Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The London Olympics Round Up: Legends Are Born

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

The Jamaicans dominate. Again. 
It began with the women’s 100-meter, an event the Jamaican women swept in Beijing. Alas, a sweep was not to be in London. The Beijing silver medalist, Kerron Stewart, failed to qualify for the finals. This did not stop the Jamaican women from the stealing the headlines: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the gold medalist from the 2008 games repeated in spectacular fashion with a time of 10.75 seconds. The two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 200-meter, Veronica Campbell-Brown, took third at 10.81 seconds. The Jamaican sandwich: the lone American Carmelita Jeter, running in her first Olympics at age 32, took the silver.

The second night was the men’s turn to bring home gold. The 100-meter was being dubbed the race of the century. The four fastest men over a 100-meter distance were to race under the lights in London, three of those men Jamaican. While the entire nation and I hoped for a Jamaican sweep, it was also not to be. Usain Bolt powered is way to a new Olympic record of 9.63 seconds. The Beast, Yohan Blake, brought home the silver for Jamaica in 9.75 seconds. Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion who was banned for 4 years for drug use, took the bronze for the United States. Asafa Powell, the third Jamaican in the race and the former world record holder, plagued with an injury, finished last. It should be said that no matter what place Powell came in, his legacy is sealed as one of the greatest sprinters in history, having run sub 10 seconds 79 times. That is more than twice the next person on the list, countryman Usain Bolt. With the gold and silver medal, Jamaica had won the night, for the second day in a row.

I can tell you Jamaica is ablaze right now; never before has a people been so proud to be from a tiny little island in the Caribbean. August 6, 2012 was the 50th Anniversary of my birth nation's independence from Great Britain, and when the national anthem played as Blake and Bolt received their medals, I know every Jamaican watching had tears of pride in their eyes. The Jamaicans are not done; they are looking to top their medal total of 11 from the Beijing Games.

China or the USA might win the most medals in the end, but everyone will remember the weekend the Jamaicans conquered London. Poetic justice for a once colonized island. 

Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian of OUR generation. 
Michael Phelps had a very difficult start to his final Olympics. He placed fourth in 400-meter individual medley behind fellow teammates and rival Ryan Lochte. Of course, missing the medal stand in his first event caused many critics to come forward and speak about how he was not the greatest Olympian of all time. And the next two medals were not gold, but two silver in a row. Then everything changed: he won a gold medal as part of the men’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay.  He finished what he has said will be his final Olympics with three more gold medals. This tally of 22 Olympic medals is 4 more than the next person on "the list", Soviet gymnast, Larisa Latynina. The most mind-blowing thing: 18 of his medals are gold. That is twice as many as any other athlete. Even more insane, Phelps has competed in 24 swimming events; he won a medal in 22 of those events. That is a 91.6 percent success rate at winning medals.

Is he the greatest Olympian of all time? That is up for debate. The argument can be made for many athletes before Phelps: the likes of Latynina, Carl Lewis, or even Jesse Owens are possibilities. What I do know is that if a list is being made, he is on it. What is certainly true is that he is the greatest Olympian of the modern era. He is truly a living legend.

No medal barriers with these two. 

A young American who happens to be black won the all-around championship. There are millions of little girls who watched and dreamed of doing what Gabby Douglas did. These young girls have no trace of barrier or race in their mind. Gabby and Cullen Jones, the black silver medalist in the 50 meters freestyle, are not important because of the racial barriers they may or may not have perceived to exist and have broken down, but rather because they serve as role models for young boys and girls, African-American or not.

It is not that I believe that what Gabby Douglas and Cullen Jones have accomplished is not significant; they have championed in sports where people of color are rarely competitive. However, when we separate their achievement and speak about it only in the context of their race, we are saying that their achievements are somehow different than other American Olympians.  Different lends itself to separate “African American achievement” from “American achievements.”  Morgan Freeman said it best, “Black history is American history.”

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