Ibtihaj Muhammad
Getty Images

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

2 Comments

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.

MORE: Fencing videos from every event

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.”

Christian Coleman expects to be cleared in doping whereabouts case

Getty Images
Leave a comment

U.S. sprinter Christian Coleman, whose time of 9.81 seconds in the 100m is the fastest in the world this year, released a statement Saturday denying reports that he has missed three doping tests in 12 months, a “whereabouts” violation that could result in a two-year ban.

“I’m not a guy who takes any supplements at all, so I’m never concerned about taking drug tests, at any time,” Coleman said. “What has been widely reported concerning filing violations is simply not true. I am confident the upcoming hearing on September 4th will clear the matter and I will compete at World Championships in Doha this fall. Sometime after the hearing, I will be free to answer questions about the matter, but for now I must reserve and respect the process.”

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency records show the agency has tested Coleman 11 times through Aug. 20. The agency requires elite athletes to give “whereabouts,” a few details on where they expect to be each day, so that they may take out-of-competition tests.

The 23-year-old sprinter would be the heavy favorite in the world championships, following up his silver medal between Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt in 2017, two months after he won the NCAA title. He is one of only eight athletes to break the 9.8-second mark in the 100m, and he posted the world’s best time in 2017 and 2018.

READ: Gatlin and Coleman beat Bolt in Jamaican star’s farewell championship

Since a loss to Noah Lyles in Shanghai in May, a race in which both Americans posted a time of 9.86, Coleman has won all three events he has entered — the Bislett Games in June, the Prefontaine Classic later in June, and the USATF Championships in July.

He withdrew from last week’s Diamond League meet in Birmingham.

The world championships start Sept. 27 in Doha.

U.S. men’s basketball roster named for FIBA World Cup, includes one Olympian

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kemba Walker and one player with Olympic experience, Harrison Barnes, headline the U.S. roster for next month’s FIBA World Cup, where the U.S. is still expected to clinch its Tokyo Olympic spot despite an absence of the NBA’s best players and Saturday’s exhibition loss to Australia.

An injured Kyle Kuzma was dropped from the 13 finalists who gathered in Australia for pre-tournament exhibitions. Walker and Khris Middleton are the only two players on the team who were All-Stars last season. The full roster:

Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs

The U.S. group play schedule:

Sept. 1 vs. Czech Republic
Sept. 3 vs. Turkey
Sept. 5 vs. Japan

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will make his U.S. head coaching tournament debut at the World Cup, succeeding Mike Krzyzewski, who led the Americans to Olympic titles in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Many notables dropped out before or during this month’s training camp and practices: including Olympians Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry. Other 2020 Olympic hopefuls such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry withdrew before the camp roster was named.

It has become custom for the World Cup team to include few Olympians. The 2014 roster included two players from the London Olympics (Davis, Harden). The 2010 World Cup team had zero Beijing Olympians.

Saturday’s loss to Australia marked the U.S.’ first defeat with NBA players since the 2006 World Championship, snapping a 78-game win streak.

The U.S. will qualify for the Tokyo Games if it is one of the top two teams from the Americas at the World Cup. There is also a last-chance qualifying tournament next year.

MORE: Carmelo Anthony’s request denied to return to USA Basketball

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!