Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
Gabby Douglas on the beam. — Gary Montgomery photo
Douglas is ready to revel in the afterglow of Olympic history
LONDON — USA gymnast Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas, 16, now has her picture on a corn flakes box, there’s a painted 9-by-30 foot giant mural in her honor in Virginia Beach with her holding a gold medal with an American flag backdrop, and, she is being recruited by one of the most prestigious Black universities in the country, Spelman.
In fact, the president of Spelman, Beverly Daniel Tatum, came to London and made sure Gabby got a Spelman gift bag containing a congratulatory note, school t-shirt and a CD of a song produced by the college.
“A young woman who has demonstrated the drive and discipline needed to achieve world-class excellence is likely to have what it takes to be successful at Spelman, and we would welcome her interest in the college,” Tatum said.
This is the type of accolades that come one’s way when an individual like Douglas puts in the work, the sweat and tears to achieve at the Olympic level in one of the most competitive sports contested at the Games.
Douglas’ flew, flashed, pranced and powered her greyhound-like frame into history. She came into the 2012 London Games like a flame in the night. Bubbly, effervescent, but she has the steel resolve of a heavyweight boxer.
Douglas joined Dominique Dawes, who was part of the Magnificent Seven team in 1996, who was the only African-American woman to earn a gold medal in the Olympics.
However, Douglas became the first person of color to win gold in gymnastics’ premier event, the artistic individual all-around. Along with her team victory she earned two golds.
She also had a shot at two other medals as she earned the right to perform on the individual beam and uneven bars. She finished eighth on uneven bars and found herself hanging on to the beam from below in undignified fashion before dropping to the mat in her last competition. She finished seventh out of eight competitors.
It was clear to me watching her in those two events that the euphoria of the USA team and all-around victories has drained her, and after all the interviews, etc. she had kind of lost her mojo.
“I really could have done better in those two events, but I think I was mentally drained,” Douglas told me. “I was fatigued and in gymnastics if you lose just a little concentration you will make mistakes.”
I was worried about Douglas before I talked to her. I was mistakenly concerned about her spirit after the tremendous highs of making history and then failing, all in the same Olympics. Much to my surprise she was upbeat and strong about her mistakes.
“We’re not losers,” Douglas said. “We’re superheroes. We do tricks no one else can do. We’re all humans. We all make mistakes. We’re 16-year-olds and have a lot of pressure on our shoulders. That’s kind of a lot for a teenager. But I’m not complaining. I like what I do and I do it to the best of my ability.”
I asked Douglas if she had been to any other Olympic events and she said no. I was naïve about the pressure placed on those acrobatic ladies.
“No, I have not been to any other events,” she said. “We have been practicing and training and trying to keep our bodies in peek condition.”
Douglas told me that when her competition was over she hoped to be able to go to some other Olympic events. I do not know if that happened or not.
What I do know is that Douglas said she really wanted to go back home to Virginia Beach to visit the city for the first time in two years. She left home to live and train with another family in Iowa.
“I look forward to going home,” she said. “I have been told there will be parades It’s gonna be insane, but I’m ready for it. I made the history books.”
Indeed you did!
Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 August 2012 12:22
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
LONDON — Sprinters are the thoroughbreds of track and field. They are like finely tuned machines. The muscles in the legs can snap like guitar strings when under the pressure sprinters put on themselves.
Sitting right near the finish line in the London stadium I could see the muscles in the face contort, the muscles in the legs extend and flex, and the arms plowing back in forth to help give the body the thrust it needs to travel 100 yards in under 10 seconds.
Although America only fixate on the wonderful athletes that give their heart and soul to track and field every four year, the rest of the world gives the sport the respect it deserves.
So, here in London the arrival of the 100-meter dash was met with frenzied enthusiasm. In fact, reports note that the 100 was witnessed by close to two billion people.
Much of the attention was in part elevated because of the presence of Usain Bolt. I was sitting in the Beijing birdcage in 2008 when the long, lean, super-human Jamaican set three world records in the 100-, 200- and 4x100-meter relays. He became an international star and icon. Here in London there are buses all over London with his likeness on them.
To illustrate just how big this race was, sitting behind me were the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. The 2012 American Dream Team was in full force. Kobe Bryant, LaBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, to name a few, were standing and high fiving each other after Bolt burned the great 100 field in Olympic or any track meet history.
“The whole world is going to watch this tonight,” James told reporters. “This is the biggest event of them all right here.”
Added Bryant: “This was the one. I had to be here to see this. I respect all the sprinters, but Bolt has that something special.”
This was the first time all eight qualifiers had run under 10 seconds in the preliminaries. There was no hyperbole in recounting just how exciting that nine second race was.
In between the four years since Beijing, the 6-foot-5 Bolt has seen his training partner and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake beat him in competition, and there were also some injury concerns.
Plus world-class sprinters Blake, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Richard Thompson, Asafa Powell, Ryan Bailey and Churandy Martina all were performing at personal best and healthy. This fact made the race that more intriguing.
The race did not disappoint as Bolt, who ran that sixth fastest time in preliminaries, took his one-of-a-kind long stride into overdrive to pull away from the very even pack only about 10 yards from the finish line. He surged after his typical lumbering break from the blocks and overwhelmed a star-studded field to win in 9.63 seconds Sunday night, the second-fastest 100 in history and an Olympic record that let him join Carl Lewis as the only men with consecutive gold medals in the Summer Games’ marquee track event.
“This means a lot because a lot of people were doubting me,” Bolt said after his historic run. A lot of people were saying I wasn’t going to win, I didn’t look good. There was a lot of talk. It’s an even greater feeling to come out here and defend my title and show the world I’m still No. 1.”
Bolt’s victory in the 100 four years ago began a stretch of dominance by Jamaica, an island nation of three million people that now owns seven of the last eight Olympic men’s and women’s sprinting golds, including relays.
I just do not get it. What are they putting in the water or food to do what they have done? It is an incredible story — a very small country taking the world to task in the sprints, especially the Americans.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 August 2012 21:55
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
LONDON - When 17-year-old African American swimmer Lia Neal climbed out of the pool in the Aquatics Centre at Olympic Park following the United States women’s bronze medal finish in the 4x100m freestyle relay, she had the obvious look of disappointment on her face, because all want that gold medal.
If only she had known that First-Lady Michelle Obama had made her way over to the Aquatics Center to see her and her teammates swim. When I told her she flashed a 100kilowatt smile saying, “That was so amazing. I wish I could have seen her. I did not know she was here. Wow!!!”
Amazing was Neal and her swim mates Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy and Allison Schmitt as they traversed the pool in an American record time of 3:34.24, which was just off the Olympic record pace set by Australia and second place Netherlands.
Upon reflection the young Neal will sit back in wonderment, with a big smile and realize where and how she started and how far she has come.
“Sure there were some huge expectations for this team to win a medal,” Neal told me right after her historic swim, “but I was not that nervous once I got to the Aquatic Center. I did not know what to expect because this was my first Olympic Games, but I knew that I generally swim better in finals, so I was ready.
“Sure this bronze medal is special, but we have been performing well throughout the rounds as a team. We knew we have a chance to get that gold medal, so from that stand point it is a little disappointing.”
There is absolutely nothing that Neal should be disappointed about. She had after all made history becoming only the second African-American woman to make a USA Olympic swim team.
“I realize that there have not been many people in the African-American community that have been at this level in swimming,” New Yorker Neal told me. “I’ve heard so many stories from different people, even in my own family, about urban kids having bad experiences being in the water and swimming that I can really relate.
“The fact of the matter is my mother got me started in swimming at age six just so I could learn water safety. She and I never even dreamed I would be an Olympian. Up until last year I never even thought I had a shot at making the USA team.”
Neal said that she is “flattered that people might look at her as a role model.” She also noted that she is not even in college yet and that she has a lot to learn herself. However, she said when she gets home and people think she has something to offer as far as swimming safety and exposing African-American youth to the water, she would gladly do it.
Neal made the Olympic swim team by finishing fourth in the 100-meter freestyle finals at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb. Her fourth place finish earned her a spot on the 4x100 relay team.
It did not take long before people started saying who is that girl and quickly went to the record books to see if any other African-American female had made an US Olympic team.
As soon as she got out the water she was asked if she knew about her precursor Maritza Correia, who won a silver medalist in the 4x100 freestyle relay in 2004. Neal acknowledged that she never thought she'd be the second black female swimmer to make an Olympic team.
Now after her first Olympic experience Neal told me, “I’m looking forward to the next chapter. I’m done at these Olympics, but in four year I hope to drop my times even further and qualify for an individual event. Right now I’m just going to cheer for my other teammates.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 August 2012 21:30
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
LONDON — My father played basketball,” Cullen Jones told me in an interview. “I have the body and height for the sport, but I chose a different path. I believe I chose the right path for me.”
The 6-foot-5 Jones started swimming when he was eight, and fell in love with the sport. Now 28 years old, he has seen the sport take him all over the world.
“I was not afraid to put in the work, because it is a lot of work trying to train at a world-class level,” Jones said. “Especially in the United States swimming is one of the most competitive sports to be involved in.”
First, the US Swimming Trials and now the 2012 London Games have showed all that Jones’s gold medal in Beijing in 2008 was not a fluke. He’s demonstrated that he’s dedicated to the sport of swimming and is willing to endure the ups and downs of world-class competition.
In fact, Jones had a rough couple years prior to the US Swimming Trials. He did not qualify for the US championship and the world championships.
After winning gold in the 2008 Games, where he was a member of the electrifying 400-meter freestyle relay team that broke the world record in one of the most memorable races in history, Jones hit the talk circuit and became an ambassador for USA swimming. Swimming kind of took a backseat for a minute.
“Hey, I had been working so hard and living in the pool,” Jones said, “I took some time and enjoyed being young. After failing to make the world’s I realized that I had to make sure I kept swimming as my top priority. I went back to the pool and got myself ready for the US Trials.”
Jones’ gold medal in 2008 made him only the second African-American to win an Olympic swimming gold medal, and he parlayed that into educating minorities on swimming safety.
Following his excellent showing in London where he won two silver medals, one as a member of the 4x100 relay and he got his first individual medal finishing a fingernail short of gold in the 50-meter freestyle.
“I thought I had the gold,” Jones said after the race. “I swam fast, got a good start and finished strong, but it just was not meant to be.
“This has made me hungry for more. My coach told me I have a lot more swimming left in me if I’m willing to continue to put in the effort. He feels I can get even better in the 100 with some dedicated strength training. He has even mentioned the 200. But we will see about that.”
Jones is one of the fastest freestyle sprinters in the world today and currently holds the American record in the 50 freestyle, but more importantly he wants to continue to reach out to African-American kids.
He has partnered with the USA Swimming Foundation and Phillips 66 to raise awareness about the importance of learning to swim. The “Make a Splash with Cullen Jones Tour Presented by Phillips 66” is visiting cities throughout America.
Jones shares his story about nearly drowning at a waterpark when he was five years old. Speaking to crowds as large as 1,000 children, he communicates the importance of water safety and learning to swim.
Additionally, each tour stop includes an in-water lesson and the USA Swimming Foundation and Phillips 66 present a $5,000 grant to a learn-to-swim provider to provide free swimming lessons to local children.
“I realize that there have not been a lot of Black swimmers representing the US at the Games,” Jones said, “so I want to be a role model and maybe inspire kids to get involve in swimming, and maybe use it as a vehicle improve their lives and give them exposure to water safety.”
After leaving London Jones said he will continue to educate parents, children and caregivers about the learn-to-swim resources available in their communities.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 August 2012 21:52
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, the wife of the 44th president of the United States, has a mission: health and fitness.
Joining Hillary Clinton as the most educationally accomplished first ladies in U.S. history, Michelle Obama is a Harvard lawyer and, like Clinton, was a Georgetown lawyer.
Breaking the mold for first ladies, Mrs. Obama has taken on one of America’s biggest concerns — health.
She is heading up the “Let’s Move!” campaign, her goal being to help end childhood obesity in the United States.
This campaign was started by Mrs. Obama who is committed to “solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.”
Mrs. Obama’s campaign was announced in February of 2010. She said the campaign would encourage having healthier food in schools (thank God for that!), better food labeling and more physical activity for children.
“Let’s Move!” seeks to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity and encourage a healthy lifestyle through “a comprehensive, collaborative, and community-oriented initiative that addresses all of the various factors that lead to childhood obesity.”
Her goal is to engage every sector of society that impacts the health of children. One key is to provide schools, families and communities with the simple tools they need to help kids be more active, eat better and get healthy.
A song has been released to promote the campaign called Let’s Move! Flash Workout.” The song is by Beyoncé Knowles and Swizz Beatz. It is called “Move Your Body.” The video was shot in a school cafeteria where Beyoncé dances with children.
Body Mass Index (or BMI) is a measurement of weight in relation to height that can help to determine weight status. In children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC) determine that a child is overweight if he/she is above the 85th percentile and lower than the 95th percentile and obese if at or above the 95th percentile.
The CDC indicates that there are several factors that can contribute to childhood obesity: genetic factors, behavioral factors, including energy intake, physical activity and sedentary behavior, and environmental factors. Overweight and obesity pose many potential risks and consequences: psychological issues and cardiovascular disease, along with risks including asthma, hepatic steatosis, sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes.
Unfortunately, as Michelle Obama has noted, nearly one in five children in the U.S. between ages of 6 and 19 are obese, and one in three are overweight. The childhood obesity rate tripled from 1980 to 1999, creating an epidemic and a generation where children may have shorter life spans than their parents.
The “Let’s Move!” initiative focuses on the reform of behavioral factors and environmental factors by focusing on active lifestyles and healthy eating through community involvement, including but not limited to schools, parents and healthcare providers.
To promote healthy eating, “Let’s Move!” focuses on nutrition information, the next generation food pyramid, empowering consumers and having pediatricians as partners.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has put dietary guidelines together to form a food pyramid that can be personalized, which can be found at MyPyramid.gov.
Mrs. Obama’s goal is to give more power to consumers through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (or FDA)’s “New Front-of-Package Labeling Initiative” and “New Menu and Vending Machines Labeling Requirements.”
The first lady and “Let’s Move!” advocate for healthy eating habits to be promoted by families, schools and communities. “Let’s Move!” also urges mothers to eat healthier when pregnant and offers links to a special “MyPyramid Plan for Moms” so they can create a personalized and healthy diet.
I saw Michelle Obama on a YouTube video getting down with students at an inner city school. She walks the walk and talks the talk.
Last Updated on Thursday, 26 July 2012 23:19
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