Five Olympic questions with Steve Nash

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Steve Nash may be best known as a two-time NBA MVP, but he is also an Olympian and an Olympic cauldron lighter.

For Canada, Nash’s senior international basketball days go back to the 1994 World Championship, where Shaquille O’Neal-led Dream Team II took gold.

Nash, then 20 years old, and the Canadians finished seventh.

In 1995, Nash and Canada lost two winner-goes-to-the-Olympics contests at FIBA Americas, just missing qualifying for the Atlanta 1996 Games.

Nash made it to the Olympics for Sydney 2000, where Canada lost in the quarterfinals to eventual silver medalist France. The other notable player on that Canadian Olympic team was Philadelphia 76ers 7-footer Todd MacCulloch.

How important were the Olympics to Nash? Canada’s National Post relayed this scene from the France game in a March article:

After the game the fans filtered out to the strains of a haunting, plaintive song by Moby called Porcelain, which had been the soundtrack every post-game of the tournament. I packed and made my way downstairs to the mixed zone – the area where athletes and press are allowed to converge. I reached it just in time to see Nash coming down the tunnel with each of his arms around the shoulders of a teammate.

The teammates – I think it was Rowan Barrett and Sherman Hamilton, but here time has, as I mentioned, faded the details – were literally dragging Nash off the floor. They were because Nash was sobbing so heavily — his chest heaving, the tears streaming, his voice choking – he was unable to walk.

Nash never made it back to the Olympics as a player, but he was an integral part of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games as one of four Canadian athletes chosen to light the indoor cauldron at the Opening Ceremony.

The others were hockey player Wayne Gretzky (who lit the outdoor cauldron on his own), Alpine skier Nancy Greene and speed skater Catriona Le May Doan (who was unable to light the cauldron due to a cauldron technical malfunction).

Nash became the second Summer Olympian to light a Winter Olympic cauldron, joining French soccer star Michel Platini.

Nash, who announced his retirement March 21, is now the general manager of Canada’s national men’s basketball team that will try to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 2000. Its next (but not final) chance is at FIBA Americas in Monterrey, Mexico, in August and September.

Nash’s duties also include his charity foundation, which operates globally to increase access to critical needs resources for children affected by poverty, illness, abuse or neglect.

Nash was in New York for a foundation event Wednesday, the Steve Nash Foundation Showdown, a soccer game that annually includes soccer stars and Olympians, such as Australian guard Matthew Dellavedova this year.

While in the city, Nash reflected on his Olympic experiences:

OlympicTalk: Which Canadian NBA players have made themselves available for FIBA Americas? (NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins has already done so)

Nash: Nothing’s formal. There’s so many moving parts — owners, teams, each individual’s medical history. [NBA] teams have big investments in them. We feel like everybody wants to play, and we have a good shot for everyone to play. Plan for both, hopefully.

I haven’t spoken to Andrew since his comments were public [about playing for Canada at FIBA Americas]. He’s a huge part of what we’re trying to be, which is an elite basketball country, to go to the Olympics and compete for medals. He’s our most talented player in many respects. We’re going to need him to be great for us to be good.

OlympicTalk: Tell me something about your Sydney 2000 Olympic experience outside of the basketball competition.

Nash: It was the best experience of my life in sports for sure, just being in the [athletes’] village. At the end of the tournament, the [Canadian men’s basketball] team taking some day trips to the city, Sydney Harbour together was unbelievable. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were incredible, to meet other athletes from all over was exhilarating. [Australian basketball player] Andrew Vlahov and I, we snuck onto the bowels of the stadium, took the elevator up, got a bunch of beers and got them back across the track during the entertainment parade. This whole corner of the stadium, all the Aussies went nuts when they saw us go across the track. It would’ve been all on social media today. It was one of the funniest moments of my life, bringing a couple trays of beer back into the infield.

OlympicTalk: What went through your mind at the 2010 Opening Ceremony as you waited and waited for the fourth cauldron leg to emerge during the technical malfunction?

Nash: It was a strange moment. It was super intense and a highlight moment of my life to be there. The whole world watching, and then for it to be this pause and not know what’s going on. It was a moment of like, I wouldn’t say panic, but what’s going on? I had a sense of humor about it. I was swept up in the energy of the moment that it didn’t really bother me too much.The show went on.

OlympicTalk: How much more talented is the current Canadian men’s basketball player pool than your roster from the Sydney 2000 Olympics?

Nash: Obviously guys now have a high level of talent, potentially, on our roster. The challenge for them is to have the intensity and toughness our team had in 2000. We had incredibly unselfish guys, hard-working and dedicated, fighting for each other. We were out for a scrap.

OlympicTalk: When was the last time the thought crossed your mind that you considered trying to play in the 2016 Olympics rather than be the general manager?

Nash: Even nowadays I wish I could. I always get the urge, but the reality is I can’t [Nash, 41, retired after nerve damage to his back kept him from playing the 2014-15 season]. I could do it for one day, but in these tournaments it’s eight games in nine days or nine in 11 days [at 2015 FIBA Americas]. I would be taking a spot from somebody that’s quote-unquote able-bodied.

Steve Nash: Canada has ‘outside shot’ at Olympic basketball medal

Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

Jordan Larson
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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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