Golden Goggles Preview, part 2

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USA Swimming’s Golden Goggles are Monday night in New York, and we’re expecting everyone from Michael Phelps (hopefully adorned in all 22 medals) to Ryan Lochte (hopefully not wearing a shirt under his jacket) to show for the event that honors the best athletes and performances in American swimming each year. But before that, a few predictions: here’s how NBC swimming writer Jason Devaney, Olympic trials swimmer (turned NBC online producer) Ryan Hurley, and OlympicTalk’s Matthew Kitchen decided to vote for this year’s awards. Click here for Part 1.

**Best Female Performance nominees
Rebecca Soni: 200m breast, Katie Ledecky: 800m free, Missy Franklin: 200m back, Dana Vollmer: 100m fly

Jason: Rebecca Soni, 200m breast – I almost resorted to throwing the nominees in a hat and randomly picking one. Eventually I settled on Soni because she broke the 200m breaststroke world record in London. Twice. On consecutive nights. Soni touched the wall in 2:20 in her semifinals swim, then after telling the media she wanted to break it again, broke it again, cruising to the wall in 2:19.59 to win gold.

Ryan: Rebecca Soni, 200m breast – She broke the world record twice in as many nights, and was the first female ever to go under 2:20 in that event.  In a race between only her and the clock, Soni won both times.

Kitchen: Katie Ledecky, 800m free – Soni’s performance on both nights was incredible, but let me reiterate: Katie blew away the competition by four seconds, beat the reigning Olympics champ by six seconds, broke the American record, was a half second off the world record, and is only 15-years-old. It was hands down the most impressive performance.

**Best Male Performance nominees
Nathan Adrian: 100m free, Matt Grevers: 100m fly, Michael Phelps: 200 IM, Ryan Lochte: 400 IM, Tyler Clary: 200m back

Jason: Michael Phelps, 200m IM – Phelps. No, Lochte. Wait, Phelps. Maybe Lochte. That was my thought process as I tried to decide who should win this award. Ultimately I chose Phelps’s victory in the 200m IM because he won the best race of the Olympics, and with the victory became the first person to win the same event at three consecutive Games. Lochte was more dominating, but the 200m IM was a better race.

Ryan: Nathan Adrian, 100m Free – Adrian’s underdog win in the 100m freestyle in London represented the essence of the Olympic Games.  It wasn’t only that Adrian swam the perfect race, but also his utter joy and the disbelief of becoming an Olympic champion that made it such a memorable performance.

Kitchen: Nathan Adrian, 100m Free – I spent the last two months before the Olympics hearing all about how cute Ryan Lochte was, but when Adrian’s smile beamed following his 100m free victory, the new motto for the girls became “Lochte who?” That, plus the fun, the speed, and the excitement 0.01 second finish made Adrian’s performance one of the best and most memorable of the Games for me.

**Female Athlete of the Year nominees
Allison Schmitt, Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer, Rebecca Soni

Jason: Missy Franklin – Tough call, but Missy gets the nod here. The 17-year-old was the first U.S. woman to qualify for seven events at the Olympics. She won five medals – four gold and a bronze. She broke the 200m backstroke world record and was on the 4x100m medley relay team that lowered that world record. Franklin was one of the most hyped athletes leading up to the Games, and she did not disappoint.

Ryan: Missy Franklin – There was an incredible amount of hype around Missy Franklin leading up to the London Games.  She never let it get to her, and she never lost the smile on her face.  The end result was four gold medals and a bronze, and the unanimous feeling that Franklin lived up to all of the expectations.

Kitchen: Missy Franklin – I won’t bore you with any more details… let’s just say I think Cal has a pretty good shot at yet another national championship when Missy joins the team in Berkeley next year.

**Male Athlete of the Year nominees
Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Nathan Adrian, Matt Grevers

Jason: Michael Phelps – A no-brainer. Phelps won six medals (four gold) and became the most decorated Olympian of all time with a career total of 22 medals (18 gold) before retiring after his final swim in London. He split his two head-to-head races with teammate Ryan Lochte in London. Not much more can be said.

Ryan: Michael Phelps – I’m an avid Lochte supporter (with the shades to prove it), but Phelps takes the honor because of how he rose in the face of adversity after a slow start at his last Olympics.  He ended the competition with a streak of four straight gold medals.  Not a bad way for a champion to go out.

Kitchen: Michael Phelps – I looked for some  interesting, obscure moment to convince myself that one of the other guys is worthy of the award, but stats don’t lie. Phelps won the most medals of any athlete for the third straight Olympics and now has twice as many gold medals as any other athlete in history.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar details passing on 1968 Olympics in new book

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar accomplished just about everything in basketball. Three NCAA titles at UCLA, six titles and six MVP awards in the NBA. Arguably, the greatest center of all time.

But Abdul-Jabbar’s trophy case is missing one item that is owned by the likes of Michael JordanLeBron James and Bill Russell.

An Olympic gold medal.

Even though the NBA barrier to the Olympics wasn’t broken until 1992, Abdul-Jabbar had one shot at an Olympics in 1968 following his junior season playing for John Wooden at UCLA.

He declined an invitation to try out.

Abdul-Jabbar, now 70 years old, detailed that decision in his new book, “Coach Wooden and Me,” published earlier this month:

My development as a basketball player paralleled my evolution as a social activist. The more confident and successful I was on the court, the more confident I felt about expressing my political convictions. That personal progression reached its most controversial climax in 1968, when I refused to join the Olympic basketball team. This started a firestorm of criticism, racial epithets, and death threats that people still ask me about today.

I didn’t reach that decision easily. I really, really wanted to join the team. It would be an exciting challenge to play against the best basketball players in the world as well as to be on the same team as the best college players in the country. Plus, the adventure of going to Mexico City and hanging with athletes from around the world appealed to the young man in me.

But the idea of going to Mexico to have fun seemed so selfish in light of the racial violence that was facing the country. The previous summer had seen two major riots, one in Newark that had lasted five days, and one in Detroit that had lasted eight days. And on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated. White America seemed ready to do anything necessary to stop the progress of civil rights, and I thought that going to Mexico would seem like I was either fleeing the issue or more interested in my career than in justice. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I did go and we won, I’d be bringing honor to the country that was denying our rights. It was the same feeling I’d had that last year playing for Coach Donahue after he’d called me a nigger.

I seemed to permanently reside in the exclusive neighborhood of Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

That same year The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published, posthumously since he’d been assassinated three years earlier. I didn’t just read it, I devoured every chapter, every page, every word. His story couldn’t have been more different than mine—street hustler and pimp who goes to prison, converts to Islam, emerges as an enlightened political leader—but I felt as if every insult he suffered and every insight he discovered were mine. He put into words what was in my heart; he clearly articulated what I had only vaguely expressed.

Malcolm was dead. Dr. King was dead.

Black leaders were an endangered species. That enraged me. There had been public accusations that the U.S. government, specifically J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, were targeting black leaders in secret campaigns to discredit, humiliate, and publicly ruin them. White America dismissed this as black paranoia due to lack of proof, but black Americans knew it was true simply from observation. It wasn’t until two years later that these suspicions were confirmed, when anti-war activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and found classified documents that detailed the FBI’s active policy of intimidation against black leaders.

It was too difficult for me to get enthusiastic about representing a country that refused to represent me or others of my color. Another reason I chose not to participate was my intense dislike for the International Olympic Committee’s president, Avery Brundage, who, during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, benched two Jewish runners so as not to embarrass Adolph Hitler by having Jews win a gold medal. Not only was this against the Olympic rules, but information has since been revealed that Brundage’s construction company was bidding for German contracts, which is why he was so eager to please Hitler. I couldn’t bring myself to work under the supervision of someone like that. America was angry at me for not showing gratitude to the country that had given me so many opportunities. I was grateful, but I also thought it disingenuous to show appreciation unless all people had the same opportunities. Just because I had made it to a lifeboat didn’t mean I could forget those who hadn’t. Or not try to keep the next ship from sinking.

To their credit, no one at UCLA tried to talk me out of my decision. Coach Wooden respected my choice and never brought it up. The university issued a statement explaining that I had turned down the invitation because it conflicted with classes, but I openly discussed my decision with the press. Joe Garagiola interviewed me on the Today show in a contentious segment in which he proclaimed the usual motto of entitled white people: America, love it or leave it. I couldn’t help but wonder what he would have said to the colonists who declared independence and fought to create their own country. Britain, love it or leave it.

I tried to make the point that true patriotism is about acknowledging problems and, rather than running away from them, joining together to fix them.

Although I missed the Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos made international news and Olympic history when, during the medal ceremony for the men’s 200-meter sprint, in which Smith received the gold medal and Carlos the bronze medal, they raised their gloved fists into the air in what was then known as the “Black Power salute.” This was a gesture of acknowledgment of the racial injustice in America. The U.S. Olympic Committee suspended them. They returned home to angry criticism and death threats. At a time when black leaders were routinely slaughtered, death threats were taken seriously.

Although Coach Wooden didn’t discuss my choice with me, I had the feeling that he disapproved, though not because of anything he said or did, even indirectly. I just knew that he was very patriotic. He had been a lieutenant in the navy during World War II. I couldn’t imagine him endorsing my refusal to play in the Olympics and bring glory to the U.S.

I found out years later just how wrong I was.

A couple years ago I received a letter from a woman I had never met, a letter to her that Coach Wooden had written in response to a note she had sent to him complaining about my decision not to participate in the Olympics. Until I’d held it in my hands, I hadn’t even known it existed. I opened the letter and began to read Coach’s neat script:

Dear Mrs. Hough,


The comments of this most unusual young man also disturbed me, but I have seen him hurt so much by the remarks of white people that I am probably more tolerant than most.

I have heard remarks within his hearing such as “Hey, look at that big black freak,” “Did you ever see such a big N—-r?” and others of a similar nature that might tend to turn the head of a more mature person in normal times. I am truly afraid that he will never find any peace of mind regardless or not of whether he makes a million dollars. He may be able to afford material things, but they are a poor substitute for true peace of mind.

You may not have seen or read about the later interview when he said that there were so many things wrong at present of the treatment of his race in this country that it was difficult for him to claim it as his own.

Thank you for your interest,

John Wooden

I read the letter again. Then again. Oh, Coach, I thought, I wish I’d known how you felt. If only to ease the burden you’d taken on to defend me. I thought back on my own arrogance at thinking I understood the man by reducing him to the kind of easy stereotype, the very thing that I’d been complaining about my whole life when it was done to me. He’d been too humble ever to say anything to me about the letter. Most people would have made a point of telling me how they’d come to my defense. But Coach Wooden didn’t care about receiving credit. A good deed was its own reward. Seeking praise or gratitude would have negated the deed.

Coach Dale Brown once asked him why he didn’t take some credit for the things he’d done or why he hadn’t been more outspoken about the civil rights movement. Brown recalled, “He held up his thumb and index finger so closely together you barely could slide a piece of onionskin between them. ‘That’s why,’ he said. I asked him what he meant and he explained, ‘That’s how much difference I would have made. So I tried to make a difference in other things.’”

I shook my head as I folded up the letter. Coach had been dead for several years and I would never get to thank him. Even then, at my age of sixty-seven, he was still teaching me about humility.

Excerpted from the COACH WOODEN AND ME by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Copyright © 2017 by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved. 

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Runner Gabriele Grunewald delays chemo for U.S. Championships

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Middle-distance runner Gabriele Grunewald reserved this month for racing.

Next month, chemotherapy.

Grunewald delayed her latest cancer treatments a few weeks — with her doctor’s consent — in a quest to qualify for the U.S. Championships at the end of June in Sacramento, Calif.

Should she reach the time standard, she fully intends on taking the starting line — no matter how she may feel in the midst of chemo for a disease that’s gone from her salivary gland to her liver.

“I’m trying to keep my life normal, and not let cancer dictate everything I do,” said the 30-year-old Grunewald , who finished in 4 minutes, 12.29 seconds in the 1500m at the USA Track and Field Distance Classic on Thursday, narrowly missing the qualifying time for nationals of 4:09.50. “So I’m just taking it a week at a time, one race at a time, just trying to live as much of my life as I can in a meaningful way.”

Her next chance to achieve the standard for nationals will be at the Prefontaine Classic this weekend in Eugene, Ore. She’s also contemplating racing at the Adidas Boost Boston Games on June 2, which would happen to be right around the time she’s scheduled to undergo the first of up to six rounds of chemo.

“If this is the end (of competitive running) for me, I want to get in a couple of more races,” explained Grunewald, who could be added to the field at nationals if it isn’t full. “I don’t want to drop everything just because I have cancer.

“I do think that I have some good running in my legs right now.”

The former University of Minnesota standout got a late start on training this season, but those frigid runs over the winter in Minneapolis made her stronger and stronger. And that’s with a healing 13-inch scar across her stomach, the one from surgery last August to remove cancer from her liver.

It’s a cancer that resurfaced on a follow-up scan in March — the latest chapter in her ongoing battle with the disease.

In 2009, Grunewald was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of cancer in her salivary gland, which led to surgery. A year later, it was found in her thyroid and she had that removed, along with receiving radioactive iodine treatment.

Then, for the next several seasons, she was symptom-free, and racing better than ever:

— Fourth at the 2012 Olympic Trials, narrowly missing the squad for the London Games

— A 3000m title at the 2014 USA indoor championships

— Personal-best times in the 800m, 1500m, mile, 3000m, two-mile and 5000m

There was also this race, one of her more memorable performances: Finishing the 1500m in 4:01.48 on July 19, 2013, in Monaco. The three Americans who wound up in front of her that day — Jenny Simpson, Brenda Martinez and Shannon Rowbury — would later comprise the Rio Olympic team for the event.

“That was a race where there was a glimmer there, of what’s possible for me,” said Grunewald, who recently chronicled her journey with a blog . “But things haven’t turned out as perfectly as I’d hoped.”

Early last August, a month after finishing 12th at the Olympic Trials, her husband, who’s just finishing up his residency in internal medicine, gave her a hug and noticed her stomach felt different.

A tumor in her liver. She had surgery on Aug. 26 to remove the growth, with doctors feeling optimistic they got it all.

Her recovery was slow, though, with a four-mile run causing pain because of the incision. Around December, she ran eight miles, which was a big step as she began feeling more and more like her old running self.

“No matter what, when I’m on a run, I feel hopeful about the future,” said Grunewald, who’s not ruling out an attempt to make the 2020 Tokyo Games.

This spring, another obstacle: Finding out cancer returned to her liver — small tumors that couldn’t be treated through surgery. She will have a consultation for a biopsy next week and start chemo — something she’s never gone through — soon after.

“I was so excited to get back into fitness, to come back this year, to accomplish some of the goals that I wasn’t able to do last summer — and this came up,” Grunewald said. “The nature of my disease is it’s somewhat unpredictable. It really can come back whenever.”

A few more trips around the track this month — to keep her mind off what awaits and to see what she can do.

“I’m definitely scared, but I’m hopeful that maybe, even if I can’t 100 percent get rid of it, perhaps it can co-exist with me,” Grunewald said. “I’m just trying to hang on to running, because running has helped me so much.”

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