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Not just what's happening in and around the Olympic Movement and International Sports but what it all means.
I was born and grew up in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were killed and more than two dozen hurt when a gunman with a military-style weapon opened fire over the weekend at a bar.
That attack came just hours after a gunman with an assault weapon killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.
That’s 31 people killed in a space of 13 hours — 31 innocent lives, their hopes and dreams gone forever — because of gun violence.
This has to stop.
Shooting needs to be off the Olympic program. The guns need to go.
GWANGJU, South Korea — If ever there was an event that suffered from an Olympic hangover, these 18th FINA world aquatics championships would be right up there on the list of leading candidates. Indeed, a longtime FINA official said, these were the championsihps from the twilight zone.
Some 18 months after the hugely successful — and bitterly cold — PyeongChang Olympics over in South Korea’s northeastern mountains, the action shifted to this nation’s southwest, and Gwangju, into the heat and humidity and, as it turned out, virtually non-stop rain. Strike that. These championships went down to the percussive beat of seemingly endless thunderstorms. There was lightning, too, as immediately before the women’s water polo final, won by the United States over Spain.
They tried to sell this event as a peacemaker: “Dive into Peace,” read the white-on-turquoise slogans plastered all over the venues and, indeed, around town, a nod not just to events on the peninsula but, as virtually everyone in South Korea knows, the events of May 1980, when a democracy uprising climaxed in a bloody battle between the military and locals, the victims now honored in an expansive national cemetery near town.
Instead of peace, however, a balcony in a packed nightclub near the athletes village collapsed early on the morning of July 27, killing two Koreans and injuring at least nine athletes, including four American water polo players.
Meanwhile, inside the venues, athletes from Australia and Britain staged medals-stand protests, purportedly over doping matters tied to the Chinese swimmer Sun Yang. Attendance proved spotty at best; it would be charitable to say there were even hundreds of people on some days at the diving events that opened the meet’s 17-day run. Even the internet — and South Korea is known for its robust internet — didn’t work, and why?
It was thus left to Katie Ledecky, on the meet’s next-to-last night, to provide the emotional rescue — the stuff, the inspiration — that, truly, makes Olympic sport different from everything else.
Essentially, Ledecky all but saved these championships.
GWANGJU, South Korea — As our gaze turns inexorably toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, you could feel here Saturday night at the 2019 FINA swim championships the red, white and blue hype machine kick-starting Saturday into full-on gear, the jet fuel pouring into hot engines already burning orange, ready to zoom to white hot, the Caeleb Dressel rocket about to blast off soon enough like a Saturn V, epic, enormous, ridoncolous in every regard.
You might even say — Phelpsian.
The problem with the comparisons that surely will be drawn between now and next July 24, when the Tokyo Olympics get underway, is elemental.
Caeleb Dressel can break — has broken — Michael Phelps’ race records. Here, for instance, he smashed one of Phelps’ singular achievements, 49.82 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly. Dressel went 49.5. In the semifinals, for goodness sake.
That is hype-worthy. No doubt. But for all the hype, each and every bit of it, Caeleb Dressel has a math problem. Six is not eight. Seven is not eight. It’s that problematic.
GWANGJU, South Korea — Over the course of her brilliant career, Katie Ledecky has had all manner of memorable swims.
There was the race in London in 2012 when she announced herself to the world by winning gold in the 800 freestyle as a 15-year-old. The 1500 free at the world championships in Barcelona in 2013 that made for 15 minutes of thrilling theater. The 14 world records in the 400, 800 and 1500. And on and on.
Maybe no race, however, tested Katie Ledecky like the 800 free here Saturday night.
Typically, Ledecky goes out hard and fast puts the race away. Not this time. She had been sick all week. She was vulnerable. She knew it. Everyone knew it. Incredibly, she fell behind in the middle of the race. Even so, she somehow summoned the heart, the soul, the will of the great champion that she is — one of the great athletes of this or any time — to come back late and win, in 8:13.58.
GWANGJU, South Korea — It was 2:39 a.m. Saturday and the party was in full swing at a nightclub called Coyote Ugly near the athlete village here at the 2019 FINA aquatics world championships.
The women’s water polo tournament had ended just hours before, the Americans winners Friday evening over Spain, and literally hundreds of happy people — water polo players, swimmers and team officials from all over Planet Earth — were jammed into the place, dozens dancing on an upper deck.
Suddenly, there was, as one witness would later describe it, a “soft bang.”
And all hell broke loose.
GWANGJU, South Korea — It was still raining, and hard, at game time Friday evening as one of America’s great ongoing sports dynasties readied for its latest gold-medal test.
The U.S. women’s water polo team doesn’t get the mainstream publicity the women’s national soccer team does. When the water polo team wins by the score of, say, 26-1, as it did a few days ago in defeating South Africa to win its group here at the 2019 FINA world championships, there’s no celebrating in the corner or dancing after each goal of or anything of the sort. That’s not the culture of this group.
All the same, you want excellence? Dedication? Passion? An unwavering commitment to team and country? To the sport? To the notion that by being the best they can be they are in every way role models for little girls — and, perhaps, little boys, too?
The rain came down hard and fast and the women of the U.S. national water polo team gathered to put their hands together in the moments before they played Spain, and Maggie Steffens, arguably the best player of her generation, said all she could do was smile. She felt nervous, sure. But good nervous. This was fun. She had a big smile. She would say later, recalling the feeling, “What an opportunity,” adding, “It’s special.”
This team is special. It deserves luminous, flattering attention of the sort the soccer team just got. We are in the midst of genuine greatness, the Americans going on Friday night to steamroll Spain, 11-6.
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About Alan Abrahamson
Alan Abrahamson is an award-winning sportswriter, best-selling author and in-demand television analyst. In 2010, he launched his own website, 3 Wire Sports, described in James Patterson and Mark Sullivan's 2012 best-selling novel Private Games as "the world's best source of information about the [Olympic] Games and the culture that surrounds them." Read full bio.