Friday, August 31, 2012

kim rhode, olympic straight-shooter.

kim rhode [pronounced roh-dee] did at the london 2012 games
what no u.s. olympic champion had done before:

she became the first american athlete to win
an individual medal in five straight olympics.

the 33yo native californian won gold in skeet shooting,
tying her own world record & setting an olympic record
for the finals with an almost perfect score:
she hit 99 of 100 4-inch clay targets flying at about 60mph —

which was eight shots better than silver medalist wei ning of china,
nine shots better than bronze medalist danka bartekova of slovakia, &
seven shots better than the prior record of 93 targets.

rhode's lone miss came 65 consecutive hits into the finals, during a rainstorm.
she had also set the olympic record in the preliminary round, hitting 74 of 75.
her win means she is the first woman to earn three gold medals in shooting,
& the eighth u.s. woman to earn five or more individual medals.

rhode won the gold in double trap shooting at 17yo
— the youngest person ever to medal in the sport —
in her first olympics in atlanta, 1996.
she earned the bronze in barcelona in 2000,
& recaptured the gold in athens in 2004.

in 2008 in beijing, double trap was replaced with skeet shooting.
rhode switched sports & earned the silver.

during her first four olympic games, rhode had used "old faithful,"
her competition shotgun for 18 years.
but just after beijing, the gun was stolen from her truck.
anonymous donors bought her a new gun within weeks of the theft.
eventually, old faithful was found in an unrelated search of a parolee's house,
but rhode had already adapted to her new shotgun, so she retired her older weapon.

that wasn't the only stumbling block between beijing & london:
rhode had a benign two-inch tumor removed from her breast two years ago, &
earlier this year, her husband lost his passport & had to have it replaced,
& her dog ate her airline boarding pass to europe [for realz!].

but rhode, who began shooting at the age of 6yo &
began competing at 10yo — coached by her dad, richard rhode, then & now —
wasn't about to let those speedbumps slow her down.
she trains 6-8hrs daily, spending up to $700/day for shells & targets.

& this one-of-a-kind olympic champion — who, in addition to shooting, also
collects rare children's books, is a gourmet cook & restores classic cars —
isn't about to call it quits at five games/medals.

noting the oldest shooting medalist, oscar swahn of sweden,
won his last gold at 64yo & his final medal at 72yo,
rhode quips, "i feel i've got a few more left in me."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

zara phillips, olympic royal.

zara phillips is an excellent olympic equestrian . . .
& queen elizabeth's eldest granddaughter.

so all british eyes — including her cousins', princes william & harry —
were on 31yo phillips & her 10yo horse high kingdom
during the three-day team eventing competition at the london games.

& the gasps were heard 'round the british isles
when phillips' horse clipped a fence during the showjumping section,
docking her seven points & narrowly losing her team the gold.

but team gb rallied to earn the silver,
& phillips finished third-strongest of the five-member team,
& ranked eighth overall.

phillips comes by her "horse sense" honestly — her mother, princess anne,
competed in the same equestrian event during the 1976 montreal olympics,
& her father, mark phillips, won equestrian team gold at the 1972 munich games.

it was zara's first olympics — she missed the past two games
due to injury of her now-retired horse, toytown
[she did ride toytown earlier this year while toting
the olympic torch at cheltenham racecourse].

& it was princess anne who presented her only daughter
with her first olympic medal — a silver. bob's your uncle, zara!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

natalia partyka, olympic paralympian.

natalia partyka is a 23yo table-tennis player from poland
who happens to have been born without her right hand & forearm.
partyka, along with south african "blade runner" oscar pistorius,
are the only athletes to compete in both the olympic & paralympic london 2012 games.

it was partyka's second olympics & fourth paralympics;
in 2008 in beijing, she earned a paralympic gold in individual competition
& a team silver. this year, she made it to the final 32
in women's olympic singles table tennis; the paralympics are still underway.

partyka began playing table tennis at 7yo,
in order to be able to beat her four-years-older sister, sandra.
by the age of eleven, natalia was at her first paralympics,
the youngest athlete to compete in any sport at the games.

partyka's disability affects only her serve —
rather than tossing the ball into the air with the non-dominant hand,
she cradles the ball in the crook of her right elbow,
& simply drops her right arm & swings to serve the ball with her left hand.

partyka is currently ranked number 68 in the world.

"i can show people that nothing is impossible," she says.
"maybe being disabled makes things more difficult than for able-bodied people,
& maybe we have to work a little harder.
but we can do anything we want to do if we just try.
maybe someone will see me & realize their own disability is not the end of the world,
that they can achieve bigger dreams than they had imagined."

maybe somebody already has.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

zofia noceti-klepacka, olympic spirit.

zofia noceti-klepacka, a 26yo polish windsurfer,
finally earned a medal at the london games:
a third-place bronze at her third olympics.

three was clearly the magic number for noceti-klepacka —
& for another polish girl, named zuzia.

prior to coming to london, noceti-klepacka pledged
that if she won a medal at the games, then she would
sell it by auction, with the proceeds going to 5yo zuzia,
a neighbor of noceti-klepacka's who has cystic fibrosis.

cystic fibrosis is a chronic, ultimately fatal disease
that targets the lungs & digestive tract,
causing ongoing infections & breathing difficulties.

noceti-klepacka — a mother herself to 2yo son mariano — has known zuzia since birth.
the little girl — who is noceti-klepacka's biggest fan —
has already undergone five surgeries & requires constant care,
a huge financial burden for her family to bear.

noceti-klepacka won the bronze in the women's rs-x —
a windsurfing event involving a heavy sailboard —
behind gold-medalist marina alabau of spain &
finland's tuuli petaja, who took the silver.

noceti-klepacka finished just in time —
three seconds faster than another finnish rival,
& in the summer olympics' final year of windsurfing competition;
the sport will be replaced by kiteboarding in the 2016 rio games.

no word yet about where or when the medal will be auctioned.

Monday, August 27, 2012

sarah menezes, olympic independent.

sarah menezes beat defending champion alina dumitru of romania
to be the first brazilian woman ever to win gold in judo.

22yo menezes began judo at 9yo,
because she found it the least offensive sport
being offered for p.e. credit at her elementary school.

as she grew to love judo, she also learned to lie about it to her parents,
who insisted it was not a girl's sport &
being an athlete was not a proper girl's career.

luckily, this girl didn't listen.
for years, menezes had neighbors secretly deliver her to the judo studio,
told her parents she had to stay late at school in order to practice.

when menezes' coach finally met with her parents to tell them how good she was,
that she could make brazil's national team & maybe the olympics,
they finally got it. they began supporting her training,
& even solicited sponsors so she could travel to compete.

menezes did her olympic training while
working toward her bachelor's degree &
taking english-language courses.

her industriousness — & earlier sneakiness — paid off big-time,
with a gold medal
& a national first for brazilian women.

Friday, August 24, 2012

katie ledecky, olympic ingenue.

katie ledecky, at 15yo, was 529-member team usa's
youngest athlete at the london games.
she competed in a single aquatic event:
the women's 800m freestyle.

she won the gold.

& if that alone is not impressive enough for you,
then consider the following:

katie is the second-youngest swimming medalist in team usa history,
just 77 days older than beth botsford, who won gold in atlanta 16 years ago.

she never swam in a major competition until the u.s. olympic trials in june,
where she took first in the 800m, third in the 400m & ninth in the 200m.

she broke the 23-year-old american record held by swimming sweetheart janet evans.

she just missed the world record of british legend becky adlington,
who is a four-time olympian & was a double gold-medalist in beijing.
adlington earned the bronze almost six seconds behind katie.
[spain’s mireia belmonte garcia earned the silver, over four seconds behind katie.]

katie is a high-school sophomore at bethesda, maryland's
stone ridge school of the sacred heart.
she began swimming at the age of five, & at the age of six,
approached michael phelps' — who was not yet an olympian — with an autograph book.

nine years later, he handed back a [metaphorical] golden baton.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

misty may-treanor & kerri walsh jennings, olympic partners.

misty may-treanor & kerri walsh jennings,
teammates for eleven years —
the best women's beach volleyball team of all time,
two-time olympic champions in athens & beijing —
executed a three-peat in london,
capturing their third consecutive gold medal in an all-american final
against up-&-comers jennifer kessy & april ross.

for misty & kerri, the golden moment
was another type of final, too —
their last match together as a team.

35yo misty may-treanor, the most decorated female beach volleyball player ever,
is retiring as a player from the sport
in order to start a family with her athlete husband.

the duo split as a team following the 2008 olympics
so that now-33yo kerri could start a family with her athlete husband —
the couple now has sons joseph, 3yo, & sundance, 2.

meanwhile, misty tore her left achilles tendon
& missed a year of play for recuperation.

but the pair reunited in 2011 to come to the olympics.
their journey wasn't easy —
kessy & ross actually came to the games
ranked higher on the fivb world tour,
& misty & kerri sought help from a sports psychologist
in order to reconnect better as partners.

it worked.

in the sand of horse guards parade, misty & kerri
went where no woman has gone before:
a trio of olympic medals in women's beach volleyball. [all gold, too.]
& a winning streak of 21 consecutive olympic matches & a 42-1 winning set record.

"the first two medals, i think, were more volleyball,"
says misty. "this was so much more about the friendship.
the togetherness. the journey.
volleyball was just a small part of it."

kerri intends to continue playing, with a new, as yet unnamed partner,
& to pursue a fourth gold in rio in 2016.
while motherhood is misty's reason for retirement,
it's a large part of kerri's purpose for continuing to indulge her passion.

"i want this so badly, & my children just make me want it even more,"
says kerri. "i want to make them proud. i want to do it as a mom.
i'm so inspired, so determined to be the best i can be
so i can be a great example for them."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

karen hultzer, olympic lesbian.

karen hultzer is a 46yo south african archer who came in 46th
of 64 competing athletes [she's been shooting for only five years],
& then came out as a lesbian.

noting that she waited until post-competition
to avoid distraction due to media attention,
hultzer issued a simple yet eloquent statement:

"i am an archer, middle-aged & a lesbian.
i am also cranky before my first cup of coffee.
none of these aspects define who i am,
they are simply part of me.

"i am fortunate that my sexual identity is not an issue,
& i don't suffer the level of discrimination & violence
that black lesbians in south africa do.

"i look forward to the day when this is a non-issue
& as relevant as my eye color or favorite sushi."

hultzer's announcement made her the only out olympian
competing from the african continent, & a rarity
among all olympic athletes;

the gay website tried to count how many
of the 10,500 or so competing olympians were openly gay.
it came up with only 23.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

kayla harrison, olympic survivor.

"this is my day.
this is my purpose.
i am an olympic champion."

for five years, this was kayla harrison's mantra.
it got her through the hardest part of her life,
& it got her through the best:
winning judo gold in her first olympics.

6yo kayla began judo at her mother's urging.
at 8yo, the little girl from middletown, ohio,
began training with coach daniel doyle.
he took her to two national championships & several international tournaments
by the time she turned sweet 16.

he also took her trust & her childhood —
at 16yo, kayla revealed to a friend that her coach
had been sexually abusing her for years.
the friend told kayla's mom, who first
smashed doyle's car windows with a baseball bat,
then called the police & had him arrested.

kayla was broken.

her mother, in an instinctive & insightful move,
sent kayla to wakefield, massachusetts,
to train with two-time medal-winner jimmy pedro & his father, big jim,
at their full-time resident training program for judokas,
team force [focus on results, civic responsibility & education].

slowly & surely, pedro helped kayla rebuild her strength & sense of self.
in 2010, she became the first u.s. woman to win a judo world championship
in 26 years, & the first of either gender to win
it since pedro had in 1999.

harrison returned to ohio to testify against her abuser,
who pled guilty, was sentenced to serve ten years in prison
& was expelled for life from usa judo.

then harrison came to the london games as the highest-ranked
u.s. judoka, regardless of gender or weight class.

it was her day.
it was her purpose.
& she became an olympic champion.

22yo harrison beat team gb's gemma gibbons
2-0 in the women's under-78kg division.

"she should inspire many to be brave, to have courage, to realize
they're a victim, & to come forward & move on with their lives," says pedro.
"kayla harrison stepped forward. she is a hero.
there's nothing on the olympic mat that compares with what she's already beat."

harrison, now happily engaged to firefighter aaron handy
& working toward becoming a firefighter herself,
sums up her greatest lesson learned thusly:

"never give up on your dreams.
i mean, if i can do it, anybody can do it.
this just proves that you're only a victim
if you allow yourself to be."

Monday, August 20, 2012

habiba ghribi, olympic first.

habiba ghribi is a woman. a tunisian. a runner.
& the first tunisian woman ever to win an olympic medal.

28yo ghribi won silver in the women's 3,000m steeplechase [obstacle race],
behind world champion yuliya zaripova of russia.

"this medal is for all the tunisian people,
for tunisian women, for the new tunisia," ghribi said.

but while tunisia may be "new," it's not necessarily improved.

the north-african country underwent a revolution in late 2010/early 2011,
leading to a thorough democratization of the nation & free, democratic elections.
but the winner was the islamist ennahda movement.
& though ennahda assumed power with a pledge of not weakening women's rights, party leaders have proposed a constitution which states
women are "complementary" — not equal — to men, in the family & in the country.

within this environment of diminishing equality among the sexes,
conservative muslims felt free to express their disgust & outrage at
ghribi's olympic performance, in which she ran "in her underpants" —
a reference to ghribi's standard-length running shorts.

luckily, some important tunisians support ghribi.
during a recent radio debate with a member of ennahda,
independent al aridha party member ibrahim kassas joked,
"the underpants of habiba ghribi have honored us.
what have [ennahda members'] underpants done for us?"

Friday, August 17, 2012

missy franklin, olympic phenom.

missy franklin struck me as just about
the most down-to-earth aquatic athlete ever.

the 17yo from centennial, colorado,
was the first u.s. woman to compete in seven olympic swimming events.
counting qualifying & semifinal rounds, she swam 15 races
during the london games.

she medaled five times — four gold, one bronze.
she established a new world's record twice.
she established a new american record the other three times.

melissa jeanette franklin was born in pasadena, california,
the daughter of two canadian parents.
she began swimming at age five.

she has been coached by todd schmitz of the colorado stars club team
since she was seven. he has never coached an olympian before.

missy, now 6'1" with size 13 feet & a smile just about as big,
to date has declined prize money & endorsements
so she can continue to compete as an amateur
for her high-school team at regis jesuit.

day one of olympic competition, missy —
along with teammates jessica hardy, lia neal & allison schmitt —
won her bronze in the 4x100m freestyle relay
with a time of 3:34.24, a new american record.
australia won the gold, the netherlands the silver.

day three, missy won her first gold
in the 100m backstroke with a time of 58:33,
beating her own american record.

day five, missy won gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay —
along with teammates allison schmitt, dana vollmer & shannon vreeland —
with a time of 7:42.92, a new american record.

day seven, missy won gold & broke the world record
in the 200m backstroke with a time of 2:04.06,
the first american woman to win the event in 40 years.

finally, missy — along with teammates allison schmitt,
rebecca soni & dana vollmer — won gold in the 4x100m medley relay
with a world-record-breaking time of 3:52.05.

it should be noted, in the two events where she didn't medal,
missy came in fourth [200m freestyle] & fifth [100m freestyle].

of the 10,500 or so athletes competing at the london games,
only one earned more medals than missy: michael phelps, who won six.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

oksana chusovitina, olympic inspiration.

oksana chusovitina,
in a sport where athletes older than teen-age are considered ancient
— the misnomered women's gymnastics —
has been competing for more than two decades,
in six olympic games, under three different flags.

oksana is the 37yo mother who took fifth in the vault.

she began her gymnastics career in the soviet union;
following the breakup of the ussr, she competed in barcelona for
the unified team in 1992, winning team gold.
oksana competed for uzbekistan at the following three olympics.

but in 2002, her 3yo son, alisher, was diagnosed with
acute lymphocytic leukemia. oksana moved to germany
so that her son could receive quality treatment, & continued
to compete in order to use the winnings for medical bills.

alisher fully recovered, & as a sign of gratitude,
oksana offered to join the german national team.
she eventually became a german citizen
& won silver in beijing for her newly adopted homeland in 2008.

oksana now intends to retire & continue to coach german gymnasts.
she says the timing is perfect: "i'm happy.
i'm not injured, i'm healthy & i'm a mummy."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

kristin armstrong, olympic mama.

kristin armstrong
is not related to he of the seven tour de france triomphes,
but it doesn't mean she's not
a killer on the bike.

armstrong, a native of boise, idaho,
does what's known as "the race of truth" —
because, as armstrong puts it,
"it's just you against the clock."

just days before her 39th birthday,
armstrong won the gold in the women's individual time trial,
completing the 18-mile course almost 16 seconds faster than
silver medalist judith arndt of germany.

russia's olga zabelinskaya earned the bronze.

it was armstrong's third consecutive summer games
& her second consecutive time to win the gold —
though this time she earned the additional distinction of becoming
the oldest gold medalist in olympic cycling in a road event.

armstrong was a professional triathlete
until she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the hips;
forced to quit high-impact running, she turned to racing bikes.

she briefly retired from cycling three years ago
while pregnant with her son, lucas,
but returned to the sport last year.

& she broke her collarbone in may in a racing accident,
but had surgery & was back on the bike within a week.
she's one tough mama.

[above: lucas joined her up on the medals podium — olympic cuteness.] :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

claressa shields, olympic champion.

american middleweight boxer claressa shields,
a 17yo high-school senior from flint, michigan,
beat russia's nadezda torlopova 19-12
to become the only team usa fighter to win the gold
in the inaugural year for women's olympic boxing.

for the first time, the winningest nation in boxing history
got no medals from its men's team. none of other
eleven american boxers even reached a gold-medal match.

claressa, who lives with her single mom & two younger siblings,
began boxing at age eleven upon hearing her father,
a former amateur boxer, speak about laila ali,
who followed in her father's famous floating footsteps.

"there were people who were telling me
i couldn't do this," claressa says.
"whenever somebody doubts me, it makes me push harder.
so actually, the haters kind of helped."

claressa's big win made her not only
the first american women's boxer to win gold, but also
the second-youngest american fighter ever to win gold
[the youngest was 16yo john fields, 88 years ago], &
the youngest american olympic boxer since
16 yo davey lee armstrong 40 years ago.

naturally, it also made claressa a hometown hero &
a great inspiration for the african-american girls of flint,
where the wrong path can be hard to avoid.

"when i used to go running, i'd see all these crackheads,"
recounts claressa. "i just didn't want to be like them.
i wanted it to be where my little sister & brother & my mom
would never have to go without a meal again. "

flint councilman bryant nolden called claressa
"a rose that grew out of a concrete jungle;
& if a rose can grow through concrete,
then you know must be extremely resilient."

asked what she thought of as she watched
the u.s. flag raise to the rafters, claressa answered,
"i was thinking, 'god knows my heart.'"

Monday, August 13, 2012

the women's games.

i heart the olympics, big-time.

i love the global-ity.

i love the eye-popping athletic prowess.

i love becoming an armchair expert about obscure sports
that these athletes have committed their lives to mastering.

i love the ecstasy, the agony, the occasional scandal. the drama.

i love team usa, & the national pride & unity they elicit.

i love watching our stars & stripes rise above the crowd
while listening to the star-spangled banner. *sniff.*

& this summer, i loved loved loved the women.
the ass-kicking, name-taking, medal-winning women of london 2012.

for the first time, all 204 participating countries
included women in their teams [including the first women
athletes from saudi arabia, qatar & brunei].
in fact, women represented a record 44% of the almost 11,000 olympic athletes.

for the first time, team usa featured more female athletes than male [269 vs. 261].
females also outnumbered males on china & russia's teams.

the oldest team usa member was female: equestrian karen o'connor, 54.
the youngest team usa members was female: swimmer katie ledecky, 15.

for the first time, women's boxing was included in the games.
women won 56% of team usa's medals, & 66% of its golds [including one in boxing!].

13 team usa members were moms. :)

so, in honor of what some are terming "the women's Games,"
& to keep the olympic torch aflame a little longer
[did i mention i love the olympics?],
i'll be telling some of the stories of the girls of summer 2012
over the next 16 days, hoping to amaze & inspire
all over again.

image source: florence griffith-joyner, who won gold medals in the 100m, 200m [world record] & 4x100m relay at the 1988 summer olympic games in seoul, via