Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan and the Olympics

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Landon Donovan became an Olympian before the first of his three World Cups, first of his 57 senior international goals and first of his 156 U.S. Men’s National Team caps.

Donovan, then 18 and blond-haired, was the youngest member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic men’s soccer team that finished fourth at the Sydney Games. Olympic men’s soccer is for players age 23 and younger, with three over-age exceptions.

He flew to Australia with a pedigree, having won the Golden Ball as MVP of the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Championship, where the U.S. was also fourth.

Donovan did not play in the first two U.S. Olympic matches, draws with the Czech Republic and Cameroon, which led fans, including Donovan’s father, to criticize coach Clive Charles.

“We need to get him some experience without the press saying, ‘Why isn’t he playing?'” Charles told The New York Times. “My job is to find the best time to play him.”

Donovan was dubbed the “18-year-old wonder” by the New York Daily News.

“Donovan sat Wednesday, for 90 minutes plus injury time, because Charles didn’t think he was ready for the pressure,” the newspaper reported after the Czech Republic match.

Donovan debuted in the third match, coming off the bench and scoring on a give-and-go with future World Cup teammate Josh Wolff in a 3-1 win over Kuwait in the group-stage finale.

View the goal here, along with the great Andres Cantor‘s signature call. Cantor yelled “Goallllllllllllll!” for 14 seconds, and then again for 10 seconds, as Donovan leaped over signage and sprinted toward the stands.

“We all expected to get through our group,” Donovan reportedly said after the win. “U.S. Soccer’s not at a point anymore where they’re saying, ‘Let’s try to get a win here and pull off a win there.'”

It was the beginning of Donovan growing into the spotlight. He was under contract with Bayer Leverkusen in the German Bundesliga at the time, one year before debuting in MLS. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Landon Donovan was on stage at a news conference in the bowels of the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Tuesday after the U.S, team had defeated Kuwait to advance to the single-elimination portion of the Olympic men’s soccer tournament.

His teammates were on the other side of a barrier, hooting and whistling. Ben Olsen mimicked applying lipstick.

A lot of American soccer fans, desperate for a real hero in their sport, can’t wait to anoint this 18-year-old who plays professionally in Germany as the one.

His teammates treat him a little differently.

“Superstar?” Olsen said when asked about Donovan. “Oh, yeah. We’re going to give it to ‘Superstar’ until he’s 21. He’s got a couple more years of this.”

Donovan also converted his penalty kick in a shootout win over Japan in the quarterfinals. If the U.S. had won either of its last two matches, Donovan would be an Olympic medalist. But it fell to Spain (with a 20-year-old Xavi) in the semifinals and Chile in the bronze-medal match.

The U.S.’ only Olympic men’s soccer medals came at the St. Louis 1904 Games, when all participants won medals as only three club teams from Canada and the U.S. competed.

Tim Howard was also on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team but did not see a minute of game action as a backup to 2002 U.S. World Cup star Brad Friedel.

Donovan earned his first USMNT cap and scored his first senior international goal in the same match less than a month after they Sydney Games, embarking on what many are hailing as the greatest U.S. men’s soccer career of all time ahead of his farewell match Friday night against Ecuador in Hartford, Conn.

The U.S. failed to qualify for Olympic men’s soccer in 2004 and 2012, and Donovan was not one of the over-age players on the Beijing 2008 team that was eliminated in the group stage.

Photos: Sochi Olympic Park ready for Formula One race (photos)

Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

Jordan Thompson
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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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