Black History

Maame Biney
Maame Biney competes in the women’s 500-meters during the U.S.Olympic short track speedskating trials Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

In 1968, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos made history. It cost them a painful penny to make a statement by using one pair of black gloves and sharing them, Tommie Smith wearing the right glove and the John Carlos wearing the left glove, as they raised their fists in defiance of oppression and discrimination in the US during the tumultuous decade that defined many young Americans. It cost them, but they made history.

Likewise, fifty years later, African and African-American athletes are still making history. Jennifer Calfas wrote this worthy article for Time Magazine about how many athletes of color are making history at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. It’s worth the read.

“Erin Jackson never expected to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The inline skater, who was accustomed to racing on wheels, had just four months of training in long-track speedskating before she hit the ice at the U.S. speedskating trials in early January. She hoped to someday reach the Olympics, an international competition unattainable in the inline skating world. But she was shocked when she qualified right behind Olympic veterans Brittany Bowe and Heather Bergsma, becoming the first African-American woman ever to join Team USA’s Olympic long-track speedskating team.

Jackson is one of a group of athletes in the U.S. and around the world breaking barriers in their sports at the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Maame Biney became the first African-American woman to qualify for Team USA’s speed-skating team. Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon will become the first openly gay male athletes to compete at a Winter Olympics for the U.S. And an African nation will compete in bobsled for the first time with Nigeria’s team of Seun Adigun, Akuoma Omeoga and Ngozi Onwumere, and the country’s first-ever skeleton athlete, Simidele Adeagbo.

These boundary-breakers could represent a changing look for the Winter Olympics, which, in its beginnings, was dominated by wealthy Nordic and Scandinavian countries. Even now, less than half as many countries participate in the Winter Olympics as the Summer Olympics. “These are not sports that have a real background in that many countries,” said Olympic historian David Wallechinsky. “In very few countries do people go with their buddies and do curling.”

Countries in warmer climates are at a particular disadvantage in preparing for the icy sports of the Winter Games. As Jackson trained for her first Winter Olympics, she offered advice for young athletes of color who hope to compete internationally.

‘Don’t let the representation or lack thereof deter you from getting out there and trying these sports,’ she said. ‘Even if you don’t see other athletes out there, it’s always nice to be the first.’

Adeagbo is not only part of Nigeria’s first Winter Olympic team, but also the first Nigerian, African or black female athlete to compete in skeleton, a sport in which a competitor rides down an ice track on a sled, face-down.

Adeagbo was once a track star who was a two-time U.S. Olympic Trials finalist in the triple jump in 2004 and 2008. While she did not qualify back then, the 36-year-old athlete came out of her retirement from track and field to compete in skeleton.

‘This is about breaking barriers in winter sports,” she told Nike, where she works as a marketing manager in Johannesburg, South Africa. “It’s about making history. And leaving a legacy. It’s about moving sport forward. That’s so much bigger than just me being an Olympian.”

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Win At The Buzzer

Last night I went to a George Mason University Men’s basketball game. My wife Lisa is an alum and also the VP of the College of Health and Human Services Alumni Chapter Board, that organized a tail gate party for the CHHS alumni. It was wonderful to meet many alum, that came from far and near, who are doing amazing things “on and off the court.”

Bettyann Duffy, the President of the CHHS Alumni Board was there as well. She’s from Philly, so we have a common bond. It was great. And we also met some Eagles fans! So, what’s not to like about going to a George Mason game?

The Dean of CHHS, Dr. Germaine Louis and her husband, also came and we had a ball talking about the Eagles Super Bowl win. But now we’re only going to talk about Mason, because the game was even greater than the tail gate party.

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On the surface, George Mason seems like a relatively average Division-I team.  Saturday, the Patriots improved to 14-15 overall on the season and 8-8 in the Atlantic 10 with a thrilling 78-76 win over Massachusetts. The game ended on a buzzer-beater layup by sophomore guard Ian Boyd. Mason cruised to a 16-point halftime lead, so it looked like the home team would make quick work of visiting UMass. Not so.

UMass came out of the locker room with a vengeance and eventually tied the game. UMass would’ve won except one of their players fouled Mason on a three-point attempt. With no time on the clock, the Mason player calmly drained three free throws to send the game into overtime. Unbelievable. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, the extra session was even better.

In OT, Mason pulled ahead, but UMass wouldn’t go away. With five seconds left, UMass tied the game. Then Mason’s best player, Otis Livingston II, drove the length of the floor. He was defended by at least two UMass players so he ditched the ball to a teammate on his left who made a layup as time expired. Final score: Mason 78, UMass 76. In overtime! What a game.

The irony is that at the close of the Tailgate Party we all sang the Mason Fight Song, not realizing that this game would prove to be just that, a fight. And sometimes life is just like that. Sometimes, you get ahead and then you fall behind and then you find yourself with time running out trying to figure out how to pull it out.

Sometimes, you need more time and more grace and another break to fall your way. In order to win, you have to keep pushing and pulling, fending and fighting through ups and downs and ins and outs. That’s how you Win at the Buzzer.

http://www.masslive.com/umassbasketball/index.ssf/2018/02/umass_mens_basketball_loses_he.html

 

 Gold or Nothing

Canadian Hockey Loss
Jocelyne Larocque wanted no part of the silver medal following Canada’s 3-2 shootout loss to the U.S. in the women’s hockey final Thursday. (BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES)

In the last four Winter Olympics, Canada’s women’s hockey team has taken the Gold medal home and they looked to extend that streak in South Korea. The Canadian women were the heavy favorites as they got set to take on the United States, but they were shocked when the Americans scored a game-tying goal in the third period and forced overtime. Neither team could score in the extra period, so a shootout was upon us.

Team USA eventually scored an epic goal in the 6th round of the shootout to stun Canada and win gold. Jocelyne Larocque, a 29-year-old Canadian defenseman, was understandably upset, so when the Silver Medal was placed around her neck following the game, she immediately removed it.

Here’s how one reporter told it:

“Jocelyne Larocque of the Canadian women’s hockey team was upset, to say the least, at her team’s loss to the United States. Larocque was so distraught that when the silver medal was placed around her neck, she ripped it off within seconds.” It was something that we should never want our teams or our teammates to do.

On the one hand, I applaud Larocque for wanting gold and not wanting silver. I do. It appears that Larocque was channeling the drive and the determination of the great ones such as Michael Jordan and Tom Brady and Derek Jeter and Wayne Gretzky; certainly that is admirable. We all wish we could be as good as these all-star athletes at something, especially our favorite sport.  

On the other hand, the way she publically portrayed her cold angst and callous anger over losing, and probably losing to the US no less, was not cool. The gold or nothing mentality is contrary to the spirit of the Olympics in general and the spirit of sport in specific.

“The rivalry between the Canadian and the United States women’s hockey teams is one of most intense in the Winter Olympic Games. Canada was victorious over the U.S. the last four Winter Olympics but the streak was finally broken this year when the U.S. came out on top. The American’s last victory over Canada came in 1998 in Nagano, Japan”. https://www.inquisitr.com/4798473/canadian-womens-hockey-player-refused-to-wear-silver-medal-at-ceremony-after-u-s-won-gold/Most of the tweets about Larocque’s display of dissatisfaction focused on her poor sportsmanship. The Canadians have owned the US Women the past four Winter Olympics.  That’s dominance. So, in Larocque’s mind, another win was expected. And an unexpected loss was not welcome.

So here we go again with the life lessons sports teach us. First, sports teach how to win with grace. Second, sports teach us how to lose graciously.  We need to learn both lessons, the positive and the negative. After all, it, it takes a positive and a negative charge for a battery to make an engine go.

Here are three quotes that sum it all up:

Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.          

 Wilma Rudolph

 

Winning is nice if you don’t lose your integrity in the process.         

 Arnold Horshak 

 

That’s what learning is, after all; not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we’ve changed because of it and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing (with grace), in a curious way, is winning.

Richard Bach

Are The Winter Olympics Way Too Long?

Here’s a humorous, tongue and cheek article by Ben Cohen and Joshua Robinson of the WSJ. It’s hilarious and well worth the read, just as Lyndsey Vonn’s Bronze Medal ceremony was worth the watch (she forgot to take her medal with her to the podium).

“PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—The Winter Olympics are a magical time every four years for people to marvel at sports that would almost certainly kill you, gawk at figure-skating wardrobe malfunctions and fall under the hypnotic spell of curling.

And then there are days like Monday. The complete list of medal events that day amounted to team ski jumping, 500-meter speedskating and two-man bobsled. That was it. Not a single medal was awarded before 9:53 p.m.

The slim pickings were symptomatic of a larger problem with the Winter Olympics: They’re way too long.

Wednesday was the 14th day of competition here. And somehow there were still four days to go. If it was beginning to feel like a slog, that’s because it was. There has never been a longer Winter Olympics.

But there is nothing in the Olympic Charter mandating that the Games need to feel this long. The Winter Olympics of 1976, 1980 and 1984 lasted 12 days from Opening Ceremony to Closing Ceremony. Until broadcasters wanted more. The Games expanded in 1988 to give ABC three weekends of television coverage during a typically dead time of the sports calendar between the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball tournament. And they’ve only gotten longer since then.

The Olympics stretched to accommodate new sports that keep the winter Games fresh and relevant, like mixed doubles curling. With that there is now curling every single day of the Olympics. There is so much curling the only way that Pyeongchang’s organizers could squeeze it all in to 17 days was to stretch 17 days to 18 days: The first curling match was the day before the Games officially began. Eighteen days! That’s six days longer than the last NBA Finals, four days longer than Wimbledon and twice as long as the world championships dedicated specifically to curling.

So perhaps the sport could survive without nine matches of round robin play. And nobody needs 12 days of long-track speedskating either. Not even the gold-addicted Netherlands. They conduct their Olympic trials in all of four days.”

And the moral of the story is this: sometimes short and sweet is better than bitter and long.

Note From Fergie: This Is How To Butcher the National Anthem

Fergie

If you haven’t heard by now, the pop star Fergie sang the National Anthem before Sunday night’s 2018 NBA All-Star game. And she showed us how NOT to sing the our national song on national television. To quote one columnist, “it was … something. To say the singer put her own spin on the Star Spangled Banner doesn’t even begin to describe what happened here.”  As the former “Black Eyed Peas” singer sang the our national song,  even the all-stars couldn’t hide their laughter. But it was no laughing matter. It was NOT funny, and it was no joke.

Fergie’s “rendition,” if you want to call it that, was worse than wretched. It was past pathetic. It was downright disgraceful. And if anyone needs an example of how to embarrass themselves and set a bad tone, this was it. Singing the nation anthem prior to big games and important athletic events is a time-honored tradition. It’s also an honor for those asked to perform it. 

So why did she do it? Why did Fergie trifle with tradition and rail on a hallowed rite and ritual? This may be a gross over-generalization, but it seems as if this generation has lost the art of respect and the science of reverence. To make light of a custom and best practice is to say that the individual is more important than the whole.  Essentially, Fergie belted out that she is more important that the Country and the customs that we have all come to love and cherish.

Let this be a lesson to the rest of us; some traditions just need to be respected and preserved.

Lindsey Vonn: Love Makes No Mistakes

As we wake up this weekend, we’re all so sad and sore for a legend and the lore of Lindsey Vonn. Lyndsey lost in her first attempt at gold in Pyeongchang in the Women’s Super G.

Lyndsey isn’t hard to like. First, she’s not hard on the eyes. She’s an attractive blond with a pretty smile and a supportive family. And she simply adored her grandfather who taught her how to ski fast. Unfortunately, her grandfather, Grandpa Kildow, passed away this past November. And she wanted to win gold in honor of him. So what’s not to like? The interview that Mike Torico, the NBC Winter Olympics host, deftly did at her grandparents home in Wisconsin before he died was a tearjerker. The interview was the last time Lyndsey saw her grandfather alive.

“When Kildow died in November just weeks before the 2017-2018 World Cup downhill skiing season began, Vonn struggled to come to terms with his passing. She shared a heartfelt letter she wrote to her grandfather on her Instagram page, giving a sense of just how much he truly meant to her:

Dear Grandpa,I still can’t believe you’re gone. No words can describe how much you mean to me and how much i love you. I wish i had more time with you but i will cherish the memories we had. You taught me to be tough, to be kind, and above all, to ski fast. Now, every time i ski down the mountain I know you’ll be there with me. I’m proud to be your granddaughter and I will think of you always. I will race for you in Korea and I will try as hard as I can to win for you. Please look out for me.

I love you Grandpa.

Lindsey

And it doesn’t look as though time has lessened her admiration for her grandfather; during an interview in PyeongChang on Friday with NBC, Vonn had a hard time keeping her composure as she talked about Kildow.”

Wow. It doesn’t get any better or more touching than that.

Lyndsey’s first event in 2018 was the Super Giant Slalom, and it didn’t go as well as she had hoped. First, she had to be the first skier down the hill and that, unfortunately, was a distinct disadvantage. Yes it was her lot to be first down the hill and no, this need not have been a handicap, but it was. She had no notion of how the course laid out before her because trial runs were not allowed.

Lindsey’s run was fast and clean at the top. But towards the bottom of the hill she took a turn too wide and it cost her dearly. She made just one mistake, and it was one mistake too many.

So we’ll all be rooting and cheating for Lyndsey in her final two events at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang as these Olympics will be her last. And win or lose on the skiing hill, Lyndsey will always be a winner in her grandfather’s book.

Go Lyndsey! Win one for Grandpa Kildow.

Why Aren’t You Watching Mikaela Shiffrin (and others) in Pyeonchang?

Mikaela Shiffirn 2018 Gold

Even Shaun White could hardly believe it.

Shaun won the gold medal in the men’s halfpipe with a near perfect run in a dramatic finish. He was in first place until his closest competitor scored a 95.25.  That bumped Shaun down to second, with only one chance left to retake the lead. On his last run, White scored a 97.75 to pull ahead of Hirano, who landed back-to-back double cork 1440s of his own ( I can’t explain what that is, but whatever the term, it looks amazing when they’re in the air turning every which way) . I’m so happy for Shaun White, especially to win the way he did.

And not to be outdone, here comes Mikaela Shiffrin.

On the night after the aforementioned snowboarding legend Shaun White won the 100th Winter Olympics gold medal in United States history, Mikaela Shiffrin made it 101 as her legend grew. America’s next big thing in skiing picked up the second Olympic gold medal of her career and her first in giant slalom. Shiffrin’s combined pair of runs in giant slalom on Thursday clocked in at 2 minutes, 20.02 seconds, usurping 34-year-old Italian Manuela Moelgg for the top of the podium. And Mikaela, like Shaun, saved her best for last. She took first place on her last run which was her last chance to get the gold in this event. Whew!!!

Both victories came at the 11th hour, on fourth and goal if you will, (a.k.a. Nick Foles and the Eagles pulling off the Philly Special!) when both athletes had to have their best performance, ever. And if that doesn’t send shivers down your side and goose bumps up your spine, I don’t know what will.

Then, if that wasn’t enough to get your juices going even more, the German ice dancing pair that had vied for gold for what seems like forever finally broke through and won the pairs gold medal. They were sobbing – SOBBING- for joy, and I was too.

Aljona Savchenko is a Ukrainian who has skated in five Olympic Games for two different countries and with three different partners. In PyeongChang, she finally realized her Olympic dream of winning gold. Together with partner Bruno Massot, Savchenko, who skates for Germany, was in fourth place after the short program. But she and Massot were the only couple among the top three to skate a clean free program, which vaulted them to the top of the podium. Their scores were the highest ever recorded for the pairs long program and it was enough for gold. After earning two bronze medals at previous Olympics with another partner, Savchenko said of her first, long-awaited gold: “I never give up. I keep fighting.”

And that’s the lesson: Never give up. And Keep fighting. Just keep fighting and never give up. It’s the lesson we keep hearing and seeing and need to keep believing until our quest for gold comes true, too.