A tribute to Chuck Wielgus

A tribute to Chuck Wielgus

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — In the service of journalism, we are taught early and often that the thing to do is put our emotions far, far away.

Too often, though, this does everyone a grave disservice. Life is about the relationships we build. With those relationships comes all the good stuff and, when someone dies, all the hurt that goes with it, too.

Chuck Wielgus passed away April 23, two Sundays ago. He was 67.

Dara is back, and that's good

True enough, over the past year or so Dara Torres hadn't committed herself to competitive swimming. Not in any way. Not with the knee surgery, the shoulder surgery, the book tour, the motivational speaking, the travel -- and, most important, the being a mom to daughter Tessa, who's now 4 1/2. Then again, Dara secretly probably knew deep down all along that vying for London and 2012 was her destiny. And here is the telling clue: All this time, she kept herself in the athlete drug-testing pool.

"So if I decided to swim again," she was saying the other day on the telephone, "people wouldn't question me," wouldn't be able to suggest that she'd had a lengthy window to do whatever or use whatever.

And, she said, "They were very diligent in continuing to test me."

Earlier this month, on the "Live with Regis and Kelly" TV show, Dara said she's back in the game. She said she intends to try to make the London 2012 Summer Games, a turn that's good for her, good for swimming, good for the Olympic movement.

Click here to read the rest at TeamUSA.org.

No Kuwaiti flag - but IOC gets one right

SINGAPORE -- The temptation for many in looking at the photo of the flag-raising ceremony here Wednesday night after the boys' 50-meter backstroke will be to see the Olympic flag where the flag of Kuwait should have been, and to blame the International Olympic Committee. That would be wrong.

Instead, the IOC is to be saluted.

No, Abdullah Altuwaini didn't get to see the Kuwaiti flag go up for the bronze medal he won, a third-place tie in a very close race. It is not fair that a 17-year-old boy didn't get to fully enjoy his moment  -- and what a moment, the first Olympic-category swim medal won by an athlete from Kuwait.

A moment or two before the medals ceremony got underway, Abdullah even was asked -- it wasn't clear by whom -- to take off the T-shirt he was wearing that said "Kuwait" on it. He did so, and put on a sleeveless blue one with harmless commentary. Go Rafael Nadal, it said.

In the bigger picture, Abdullah was here, and he got to swim, and he won a medal, and maybe the medal will go a long way toward resolving one of the most complex disputes very few have even heard about -- a dispute that cuts directly to the essence of keeping sport apart from government interference.

But first the obvious:

"Of course it is a pity we haven't seen our country's flag," the  Kuwaiti ambassador to Singapore, Abdulaziz Al-Adwani, who was on hand Wednesday, said.

The reason why is because the IOC earlier this year suspended the Kuwait Olympic Committee, citing political interference from the nation's parliament.

That it would come to suspension when the Olympic committee at issue is Kuwait makes it all the more fascinating. One of the movement's more influential figures is Sheikh Ahmed Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, a former Kuwaiti Olympic Committee president who since 1991 has served as head of the Olympic Council of Asia, the continental confederation.

That the IOC would take action when it's the sheik's own country tells you the gravity with which president Jacques Rogge and other senior IOC officials view the issue.

The IOC tried for nearly three years to reach a compromise. But in January of this year, it finally had no choice but to spend the Kuwaiti committee.

In announcing the suspension, as the Associated Press reported at the time, the IOC said Kuwait failed to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for amending a law that allows the Gulf state to interfere in the elections of sports organizations.

The IOC is right to insist on the political autonomy of the sports organizations affiliated with the Olympic movement. To take a different position would be intolerable. Imagine if in the United States members of Congress were, for instance, able to exert direct control over the elections, the management or the  budget authority of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Yikes.

"Kuwait needs swimming to develop in the Middle East," the secretary-general of the nation's swimming federation, Husain Al-Musallam, said here Wednesday evening.

Al-Musallam, who is also director-general of the OCA, added, "The problem is not the IOC."

It's not clear when the Kuwaiti dispute will be resolved.

The suspension wasn't much of an issue for the Vancouver Olympics, Kuwait hardly being a Winter Games nation.

But what to do about these inaugural Youth Games? YOG, as this competition is known, is supposed to be as much about what the Olympic movement can teach young people as it is a Games-style sports event.

The compromise was to allow Kuwaiti athletes -- but not as part of a Kuwaiti team.

There are three on the YOG rolls, identified formally not as Kuwaiti but as "athlete from Kuwait": a girl, Hessah Alzayed, who is entered in the shooting competition, and two boys, 400-meter hurdler Yousef Karam, and Abdullah. Each is 17 years old.

Of the three, Abdullah was considered the likeliest to win a medal. His sports hero, he says, is Michael Phelps; Abdullah says he hoped here to emulate Phelps and win Olympic gold, at least Youth Games-style.

In Monday's final of the boys' 100 back, Abdullah was disqualified. He false-started.

His start Wednesday was clean. And halfway through the race, it was clear he would win a medal. But what color?

As the swimmers neared the wall, the few Kuwaiti fans in the stands were going crazy. "I felt I was going to have a heart attack," 14-year-old Ali Dashti said.

At the end, Abdullah faded just slightly.

Christian Homer of Trinidad & Tobago won, in 26.36 seconds. Rainer Kai Wee Ng of Singapore delighted the home crowd by coming in second, in 26.45. Abdullah and Max Ackermann of Australia touched just one-hundredth of a second back, at 26.46, Abdullah in lane six, Max in lane seven.

A history note: the results led to the first-ever Olympic-event swim medals for all three nations, according to the internal YOG news service.

In the mixed zone, the area just off the pool deck where athletes mingle with reporters, nobody stopped Abdullah from waving the Kuwaiti flag. He said he didn't speak much English. Even so, he tried a few sentences:

"Really, really," he said, "I am very happy."

He also said, "Okay, my flag is not here," meaning part of the formal ceremony. "But I am fighting for my flag."

Triumph in their underwear

SINGAPORE -- The starting gun sounded. Into the water they went. Well, most everybody. It  took Sima Weah and Mika-Jah Teah, 17-year-olds from the African nation of Liberia, a beat or two, maybe even three, to respond. Each finally flexed his knees and leaned forward. Then each of the boys jumped, sort of, a splat sort of a dive.

That far wall was still pretty much 50 meters away. Mika-Jah began chopping at the water. Then Sima.

This wasn't a race. It was a scene, one that underscored just how much these Youth Olympic Games are for so many of the young competitors very much a journey.

As it would turn out, this would be no occasion for pity. This was a triumph, and against unbelievable odds.

In this first heat of the boys' 50-meter freestyle here Tuesday at the Singapore Swim School, Sima found himself in Lane Two. By the luck of the draw, his good buddy, Mika-Jah, was in Lane Three. Both boys were immediately identifiable because they weren't competing in swimsuits.

Sima and Mika-Jah wore underwear, white Under Armour boxer briefs. It was all they had.

"It's a kind of a difficult situation," their coach, Steven Weah, would say later.

These first-ever Youth Games have been described by International Olympic Committee officials as more than just a bunch of races. The IOC officials say the Youth Games are a culture and education showcase. Even so, it's still a sports competition. And the contrast between the athletes from places such as the United States and elsewhere -- they prefer in Olympic-speak to call them "up-and-coming" nations -- could not be more vivid.

The American swimmers, for instance, are schooled in stroke technique, how to turn, how best to breathe to maximize efficiency. Some are -- to use swim jargon -- "tapered and shaved." That means they have prepared for the Youth Games through a rigid training schedule. It also means that, in a bid to be more streamlined in the water, they have shaved their body hair.

Kaitlyn Jones, a 15-year-old from Newark, Del., the gold medalist here Sunday in the 200-meter individual medley, swam the morning's fastest time in the 200 backstroke, 2:13.46. Her prelim time was more than a full second better than the next-best effort, from Barbora Zavadova of the Czech Republic.

"I wanted to drop my time," Kaitlyn said afterward. "I did it -- two seconds!"

The American boys' 400-meter relay team rode a strong final 50 meters from Erich Peske, a 17-year-old from Monte Sereno, Calif., to finish in a first-place tie in their heat with China, both teams timed in 3:27.11.

Erich first attracted national attention for his swimming when he was 10. He is already a veteran of the U.S. national meet. "When I'm home," he said, "my friends say, 'You get to swim with Michael Phelps?' And one of the cool things about being at those meets is you can get to swim with people like him."

He was quick to say, "I'm not Phelps."

It's nonetheless the case that some day Kaitlyn or Erich might win an Olympic medal. They have potential.

It's also the case that, as with most of the athletes at the traditional Summer Games, most of those at the Youth Olympics have no chance at being on the podium.

They are here to help the IOC fulfill a goal that Olympic officials call "universality," meaning the inclusion of athletes from all over.

Surennyam Erdenebileg, a 16-year-old from Mongolia, for example, finished more than eight seconds behind in the girls' 50 fly heats. The important thing is not the eight seconds. It's that she finished, a big smile afterward on her face.

Another 16-year-old. Mariana Henriques of Angola, finished more than 17 seconds back in the heats of the girls' 100 breaststroke. Again -- she finished.

For Sima and Mika-Jah, it was assuredly a victory just to be here. The boys train in a river near Monrovia, the Liberian capital. They catch fish when they swim, Mika-Jah said. The first time they had ever been swimming in a pool was here, in Singapore.

Sima is coach Steven's sister's son. He was not chosen out of nepotism, Steven made plain. "To be very frank with you," he said, Sima and Mika-Jah "swim very well compared to other boys."

This trip to Singapore was Steven's second-ever time in an airplane; he had gone to a regional swim meet a few months ago. For Sima and Mika-Jah, it was for sure their first aviation experience. And what an ordeal. First they flew from Monrovia to Accra, Ghana. From Accra they flew to Nairobi, Kenya. From Nairobi it was on to Dubai. Then Dubai to Singapore.

"This is historical," Steven said of the Liberian team's Youth Games appearance.

"I am very happy to have come this far," Mika-Jah said. "All my friends want to be like me."

The electronic timing records show it took more than a second for Mika-Jah and Sima to get off the blocks. Even at this level, the top swimmers get off in six- or seven-tenths of a second, no more.

Comparatively speaking, Mika-Jah got off to the better of the two starts. But once in the water Sima soon caught him.

The two friends were about halfway across the pool when 17-year-old Cristian Quintero of Venezuela won the race, in 23.41 seconds.

It took Sima nearly twice that long to make it. He touched in 46.18.

Mika-Jah finished in 49.47.

Their times would ultimately turn out to be the two slowest of the day, 49th and 50th of 50 swimmers. No matter. As they came out of the water, both boys were greeted with warm applause.

Though they don't own the regulation waist-to-knee suits called "jammers," both boys did swim with goggles and swim caps. "I was very proud of the way they competed with other boys who have assets," Steven said.

"We can do better," Sima said. And, he vowed, the next time that's just what they will do. "We swim," he said, "with no fear."