U.S. women's gymnastics team impresses without experience
The U.S. women won the gold medal in the team event at the World Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo by four points (a large margin in gymnastics) over powerhouse countries Russia, China and Romania. Impressive for the world championships right before the Olympics, right? Well, take into consideration the U.S. national team members who did not actually compete in Japan, and the feat is nearly jaw-dropping.
Rebecca Bross, the U.S. national champ in 2010, dislocated her right kneecap at the national championships this summer.
Alicia Sacramone, the multi-specialty gymnast has competed at multiple world championships and the 2008 Olympics, went down with a torn Achilles tendon while training a few days before the world championships.
With Bross out of competition and Sacramone back in the States for immediate surgery, the team's international experience becomes limited - Aly Raisman becomes the only gymnast who has competed at a world championship. It was the first world or Olympic appearance for Jordyn Wieber, the 2011 national champion and the team's rising star, who should be a threat in the all-around competition later in the week.
In addition to the possible returns of Bross and Sacramone, both Nastia Liukin, the reigning Olympic all-around champion, and Shawn Johnson, the Olympic champ on balance beam, are working on comebacks. Johnson is further along and will join what is essentially the country's B team at the Pan-Am Games in Guadalajara later this month, while Liukin isn't expected to compete again until March. Chellsie Memmel, the all-around world champ in 2005, was slated to join Johnson at the Pan-Am Games until September shoudler surgery.
Add it up, and that's a total of 45 world and Olympic medals sitting on the sidelines from five gymnasts who could still compete at the London Games. However, only five gymnasts will comprise the Olympic teams, compared to six at the world championships. It's an embarrassment of riches for a loaded U.S. team that will have to leave some of its best at home.
Though U.S. women sabre fencers have been leaders of that discipline over the past few years, the country's female foilists were in a funk until this week when 17-year old Lee Kiefer won a bronze medal at the world championships in Catania, Italy. It was the first medal by a U.S. woman foil fencer since Iris Zimmerman's bronze in 1999. Ironically both Kiefer and Zimmerman lost their semifinal contests against the same opponent: Valentina Vezzali, the 37-year-old Italian who won her first of 19 world medals in 1994 when Kiefer wasn't yet a month old. This time Kiefer dropped a 15-10 decision to Vezzali, who went on to win her sixth individual world title. She also has seven gold medals in world team competition and five total golds at the Olympics.
Boxers from Ukraine were the big winners at the World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, who finished with tournament highs of four golds and five total medals. The traditionally powerful Cubans were the only others to win two. Bantamweight Joseph Diaz Jr. and welterweight Errol Spence will join flyweight Rau'shee Warren as U.S. boxers who have secured Olympic berths with their showings at the World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan. Other boxers from the region will still have a chance to qualify for addition Olympic slots at a continental competition next spring. Warren's bronze was the only U.S. medal at the championships. He will be competing at his third Olympics in London, a first for a U.S. boxer.
Look for official word in the next few days that hockey hall-of-famer Mark Messier will run the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6. Messier will join other Olympic athletes, speedskating star Apolo Ohno and retired softball ace Jennie Finch, in running their first marathons this year. In recent years, cyclist Lance Armstrong, speedskater Dan Jansen, gymnast Shannon Miller, swimmer Summer Sanders and tennis players Yannick Noah and Amelie Mauresmo have run a marathon for the first time in New York.
Jim Worrall, an honorary member of the IOC and one of the longest standing members in the Olympics world passed away this week at age 97. The Montreal native track star was named the Canadian flag bearer at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and was selected at age 22, as he said then, "because of my height rather than my achievements. I was six-feet-five and I could make an impression." Since Canada started with the letter K in German, his team marched behind the Japanese, and while a nervous Worrall practiced the dip of his flag in the tunnel leading to the stadium, he nearly impaled one of the Japanese athletes. He later received the Order of Canada and was named an IOC member in 1967. While President of the Canadian Olympic Association, he campaigned openly for the IOC president's position that never came his way. In his post he pushed for stronger doping rules and a more transparent IOC, a stance that may ultimately have kept him from its highest positions.