Thursday, July 31, 2008
Russian Track and Field Team Engulfed In Doping Controversy
The biggest story was that of the seven Russian track and field members that were suspended after an in-depth doping investigation that has been on-going for months. One of the bigger names to emerge from this investigation was 25-year-old Yelena Soboleva, the world indoor record holder in the 1500 meters.
"The International Assn. of Athletics Federation announced in a statement issued from its Monaco headquarters that the seven Russians had been accused of fraudulently substituting urine, the federation adding that its anti-doping officials deliberately stored and then re-tested samples using "comparative DNA techniques" -- the suggestion being that the samples contained shared DNA, an obvious impossibility."
The results of the investigation and the actions taken by the IAAF shows that the international governing body in athletics and Olympic organizers will take every necessary step to make the Beijing Olympics as clean as possible. This news comes on the heels of an announcement made by the IOC that approximately 4,500 doping tests will be held during the Beijing Olympics, a 25 percent increase from the number of tests done in Athens four years ago.
Seven Russian Track Stars Suspended After IAAF Investigation (NBC Olympics)
Details of the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony Leaked
So SBS, a South Korean television network that will be televising the games, had their cameras rolling on a rehearsal of the Opening Ceremonies. While the bigger secrets of how the flame will be lit and who will light the cauldron were still kept closely guarded, the video that SBS has taken hinted that these Opening Ceremonies may be the biggest show that any Olympic Games has ever seen.
"China's most famous film director, Zhang Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern,'' "House of Flying Daggers''), spent the last three years designing the spectacle, trying to boil 5,000 years of Chinese history into a 50-minute show.
Undulating white columns apparently simulated a waterfall, and giant blue whales were projected onto the strips of roof bordering the opening of the top of the stadium. The video showed a giant blue-and-green illuminated globe on the floor of the stadium at one point.
The rehearsal included contemporary dancers dressed in black and others twirling ribbons, dozens of drummers, martial arts experts, and several colorfully dressed performers suspended by wires and floating above the audience.
One segment featured a half-dozen actors on a raised platform surrounded by hundreds of other performers, while cymbals clanged noisily in the tradition of Beijing opera."
It makes the hype for the Opening Ceremonies a little more exciting and at least we know what to expect somewhat. Looking back at past Opening Ceremonies, the drama that unfolds in the stadium always gets better as the years go on. I've noticed that it has gone longer too. Good luck to China when they try to fit 2,000 years of history into one historic night.
Details of Opening Ceremony Leaked (NBC Olympics)
USA Men's Basketball Dominates Turkey While USA Men's Soccer Draws With Ivory Coast
The American men defeated Turkey easily in the USA Men's Basketball Challenge being held in Macao, China while the soccer team held to a scoreless draw with the Ivory Coast at the ING Cup, and Olympic Warm-Up tournament being held in Hong Kong.
From USSoccer.com :
"Head coach Peter Nowak used all 16 field players during the game, including a complete switch of his midfielders and forwards at halftime, getting a good look at nearly his entire Olympic roster. The two groups of attackers each created dangerous chances throughout the game, despite getting only one shot on goal."
The United States faces Cameroon in their final warm-up match on Saturday, August 2.
And this is from USABasketball.com:
"LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets) combined for 37 points on 13-of-15 shooting as the USA Basketball Men’s Senior National Team (2-0) hounded Turkey for a 114-82 victory Thursday evening in the opening game of the USA Basketball International Challenge in Macao, China.
It was an impressive performance by James, who was selected Player of the Game. After missing the USA’s opening game on July 25 while shaking off a mild sprained ankle, James was back at full speed and scored 20 points and made 8-of-9 shots, including his only 3-pointer, and 3-of-4 free throws, while adding six rebounds, five steals and four assists in 22:31 of action."
The United States will play another exhibition against Lithuania, a team that the U.S. lost to in Athens, on Friday in Macao.
It will be an all-MLS final in the Superliga competition after both the New England Revolution and the Houston Dynamo advanced past the semifinals earlier this week. Neither team gave up any goals in the semifinal round and they will both face each other in the final next Tuesday.
For more, log onto http://superliga2008.com/
Counting Down to NOW Sports' Coverage
I am in the midst of completing the live blogging schedule that will be done during the Olympic Games. I can confirm that our first live blog event will be the women's preliminary football (soccer) games on Wedesday, August 6. Check back soon for the complete schedule and remember, NOW Sports is your home for the latest blogging updates, news, results and TV listings for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad from Beijing, China.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
So since the Olympics are the main focus of the sports world, we'll focus solely on that. However if anything major happens outside of the Olympics, NOW Sports will at least mention it.
With that said, let's get you caught up on the latest Olympic news.
Iraqi Athletes Will Compete in Beijing After All
I'm not sure if you heard about this last week, but Iraq was banned from competing in this year's Olympic games due to government involvement in the country's national Olympic Committee. A country that sent a dream football team to Athens four years ago and made the semifinal round had their Olympic dreams dashed as of last week.
But then negotiations between the IOC and the Iraqi National Olympic Committee helped to give the go-ahead for at least two Iraqi athletes to compete in the Athletics program in Beijing.
IOC Press Release (29 July 2008)
Raj Bhavsar To Take Hamm's Place in Beijing
After news of Paul Hamm's withdrawal from the Olympics broke on Monday, the immediate question was who would compete in his place. From the three alternates, the Olympic selection committee chose Raj Bhavsar to take the open spot on the team.
The story regarding his selection is a story within itself, one that was interesting enough before Paul Hamm withdrew from the Games. In 2004, he had trained and worked hard looking for a spot on the team that would travel to Athens.
“In ’04 maybe my mindset was a little young. I thought I needed it. I NEEDED to be an Olympian. Or else, what was I?" Bhavsar said in an interview with Inside Gymnastics earlier this year.
He was denied a spot on the team and instead named as an alternate. He almost retired from the sport before returning to gymnastics with a better mindset. "Now, it’s like, I WANT it. If I don’t get it, life goes on. There are many other things out there," Bhavsar said.
Bhavsar finished in third place at the all-around competition at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Philadelphia. His third place finish included a top score in the parallel bars with a 15.700. But like what happened four years ago, Bhavsar was named as an alternate to the team.
So at the expense of Paul Hamm, Bhavsar's dreams have finally come true and he will compete in this year's Olympic Games.
Finally, Raj Makes It (DNA India)
A Double Dose of "WHAT UP?! Media"
NOW Sports missed last week's edition of out look at sports media coverage because of our huge Ultimate Olympic Preview. So this week, we'll provide you two helpings of this weekly feature.
NBC Plans to Call Part of the Games from New York, Not China
This news was actually released last week via Awful Announcing and the Chicago Tribune. It's quite surprising to learn that NBC will be continuing a trend that has risen in sports broadcasting lately. As Americans are slowly being exposed to sports in other countries, we slowly recognize that many announcers that call these sports aren't even live at the event.
The practice of calling games off monitors is not unprecedented. World Championship Sports Network (WCSN), now known as Universal Sports, does this all the time with their track and field meets that they broadcast, and the result is terrible. Each European meet that they show is called off of monitors from their headquarters in California by Danny Lee and Carol Lewis and it is very obvious that they are not on site at the meet.
Their announcing always has some sort of hesitation in their voice, there are frequent mistakes and both announcers do not have a full grasp of what is going on at the meet. Granted that Danny Lee is a young announcer still gaining experience, but Carol Lewis has done this for several years and has yet to improve in her analytical and vocal skills.
I think Universal Sports is a nice avenue for young sportscasters to practice and gain experience in the profession. But when it comes to several top-name events, like the Olympics, the network should rely on world feed broadcasters.
ESPN had to learn the hard way when they called the Euro 2008 football games from their studios in Bristol, Connecticut. In the semifinal match between Turkey and Germany, violent lightning storms interrupted the world feed and prevented ESPN commentators in Bristol from calling the game. Had they been live at the stadium, ESPN could have possibly provided play-by-play over the telephone, like what BBC did. While ESPN has done very well in calling football (soccer) games from monitors, the benefits of being at the venue itself are greatly advantageous.
Which is why it is rather disappointing to see that some commentators will not be live in Beijing to call several events for NBC. Though it is an issue of money, the Olympics aren't an event to go cheap on. Maybe NBC would be better off using world feed commentators who are at the venue, especially if they know more about the sport they are calling than those who were hired by NBC (no offense to Bill Clement who will be calling badminton off of monitors in New York).
Future sportscasters should take note: practice calling games off of the TV monitors, it might become a thing of the future.
NOW Sports Plans Round the Clock Coverage of Beijing Olympics
Monday, July 28, 2008
Tour De France Brings In Another Champion From Spain
Spain has had an unbelievable summer in sports this year. After the country's national soccer team captured the European title and Rafael Nadal took down the king of tennis at Wimbledon, Spain has yet another reason to celebrate. Carlos Sastre finally captured his first Tour de France after finishing in the top ten in five of the last six years.
It is the third consecutive year that a Spanish rider won the tour. However, the last two years have been marred with doping controversies. In 2006, Floyd Landis was the apparent winner, but after he was found guilty of doping, Oscar Pereiro was given the title. Last year's Tour was filled with controversies and eventually led to Alberto Contador's win.
This year hasn't seen as many controversies as last year although what was apparent this year was the rigorous testing done by the French Anti-Doping Agency, rather than the governing body of cycling, International Cycling Union. Four riders tested positive for doping this year and an entire cycling team withdrew after one of those riders were expelled from the race.
For Australian Cadel Evans, it was the second straight year that he finished in second place. After finishing in the highest position that any Australian rider has ever accomplished, he was expected to overtake Sastre in Saturday's time trial. While a podium finish in the overall standings of the Tour is an amazing accomplishment in itself, no doubt that Evans has his eyes set on the big prize next year.
What many of these riders have their eyes on now is a medal in Beijing. The men's road race will happen on August 9, the first day of competition, and it will surely be historic as the world's top cyclists race through the streets of Beijing.
Philadelphia Wins Their First Arena Bowl
It was interesting to watch the championship game of the Arena Football League yesterday. Not only did it remind me that the real football season is not far away, but it was a great, high-scoring summer diversion.
Funny to hear the commentators compare the San Jose Sabercats, winners of three ArenaBowl championships since 2002, to the New England Patriots and compare San Jose quarterback Mark Grieb to Tom Brady.
And since San Jose lost, I guess they should compare Philadelphia to the New York Giants. It's Philadelphia's first AFL Championship in franchise history and they did it in thrilling fashion, holding off the Sabercats in the final seconds to win 59-56. It's just the nature of arena football, where multiple touchdowns can be scored in seconds. The Sabercats almost erased a 17-point deficit but came three points short.
So congrats to Bon Jovi and his Philadelphia Soul for winning Arena Bowl XXII. Sometimes I wish I watched more of the Arena Football season.
Brazil Wins Beach Soccer World Cup
Though this was the first year that the Beach Soccer World Cup took place outside of Brazil, it did not end the Brazil's reign on beach soccer championships. The Brazilians won their third straight championship after defeating Italy, 5-3, in the championship game in Marseilles, France.
United States Wins Volleyball World League Title
After upsetting the favored Brazilians in straight sets, the American men looked finally tuned for Beijing after winning the FIVB World League title yesterday. The United States defeated Serbia in four sets (26-24, 23-25, 25-23, 25-22 ) and Brazil fell to fourth place after losing the third-place match to Russia in four sets.
Middlesex Win Thrilling Twenty20 Cup Final
Cricket can get exciting if it comes down to the last bowl. And that's exactly what happened in the Twenty20 Cup final at the Rose Bowl.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Tour de France Concludes This Weekend
I don't remember another Tour de France race where the winners were still somewhat uncertain coming into the penultimate stage. Today's time trial virtually decided this year's champion with Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre fighting against the clock for the top spots in the overall standings. Coming into today's time trial, Sastre was wearing the yellow jersey with Evans behind by 94 seconds.
Evans was predicted to perform stronger in today's stage, which was won by Stefan Schumacher of Germany. But Evans wasn't strong enough as Sastre was able to retain the yellow jersey after finishing his time trial only 29 seconds slower than Evans. Sastre still has a 65 second lead over Evans in the overall standings.
Tomorrow's final stage to the finish in Paris will largely be a ceremonial ride since riders traditionally do not challenge the man in the yellow jersey. Thus, Sastre, barring any unexpected crashes or obstacles, will enjoy a victory ride to the Champs-Elysses.
Game 1 of Red Sox-Yanks becomes a pitchers' duel
It was a low scoring game in yesterday's first of three games to be played this weekend by the AL East rivals. New York Yankee Joba Chamberlain outperformed Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett and Jason Giambi hit a single to allow Bobby Abreu to score the only run of the game.
The 1-0 win put the Yankees only two games behind Boston for the American League wild card lead. This was also the Yankees' seventh consecutive win. Today, it will be a battle of veterans on the mound as Yankee pitcher Andy Pettite will take on Tim Wakefield.
Australia Defeats New Zealand To Extend Lead in Tri-Nations Standings
The Telstra Stadium in Sydney was the site of today's tri-nations rugby test match between Australia and New Zealand in a battle for the Bledisloe Cup. Australia scored an impressive four tries in their leap to the top of the standings over the All Blacks and world champions South Africa Springboks.
Wallabies go top of Tri-Nations with epic win over All Blacks (AFP)
Twenty20 Cup Finals Day From the Rose Bowl
It may not be the Rose Bowl you're accustomed to, but in England the focus is on the Twenty20 Cup finals in cricket. For those not familiar with Twenty20 cricket, or cricket in general, Twenty20 is a faster and shorter form of the traditional one-day international style of this bat-and-ball sport. Tonight, it will be Kent vs. Middlesex in the finals after the semifinals took place earlier today.
FIVB World League Finals
It will be Serbia, Brazil, Russia and the United States facing off against each other today in the World League Semifinals.
Late word is that the United States has upset Brazil in straight sets for a spot in the championship match tomorrow. The Americans will face the winner of Serbia vs. Russia, which is already underway.
FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup
Brazil secured a spot in the finals earlier today after a thrilling 5-4 win over Portugal. The winner takes on either Italy or Spain, with that semifinal already underway.
Friday, July 25, 2008
GYMNASTICS PREVIEW (Continued)
The American women have a better chance of winning gold in Beijing than the men do. Both Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, the first two women named to the team after the Olympic trials, are current world champions after winning the team event in Stuttgart last year. Johnson is also the current individual all-around champion and floor exercise world champion. Nastia Liukin is the current balance beam world champion and won silver in the balance beam in the last two world championships. Together, they are the strongest members of the American team and are two of the best in the world.
The rest of the American team exhibits a lot of talent as well. Chelsie Memmel is a former world champion who won gold in Melbourne at the 2005 world championships. She suffered shoulder injury in 2006 and started to make a comeback in 2007. Along with Memmel, Samantha Peszek, who has strong beam and floor routines, Alicia Sacramone and Bridget Sloan will join Liukin and Johnson in Beijing. The United States finished second to Romania at the 2004 Olympics.
While the Americans are favored, their task to win gold will certainly not be easy. Their biggest threat are the Chinese, who lost to the United States by five one-hundredths of a point in last year's team event at Stuttgtart. They won the team event back in the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark and have had a huge rivalry with the American team for the past four years. With the Chinese competing at home, the crowd will be heavily favoring team China, including Cheng Fei, five-time world champion over the past three years.
Romanian gymnastics has somewhat declined over the past four years since winning team gold in Athens four years ago. But after winning the bronze medal in Stuttgart at last year's world championships, the Romanians are hoping for a comeback. However, they will be missing veteran gymnast Catalina Ponor, who retired from the sport after the world championships. Instead, Sandra Izbasa and Steliana Nistor, silver medalist in last year's individual all-around, will be the Romanian hopeful that will look to put Romania at the top of the gymnastics world.
But Romania will have to play underdog and put up with the United States, the favorites, and China, the host nation. Both the team and individual all-around competition will be the ones to watch in women's gymnastics competition in Beijing. And both competitions will be broadcast live in primetime on NBC.
TRACK AND FIELD PREVIEW
It's a sport where not one, but many nations can enjoy their moment in the spotlight. There is never a single country that dominates track and field. This is a sport that tests a variety of skills from running to jumping to throwing. For 10 days during the games, 47 gold medals will be awarded in the sport of athletics.
Of those 47 events, the most popular are the sprint events, namely the 100 meter dash. On the men's side, the race will come down to three athletes: American Tyson Gay and Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell. A current world champion in the 100 meters, Gay ran the fastest time in the event in any conditions, running a 9.68 race, wind-aided, in the final of the U.S. Olympic Trials. But Usain Bolt is the current official world record holder after running a 9.72 at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York last June. Bolt faced off with Asafa Powell, the veteran sprinter and bronze-medalist at last year's world championships, in an IAAF meet in Stockholm earlier this week.
Obviously, the 100 meter race in Beijing will come down to who will have a fast start and who can put the pressure on the other competitors. The men's 100 meter final will be run on Saturday night, August 16 (Saturday morning here in the United States) at 10:30PM Beijing Time.
But the one race that all of China will be looking forward to will be the 110 meter race where defending Olympic Champion Liu Xiang will try and defend his title. He has the entire nation's hopes on his shoulders and winning in Beijing is the only choice for this 25-year-old Chinese hurdler. He won China's first men's track and field gold medal in Athens and since then, has owned a world record and won a world championship in the event.
But he will have some tough opposition, among them current world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba. He broke Liu Xiang's world record at a IAAF Golden Spikes Meet in Ostrava, Czech Republic earlier this year with a time of 12.87 and has been consistently running those times since. At the last Golden League meet, he ran a 12.88 to win the 110 meter hurdles event in Paris.
Terrence Trammell is America's best hope to win the gold in Beijing. He won the silver medal twice in this event and is competing in what is most likely his last Olympic Games. He also won silver at the last world championships in Osaka last year.
But the focus will be on Liu Xiang, who has been the focus of Chinese sports for the past four years since winning Olympic gold. This feature from Sports Illustrated on the Chinese athlete really expresses why Liu Xiang MUST win this race. And the 110 meter hurdles will be held on Thursday night (Thursday morning here in the U.S.) on August 21, at 9:45PM.
While the 110 meter hurdles will be China's biggest attraction during the games, the other events should be highly entertaining as well. The American rivalry between reigning world and Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner and up-and-coming star LeShawn Merritt, who may be peaking at the right time, will make the 400 meters race a must-see. That race will also be ran on Thursday night, just before the 110 meter hurdles.
Bernard Lagat will also likely make headlines when the 1500 meters and 5000 meter races are ran. He is the favorite in both and is representing the United States for the first time after representing his home nation of Kenya in the last Olympic Games, when he won silver. He is the current world champion in both events.
On the field, the pole vault and shot put events will be the ones to watch. Current world champion and American Brad Walker and Australian Steven Hooker are strong contenders to take medal spots in the pole vault. And there could be a huge clash of American shot put titans when Reese Hoffa takes on Adam Nelson for a shot at the gold medal. The shot put will be one of the first medals to be awarded in athletics.
The highlight of the women's program will be the sprint races where the rivalry between the Jamaican and American runners will reach its peak. Each nation will showcase very talented runners and each race should be well-matched. In the women's 100 meters, Jamaica will be leaning on Kerron Stewart while Torri Edwards, Muna Lee and Lauryn Williams will all be contenders for gold in the event for the United States.
What this rivalry will be missing is Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown, who did not qualify for the 100 meters after placing fourth in the Jamaican Olympic Trials. The defending world and Olympic champion in the 100 meters will, however, be competing in the 200 meters and 4x100m relay in Beijing. She will have to put up with American Allyson Felix, defending world champion and silver medalist from Athens, and her countrywoman Kerron Stewart, who is trying for the elusive sprint double, that is if she wins the 100 meters.
The Jamaican-USA rivalry will likely spill over into the 400 meters race, but both countries will have to deal with powerful runners from Great Britain. Sanya Richards from the United States and Jamaican runners Novlene Williams-Mills and Rosemarie Whyte will all be contenders for medals. But runners like Nicola Sanders, who won silver in Osaka last year, and Christine Ohuruogu, current world champion, may give Great Britain glory in this event, which would be a great boost for the country that will host the next Olympic games in four years time.
On the field, the most captivating matchup will be in the pole vault where American Jenn Stuczynski will matchup with world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva, who broke her own world record in a Golden League event in Rome earlier this year. The two athletes have gone one-two in numerous events, most notably this year's world indoor championships. Isinbayeva is the defending world and Olympic champion and it would be a tall order for Stuczyinski to overthrow her. The pole vault final will be held on the night of August 18.
So looking back at the three sports that will attract the most eyes during the 17-day competition, the United States is expected to dominate in swimming, have a good shot in gymnastics, and have some bright moments in track and field. China is looking forward to its brightest moment of all, when Liu Xiang takes on the rest of the world in his signature event, the 110 meter hurdles.
We'll continue previewing the games as we inch closer to the opening ceremonies. And during the Olympic Games, NOW Sports will tackle its toughest challenge of all: A LIVE 20-HOUR BLOG on each day throughout the ENTIRE Olympic Games (or until I leave for college, whichever comes first). We'll detail more on how NOW Sports expects to cover these Games of the XXIX Olympiad.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The first week of the Olympic Games will be highlighted by gold medal action at the Water Cube, the National Aquatics Center, where the swimming events will take place. From the looks of things, the United States is likely to field one of the strongest and deepest swimming teams in Olympic history.
If the United States will dominate the pool, the most likely man to do so is Michael Phelps. Appearing in his third Olympic Games, Phelps will be looking to better his record in Athens four years ago, when he won six gold medals and two bronze medals. His strongest event will likely be the 200 meter butterfly, where he owns nine of the 10 fastest times ever. He will, however, face credible threats in the other seven events that he will be competing in.
The 200m freestyle was the most competitive event at the Athens Games where Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenbond won gold and silver respectively while Phelps grabbed the bronze. Thorpe has retired but veteran swimmer van den Hoogenbond, at 30 years old, is still one of the better freestyle swimmers competing in the world. Phelps edged van den Hoogenbond last year at the world championships in world record time but the Dutch swimmer remains a huge contender in Beijing.
If Phelps can't win gold in certain events, then the man most likely to do so is his teammate, Ryan Lochte. The two swimmers had a fierce rivalry at the Olympic trials but Phelps consistently came out on top. Lochte is a huge threat to Phelps in the individual medley races, including the 200m and 400m events.
And while Phelps is expected to take gold in the 200m butterfly, the 100m butterfly may be a bit more difficult for Phelps to dominate. Fellow American swimmer Ian Crocker has a good chance of stealing the gold from Phelps in this event. He came close to doing so last year at the World Championships when he lost to Phelps by five one-hundredths of a second.
Specialists like Brendan Hansen and Aaron Peirsol make the U.S. swimming team look unstoppable coming into the games. Hansen is likely to take gold in the 100 meter breaststroke but will have to fend off his Japanese rival, Kosuke Kitajima, who took gold in this event in Athens. Kitajima should have no problem taking the gold in the 200 meter breaststroke after Hansen failed to qualify for this event at the trials. Since Hansen will only have one shot at individual gold, the storyline surrounding his rivalry with Kitajima becomes that much more interesting.
Meantime, Peirsol is a huge favorite to take the backstroke events in Beijing. He won gold in world record time in the 100 meter backstroke at the world championships. But like Phelps, he may fall to his teammate Ryan Lochte in the 200 meter event after Lochte edged Peirsol for gold last year in Melbourne.
The incredible depth that the United States has makes them a sure favorite in the relay events, especially the medley relay. Australia, however, always remains a contender, especially with swimmers like Grant Hackett, who is still in great shape to take the middle and long distance frestyle events.
American women are likely to be successful as well with Natalie Coughlin and Katie Hoff leading the way. At the same time, the rivalry with Australia is more intense on the women's side than on the men's side.
Coughlin is unmatched in the 100 meter backstroke as the defending Olympic and world champion. Katie Hoff could match Phelps's success in Athens as she comes in as one of the youngest and strongest female swimmers in the world. An incredible all-arounder, Hoff is a contender in the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle events as well as the medley events.
Hoff does have a tough schedule ahead for her in Beijing as well as tough opponents that have good chances to take gold. One of her strongest opponents come from down under in Australia and include Stephanie Rice, who has traded world records with Hoff in the 400 meter individual medley this season.
Australia has huge chances to take gold in the breaststroke and butterfly events with Libby Trickett and Leisel Jones, both of whom gave the home crowd of Australia a thrill when the world championships were in Melbourne last year. Lisbeth Trickett (formerly Lisbeth Lenton before her marriage last year) took home gold in three individual events last year, including the 50 meter and 100 meter freestyle and the 100 meter butterfly. Leisel Jones owns the world record in the 100 meter breaststroke but may face opposition from American swimmer, Jessica Hardy, who has traded world record titles with Jones before.
The number of contenders from both Australia and the United States makes the women's relays the top event to watch in Beijing. Expect competitive swimming from both lanes of the pool, especially in the 4x100 meter medley and freestyle relays.
Again, the United States are favorites in several events, including the team and individual all-around finals. But there are plenty of international contenders that can easily give the United States some difficulty in Beijing and have excellent chances of taking home the gold.
The Chinese and the Japanese are likely to field very strong teams that could take home the top prizes in the team competition. The two teams won gold and silver respectively at last year's world championships in Stuttgart, Germany and have been consistently the top teams in the world. China's big driving force in the sport is Yang Wei, the two-time defending world champion in the men's individual all-around. He is known for getting high difficulty scores in his routines, combining complex elements with perfect execution in his performances. In last year's world championships, he put up a huge lead in the all-around going into the final rotation that despite a fall from the high bar, he still won the world championship. Yang Wei is also a contender in the pommel horse and rings competition.
Yang Wei will be likely matched by American gymnast and defending Olympic champion Paul Hamm, who made a spectacular comeback to win gold after falling from the dismount from his vault routine. Like at last year's world championship, Yang Wei had the lead coming into the final rotation but fell from his high bar routine and thus opening the door for Paul Hamm.
Hamm is hoping to lead the United States to success in Beijing after capturing the silver medal in the team event in Athens. Paul Hamm was named to the team despite being unable to compete at the Olympic Trials due to broken right hand. But he showed that he has recovered after putting up an excellent performance in front of a selection committee last Saturday at the U.S. Olympic training camp. Before breaking his hand, Paul Hamm showed that he is still a strong contender for gold in Beijing despite taking time off after the 2004 Olympics after winning the Tyson American Cup last March in New York.
Going to Beijing with him is his twin brother Morgan Hamm, named to the team despite testing positive for taking an anti-inflammatory drug during the U.S. National Championships. Joining the Hamm brothers is first time Olympian Jonathan Horton, who won the individual all-around at the Olympic Trials. Horton was part of the U.S. team that placed fourth in the world championships last year. He is the only member of that team that will be part of the Olympic team. Joe Hagerty, Justin Spring and Kevin Tan make up the rest of the men's U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.
But there are plenty of international stars that are likely to steal the show and the gold in Beijing. Diego Hypolito can bring historic gymnastics success to Brazil with a gold in the floor exercise. He is the current world champion and is the first male gymnast from South America to medal at the world championships. Veteran gymnast Marion Dragulescu from Romania is still a favorite for both the vault and floor exercise competition while Germnay's Fabian Hambuchen, current high bar world champion is a favorite in the event after leading the German team to a bronze medal in the team final and winning silver in the men's all-around.
The men's all-around will be the competition to watch with many superstars, veteran favorites and young hopefuls competing. The event could be the best of the men's program or even of the entire Olympic Games.
Women's preview still to come...
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
British Open, AVP Tour, WNBA at Arthur Ashe, Angels Sweep, ESPYs...
However way you look at it, it was a crazy weekend in sports, especially here in New York. The Yankees were back in action against the Oakland Athletics, the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour came to Coney Island and pro basketball history was made at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
- YANKEES: The Bronx Bombers are currently on a four-game winning streak after their sweep of the Oakland Athletics and their win last night against the Minnesota Twins. The Angels' sweep of the Boston Red Sox in Los Angeles helped to close the gap between the two teams. The Yankees are now 4.5 games behind the Sox, who are 1.5 games behind the AL East leaders Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Hunt for October is in full swing.
- AVP BROOKLYN OPEN: I've been to this event before and it's definitely exciting to watch pro beach volleyball players rock your local beach, especially when your local beach is Coney Island. Personally, I think the AVP is the most fan-friendly event of all the professional leagues out there. Where else can you be five feet away from the pros, get high fives from them and then watch them win the championship, all in a span of three days? If the AVP ever gets to your local beach, definitely check them out...Anyway, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh remained undefeated after they won their 17th title in a row in Brooklyn. They are sure favorites for the gold in Beijing.
- OUTDOOR WNBA BASKETBALL: So in my last post, I talked about the hype of pros playing outdoor basketball. Well, from what I saw on television, it didn't exactly live up to the hype. I thought it was cool but it doesn't help promote the league if there are lots of empty seats. Sure, there may have been over 19,000 attendees, but that doesn't look like a lot in a stadium that seats 23,000+. Maybe the WNBA should choose a more intimate arena next time...It would also help if the matchup was even, but from what I saw, the Liberty played very flat and the home crowd didn't have much to cheer for. So much for the experiment but I wonder if they'll do it again.
- BRITISH OPEN: The biggest event of the weekend happened across the pond. Greg Norman was going for history to be the oldest player to win a major. It was a great storyline that carried viewers through the weekend of morning golf, especially on Sunday morning. But in the end, it was Padraig Harrington, with two spectacular shots on the last two holes, that ended up with the claret jug, winning his second consecutive title. I guess golf without Tiger Woods can exist after all.
- ESPYs: I watched them, it was interesting, light-hearted, rather funny. It's kind of like a big celebrity party with a sports theme. Sure there were serious moments (like the Arthur Ashe Award presentation) and it was great looking back at a great year of sports, but I could never take the ESPYs as seriously as the Oscars or Grammys. Then again, I guess it was never meant to...Justin Timberlake wasn't bad as a host, his jokes weren't bad either. At least he could sing.
Olympic Basketball Draw Set; Croatia and Greece Win Qualifiers
It's the only tournament where the losers of the semifinals go on to the finals. Croatia and Greece won their respective semifinals in Athens at the Olympic Basketball Qualifying Tournament for Men, thus securing a place in the main draw. There was only one spot left, and that was open to the winner of the 3rd place game between Germany and Puerto Rico.
This is the final week of the Tour de France and we'll put that into focus later this week. But our main priority for the rest of July and in the run-up to the Olympic Games will be previewing Beijing 2008. Tomorrow will be a super Olympic Preview as I make up for the time that we lost on Sunday and Monday. We'll take a look at the marquee events of Track and Field, gymnastics and swimming.
Besides the Tour de France, we'll also look at some track and field warm-up meets in Europe, Superliga football, World League Finals in volleyball and much more in the world of sports.
We may have missed two days, but NOW Sports is back and in full force so keep reading all this week.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
Yao Ming Returns, Countries Vie For Final Spots in Olympic Basketball Draw
I forgot to mention yesterday that Yao Ming returned to play basketball in an exhibition match for China. (Click here for story.) China was very elated to see its star player back in action after an injury sidelined him from playing for the Houston Rockets six months ago. He scored 11 points and made four rebounds in the exhibition against Serbia.
Meanwhile, this past week, 12 teams were vying for the final three spots open in the Men's Olympic Basketball tournament. Teams from Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, Germany and eight other nations gathered in Athens, the site for the last Olympic Games, and competed in the Olympic Qualifiying Tournament. Four groups with three teams each played in a round robin format over a period of three days. The top two from each group then advanced to the knockout stages, beginning with the quarterfinals.
Today, the quarterfinals are being held. As of now, Croatia and Puerto Rico have advanced to the semifinals. Germany, led by Dirk Nowitski, will face Brazil while Greece will face New Zealand for the remaining two spots. For more on the tournament, check out the official website:
Athens 2008 Olympic Qualifying.
FIFA World Cup (Beach Soccer World Cup) in Marseilles, France
Who says soccer always has to be played on the pitch? Soccer in the summer was meant to be played on the sands and this week, the world's best beach soccer players have gathered on the beaches of Marseilles, France.
The beach soccer world cup began as the beach soccer world championships in 1995 at Rio de Janeiro and Brazil won six straight championships while a countless number of other countries placed second and third. Since 1995, the World Championships were always held at Copacabana Beach in Rio except from 2000-2002 when it was held in other beaches in Brazil. After Portugal's win in 2001, Brazil won another three consecutive championships. France become a surprise winner in 2005, the first year the world championships became the World Cup. Then Brazil won in 2006 and 2007.
This is the first year that the Beach Soccer World Cup is being held outside of Brazil but that doesn't change who the favorites are. Despite Brazil becoming the presumptive favorite to win the tournament every year, the competition is always interesting just because of the nature of beach soccer. It's a very offensive game since the field is smaller and you tend to find that the goals tend to be shot from farther away from the goal post than in regular soccer, mainly because the players move slightly slower in the sand and its easier to get a shot off from midfield than the end of the field. I guess you could say that Beach soccer is more of a shootout than an actual game. For more information, visit the official website.
Ronaldo To Stay With Manchester United
Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, said earlier today that winger Christiano Ronaldo will stay at Old Trafford, and not move to Real Madrid as many had speculated.
From BBC Sport:
"Ferguson met the winger - now out for three months following ankle surgery - in Lisbon last week after speculation about the 23-year-old's future.
"It went well. We put across our points of view, where we stand and where the player stands," explained Ferguson.
"I can say he'll be a Manchester United player next season. He won't be sold."
United will hope that Ferguson's comments at a press conference during the club's pre-season tour of South Africa will put an end to rumours linking Ronaldo with a switch to the Spanish champions."Ronaldo, who hasn't played since Portugal lost in the quarterfinals at Euro 2008, is currently recovering from ankle surgery and will be out for three months. Ronald nor Real Madrid has made any comments thus far.
IAAF Golden League Paris Results
The fourth leg of this year's Golden League, and the last before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, took place earlier today in Paris, France. The two remaining contenders for the $1 million jackpot won their respective events easily today. Pamela Jelimo of Kenya won the 800m race with a time of 1:54.97, while Croatian Blanka Vlasic won the high junp by jumping a height of 2.01.
Meanwhile, the rivalry continued in the 400 meter race between USA's Jeremy Wariner and LeShawn Merritt. Wariner, who has lost to Merritt twice this year already, had no problem winning the 400m race today after placing first with a time of 43.86, the fastest time ran in the world this season. Merritt placed second and Chris Brown of the Bahamas placed third.
And in the 110 meter hurdles, Cuba's Darron Robles came close to tying the world record mark that he set earlier in the year by winning today's race in a time of 12.88 seconds. That time was one-hundredth slower than the 12.87 seconds he ran in a Grand Prix meet in the Czech Republic.
Other athletic news...
Britain's Dwain Chambers failed in his bid to overturn a lifetime ban to compete in the Olympics. Chambers placed first in last week's British Olympic Trials but the British Olympic Association was awaiting the verdict from a London High Court on whether Chambers should be allowed to compete or not despite the ban given to him by the BOA after he was convicted of taking the banned drug THG in 2003. BBC Sport has more information right here...
And South African double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius was not selected to compete at this year's Olympic Games after the South African Olympic Association opted to give his spot to a runner who has run the 400m in a faster time. Pistorius could not run the qualifying time of 45.55 seconds despite running a personal best time of 46.25 on Wednesday in an event in Lucerne, Switzerland. For more details, check out this report.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Olympic Baseball Roster Announced; Softball Team Looks For Complete Dominance in Beijing
We'll go backwards this time and start with our Countdown to Beijing. Yesterday, we looked at the announcers for NBC and today we go back to the stars on the field. The roster for the Olympic baseball team was announced yesterday, with no major leaguers named to the team.
We discussed on Tuesday that major leaguers will not be on the team, and that's for a variety of reason. Olympic baseball coincides with the Major League Baseball season and the run up to the postseason and MLB officials and managers do not want to take the risk of injuring players before the hunt for October begins. Olympic organizers suggested that instead of an All-Star break, MLB could take several days off for the Olympics instead.
Instead, we'll see several minor leaguers represent the United States in their bid for the last baseball gold medal to be given out before it disappears from the Olympic program. There are several standout names here that may be able to match up with the teams from Cuba and Japan. Matt LaPorta is one of them. He is currently an outfielder, but played very well at first base in the Futures Game last Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Dexter Fowler has dominated the Double-A division of the minor league and has been referred to as a switch-hitter that "has superstar written all over him." One of their best pitching elements is seen in San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg, a pitcher that can throw strikes and throw in the high 90s.
For the complete roster, click here.
For the comments about the roster made during the press conference, click here.
And keeping with the subject of bat-and-ball sports, we take a look at the Olympic Softball Tournament, where again Team USA is the favorite heading into Beijing. Since the sport was introduced at the Atlanta 1996 games, the United States has won every gold medal and faced little competition.
Like the baseball competition, eight teams will compete in a single pool and will play a round robin format. The top 4 teams with the best records from pool play will advance to the semifinals and compete in a knockout format. The winners advance to the gold medal game while the losers will compete for the bronze medal.
The United States had their best performance in Athens, finishing undefeated and scoring 51 runs while only allowing one, which occured in the gold medal game against Australia. The best news going for the United States is that the core group of players that won gold in Athens will remain with the team in Beijing, including Crystl Bustos and Jennie Finch.
If anyone can slow down the United States, it may be either Japan, who boasts a pitcher that threw the first perfect game in Olympic history, or Australia, the silver medalists in Athens who also has an intimidating veteran pitcher in 36-year-old Tanya Harding.
For a complete preview, check out this article from NBCOlympics.com:
USA Women's Soccer Loses Wambach To A Leg Injury
Hopes for a gold medal in Beijing were significantly lowered yesterday when veteran and star-forward Abby Wambach broke her leg after a collision with Brazilian defender Andreia Rosa in an exhibition match held yesterday against Brazil in San Diego. She will be out for three months and will miss next month's Olympic Games. (Click here for story.)
Wambach, who leads the team in goal scoring, still thinks that the United States has the potential to win the gold medal. And that may be true physically. But yesterday's injury lowered expectations and the confidence of many of the younger players on the team who look up to Wambach as a guide and leader. It will be tough for the United States as they will have to learn how to play without Wambach.
They did win the exhibition match by a score of 1-0. However, three of Brazil's top goal scorers, including Marta, did not play in yesterday's exhibition, though they are expected to play with Brazil in the Olympics. The task to defend the gold medal that USA won in Athens will be much tougher to accomplish without Wambach, though they are still expected to get out of the preliminary round with matches against Norway, New Zealand and Japan in the first round. We won't find out until their first match how much Wambach's injury has affect the team. But the outlook isn't very good.
Superliga: New England Revolution and Guadalajara Remain Undefeated
The New England Revolution were able to get away with their second win of the tournament yesterday after being granted a penalty kick in the final moments of their match against Pachuca.
Pachuca is still alive with one win and one loss. Chivas USA is also alive after it's 1-0 win over Santos Laguna, whose second straight loss eliminated them from advancing further in the tournament. On Tuesday, Guadalajara stayed strong with its second win of the tournament over the Houston Dynamo, who stands with one win and one loss after two games. Also in contention is Atlante, who pulled out a 3-2 win over DC United.
As far as the tournament itself, it has been entertaining to watch and hopefully we'll see more people in the stands as we get into the knockout stages. We'll have to see. But I missed soccer since Euro 2008 ended, and this has been a nice fix for my football separation anxiety, especially with the Spanish commentators.
Tour de France update: Britain Has Its Moments While Doping Steals Spotlight
Doping has hit the tour again and has resulted in an entire team from withdrawing from the tour.
It's sad that cyclists haven't learned yet that the sport is going nowhere because of idiots that don't seem to care about anything but winning. What we need to do though is commend the Tour for uncovering these scandals and taking the necessary steps to fix the situation. While the consequences are certainly not positive, there is a reason why cyclists are tested after every stage. It may taint the image of the Tour, but the fact that action is being taken immediately is better than doing nothing at all.
What needs to be done in the future is prevent these incidents from happening, as each scandal that emerges just further ruins the credibility of the race. But I am comforted with the fact that organizers are doing all it can to rid the sport of drug offenders.
Doping has also stolen the spotlight of Britain's Mark Cavendish, who has made history by becoming the first British rider to win three stages of the same tour. The tour has had its moments with views of spectacular mountain climbs and electric sprints to the finish. Despite the recent drug scandals, I'll keep watching the tour. There are still some good guys out there.
The Open Championship: Truly an Open Field
The veterans are struggling while Rocco Mediate has taken the lead in the early round of golf's third major of the year. Mediate was the player who nearly took down Tiger Woods at last month's U.S. Open championship. This time, he doesn't have to fend off Tiger Woods, who is out the rest of the year healing a knee injury that recently underwent surgery.
Mediate is currently -1 after the first round and will be an interesting storyline in a golf tournament that is still new to a world without Tiger Woods. The weather and the course itself could be supporting storylines as the setting has proved to be challenging during today's first round.
For the latest updates and news, visit the offical Open championship website: www.opengolf.com
So now you're up to date on the world in sports. Glad I was able to help. This weekend, we'll talk more golf and also take a look at some of the marquee sports in out countdown to Beijing.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
But I have to admit, it was a great game. Very exciting and very close throughout. And I would have paid more attention if more was at stake (though I am thankful that home field advantage for the world series was at stake, better than nothing).
So let's look at the game itself. Again, this all-star game was very low scoring and no runs were made in the first four innings and that's mainly thanks to the outstanding pitching. The first three innings went by very quickly, thanks to starting pitchers Cliff Lee and Ben Sheets.
But then the game played out very slowly as the scoring started to come in and it gave the fans at Yankee Stadium and at home some bright moments. After Matt Holliday belted a home run into right field, J.D. Drew matched that home run and tied the game in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was one of the many shining moments for the young first-time all-stars.
The best part for Yankee fans at the stadium was to see Mariano Rivera pitch one and two-thirds scoreless innings, and his efforts paid off eventually, at approximately 1:40AM EDT on Wednesday morning, when Michael Young hit a sacrifice fly and Justin Morneau scored the winning run by beating Corey Hart's throw to the plate.
So the longest All-Star game ever played in terms of time (4:50) is in the books and has been written as another chapter in the great history of Yankee stadium. It also extends the winning streak of the American League (with the exception of the tie in 2002). Thoughts of 2002 were coming back as the game progressed later and later on into the night as both teams were running out of pitchers. Luckily, thanks to Michael Young and Justin Morneau, that situation didn't have to go any further.
Even more important was the significance of playing at Yankee Stadium, which has been the storyline of this entire All-Star break. The pregame show really showed that off as a collection of current and past all-stars were aligned together on the field in what looked like heaven to a baseball fanatic. Surely for the fans, this was a game that will never be forgotten. And for Yankee fans, it must be ironic that a Boston red Sox player, JD Drew, was the MVP of the game and potentially gave the Yankees home-field advantage in the world series (if they get there of course).
So a ridiculously awesome game and all-star break comes to a close and its time to look towards the race for October...
"WHAT UP?! Media": Brett Favre, FOX's All-Star Coverage and Olympic Announcers
So I have several things that I will say about the above topics and I'll be brief about each of them.
First Brett Favre, it's a topic that I haven't addressed only because there were bigger sports news stories out there. So obviously he wants to keep playing football and his retirement was a mistake. We should have known after all the tears he shed at his retirement announcement that he did not want to give up football. And if the Packers won't let him play (and there are many valid reasons why they won't let him play), then let him out of his contract and see if any other teams want him. That's all. I don't know why it has to get more complicated than that but I think it's safe to say that the media has been a big part of this drama. You can only wonder why Favre went to Fox News of all places to express his feelings. But I guess since there aren't many other sports stories going on until the Olympics, the media will remain obsessive with Brett Favre and his desire to play again. Very sad.
Next, Fox's coverage of the All-Star game. Overall, I liked it. Joe Buck knows how to handle things well and his simple phrases and short sentences allowed the game to flow freely and allowed the crowd, not the announcer, to set the emotions of the game. Fox made it clear that the star would be the stadium and the network and MLB went all out. From the red carpet parade up Sixth Avenue to the touching and memorable pre-game ceremonies, Yankee Stadium was the all-star and theme of the night. Until the game that is...
I have to say that the sponsors had too much of a role in this game. Chevy's icon was everywhere and it would have been great if they would have stayed with Mariano Rivera coming out of the bullpen instead of going to an Aquafina commercial or whatever. On the plus side, I liked Yogi Berra's visit to the booth and Joe Buck's comment on Sarah Jessica Parker was hilarious.
One of my favorite columnists, Richard Sandomir, has an interesting take on the broadcast:
Finally, NBC released its list of broadcasters for this year's Olympics, some new, some old and some changes within. Here they are, I haven't finished looking through them and I'll give some opinion next week. Click here.
Bob Papa will take over as play-by-play announcer on the NFL Network alongside Cris Collinsworth. Papa replaces Bryant Gumbel who was let go from the network earlier this year.
Doping has hit the Tour de France again.
It's official, the Chicago Blackhawks will play the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in the NHL Winter Classic.
Thanks for reading. Today is supposedly the worst day in a life of a sport's fan since no professional leagues are in action at all. If you opened your mind a bit like I do, then maybe you'll catch a little tour de france and some superliga football action. we had tons of baseball yesterday anyway so I guess a little rest day wouldn't hurt. see you tomorrow.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Tues July 15: Josh Hamilton Is the Best Loser in Sports History; All-Star Game Preview; Olympic Baseball Preview
Morneau Wins But Hamilton Accomplishes Derby's Task
I'm not sure how often an individual can single-handedly capture the hearts and minds of the fans at Yankee Stadium, especially when it comes to the sport of baseball. But Josh Hamilton, for at least a half-hour, captured our attention last night after he sent 28 home runs out to the depths of the stadium in the first round alone.
There really isn't supposed to be any strategy for winning the Home Run derby. You're not meant to just hit a few home runs in the first two rounds and save your strength for the final. Players are just supposed to hit home runs. Justin Morneau just got lucky, and I credit his sportmanship. Even he said that Hamilton should have won.
But then again, the Home Run Derby isn't about winning or losing. It's about hitting home runs and thrilling the fans. Congrats to Justin Morneau for winning, but a greater congratulations to Hamilton for giving the fans what we love to see, and helping to raise $300,000 in charity at the same time.
All-Star Game Tonight
We know what the significance of this game is. It's the last classic at Yankee Stadium, the first since 1977, before the House that Ruth Built is demolished and makes way for the New Yankee Stadium. And the winner of this game gets to have home-field advantage during the world series, a tradition that started in 2003.
The American League has won 11 straight all star games and the possibility of the National League winning is, well let's just say that it exists. Ben Sheets and Cliff Lee will be the starting pitcher for the National and American leagues respectively. Sheets is 10-3 with a 2.85 ERA while Lee is 12-3 with a 2.31 ERA.
Surely, last night's showing by Josh Hamilton will increase the odds that the American League will come out with a win. And the New York fans at the stadium will be rooting for Yankee stars Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera.
But it seems that the game is rather insignificant and baseball fans will just be enjoying the level of talent that will be concentrated at Yankee Stadium.
For National League fans, hope for some of the stars from teams like the New York Mets, who are in a nine-game winning streak now, to provide some firepower to a relatively weak NL.
Check out this preview for more:
Olympic Baseball Preview
It's the last year for baseball at Yankee Stadium, and it's the last year for baseball at the Olympic Games. The IOC voted in 2005 to remove baseball and softball from the Olympic program, for now at least. So for teams from places were baseball is king, like Japan, Cuba and the USA, this is the last chance to win an Olympic gold medal.
There are eight teams in the tournament and they will play in a round robin tournament against each other. The top four will then move on to the single elimination semifinal round. The gold medal game for baseball is scheduled to be played on Saturday, August 23.
A perennial favorite for Olympic gold is the team from Cuba. The defending gold medalists from Athens have won the gold three times since baseball was introduced into the Olympic program. Cuba is also a multiple gold medalist at the Pan-American games. Last year in Brazil, Cuba defeated the United States by a score of 3-1.
"The man to likely watch on the Cuban team should be third baseman Yulieski Gourriel. A utility infielder of sorts -- he played second in the 2006 WBC -- Gourriel is described by Lefebvre as, "the best looking amateur I've ever seen. ... I know scouts are drooling over him."
But Cuba has been defeated before, most notably by the United States back in 2000 at the Sydney Olympic Games. After being absent from the 2004 olympics, team USA has a good chance of recapturing the gold in Beijing. Unlike in 2004, they were able to qualify by beating Honduras in the regional Olympic qualifying tournament and also beat Cuba in the finals of that tournament.
MLB-players are not allowed to be on the roster (and probably couldn't since it coincides with the MLB season), so expect those who represented Team USA at last Sunday's All-Star Futures game to be on the roster. The official roster for Team USA will not be unveiled until tomorrow (Wed at 2:30PM).
But Team USA was shut-out at the Futures game by the world team in a 3-0 result. And the best team to medal outside of North America may be Japan, who beat Cuba in the final of the World Baseball Classic back in 2006. Japan has a passion for baseball that can arguably be compared to that of the United States in terms of the strong commitment that its players put into the game. They are the best team in Asia by far and can never be counted out.
While Japan can dominate Asia, the Netherlands has well dominated Europe in the sport and has a good chance of taking one of the four spots in the semifinals. They upset the Cubans last year at the World Cup and this year may be a breakout year for them. But if the Dutch don't take one of those spots in the semis, it may be Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), who is putting their faith in Che-Hsuan Lin. Lin performed well at the Futures game last Sunday with a two-run homer to clinch the game for the World Team.
All eight teams have the power and potential to perform well at the Olympics, but if two medal contenders had to be chosen, it would be Cuba and the United States, though Japan may be well in the mix as well. Will Cuba reign again, or will there be a new and everlasting king of Olympic baseball?
The games slowly approach and we'll tak a look at Team USA tomorrow after it's unveiled. Meanwhile, enjoy the game we have now at Yankee Stadium. And I hope you come back tomorrow for more global sports news and our countdown to Beijing.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Home Run Derby Tonight at 8PM
An event that started in 1985 will be played tonight at Yankee Stadium as part of the All-Star Game festivities. The Home Run Derby pits eight of the top home run hitters in the league against each other in a match-play format to determine the best home run hitter in the league.
The participants, courtesy of MLB.com:
"The National League will feature Houston Astros first baseman Lance Berkman; Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun; Florida Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla; and Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.
Competing for the American League will be Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria; Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau; and Cleveland Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore."
This year's derby will favor the left-handed hitters and the switch hitters, since they will have the best chance to hit home runs past the short right field wall. Meanwhile, for the righties, the left field and left-to-center walls are the deepest part of the stadium.
If anything, expect many in the bleachers to get souvenirs as it is not likely, in fact impossible, that home runs will be hit out of the park. And if a ball doesn't land in the stands, expect it to land in Monument Park or in the black, unused bleachers.
Justin Morneau is the only returning home-run derby participant. He also has the most career home runs of the four American League participants taking part, with 124 home runs. The rest are first time participants, including switch-hitter Lance Berkman, who has the most career homeruns overall with 281.
For more info, check out this preview and official press release:
MLB.com - State Farm Home Run Derby Participants Announced
ESPN.com - Hamilton Looks To Add HR Crown To Dream Season
HR Derby Coverage starts tonight at 7PM on ESPN and ESPN Radio.
Olympic Men's Soccer Preview
Sixteen teams will take the field on Thursday, August 7, a day before the opening ceremonies, in the first day of competition in the men's football tournament. All the teams will feature relatively young players since 13 of the 18-player squads are required to be aged 23 or younger.
Here is the draw of the four groups:
Group A: Cote D'Ivoire (A1), Argentina (A2), Australia (A3), Serbia (A4)
Group B: Netherlands (B1), Nigeria (B2), Japan (B3), USA (B4)
Group C: China (C1), New Zealand (C2), Brazil (C3), Belgium (C4)
Group D: Republic of Korea (D1), Cameroon (D2), Honduras (D3), Italy (D4)
The football tournament always seems to produce rather unexpected results. In Athens, Argentina and Paraguay got into the gold medal final. And in 2000, Cameroon captured the gold medal in Sydney after defeated Spain in penalty kicks. The point I'm trying to make is that it's hard to predict medal contenders in the Olympic Games. It's quite a challenge to play six games in a 16-day period (competition starts Aug 7, gold medal final on Aug 23).
Looking at the draw, you can never count out Brazil or Argentina, who could face each other in the semifinal or final. Argentina will be led by 20-year-old Lionel Messi and Brazil will be led by FIFA Player of the Year Kaka (Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite). While Argentina is the defending gold medalists, Brazil was absent from last year's tournament and has never won the gold medal. Brazil defeated Argentina in last year's prestigious Copa America final, by a score of 3-0:
The Europeans can be the biggest threat to the two South American teams in the Olympics, especially Euro 2008 quarterfinalists Netherlands and Italy. Both of those teams did well at the UEFA Euro U-21 tournament which served as the olympic qualifying tournament for the European teams. But the Africans are likely to advance as well, including Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
Team USA looks to get farther than they did the last time they were in the Olympics, back in 2000. They will face Japan in their first game of the tournament, who the USA defeated in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals in Sydney. USA, who did not get past the group stage of the FIFA World Cup, will face Nigeria and Netherlands in their group stage at the Olympics. Any one of the four teams in group B has a good chance of advancing into the knockout stage if they can play at their top level.
If the top teams like Brazil and Argentina play at their best, then there isn't much hope for the other teams like Australia, New Zealand and Honduras. China may produce some surprises as the host nation, but to advance they'll have to fight hard against Belgium and limit the goals allowed against Brazil.
I found this blog that has a more team specific preview, I suggest you check it out:
BLOG - http://soccerlens.com/beijing-olympics-2008-football-preview/8130/
World Team Defeats U.S. In Futures Game
New Zealand, Slovenia and Croatia Win In Opening Day of Olympic Basketball Qualifying
Cadel Evans Becomes Yellow Jersey Leader At Tour
Tomorrow will be an all baseball post, as we will talk about today's HR Derby, preview the All-Star game and introduce you to the USA Olympic Baseball team.
Hope you'll visit again tomorrow...
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Superliga Well Underway
It's the best club teams from Mexico's Primera Division league against the best club teams from Major League Soccer in the second edition of Superliga, a competition that started last year that seeks to find the best football club in North America.
From the Superliga website, www.superliga2008.com
"SuperLiga™, a premier tournament that pits the best of the United States against the best of Mexico, returns with its second edition to award the heftiest winner’s purse in North American soccer history.
SuperLiga™ will be played between July 12 and August 5, 2008. The tournament will include a group phase and a knockout phase with all games held in U.S. venues. Eight clubs – four each from the top-flight leagues of the United States and Mexico – will vie to determine a singular champion of North America. The club that emerges SuperLiga™ champion will take home $1 million in prize money, the largest purse in North American soccer history.
During the inaugural edition of SuperLiga, CF Pachuca defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy in a dramatic match decided by penalty kicks at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on August 30, 2007. Last summer this new competition between rival soccer nations became an instant hit among millions of soccer fans in Mexico and the United States.
For the 2008 edition of SuperLiga, competitive criteria determined which four teams would represent their respective leagues. From MLS, the four clubs earned berths based on their regular season records from 2007: Supporter’s Shield winner D.C. United, Western Conference champion Chivas USA, MLS Cup 2007 champions Houston Dynamo and MLS Cup finalist New England Revolution. Representing Mexico’s Primera Division are four of the top clubs from the 2007 combined seasons: 2007 Apertura champion Atlante, 11-time Mexican League champion CD Guadalajara, current 2008 Clausura Mexican Primera Division champions Santos Laguna and the 2007 SuperLiga champion Pachuca CF. "
Yesterday was the first day of competition at this year's Superliga, and CD Guadalajara defeated D.C. United by a score of 2-1, while Houston Dynamo defeated Atlante by a score of 4-0. Today, the New England Revolution will face off against Santos Laguna and Chivas USA will face off Pachuca CF. Click here for a full competition schedule. All games will be televised live by spanish-language broadcaster, Telefutura. Check your local listings.
My opinion on the event:
Superliga is a great friendly competition still in its prime that produces many benefits, but at the same time, still needs a couple of small fixes. The tournament is a great development for soccer and improves the game of MLS since its players are playing against some of the best from the Mexican league. Though this may be an odd comparison, the teams from Mexico are doing what the Dream Team did for the sport of basketball in Barcelona at the 1992 Olympics. The level of talent in international play was forced upwards after the USA dominated those Olympics and several Olympics afterwards. Here, the Mexican league is improving the game of soccer in the United States.
But Superliga still needs more exposure. Although we hate hearing American commentators talk soccer, I feel the English language commentary is necessary to expose the game. Maybe if ESPN or Fox Soccer Channel hires commentators who can both speak English and are familiar with the Mexican teams and the MLS teams, Superliga can produce the same result that UEFA Euro 2008 did here in the U.S. And with little going on in the soccer world, this tournament has a big opportunity to shine in the spotlight.
It will be interesting to see how much talent and hype this tournament will produce and if anyone will buy into it. Only two years old, Superliga is progressing rapidly into a popular tournament. But can it be an annual summer hit? We'll have to see. Meanwhile, check out this column from ESPN which gives a more accurate preview on the tournament and the teams playing:
Women's Olympic Soccer Preview
Earlier today, the United States women's soccer team faced Brazil in a pre-Olympic warm-up match as well as a rematch of last year's semifinal in the FIFA Women's World Cup in China. In that semifinal, Brazil outplayed the U.S. to a 4-0 final score, with Marta Vieira da Silva scoring two goals in that game. She ended up being the leader of the tournament with 7 total goals.
Brazil eventually lost to Germany in the final of the World Cup, 2-0. In today's 1-0 loss against the United States, Brazil was playing without Marta and Christiane Rozeira de Souza Silva, their two best attackers. Both are currently fulfilling European club duties but are expected to join Brazil at the Olympics. But it was obvious that without their attackers, Brazil wasn't able to play at their usual aggressive level. In their North American tour, Brazil tied with Canada 1-1 earlier last week.
But at full strength, Brazil can be a monster team. Meanwhile, the United States they'll have to do a little more offensively to capture their second consecutive gold medal in Beijing. The U.S. is expected to get out of the group stage, where they will face New Zealand, Japan, are their arch-rival Norway, who poses the U.S.'s biggest challenge in the Olympics. But the Norwegians aren't as strong as they were back in the late '90s when they captured the 1995 World Cup title and the 2000 Olympic Gold Medal. The Americans defeated the Norwegians on their home soil by a score of 4-0, where four different players scored from the U.S. in the second half, including veteran Abby Wambach.
The toughest group in the draw at the Olympics is group B, where Germany, Brazil and the North Korean football teams are in the same group. North Korea could be a threat after they tied the United States, defeated Nigeria and loss to Sweden in last year's World Cup. They lost to Germany, 3-0, in the quarterfinals. All three teams are expected to advance, since the top two from each of the three groups advance, as well as the two best third-place teams. But it will surely be a huge battle for the top 2 spots in group B, and if Nigeria, the fourth team in the group, can upset any of the other teams, then Group B will surely be in chaos.
Host nation China is expected to advance easily from group A, which includes Sweden, Argentina and Canada. If the Argentines work as hard as their male equivalents do, then expect them to advance. But if they give the same effort that they did in last year's World Cup, then don't expect them to get anywhere. They only scored one goal while allowing 17, including 11 against Germany.
In that case, expect Sweden and Canada to battle it out for the second spot in the group. Both teams produced similar performances last year in China and placed third in their respective groups. Canada has a lot of youth in their team, with 13 of the 21 players on the roster aged 25 and younger, including Christine Sinclair, a 25-year-old veteran and captain that has scored 92 international goals for Canada.
Once we get into the knockout round, it's anyone's guess and who can take the gold. Predictions would be made on how well they play in the group stage. Brazil and Germany are consistent, but the United States always remains a threat. It's hard to tell now who can take the gold so we'll have to wait until the tournament is underway to start making predictions.
The women's soccer tournament in Beijing is the first event to get underway at the Olympics. Competition starts on Wed, August 6, two days before the opening ceremony. NBC will have coverage of team USA throughout the tournament and NBC's Olympic Soccer channel will keep you covered. Coverage of Team USA begins on Wednesday morning on MSNBC against Norway at 7:45AM. For more on the women's team, visit: http://ussoccer.com/teams/womens/index.jsp.html.
Tomorrow we will preview the Home Run Derby as part of the All-Star Game festivities here in New York. We'll also recap the first week of Tour de France action and preview the men's football tournament.
Brazil did lose to the United States today in women's soccer. For more info, click here. Brazil will face the U.S. again on Wednesday night from San Diego. Catch the game on Fox Soccer Channel and check your local listings.
I'm sorry with these recent late posts, weekends are usually busy for me as it may be for you. I'll try my best this week to get it in earlier. Thanks for continuing to read!!!