Expect the Saints to bounce back and put a whole lot of points on the board this season.

NFC's best Defense
Tampa Bay Bucs. The giants lost too much from the defense and pass rush to repeat their defensive performance from last year. The Bucs are solid at all 11 positions and held opponents to under 17 points a game last year. The Cowboys, Packers and Vikings all have talented defensive units as well.

Bold Prediction
The Dallas Cowboys will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1995 season. There is just too much talent in Dallas on both sides of the ball. After blowing playoff opportunities each of the past 2 seasons I expect Romo and company to get it done this year.

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Lost In Translation?

It's not often you will see me write about golf in this space and I never dreamed I would ever discuss the LPGA. But oddly enough one of the most interesting sports news stories in recent days has been the somewhat controversial LPGA decision to require players to speak English in order to retain their tour cards.

On face value this seems borderline discriminatory. America has always been the melting pot and land of opportunity. And the LPGA has provided opportunities for many women including 121 international players. Obviously not all of them had to learn a new language as this number includes Canadians, Brits and Aussies, but many of them do come here knowing little to no English.

I know, I know.. You're asking yourself. Why is this an issue? Lots of athletes don't communicate well, including guys like Rickey Henderson and he was born and bred in the U.S. of A. But in a sport that reaps much of its revenue from Corporate sponsors and pay to play Pro-Ams, public appearances are almost as big a part of the job as hitting fairways. It's hard to ask someone to pay $5000 to get the opportunity to to play a pro-am round with a tour member only to have them discover the player they get assigned to can't communicate with them.

So what is the solution? Let the pieces fall where they may and risk losing sponsors and fans because they can't communicate or relate to the players they are watching? Is learning basic English really too much to ask of someone potentially making million of dollars to play a game? I understand it's not always easy. I spent some time in France when I was younger and I struggled to communicate at times. On more than one occasion I ended up coming across like a total jackass. But over time I got to where I could easily converse with people and do quite well for myself. I was also surprised to see that much of the typical French disdain for foreigners (especially Americans) melted away when they saw I was making the effort to learn their language and culture.

This will be an interesting story to follow in the coming months and one that Major League Baseball and the NBA should be following closely. If teams are going to be paying millions of dollars for a player's services then it's certainly not unreasonable to expect them to show up at public events and mingle with fans and sponsors.

Bottom line.. If you are lucky enough to play a game for a living, count your blessings... Learning the basics of another language seems a pretty trivial price to pay for the right to do something most of us can only dream of.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Moving On from Beijing... Beatles style..

The Olympics have come and gone once again. There were ups, downs, joy and tears but all in all it was a wonderful 2 weeks of athletic achievement. There will be many fond memories in the years to come. We invite the magical music of the Beatles to help us in our look back at 8 memorable moments of the 2008 Olympics. Why 8? It is considered the luckiest number in China.

1. "A little help from my friends". Michael Phelps' incredible run will be the lasting memory for most when thinking back to the Beijing Games. But it was only with the help of his equally impressive teammates that Phelps won Gold in the 4X100 and Team Medley Relays. Jason Lezak in particular swam the race of his life to out touch the French team at the wall in the 4X100.

2. "Come Together". The only way to describe the improbable journey of the U.S. Men's Volleyball team, who won the Gold for their Coach and his family after tragedy struck. Coach Hugh McCutcheon coached his team with a heavy heart in Beijing after his mother and father in law were brutally attacked while visiting tourist sites in Beijing.

3. "Here Comes The Sun". The sun always seemed to be shining on the U.S. Beach Volleyball Duos of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri "6 Feet of Sunshine" Walsh on the Women's side and Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser on the Men's. Both duos marched to Gold as the U.S. owned the man made beach in Beijing.

4. "Nowhere Man". For the improbable collapse of American sprinter, Tyson Gay. He was the defending World Champion at 100 and 200M. He failed to even qualify at 200M due to injuries and failed to make the Final in the 100M. To make matters worse, he was part of a botched baton hand-off in the 4X100 relay that led to a preliminary round DQ.

5. "If I Fell". To U.S. Gymnast, Alicia Sacramone. She was the heart and soul of the team in the preliminary rounds as her injury riddled team struggled to perform to their expectations. The medal round was not one to remember however as Sacramone fell off the balance beam and fell during her floor routine leading to costly deductions. The American Women still took home Silver, but it wasn't much consolation to Alicia who felt she let her teammates down.

6. "I'll Cry Instead". To German Superheavyweight Weightlifter Matthias Steiner. Overwhelmed with joy after winning the Gold Medal. He dropped to his knees and tears streamed down his face. Steiner's wife Susann was tragically killed in a car accident last year and despite his joy he wished he could share his victory with her. He did find a way to have her at his side on the medal podium though as he proudly displayed a photo of his smiling wife while receiving his medal.

7. "Yesterday". To Hope Solo and the U.S. Women's Soccer team. It seems like just yesterday that Solo was at the center of a controversy regarding a game against the Samba Girls of Brazil. Solo earned back her teammates trust and put that horrible experience behind her and she made big save after big save to lead the U.S. Women's Team to Gold in a match once against... Brazil.

8. "Twist and Shout". To the "Redeem Team". No one doubted their talent but many questioned their dedication and their ability to play well as a team. They quieted all the doubters with a dominant run through the tournament culminating in a tough fought victory against a talented Spanish team in the Gold medal game. They signed countless autographs, mingled with fellow athletes and cheered on their countrymen at countless events. They gave us all many reasons to cheer, twist, scream and shout for joy.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Beijing Surprise

The US Olympic team may not have fared quite as well as they would have liked these Olympic games. Of course we have all heard about the track woes, the baseball team failed to win gold in our own sport and the US failed to win a single diving medal, a sport that was dominated by the Americans up until the 1980s. However despite the lows there were also some pleasant surprises from the Americans in Beijing.

We watched as 21 yr old Henry Cejduo, son of illgeal immigrant parents, took home the gold for the Americans in freestyle wrestling. Cejudo had only been wrestling at the international level for a very short time and shocked everyone by bringing home the gold.

We also got to see 19 year old swimmer Rebecca Soni become one of the best female swimmers in the World before our eyes. Athens breaststroke hero Amanda Beard faltered, failing to reach the finals, but the 19 yr old Soni took the opportunity to show that the women's swim team was pretty good too, winning a gold and two silvers for her country.

American hurdles sprinter Dawn Harper also very unexpectedly took home the gold in the womens 100 meter hurdles. Heavy favorite Lolo Jones, stumbled on the 2nd to last hurdle, but Harper made sure it was still an American Victory.

And of course there is the Men's gymnastics team. Considered a long shot to win any medals at all after Athens all-around champion Paul Hamm decided he was not healthy enough to compete. The Americans dazzled in the team competition, taking home a bronze medal and only just missing out on a silver. Team leader Jonothan Horton followed that up with a silver medal in the high bar event.

So, while the US team may not have been perfect during these games, they still have plenty to smile about. After all they are still highly likely to finish atop the medal table once again, with well over 100 medals. We are looking forward to an even better team in London, 4 years from now.

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What caused the U.S. Track and Field meltdown?

It's been a sobering 10 days for the USATF, the body that oversees the United States Track and Field team. It's been decades since the U.S. Team performed so poorly at an Olympic Games. Swept off the track in the individual sprints by the mighty Jamaicans, the U.S. sprinters hit rock bottom on Thursday when both Men's and Women's 4X100M sprint teams dropped the baton in preliminary heats and didn't even qualify for the finals. Both were expected to be strong Gold medal contenders, although that is somewhat hard to believe after watching the Jamaican women sweep the U.S. Women right out of the medals in the individual 100m (pictured).

The list of failures is long and peppered with high profile names. Tyson Gay, the defending World Champ at both 100 and 200m was injured at the trials and didn't qualify for the 200m and was eliminated in the semis of the 100m, he was also involved in the botched relay hand-off that led to the relay DQ. 1,500m World Champion, Bernard Legat also failed to qualify for the finals. There was talk of a sweep in the shot put as Reese Hoffa and Adam Nelson finished 1-2 at last year's World's and Christian Cantwell had been throwing as well as anyone coming in. Instead they won just a silver by Cantwell.

I could go on and on but the story remains the same. Almost a total collapse in what is typically the stage for some of the greatest U.S. successes. USA Track and Field announced today that they will start an investigation immediately following the Games to determine what went wrong and get a new program in place immediately. But sadly, like in many other high profile sports, it seems the rest of the world has simply caught up. What we saw as an American birthright has been snatched away by hungrier, more motivated and for the time being superior athletes from overseas.

Hopefully the forthcoming changes will be successful and in 4 years things will be back to what Americans are used to seeing on the Olympic track. But for now, all most fans can do is shake their heads in disbelief.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Walsh and May-Treanor, Golden once again.

They entered the Olympics having won over 100 consecutive matches and swept through the preliminaries and the medal round with relative ease to capture Gold once again. They are arguably the greatest of all time in their sport and quite possibly the most dominant team of any kind at these Olympic Games.

No, not the U.S. Swimming Team or even the U.S. Mens Basketball, "Redeem Team". I'm talking of course about the Beach Volleyball duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. They won 7 strait matches without dropping a single set and without ever really looking vulnerable. In the Finals they cruised past Wang Jie and Tian Jia of China, 21-18, 21-18. They did it in a driving rainstorm that caused the cancellation of other events, including the BMX Finals.

It was the culmination of their Olympic experience that also included a meeting with President Bush and Walsh losing her wedding ring in the middle of a match. She played the rest of the match thinking it was lost forever only to be informed the next day that volunteers spent hours sifting through the sand to find her ring. They presented it to her the following morning.

The Chinese women played tough in front of their home crowd and made the match closer than expected but it seemed like Walsh and May-Treanor made every big dig and kill when it mattered and they were rewarded for their efforts with their second Gold medal. Dating back to the Athens Games in 2004 they have now won 14 consecutive matches without dropping a single set and won Gold both times. Truly the Beach Volleyball equivalent of the "Dream Team".

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Confusion in Gymnastics judging rears it's ugly head once again.

It wasn't the first chin-scratching moment in the history of Olympics Gymnastics. In fact, controversy has become almost as common a theme as tumbling, vaulting and the importance of sticking landings. You simply cannot watch a Gymnastics meet without be confused about the scoring. We saw it time and time again in the team and individual finals as the Chinese seemed to consistently score better than their American counterparts despite similar performances. It reared it's ugly head once again Monday morning in Beijing.

He Kexin and Nastia Liukin both performed beautifully in the Un-even Bars Event Finals only to discover to their, and everyone else's, dismay that they had received identical, 16.725 scores. It was clear that one of them would win the Gold. What wasn't clear was who that person would be, or what criteria would be used to make the decision. Bela Karolyi, providing commentary in the NBC studio, was convinced Liukin won the tie-breaker based upon her higher qualifying score. International gymnastics federation (FIG), President Bruno Grandi, said if his group had their say they would both win Gold. But unfortunately for Nastia, Karolyi was wrong and the IOC has a policy of awarding only 1 Gold per event. He was awarded the Gold based upon a complicated tie-breaking system. Why did she win? I can't begin to explain it but here it is, He won the gold because of a lower average of form deductions from the three judges who gave each gymnast their lowest scores.

Now I'm not even sure what that means, and the FIG was still trying to explain it to confused media and long after the medals were awarded. But easy to understand or not, Liukin ended up with a Silver medal while He took the Gold. It hasn't always been like this. The IOC used to allow multiple Gold winners in the event of a tie, and it used to be somewhat commonplace in Gymnastics. Liukin's father Valeri even won Gold in such fashion at the 1988 Games, when he shared the High Bar Gold with teammate Vladimir Artemov. The IOC eliminated multiple Gold medals after the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

NBC, no more tape delays... Please!

It's become a nightly thing since the start of the Olympic Games. There has not been a single night that I haven't received a text message, instant message, email or phone call with premature Olympics results.

Even tonight while at the grocery store I couldn't avoid it. While at the checkout lane I bump into a buddy who was banging away on his Blackberry and looked up with a big smile and said, "Phelps just won his 7th Gold, man". Of course NBC wouldn't air this event in my time zone for another 2 hours. Look, I understand that when the Olympics take place on the other side of the world, it's not going to make for the best TV viewing times. But China and the IOC have bent over backwards to try and schedule key events at often strange times locally so they can be seen live in more TV markets. Almost every single big swimming final took place before lunch time in Beijing so that we Americans could watch live during our normal prime time window. The only problem with this? You only get to see it live on the east coast. Even though most of these swimming finals are happening between 6 and 8PM in the Western and Pacific times zones, those folks aren't getting to see them live. So if you have friends who live east of you or happen to check Olympic results on the computer you are bound to see news you didn't even know had happened yet.

I can hear the responses already. "You can't make everyone happy, it's not possible to show it to everything live". And for the most part, I agree. But was it really necessary to air a volleyball match that was hours old to viewers out west as Phelps was winning his record tying 7th Gold in controversial fashion, live everywhere else in the world?

We live in a world of instant gratification. Between cell phones, PDA's and wireless web access, people have almost continuous access to information. The world is an ever evolving and increasingly global environment. With DVR's and online web streams becoming more and more prevalent, people can tap into media events no matter where they happen to be. It's time to bring TV into the new age. There is more out there than the 7-10 prime time window, folks. Let us see our heroes live, even if it's not in a traditional time slot.

The internet already stands poised to steal our attention and our time away from TV if not replace it entirely in the years to come. Why give people more motivation to switch by insisting on airing things when it's convenient and more profitable for the network as opposed to letting us decide for ourselves?

Air it live, please.. If we aren't home when it happens, there is always TiVo.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Memorable Olympic Highlights. Part 5.

You hear lots of lip service during the Olympics about the "Olympic Spirit" and desire simply to participate. I always saw it as a way to make the losers feel better about themselves. Ultimately, you come to the Games to win.. Barcelona in 1992 changed all that for me.

British sprinter Derek Redmond came to Barcelona with a good chance of winning a medal in the 400m dash. He was far from the favorite, but was definitely in contention to make the podium. He had always struggled with injuries and had to pull out of the 1988 Games in Seoul just minutes before he was scheduled to run in his preliminary heat. He came into Barcelona healthy though and was ready to challenge the world's best. He performed well in the preliminary heats, posting the fastest time amongst all the competitors and eventually qualified for the semifinals.

During his semifinal heat he took off at the sound of the starter's pistol and raced down the track. Shortly after the first turn his right hamstring popped. Initially he stopped and went to his knees, but after a few moments he gets to his feet and starts hopping around the track in an attempt to finish the race. Moments later his father pushes his way past security and races onto the track to help his son. Arm in arm and with tears streaming from their eyes, father and son, cross the finish line.

It is officially listed to this day that Redmond did not finish the race. But in his eyes and the eyes of the capacity crowd that gave him a standing ovation, he finished with honor. If ever an athlete personified the true Olympic Spirit, it was Redmond.

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Pretty in Silver

On Tuesday the American men shocked the gymnastics world, winning an unexpected bronze medal in the team competition without the Hamm brothers. Wednesday night it was the American girls turn. Their expectations were far different however. The defending world champions came in to Beijing expecting a gold medal, but they fell short to the Chinese and had to accept a silver. The 2nd place finish was in large part because of two major mistakes by team captain Alicia Sacramone. At the start of her balance beam routine, her right foot did not land properly on the beam and she fell, causing huge deductions. Later in floor exercise on a tumbling pass, Sacramone fell again, leaving the Americans with little chance for a gold.

The Americans were at a disadvantage from the very start in these games, as team members Chelsea Memmel and Samantha Peszek were injured before the competition began, limiting their participation. Defending World all-around champion Shawn Johnson said the Americans were still proud of their silver medals and were not disappointed. The 16 year old cutie will compete in the individual all-around competition later this week, as will her teammate Nastia Liukin. Both will have a good chance to still bring home a gold for the Americans.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Welcome Back...

Most of the hype about the U.S. Swimming Team in Beijing has centered around Michael Phelps. Some would say this is deservedly the case as he has already taken Gold in World Record fashion in all 3 events he has competed in thus far. Unfortunately the fan fare surrounding Phelps has taken some of the spotlight away from his talented teammates. Most of you probably know that Phelps won his 3rd Gold medal on Monday night(early Tuesday morning Beijing time), but you may have missed his 4 talented teammates.

Aaron Piersol and Natalie Coughlin were both Olympic Champions in the 100M backstroke in Athens. Neither had looked dominant prior to Tuesday. Coughlin won her semifinal heat on Monday but struggled to swim in a direct line, even brushing against the lane barrier at times. Piersol finished just 3rd in his semifinal and looked to be laboring at times to even keep up with his top rivals. All that changed on Tuesday morning.

Coughlin came out strong in the Women's Final and led almost from start to finish. she seemed to run out of gas in the final 15 meters but her lead was so great that no one was able to run her down. She touched in 58.96 seconds to beat out Kirsty Conventry of Zimbabwe. Her teammate Margaret Hoelzer finished 3rd to take the Bronze. On the Men's side, Piersol was even more dominant as he raced to his 2nd consecutive Gold in World Record fashion. He touched in 52.54 seconds, over half a second ahead of his closest rival, teammate Matt Grevers, who took the Silver.

It was a dominating performance all-around for the back-strokers. 2 events, 2 Gold medals, 1 Silver medal, 1 Bronze medal and 1 World Record set in the process.

Welcome back... Welcome back indeed.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

U.S. Men's Volleyball Team wins one for their coach.

Playing with a heavy heart and without their head coach, The U.S. Men's Volleyball Team took the court Sunday morning to face off against Venezuela. Head Coach, Hugh McCutcheon was with his family after learning that his in-laws had been brutally attacked while visiting tourist sites in China. His father-in-law, Todd Bachman, was killed in the attack. His mother-in-law, Barbara Bachman was also seriously wounded in the attack and is in the hospital in critical condition. She underwent 8 hours of life saving surgery after being rushed to the hospital. McCutcheon's wife, Elisabeth was with her parents at the time of the attack but wasn't injured.

The last time Team USA saw their coach was as they watched him race from their practice session on Saturday afternoon. They found out about the attack hours later and have only spoken to Coach McCutcheon by phone since. It was an unsettling start for a team that came into the Games ranked 3rd in the FIVB World rankings and is considered a strong medal contender. They looked it in the first 2 games of the match as they raced out to take the first 2 games by identical scores of 25-18. Venezuela mixed it up in game 3, going to it's bench to find a rotation of players that might be able to get something going in their favor. This move seemed to give them new life as they stole game 3, 25-22 and rolled to take game 4 by a score of 25-21. That sent the match to a tiebreaker game 5. The U.S. stormed back to take game 5, 15-10 and win the match.

After the match, the players, to a man, said their poor performance in games 3 and 4 was due to relaxing after their early lead and was unrelated to the tragedy that had befallen the family of their head coach. Regardless of the cause, they have a difficult road ahead of them as they look now to their next match against Italy. It is unknown if McCutcheon will be there for that match, or any match from here on out.

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Memorable Olympic Highlight of the Day. Day 4

At the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Games in Atlanta, one of the best kept secrets leading up to the ceremonies was the identity of the individual who would light the Olympic Cauldron that would burn throughout the Games. This is often one of the highlights of the Opening Ceremonies and each host city tries to trump it's predecessors in thinking of new and creative ways to make it happen.

As the torch entered the stadium in Atlanta, it was popular Olympic swimmer, Janet Evans. Evans was a highly successful swimmer, winning 4 golds and 1 silver between the 1988 and 1992 Games and she was also extremely popular in the United States. As she emerged from the tunnel and headed up the ramp to the cauldron, she seemed like a logical candidate to light the torch. But as she arrived at the top of the ramp, a man emerged from the shadows. It was legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali. Before his stored professional career Ali had won the Gold in the light heavyweight division of boxing at the 1960 Games in Rome.

Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1984 and was visibly trembling as he walked over to the wick that would take the flame up into the cauldron that waited above. He took slow steps and looked up in awe as the flame ignited and the cheers from the amazed crowd rained down upon him. It was a breathtaking moment and one that I will never forget.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Fencing Sweep.....

The United States Olympic team got on the medal table in a big way early Saturday morning. American Women swept the medals in the Women's individual sabre competition. Mariel Zagunis (pictured above) took home the gold medal for her country for the 2nd straight Olmypics, defeating fellow American Sada Jacobsen in the finals. Jacobsen who won the Bronze medal in Athens in 2004 had to settle for a silver to add to her collection. Becca Ward completed the sweep for the Americans winning the Bronze medal over Russian Sofia Velikaya. For now this puts the Americans atop the medal table, a place they hope to stay for the length of the Beijing games.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Obscure Olympic Event Preview : Modern Pentathalon

In looking for unknown events to feature prior to the start of the games, I came across many possibilities. However, even though Canoeing and Equestrian aren't exactly mainstream events featured in prime time, most people at least know what they are. The same cannot be said of Modern Pentathlon. I thought I knew what it was, but I was actually thinking of the Decathlon, an event calling for an individual to compete in many different aspects of Track and Field over a 2 day period. I quickly realized how wrong I was.

Modern Pentathlon is actually one of the oldest events in the Modern Olympics. It was created by the Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France, who was also the founder of the modern Olympic Games themselves. He created the Pentathlon to be an event that not only showed the athletic prowess of the competitor but also their culture and class.

The Pentathlon calls for competitors to compete in 5 events in a single day's time. The events are: epee fencing, pistol shooting, 200m freestyle swimming, a show-jumping equestrian event and culminates in a 3K run. It wasn't always a single day event but was changed to try and make it more marketable in recent years due to it's lack of worldwide popularity. To add to the drama, points are calculated throughout the first 4 events and then the participants start the 3K race staggered in order of points earned so that the winner of the race is the winner of the competition.

Men's Preview

The Men's Pentathlon has long been dominated by European Nations, with 9 of the last 10 World Champions faring from a European country. The reigning champion is Ilia Frolov(pictured left) of Russia, who won the title at the recent World Championships held in Budapest, Hungary. Where the World's was held mere weeks before the start of the Beijing Games he has to be considered the favorite heading into the 2008 Games.

Eli Bremer(pictured right), the Pan-American Games Champion is the top American qualifier but after finishing just 12th at the World's he is considered a long shot for a medal in Beijing.

Women's Preview

In the Women's event the odd's on favorite has to be Amelia Caze of France who is the 2 time reigning World Champion. Her margin of victory at the 2008 Championships was only 20 points over her closest competitor, Aya Medany of Egpyt.

Both Margaux Isaksen and Sheila Taormina(pictured) will participate for the U.S. Team although neither fared well at the recent World's and neither is considered a strong medal contender.

Taormina does have an interesting story though as this is the third different Olympic event she has qualified for. She won a swimming relay Gold at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and then competed in the Triathlon during both the 2000 and 2004 Games. At 39 years old she will be one of the oldest athletes competing in the Pentathlon.

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