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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Will London Be A Pool of Gold for US?

Is American Dominance In The Water Good For Olympic Viewers?

Gymnastics and track and field may be the most viewer-friendly events of the Summer Olympics, but the swimming pool holds the highest gold medal hopes for Team USA in London.

View the Current Medal Count Standings Here.

Gone are the days of deep American rivalries with the Aussies and Brits, or nail-biting finishes in nearly every race. Instead, we have Michael Phelps. And if not Phelps, then Ryan Lochte. And if not Lochte, then Missy Franklin, etc.

"Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the U.S. swim team has won about one-third of all gold medals and one-third of all medals awarded," according to the Wall Street Journal. "In Beijing in 2008, U.S. swimmers won 31 medals, including 12 golds."

So much for international competition.

The Wall Street Journal wrote that the U.S. swim team is projected to take home 28 medals including 12 golds. That's a lot. Flash back to 2008 when Phelps won eight golds in Beijing and when put in context with projection of the entire American team winning 12 golds, it makes Phelps' feat even that much more astounding.

This time around, Phelps is only swimming in seven races (what a slacker) and more importantly, he will only go head-to-head against his strongest rival, Lochte, twice. Lochte has beat Phelps several times in the last few years with each guy stealing a victory over the other in Omaha during the Olympic Trials in June.

During the days, Phelps and Lochte are two teammates who share a suite in Olympic Village and are partners in Spades, beating their roommates at cards. Phelps is mellow, laid back and somewhat dry. Lochte on the other hand is hyper, cites Lil Wayne as his style icon (--blank stare--) and is fairly outspoken. Two talented American teammates with contrasting personalities presents a fascinating dichotomy worth watching in the water.

Perhaps its a good thing that these two will only swim against each other twice, making each race that much more exciting and anticipated.

On the women's side, Franklin, a 17-year-old who should be catapulted to superstardom in these games, has it all. She's about 6'2, attends an all girls high school in Colorado and break dances. Franklin has a huge personality to match the gigantic expectations of "the female Phelps" that has been cast upon her. Franklin qualified for seven events in London making her the top woman in the world to watch in the pool.

I know, we sure sound like self-absorbed Americans, don't we? How typical.

In fairness to the international swimming community, the U.S. does face tough competition but only from a select few individuals.

China's Wu Peng has a serious shot at beating Phelps in London after he beat the greatest swimmer of all time in the 200m butterfly back in May on U.S. soil. An outstanding distance swimmer from Team China is Sun Yang, who, in search of his first Olympic medal, has won several gold medals in various distance events in the World Championships and Asian games over the last few years.

Kosuke Kitajima of Japan won gold in Beijing in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke and will look to do the same in London.

As for the rest of the U.S. swimming contingency outside of the Big Three (Phelps, Lochte, and Franklin), there are plenty of good human interest stories to go around.

We're more likely to see a random photo finish (a la Team USA's tight win over France in the relay in Beijing) than an Ian Thorpe-type rivalry where we expected each race to be a close battle down the stretch.

Then again, just because something is "projected" doesn't mean the outcome is pre-determined. We see upsets in sports every day, the "unknown" drawing us to competition.

As fans, we can find humanity in any winner (or loser for that matter), regardless of country or ethnicity. That's what makes the Olympics such a unique and compelling athletic stage. There will be plenty of room for great races and wonderful stories to come out of the pool in these next two weeks and whether or not those tales of greatness involve Americans doesn't really matter at the end of the day. As long as the races are fast and furious, it's a win-win for all of us viewers.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Major Choke at St. Annes

Tiger who? Despite the fact that the world's most famous golfer was out of the running down the stretch, all eyes were on the 18th hole of the Open Championship when Adam Scott arrived at the tee.

Adam Scott, looking for his first major victory, could taste it after playing 68 holes of solid golf. The Australian started the final round of play with a four-shot lead and continued to roll Sunday. But from 6 shots back came Ernie Els who surged his way up the leaderboard, birdying four holes on the back nine. Back in the clubhouse with a one-stroke lead and awaiting his fate, was Els. Adversely, Scott had bogeyed the 15, 16 and 17, yet still had a chance to force a playoff on the 18th if he could just make par.

It came down to a seven-foot putt that went left. No par. No playoff. No win for a watery-eyed Adam Scott. Instead, four consecutive bogeys on the final holes of the Open Championship.

Brutal.

Four-shot lead with four holes to play. It was a collapse of Norman-esque proportion, Scott's fellow Aussie, often times remembered for all of the wrong reasons.

Scott and Els, two men of different eras and different countries, yet both very likable guys whose play on the back nine gave viewers a taste of the best and worst that the game of golf has to offer.

Els, the affable elder statesman (at age 42), getting to play comeback kid for his first major title since the PGA Championship in 2007, had to put a smile on the face of anyone who has ever played the sport.

On the other hand, if you've ever hit the links, your heart was likely breaking right alongside Scott's as we all know just how quickly the magic can slip away out on the course.

Els finished at 7-under 273, with a one-stroke lead over Scott. Ouch.

Going into the Open Championship, World No. 1 Luke Donald and of course, Tiger Woods, were the two names on everyone's tongue.

While Woods absolutely plays a role in getting eyeballs to the TV initially, great play and dramatics will keep people watching, whether Tiger is a threat to win or not.

Luckily for the sport and golf fans alike, the final round of the Open Championship gave us the perfect combination of joy and heartbreak to keep us glued to the TV.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tiger Faces Another Major Challenge

View the Current British Open Leaderboard Here
It’s that time of the golf season again where all who care, ask the same question
that’s been asked, since that November evening in 2009 when Tiger Woods had a minor accident in his SUV that turned into a major pain in the ass for the 14-time winner of golf’s biggest events. Is Tiger Woods really back? Well that depends on what exactly you mean. Has his game progressed to where he is once again he is considered the best player in the world? The answer is a very simple yes. Woods has won three times on tour in 2012 and is the leading money winner, even though he’s played three less events than second place Jason Dufner. With a victory this week in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, Woods would once again become the world’s top ranked player. He was ranked 58th last season. Is he the same Tiger Woods that at one time captured four consecutive majors in a row? No, but is it realistic to think any golfer could make a run like that again in our lifetime, probably not. It’s no secret Woods hasn’t captured a major since his heroic effort at the U.S. Open in 2008 basically playing on one leg. Despite his recent return to form new swing and all, he finished 21st at this year’s U.S. Open after being tied for the lead after 36 holes. Before his falloff at Olympic he bogeyed his way to a tie for 40th at the 2012 Masters. Unfortunately for Tiger, winning majors is the standard fans and analysts hold him to. It the standard however that he set. It’s the standard that comes with wanting to be the labeled the greatest golfer of all time. Only three players have ever won more than 10 majors. Jack Nicklaus of course with 18; Tiger’s 14; and Walter Hagen with 11 titles. It’s not an easy thing to do, even for the best players in the world but it comes with the territory of that ultimate title Tiger has been longing for since turning professional in 1996. After all, he did win his first major shortly after in June of the next year, so why wouldn’t we all expect the journey to be an easy one after that start? The expectations for Woods have never really left; they’ve just been put on hold. Once again, he is an 8-1 favorite to win the British Open which would mean a fourth Claret Jug to his collection. With the way he has been playing of late, you have to give him the best shot at dealing with the obstacles that Royal Lytham and St. Annes challenges those who dare tee up on the first box. 205 deep bunkers that are not forgiving, almost sure to cost players a shot if they are visited. Rough that a lion would find sufficient for stalking prey and also there are the winds of Lancashire. Gust that are capable of taking one’s shot and landing it somewhere in the Irish Sea. Sounds like the perfect setting for separating the alpha male from the rest of the pack doesn’t it? The 2012 golf season has already proven Tiger Woods has battled back from scandal, injuries, a swing adjustment and maybe even some self-inflicted doubt. But to truly end the speculation on just how far he’s come and where he’s headed, he needs to win a 15th major. He next shot begins on Thursday another opportunity to put an end to this major question.

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