Gabby Douglas Makes History in London, Now the Fun Begins
The USA Men’s Basketball Tightly Knit Team Is Poised for Gold
China’s Olympics Have Been Both Successful and Controversial
Michael Phelps Olympic Career Is Over, But His Impact on Swimming Will Last Forever
(NEW YORK – August 8, 2012) – Before the Olympics began, some fans had questioned whether Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt would be healthy enough to win in London. He silenced everyone with a second consecutive gold medal winning performance in the 100 meters. As senior writer Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) writes, “No athlete in track and field at the Games rises to the moment the way that Bolt does.” Bolt appears on the cover of the August 13, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now. He also appeared on the cover of the August 31, 2009, issue.
Bolt didn’t compete in the latter half of 2010 because of an injured back. His back problems flared again this summer, so Bolt arrived in London with added motivation. He said, “A lot of people doubted me. A lot of people said I couldn’t win. I wanted to show the world that I’m still Number 1, the best” (page 46).
Bolt’s presence is such that he makes other competitors keenly aware of where he is on the track. U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin got out to an early lead in the race, but said he could feel Bolt making his move. Gatlin said, “I wasn’t going to sit back and say, ‘This is the Bolt Show.’ I came out here to win. But I also knew that Bolt was going to step up.”
To download a hi-res JPEG of this week’s cover here
On the Tablet: Slideshow of the Track and Field Events.
Gabby Douglas rewrote gymnastics history in London by becoming the first African-American all-around champion and the first U.S. gymnast to win team and all-around gold medals. After the all-around, her agent, Sheryl Shade received a total of 644 messages from well-wishers all over the world. Former Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton told Gabby’s family, “Pull up a chair and be ready for the ride. She’s going to break barriers on so many different levels” (page 54).
It has been an incredible climb for Douglas, who just two years ago was pleading with her mother, Natalie Hawkins, to let her move from Virginia Beach to Des Moines where Liang Chow has trained gymnasts, including Beijing Olympic star Shawn Johnson. Hawkins recalls, “She told me she wanted her life to count for something. I looked at her thinking, Wow, this is my girl.”
JUDGE YE NOT – S.L. PRICE
It’s been an interesting Olympics thus far for China. From its swimming stars Ye Shiwen and Sun Yang to its disqualified badminton players, China has found itself facing scrutiny and controversy—a sign of its continuing rise in athletics. Shiwen and Sun turned in world record breaking performances on their way to gold medals, which sparked debate over the possibility of performance enhancing drug use. Some believe the swimmers results were too good to be true, while others believe China’s rise in a sport that’s U.S. strength caused most of the uproar (page 74).
Former NBA star and current CCTV basketball commentator Yao Ming said, “Big countries like China and the United Stated, both have national pride. It’s hard to face losing, particularly in sports where [you’ve been] dominant for a long time and there’s a guy who sticks out and says, ‘Hey! You’re an old man!’ It’s hard to take that.”
After struggling to find team chemistry in the early 2000s, the U.S. is succeeding with a roster of superstars who also happen to be friends. U.S. players are much like their competition; they have been playing together, against each other and getting to know one another for a long time (page 78).
Clippers point guard Chris Paul has a connection to almost every player on the team. He said, “That’s what makes our friendships so unique and genuine. These are a lot of my closest friends that I’ve grown up with, who are like family to me. I can talk to them about things that I can’t talk to my brother or my parents or my wife about.”
Michael Phelps finished a historic Olympic career with four more golds, but he counts his success not in medals but in the impact he’s had on the sport. After the final race of his Olympic career, Phelps said, “I wanted to change the sport and take it to a new level. That was a goal of mine. If I can say I’ve done that, then I can say I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do in my career. This sport has done so much for me, and I’ll continue to give back as much as I can” (page 52)
On the Tablet: Brian Cazeneuve talks about Michael Phelps legacy.
The Olympics have been a coming out party for the next great Brazilian soccer prodigy, Neymar. The 20-year-old has scored three goals and was recently proclaimed by Brazilian legend Pelé to be a better player than FIFA’s three-time reigning World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi. The people of Brazil view Neymar as a savior who will bring the Beautiful Game back to their country, along with its first Olympic gold medal and victory at the 2014 World Cup, which Brazil will host (page 66).
Neymar still plays professional soccer in Brazil, but he knows that a career in Europe is on the horizon. He realized that a strong showing in London is vital for him and his team if he is to accomplish all that has been predicted for him. He said, “It’s not easy. If winning the Olympic gold medal was easy, Brazil would have won one already.”
On the Tablet: A Youtube video of Neymar’s greatest plays.
Tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988, but the tournament often lacked luster and never felt like it belonged. All of that changed this year. Every star entered the draw and treated the competition like an additional Grand Slam. In the men’s finals, Andy Murray smoked an ace past Roger Federer, providing Great Britain with its first tennis gold in more than a century (page 70).
Serena Williams took home the gold on the women’s side and did so in impressive fashion. In her final three matches she beat Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharpova—the three most recent players to hold the WTA’s top ranking—by scores of 6-0, 6-3; 6-1, 6-2; 6-0, 6-1. After rolling through the tournament, Williams said, “I never feel invincible, but I do feel good about my game.”
On the Tablet: A look at the four players who have won all four grand slams and an Olympic gold medal.
MLB PLAYERS POLL
Which outfielder has the most dangerous arm?
Jeff Francoeur, Royals RF
Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees RF/LF
Rick Ankeil, Free-Agent CF 15%
Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies LF
Nelson Cruz, Rangers RF 6%
[Based on 305 MLB players who responded to SI’s survey]
FAST FACTS: Washington cut Ankiel last month, and at week’s end he hadn’t been picked up by another big league club. (SI conducted its poll during spring training.) . . . Of the 32 players who received votes, 15 play in right, seven play in center and seven play in left. . . . Vladimir Guerrero, a former rightfielder, who signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays but was cut, also received three votes.
To become an Olympian, every athlete needs to make sacrifices, but the parents of these Olympians also make sacrifices to help their children achieve their dream. These Games have helped restore the good name of sports parents (page 17).
When Canada’s women’s basketball team qualified for London, Lizanne Murphy—an off-the-bench swingman whose father is blind and mother drove her everywhere to compete—didn’t think I did it but rather We did it.
London mayor Boris Johnson is one of the most charismatic figures of the London Games. He has been front and center since they began, cheering on Team Great Britain, making media appearances and involving himself in a variety of Olympic activities. More than anything, though, Johnson is thrilled with the overall success of the Games, saying “It’s been a Himalayan range of high points. I dare not single out one particular peak” (page 84).
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD
· Kaylin Whitney (Clermont, Fla./East Ridge High) – Track and Field
· Andy Hyedn Bo Shim (Duluth, Ga./Homeschooled) – Golf
· Bailey Dickinson (Johns Creek, Ga./Chattahoochee High) – Climbing
· Matt Kavanagh (Rockville Centre, N.Y./Notre Dame) – Lacrosse
· Nicole Medvitz (Paramus, N.J./Paramus High) – Gymnastics
· Tim Benedict (Pittsfield, Pa./Penn State) – Timber Sports
To submit a candidate for Faces in the Crowd, go to SI.com/faces. Follow on Twitter @SI_Faces
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS
· MLB (page 29): Nasty, Boy – The Reds’ starting rotation has been wonderfully consistent all season, but their bullpen is a machine built to win in October. (@joe_sheehan)
· NFL (page 34): – The only thing standing in Darren McFadden’s way of being one of the top running backs in the game is his health. (@si_jimtrotter)