Breaking: the stuff other Olympic sports wish they had

Breaking: the stuff other Olympic sports wish they had

BUDAPEST — Nine years ago in Vancouver, Yuna Kim performed the most ethereal, languid, beautiful free skate imaginable. To George Gershwin’s Concerto in F, she seemed to float above the ice, languid, beautiful, an artist expressing herself physically the way the greatest of the great painters, sculptors, architects and others have revealed their genius in art that moves the soul.

Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you breakdancing, or in Olympic jargon, breaking, the Summer Games heir to the very thing Yuna Kim did so elegantly at the Winter Games, on full display here Friday and Saturday at these inaugural World Urban Games, bound for the global spotlight at the Paris 2024 Olympics, and yo, feel the jam, people. 

Yuna Kim danced. It was just on ice.

What do you think this is?

Get over yourself if you don’t think otherwise.

No argument: Budapest as "beautiful, wonderful" global sport capital

No argument: Budapest as "beautiful, wonderful" global sport capital

BUDAPEST — Journalists are incessant what-ifers and how-abouters. And here was Balázs Fürjes, who oversaw the Budapest bid for the 2024 Summer Games and is an increasingly influential and important personality in the Olympic movement, briefing a bunch of journalists on a spectacularly sunny  Friday as the first events of the World Urban Games got underway.

The topic: Budapest as — like Fürjes — increasingly influential and important player in the Olympic scene.

Consider: 2017 FINA swim championships, widely acknowledged as best-ever. Coming up for sure: 2023 IAAF track and field championships. 2027 FINA champs, again. Keen interest in: 2025 FIG gymnastics championships. Along with so much more, including this inaugural edition of WUG, with roughly 300 athletes from 48 nations across five continents.

All in one go: sport, music, art, street culture, and finally

All in one go: sport, music, art, street culture, and finally

BUDAPEST — As ever, the International Olympic Committee speaks in code, and though this very first edition of the World Urban Games is not — repeat, not — an IOC event, you’d have to maybe be one of those people who doesn’t understand why breakdancing is the next big Olympic thing to see that the IOC believes WUG is an idea whose time is, like, now.

Also, that Budapest is a very cool city and, beyond that, that they have proven here to be super-responsible and trustworthy and get stuff done, even — especially — on short notice, which tells you they’re people you want to work with, and, you know, hmm.

Coleman case out because USADA doesn't do basic it demands of athletes: know the rules

Coleman case out because USADA doesn't do basic it demands of athletes: know the rules

It boggles the mind, truly, that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency proved so inept, or something, that it moved Monday to announce it had “withdrawn” action against the world’s No. 1 sprinter, Christian Coleman. 

Was its official conduct negligent or more —was it reckless? Why the aggressive advocacy bordering — in recent months increasingly typical of the agency — on religious-style zealotry? Why the arrogance? 

How — seriously, how — could USADA not understand the rules? 

USADA’s basic mission, fundamentally before all else, is to understand the very rules that it says, time and again, over and over, that athletes must internalize, or else. 

And yet — because of USADA’s inability to understand the “whereabouts rules,” it very publicly brought a case against Coleman and, on Monday, embarrassingly — let’s be clear, embarrassingly, shamefully — dropped it.

Someone owes someone something, and before the very serious topic of money damages gets addressed, and that is a legitimate topic for discussion, because these past few weeks have been the height of the European professional track circuit, what there should be first is a very public apology, because — this was wrong.

Very, very wrong.

After Dayton and El Paso: guns must get out of the Games

After Dayton and El Paso: guns must get out of the Games

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.

To the emotional rescue of a twilight zone swim championships

To the emotional rescue of a twilight zone swim championships

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.

Caeleb Dressel and the ridonculous hype machine

Caeleb Dressel and the ridonculous hype machine

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. 

Vulnerable, not dominant, Katie Ledecky summons the will to win

Vulnerable, not dominant, Katie Ledecky summons the will to win

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.  

A "soft bang," nightclub chaos -- and two dead

A "soft bang," nightclub chaos -- and two dead

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.

Best U.S. team going: 53 straight wins, 3 world titles (and 2 Olympic golds, for now)

Best U.S. team going: 53 straight wins, 3 world titles (and 2 Olympic golds, for now)

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.