What an absolutely incredible game this past weekend. It is safe to say that TJ Oshie at least for today has grabbed the torch from Ryan Miller as US Hockey Olympic darling after his shootout performance. I am not a huge fan of the shootout, I think a skills contest is a terrible way to end an amazing game like that, but the Olympic rules allowing for repeat shooters is top notch. The fact that Dan Bylsma kept rolling Oshie out was incredible drama. Hopefully this victory will be the catalyst for an American run at the gold. The US was able to keep their minds right and defeat Slovenia the next day and entered the single elimination portion of the tournament in second place. The Americans will take on the winner of the Czech Republic and Slovakia on Wednesday. Let’s get’em boys!!!
The Latvian men’s Olympic hockey team, coached by Sabres coach Ted Nolan, lost to Switzerland today 1-0 on a goal with 7.9 seconds left. Latvia also features one NHL player on their roster, Zemgus Girgensons who also plays for the Sabres.
This game must have given Nolan and Girgensons flashbacks because the Sabres have lost at least a handful of games this season in the same fashion. It is unfortunate for the Latvians because they, like the Sabres for much of the year, got incredible goaltending throughout the entire game from Edgars Masalskis, who stopped 38 shots in the game and made a handful of highlight reel saves.
Tomorrow morning at 7:30am the United States men’s hockey team begins their quest for a gold medal against Slovakia in Sochi. The American’s will be starting Jonathan Quick in net (for at least the first game). The US will need Quick and Ryan Miller (if he plays) to step up and lead the way because they are not as loaded up front as the Canadians and Russians. Whether or not they win gold it should be a fun ride and this will be the best hockey that you can watch so make sure you tune in.
Here’s a little video to get you ready for tomorrow.
On September 21st, 1991 USA Basketball selected the first ten members of the 1992 Dream Team.
The members included Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen from the Chicago Bulls, John Stockton and Karl Malone from the Utah Jazz, Magic Johnson from the Lakers, Larry Bird from the Boston Celtics, Patrick Ewing from the New York Knicks, Chris Mullin from the Golden State Warriors, Charles Barkley from the Phoenix Suns, and David Robinson from the San Antonio Spurs. This collection of talent was put together to make up for the fact that the United States won only the bronze medal in 1988 using college students. The first ten selections were relatively easy to make, however, the last selection of Clyde Drexler from the Portland Trailblazers over Isiah Thomas from the Detroit Pistons was a controversial pick and many people involved in the decision say that the result is ultimately the result of Jordan not wanting to play with Thomas. The final roster spot went to Christian Laettner from Duke University. The Dream Team was incredibly fun to watch as the dominated teams all the way to the gold medal in Barcelona. Cue the Round Mound of Rebound!
On this date 25 years ago in Seoul, South Korea Greg Louganis hit his head on the springboard while performing a preliminary round dive in the 1988 Olympics. Louganis, who six months prior had been diagnosed with HIV, was concussed by the blow to his head and also cut pretty badly and bled in the pool. At this point he had not told anyone about his diagnosis and faced backlash about not disclosing his disease, even though the risk o another athlete contacting the virus was virtually zero because the blood was diluted by the amount of water in the pool and the chlorine. Louganis would go on to win two gold medals during that Olympics, but more importantly this event created the perfect role for Mario Lopez when he starred in “Breaking The Surface: The Greg Louganis Story.”
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Don’t sell the skin until you’ve caught the bear. Don’t praise the day before the evening. These are all age-old adages with different origins, yet they suggest one implicit and simple lesson; it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Notice too that they all begin with “don’t”. As in “do not”. As in “do not be an idiot”. Being stupid in life can end up costing you things, whether it’s money, love, friends, trust or credibility. Keeping your head about you is important. It is part of maturing as an adult and developing as a credible citizen. In the world of sports it can be the difference between winning and losing which is ultimately the point of competition; to draw a line between victory and defeat. It is one thing to fail or fall short of a goal because of an injury or by being outdone by a superior competitor. So long as the preparation was legit, we humans can stomach these brands of loss. However, if the loss or failure derives from one being stupid, that is an entirely different story.
There is no shortage of examples of athletes doing stupid things. Most of the time these rash outbursts have no bearing on the final result of the competition. There are also a lot of examples of athletes or teams losing in stupid ways. But, there is still some room in my heart for compassion in these instances. Humans have a natural relationship with error after all. We all make mistakes. However, there is one special category of stupidity in sports that warrants no compassion because it is entirely avoidable; the early celebration. When this behavior rears its ugly head one of two things can happen; it ends up not being a factor but embarrasses, or it ends up costing everything. The schadenfreude in me loves when the latter happens. It’s humbling and degrading. It mocks arrogance and washes away hubris. The perpetrator and the victim are one in the same. There is nothing worse than losing a competition because of selfishly and narcissistically celebrating too early, This goes for individual or team sports. For this there is absolutely no excuse.
We have seen this happen many times, and no sport seems to be immune. We’ve seen it in cycling, football, soccer, rugby, basketball, racing and politics. Each example reflects an individual enjoying their feats prematurely because they just can’t get over themselves and what they have accomplished. Now, I am not suggesting that they shouldn’t be proud of their assumed victories. It takes hard work to win at anything except the lottery, and the winner earns the right to celebrate. Yet, you can only be called the winner if, you know, you actually win. Wait until you cross the finish line to express yourself. Don’t be stupid. It can be expensive.
Last Saturday night at the X Games in Los Angeles we were treated with the latest example of this type of victory-cancelling stupidity. The event was the Women’s Moto-X motocross race, and the competitor was Australia’s Meghan Rutledge. With a seemingly safe and commanding lead heading into the final lap of the race, Rutledge decided that she simply could not wait to celebrate her inevitable win. As she soared over the final jump, she let go of one handlebar and pumped her fist in the air. In doing so she compromised her balance, and her bike landed too far forward. She dumped the bike going into the final turn, and several other riders passed her on their way to the finish line. Amongst them was rider Vicki Golden who would go on to claim her third consecutive title in the event. To Meghan’s credit she did finish the race. In 4th place. They don’t give out medals for 4th place. Not even at the X Games.
Before I get into this too much, I want to disclose that poor Meghan Rutledge is only 18 years old. She is young. Younger people make more mistakes than older people. It’s science. I also want to disclose that it doesn’t matter how old she is. What she did was stupid at any age. Stupidity is ageless.
After the race, Meghan, who fortunately was not hurt in the crash, was visibly upset. Once she had taken her helmet off, she was seen crying, mascara stains streaming down her face. She knew what had happened, why it happened, and what caused it. She knew she screwed up. In an interview with ESPN she said “I was out there leading. I’m really young. I’ve never led an X Games before, I celebrated a bit too early and made a mistake.” Well, she was right, she was leading an X Games race for the first time, and she did celebrate “a bit too early”. However, that is about where the facts stop. First, she says “I’m really young” like it’s an excuse. Meghan, if you are adept enough to use your age as an excuse for your behavior than you are old enough to know better than to do what you did in the first place. It’s as simple as that. Second, she refers to her early celebration as a mistake. No. Absolutely not. A mistake is forgetting to set your alarm, leaving the garage door open, or leaving your cellphone at home when you go to work. This wasn’t a mistake. It was on purpose, and it served no means other than to boast. It may seem harsh, but she got what she deserved.
The good news for Meghan Rutledge is that is she is indeed young. She has a long career ahead of her, and if she learns this lesson properly now then she will be just fine. I have no doubt that she will have future opportunities to win gold at the X Games. In fact, I will root for her when she comes back. After all, if she didn’t crash and burn on Saturday I would never have heard of her. She is now my favorite female motocross racer by default because she is the only female motocross racer who I am even aware of. Congrats Meghan!
While I watched the video of the incident for the first time, I was immediately reminded of a similar situation that took place a few years ago at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. The event was Snowboard Cross. It consists of four snowboarders racing down an obstacle-strewn course. Whoever crosses the finish line first wins. 2006 marked the first time that this particular event was included in the Games. Snowboarding in any fashion was first introduced to the Olympics in Nagano in 1998, and since then the sport has garnered more and more sanctioned events. 2006 was a chance for those who love the sport to see it reap more international attention and respect, especially in contrast to the other more traditional sports like skiing and figure skating that have dominated the Winter Games throughout their history. Enter Lindsey Jacobellis from Stratton, VT.
If you look at Lindsey’s career as a whole it is easy to see why she is considered the greatest female Snowboard Cross rider of all time. I don’t care if it’s a young sport. If you are considered the greatest of all time in anything you are an icon. She has won Gold in the event in some way, shape or form 10 different times over the span of 8 years. She was dominant in the Winter X Games pretty much every time she strapped her board on. Then came the Olympics. The 2006 Games provided Lindsey with an opportunity to prove that the sport she loved and excelled at was on par with all other forms of competition at the Olympics. It does not get any better, and it was her Gold medal to lose.
Surely enough as the Snowboard Cross final went on, Lindsey developed a very comfortable lead over the next closest rider, Tanja Frieden of Switzerland. Victory was in sight and in her grasp. Then she made the decision to accept that victory prior to actuality giving it to her. As she floated over the second to last jump, she bent down and attempted a grossly unnecessary method grab. A trick. A stupid trick. She fell and skidded to a stop. She got up, but had to fight gravity to get over the jump towards the finish line. Meanwhile, Frieden passed her swiftly and crossed the finish line first. Jacobellis received the Silver medal.
I remember being beside myself when I was watching this. I was so angry with her. I couldn’t believe that she would pull such an idiotic and selfish stunt just mere feet away from winning Gold. Not just for her either, that was a Gold medal that the United States of America deserved as much as she did. To make matters worse, she had the gall to lie about it in the aftermath of the race in an effort to hide her stupidity. She claimed she tried the method grab to “maintain stability”. Bull. She eventually gave in and admitted that it was “unnecessary”, and that “Snowboarding is fun; I was having fun.” Yes, because in order to have fun you have to do tricks. Winning isn’t enough. You have to do it with swagger. Apparently only snowboarders had fun at the 2006 Olympics. The bobsledders, figure skaters, and the biathletes were having a miserable time representing their countries while doing the things they love. I couldn’t help but think while I was watching Lindsey’s behavior and reaction that she wasn’t in Turin to represent the USA at all. She was there to represent Lindsey Jacobellis.
Since 2006 Tanja Frieden of Switzerland has owned a Gold medal that she absolutely deserves. Perhaps it should have or could have been worn around the neck of a girl from Vermont, but stupidity got in the way. Freiden didn’t get lucky. Jacobellis got selfish, and she perpetrated what I would say is the most significant and unforgivable incident of early celebration in the history of sports. What she did dwarfs what Meghan Rutledge did in the Moto-X final last Saturday at the X Games. Frankly, the X Games don’t deserve to be mentioned on the same level as the Olympics. However, what happened in 2006 is a sign of what happens when one influences the other; it muddies the waters of premiere competition. Unfortunately, we are in a new age of mentality when it comes to competition, and I think athletes like Jacobellis and Rutledge are the norm. It has become more about tricks and swag then it is about the sport or the game itself. When you combine sheer stupidity with unchecked selfishness and mix it with a lack of respect for competition you get stories like Jacobellis’ and Rutledge’s. But, hey, at least they’re having fun!
On this day in 1936, Adolph Hitler opened the Berlin Olympics in front of over 120,000 people. As strange as it seems now that Hitler would host an Olympic Games in 1936, he was simply the Chancellor of Germany. The games may be most widely recognized for the actions of one man…American sprinter Jesse Owens. Owens won four gold medals in track and field while Hitler watched helplessly. Prior to the Games, Hitler had stated that his Aryan athletes would dominate the games because they were superior. However, over two weeks in August, Jesse Owens proved him wrong.
Seventeen years ago today, Eric Rudolph detonated an explosive device at Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. As a 12-year-old at the time I was unable to fully grasp the gravity of the events unfolding in Atlanta. When I look back on the turmoil of that night in 1996, especially in light of the recent terrorist attacks that have taken place since, the striking image to me is the fact that in the days that followed the people of Atlanta and the athletes and spectators showed the world what “the Olympic Spirit” truly means.