Ibtihaj Muhammad
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Ibtihaj Muhammad made history, even if she didn’t medal

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RIO DE JANEIRO – When Ibtihaj Muhammad emerged about an hour after her elimination, composed and ready to talk, she returned to a media mixed zone and found more than a dozen American journalists who waited for her.

“At the normal fencing competitions, we don’t have to deal with this many press,” Muhammad said. “Actually, we don’t have press.”

Muhammad, who won her first-round bout and then lost in the round of 16, made history by becoming the first American to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women.

That alone merited coverage, even a lengthy wait for grumbling media.

She found a short cut out of the media area after her loss, so print reporters had no idea of her emotional state.

When she returned, she was composed, analytical and well spoken. No signs of the usual grief accompanying Olympic defeat.

She was disappointed of course but recognized her achievement.

MORE: Latest fencing news and live streams

“In this moment, you’re thinking about what just happened. I’m thinking about every single point, I’m running through my head what I could have done differently,” she said. “I realize that this moment is bigger than me.”

Also developing is what journalists call a trend story for women’s sabre as a whole.

Women’s sabre has garnered a share of attention in the U.S. at four straight Games, among a crowded Olympic program that’s at 34 sports and growing larger for Tokyo 2020.

Mariel Zagunis made most of those headlines in 2004, winning the first U.S. Olympic fencing title in 100 years, and in 2008, leading an individual sabre sweep on the first day of the Games.

You may remember the Beijing medal-winning trio – Zagunis, Sada Jacobson and Becca Ward — did a sitdown interview with Bob Costas that aired during primetime six years ago.

In 2012, Zagunis was selected as the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony. Again, more spotlight for the sport.

Muhammad took it to another level after qualifying for her first Olympic team in February.

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She appeared on Ellen, fenced with the First Lady in Times Square (foam swords) and reportedly was runner-up to Michael Phelps to carry the flag into the Opening Ceremony.

“It’s a small sport, and it’s hard for us to elbow our way to the front when it comes to getting media attention,” said Zagunis, who was upset in the round of 16 on Monday. “Especially during the Olympic Games, it’s our time to shine, but of course you have all the other bigger, more popular sports. … I think sabre fencing is the best it’s ever been right now.”

Muhammad, Zagunis and Dagmara Wozniak were all eliminated before the quarterfinals Monday. Better results were expected, as Zagunis is ranked No. 3 in the world and Muhammad is No. 8.

The trio has been on the national team together for several years.

Zagunis valued a hug she received from Wozniak in an athletes-only area after their defeats. Wozniak is known to wear three bracelets – one given to her by her sister, another from her fencing club and a third from Zagunis.

“We just said that we’re going to be ready to bring it for the team event,” on Saturday, Zagunis said.

The U.S. trio is a medal contender – the AP and Sports Illustrated both predicted silver before the Games.

There will be a decent size media contingent, perhaps more if Zagunis, Muhammad and Wozniak reach the semifinals or final.

And then it will be over.

If Zagunis and Muhammad continue fencing, they will go back to non-Olympic competitions and little American press.

Fencing is one five sports that has been contested at every Olympics since the first modern Games in 1896.

The others – cycling, gymnastics, swimming and track and field – have much stronger followings (outside of the Olympics for cycling, but certainly during the Games for the other three).

And of the six events in fencing, it’s quite remarkable that women’s sabre has been the one at the heart of the quadrennial attention.

Women’s sabre was the last event to be added to the Olympic fencing program – debuting in Athens 2004.

Men have fenced in the Olympics since 1896, women’s foil was added in 1924 and women’s épée in 1996.

Muhammad could have some non-fencing opportunities waiting for her after these Games. Maybe she takes them.

Zagunis said she’s not yet thinking about whether she will pursue a fifth Olympics in 2020, when she will be 35 years old. She will take a few months off after Rio, though.

Even if neither is around in four years, women’s sabre could again see an uptick in attention at the next Olympics.

There’s already a notable name on the horizon – Muhammad’s younger sister, Faizah, who is ranked seventh in the U.S. in the sabre.

“I always tell people that she’s way more talented than I am; I just work harder than her,” Muhammad said, eliciting laughs. “I’m hoping that you guys see her in 2020.”

2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens TV, streaming schedule

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The Rugby World Cup Sevens, held in the U.S. for the first time, airs live on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

NBC Sports’ TV coverage totals more than 30 live hours. NBC Sports Gold will also stream live, commercial-free coverage of every match with its “Rugby Pass.”

NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will stream all NBC Sports and Olympic Channel TV coverage.

The Rugby World Cup Sevens is the biggest standalone competition outside of the Olympics for an event that debuted at the Rio Games. Traditional 15-a-side rugby was played at the Olympics in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924.

Like the Olympics, the World Cup takes place every four years, now in the middle of every Olympic cycle, with men’s and women’s competitions at the same site.

New Zealand is the defending World Cup champion for men and women, though Fiji took the men’s Olympic title and Australia the women’s gold in Rio.

The U.S. finished fifth (women) and sixth (men) in this season’s World Series standings, though the U.S. men won the only World Series leg played in the U.S. in Las Vegas in March.

The U.S. men are led by Perry Baker, the 2017 World Player of the Year, and Carlin Isles, the 2018 World Series leader in tries. The U.S. women feature Naya Tapper and Rio Olympian Alev Kelter, two of the top scorers from the World Series.

The NBC Sports broadcast team includes U.S. Olympian and Super Bowl champion Nate Ebner as a studio analyst. Leigh Diffey and Bill Seward are on play-by-play, and Ahmed Fareed hosts on-site studio coverage.

Former USA Sevens captain Brian Hightower, U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame member Dan Lyle, former Premiership Rugby and English international prop Alex Corbisiero and World Rugby Hall of Famer Phaidra Knight will provide game and studio commentary.

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MORE: Fiji puts Olympic champion rugby team on dollars, coins

Day Time (ET) Network Coverage Highlights
Friday 1 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Men’s Qualifiers
4-7 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Qualifiers
7 p.m.-1 a.m. NBCSN Women’s Quarters/Men’s Round of 16
Saturday 12:25-3 p.m. Olympic Channel Women’s Semifinal 1
3-5 p.m. NBC Women’s Semifinal 2
5-6 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Challenge Quarters
6:30-11:30 p.m. NBCSN Men’s Quarters/Women’s Finals
Sunday 11:55 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Bowl/Challenge Semifinals
2:30-5 p.m. NBC Men’s Semifinals
5-7 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Bowl Finals
7-10 p.m. NBCSN Men’s Finals

Denis Ten, Olympic medalist figure skater, dies

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Denis Ten, the 2014 Olympic figure skating bronze medalist from Kazakhstan, died after he reportedly was stabbed in Almaty on Thursday.

The International Skating Union and the Kazah Olympic Committee confirmed Ten’s death.

Ten, 25, competed in three Olympics and earned world championships silver and bronze medals in 2013 and 2015.

At 16, Ten was the youngest men’s competitor at Vancouver 2010 and finished 11th in his Olympic debut; he was also only the second singles skater Kazakhstan had ever sent to the Olympics.

Ten made unexpected history in 2013, becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to win a world championships medal. After experiencing health setbacks at the start of his 2014 Olympic season, he was the biggest question mark among the top men in Sochi, but he surprised by becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to earn an Olympic medal.

Ten struggled through health issues leading into his last Olympics in PyeongChang, where he placed 27th. Those Winter Games were nonetheless special to Ten, who was of South Korean descent; his great-grandfather was a famous general who fought for Korean independence, and there is a statue and memorial dedicated to him in Wonju, a town 35 miles southwest of PyeongChang.

Ten also played a significant role as an ambassador for his hometown Almaty’s bid for the 2022 Winter Games. Beijing got the Games over Almaty in an IOC members vote in 2015.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.