U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Stumble, but Will Be a Force for Years to Come
Do Oscar Pistorius’s Prostheses Give Him an Unfair Advantage?
Megan Rapinoe And Team USA Are Seeking a Third Gold
Four Decades Later, Israel Still Dreams of a Normal Olympics
(NEW YORK – August 1, 2012) – Michael Phelps finished fourth in the 400 individual medley and France out-kicked the U.S. to take home gold in the 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay. If nothing else, the early part of the London Games has shown everyone that the rest of the world is beginning to catch up to the U.S. in swimming. Ryan Lochte and the tough road ahead for the U.S. team are on the cover of the August 6, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now.
Senior writer Kelli Anderson (@KelliAndersonSI) notes that early into the games, it was apparent that the swimming competition wouldn’t be about the supremacy of one man or even two men, despite what the pre-Games Phelps-Lochte buzz had suggested. France extracted revenge on the U.S. for a historically narrow defeat at the hands of Phelps, Jason Lezak & Co. in Beijing four years ago. France, Lithuania and South Africa have all taken home gold medals in men’s and women’s swimming competitions (page 46).
The 400 individual medley was the first time Phelps failed to crack the top three in an Olympic race since he finished fifth in the 200 butterfly in Sydney as 15-year-old. Phelps, reflecting back on his historic run in Beijing said, “In 2008 everything was in a perfect place for me. I was prepared—physically, mentally, emotionally. Everything was perfect.”
As countries begin to catch up to the U.S., USA Swimming believes that because of Phelps’s stardom, the sport will continue to grow. The numbers back that up. In a typical post-Olympic year USA Swimming membership has increased between 5% and 7%, but after Phelps’s performance in Beijing that number ballooned to 11.3%
To download a hi-res JPEG of this week’s cover here
On the Tablet: Podcast with Richard Deitsch and Tim Layden.
ONE CITY, ONE WORLD – ALEXANDER WOLFF
London rescued the Games as last-minute host in 1908 and ’48, and its record third Olympics, planned through seven years of triumph and tragedy, should serve as a model for future games. These Games have already had some historic moments:
· Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia sent their first female athletes to an Olympics, the former two chose women to lead its delegation in the opening ceremonies.
· The first world record of the Games went to South Korea’s Im Dong-hyun, an archer who’s legally blind.
· Natalia Partkya of Poland, a table tennis player with no right hand, joined Oscar Pistorius, the prosthetically fitted “blade runner” from South Africa, as two athletes who are not waiting for the Paralympics.
There have, however, been some down moments for the home country, including showing the South Korean flag before the North Korean soccer game, which delayed the match by an hour as the North Koreans waited for an apology. All in all though, the Games are off to a terrific start (page 40).
The new-look U.S. gymnastics squad stumbled in the men’s team final, but for a young program with a diverse core, the best is yet to come (page 54).
The team is led by Cuban-born Danell Leyva, 20, and John Orozco, 19 of the Bronx, who bring an attitude and have stories worth celebrating. Orozco grew up in poverty, sleeping in the family van as his parents drove him to meets as a child. Leyva’s mother defected to this country, and his step-father, Yin Alvarez, cleaned bathrooms to make ends meet. Alvarez, who coached Leyva, said of his time in London, “I am celebrating life. I represent the best country. My boy is having the best time. How should I not smile, my friend?”
As the U.S. women’s soccer team seeks its third straight Olympic gold medal, no one has been more influential to its early success at the Games than midfielder Megan Rapinoe. She has four assists and one goal through the first two victories, and her creativity on the field is grabbing everyone’s attention. Her style is a different from the traditional American style and Rapione says, “I take pride in the fact that I’m not a typical American” (page 58).
On a team whose long-standing mass appeal has been based in part on its ponytailed girl-next-door aura, Rapinoe became the first prominent U.S. women’s soccer player to come out in the media as gay, something she has never hidden among friends, family and teammates. She said, “We live part of our lives in the media, and there’s something to be said for saying, ‘This is who I am, and I’m proud of it.’ The more people who do come out, the more, I guess, normal it becomes.”
South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius is the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. At home, he is celebrity, and his legend is likely to grow by the end of the Games, but this moment almost never happened. In January 2008, Pistorius was barred from able-bodied competition by the IAAF, track’s governing body, after a scientist it had commissioned to evaluate the runner’s prostheses claimed they allowed Pistorius to expend less energy than intact-limbed runners (page 62).
The ban was later overturned when a group of scientists proved to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that he was at no advantage to other runners. The controversy, however, has continued in London, where his friend and 400-meter world-record holder Michael Johnson believes he should not be allowed to compete.
Four decades after the massacre of Israeli athletes by the terrorist group Black September, Israel’s Olympians are competing passionately despite their continuing isolation on the athletic stage and the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) reluctance to acknowledge the darkest day in the history of the Games. Ankie Spitzer, widow of Israeli fencing coach Andrew Spitzer, who was killed during the massacre, requested an official moment of silent remembrance at the opening ceremony for her husband and 10 other Israeli athletes and coaches killed by Palestinian terrorists in Munich at every Olympics since the ’76 summer games and has been rebuffed each time. The IOC fearful of how the Arab delegations would respond to such an observance continues to deny the request (page 68).
For Israeli athletes, the Olympic experience is unlike that for athletes from other countries. Before they leave for the Games, Israelis are given a primer by their Olympic committee on how to act at the Olympics. They are told: Don’t wear your Israeli warmups in public. Avoid speaking Hebrew in public. If possible, avoid buses. Don’t go off on your own. When assigned a hotel room, be sure it’s not near a stairwell, lest you provide an easy escape route for a possible attacker.
Over the last few games, Arab Olympians have refused to compete against Israeli Olympians. Gidi Kliger, a sailor who has one of the team’s best chances to win a medal in London, said, “Know what would be nice? I wish we could go and just have the normal Olympic experience. Nothing political, nothing special, no protests, no ceremonies. Just athletes competeing.”
MLB PLAYERS POLL
Who is the most eccentric player in baseball?
Nyjer Morgan, Brewers CF
Brian Wilson, Giants RP
Jose Valverde, Tigers RP 8%
Jose Reyes, Marlins SS
Brandon Phillips, Reds 2B 7%
[Based on 297 MLB players who responded to SI’s survey]
FAST FACTS: The combustible Morgan, who answers to Tony Plush, was relatively subdued last year during Milwaukee’s run to the playoffs. But the club has been struggling this season, and in June he shoved a fan in Cincinnati who interfered with his attempt to catch a foul ball. . . .Yankees rightfielder Nick Swisher finished sixth with 4% of the vote.
According to a 2010 report by the auditing firm Deloitte, Britain’s legal gambling industry was worth about $10 billion and employed 100,000 people. The industry expects Olympic action will top $15.7 million throughout the 17 days. Olympic betting is not new to London. The William Hill betting agency has taken bets on the Games since the 1980s. People bet on everything from diving to fencing. Joe Crilly, a company press officer, says, “People are willing to bet on a sport you’d think they wouldn’t.”
All athletes take the hopes of a nation with them to the Olympics, but rarely are they as evident as the hopes of Japanese athletes. Some 16 months after a devastating tsunami, team Japan is on a mission to bring joy back to its still recovering homeland. Javelin thrower Yukifumi Murakami says, “It is our duty to help our country with recovery. As athletes, the Olympics are our opportunity” (page 76).
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD
· Latanna Stone (Valrico, Fla./Homeschooled sixth-grader) – Golf
· Ahmed Bile (Annandale, Va./Georgetown) – Track and Field
· Angel Piccirillo (Home City, Pa./Villanova) – Track and Field
· Sam Weatherhead (Grand Rapids/West Catholic High) – Golf
· Ally Frei (Branchville, N.J./High Point Regional High) – Softball
· Austen Randecker (Mill Hill, Pa./Penn State) – Fly Fishing
To submit a candidate for Faces in The Crowd, go to SI.com/faces. Follow on Twitter @SI_Faces
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS
· NFL (page 32): The Contender – As Jeff Fisher begins his second head coaching job in St. Louis, he’s erased the team’s past and is excited about what the future holds. (@si_jimtrotter)
· College Football (page 33): Cost of Doing Nothing – The financial ramifications of Penn State’s failure to take action in the Sandusky scandal could haunt the school for years. (@SIPabloTorre)
· NASCAR (page 34): He’s a Brickhouse – After a convincing win at the Brickyard 400, Jimmie Johnson served notice that he’ll be tough to beat as he looks toward a sixth Sprint Cup title. (@LarsAndersonSI)
· MLB (page 36): The Master Builder – Most franchises build their teamS through the draft and developing players in their minor league system, but White Sox general manager Kenny Williams uses a different approach and has his team in first place.
· MLB (page 37): The Case for Carlos Beltran –Carlos Beltran is rarely mentioned as one of the game’s greats, but his numbers and production prove otherwise. Albert Chen