Friday, July 11, 2008

Fri July 11: Volleyball, Golden League and A Look Back at the Last Olympiad

World sports are interesting in that there is always something big happening in some sport somewhere around the world. Today and this weekend, two events headline the weekend in global sports: the final round of the FIVB World Grand Prix (women's volleyball) and the third stop in the IAAF Golden League series (track and field).

Brazil, China and United States Seek Gold At World Grand Prix Final
The World Grand Prix is a women's volleyball competition held annually by 12 teams from four continents: Europe, Asia, North and South America. Its purpose is to promote the sport of volleyball though the competition seems to only be popular in the East Asian region since the World Grand Prix is mainly sponsored by Asian companies and many of the preliminary rounds are held in Asia.

The World Grand Prix is the female equivalent of the popular men's World League competition. This year's final round is being held in Yokohama, Japan and six nations will compete for this year's title in a round-robin format: United States, Brazil, Cuba, Italy, China and Japan. Through this morning, teams have played three games already and Brazil and Cuba stand as the lone teams undefeated. The United States, suffered a straight set loss to Brazil and a five-set loss to Cuba this morning. On day 2, the United States were able to defeat Japan over five sets and thus the U.S. stands at 1-2.

Through 1PM EDT, July 11:
Brazil 3-0
Cuba 3-0
United States 1-2
Italy 1-2
Japan 1-2
China 0-3

The United States will face Italy and China in its final two games. Meanwhile the matchup of this final round will be held tomorrow between Brazil and Cuba, the two undefeated teams. This will be a rematch of last year's Pan-American games final when Cuba defeated Brazil in a five-set thriller.

This final round of games in the World Grand Prix will also be used as an evaluator tool to determine the final rosters for the Olympic Games. All six teams competing in Yokohama have qualified for the Olympics.

For more info on the FIVB Grand Prix final round, visit these links:

Five Athletes Still Up for Grand Prize at IAAF Golden League
The Golden League is an annual series of meets where the world's top athletes compete professionally for a share of the $1 million jackpot. An athlete must win their respective event in all six meets. It's an top-level competition that attracts pro athletes and many spectators each year. And with the Beijing Olympics less than a month away, this is a huge warm-up meet for the athletes competing today in Rome. With the U.S. Olympic trials over, this will be the first test for the American athletes as they will compete with athletes from other nations for the first time since the Olympic team was made.

Today's meet in Rome is the third meet of the six-meet Golden League series. Five athletes are still in contention to win a share of the jackpot, including American Bershawn Jackson competing in the 400m Hurdles. Jeremy Wariner, Sanya Richards and Alison Felix are also competing in today's meet. Wariner will continue his rivalry with LeShawn Merritt while Richards and Felix will be competing in their first international meet since the Olympic trials.

For more on today's Golden League meet, visit:

And watch today's meet on ESPN Classic starting at 3PM Eastern with replays on Saturday at 7AM on ESPN Classic and Sunday at 12 Midnight on ESPN2.

Countdown to Beijing: Look Back at The Past Olympiad
Yesterday, we briefly looked back at the last Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. Today, we look back at the past four years in sport (Olympic Sports, that is, though we've had memorable Super Bowls in the past 4 years too).

From the top of my head, there have been many changes in the marquee sports of track and field, swimming and gymnastics. In track and field, the sport has been trying to clean itself up by placing stricter rules on doping. Marion Jones confessed to using banned substances as well and immediately retired from the sport, giving up gold medals she won in 2000 in Sydney.Justin Gatlin was forced out of the sport in 2006, currently serving a four-year ban, after being tested positive for a banned substance. He won world championship gold medals in 2005 in both the 100m and 200m while his rival, Asafa Powell, was out with an injury. Unfortunately, the rivalry between the two never matriculated as we never got to see the two face each other in a race. Meanwhile, both Powell and Gatlin took turns breaking world records.

Meanwhile, runners began to run faster and different athletes emerged to become the top athletes of the sport, including Tyson Gay, Allison Felix and Bernard Lagat. Meanwhile, veterans like Jeremy Wariner continued to remain strong in their respective events.

In gymnastics, Chelsie Memmel, Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin emerged as the United States' best hope for medaling in the sport, winning world championships in the past three years. In swimming, Michael Phelps continued to dominate in world championships while world records continued to be broken by multiple athletes.

Overall, from the past four years, the United States has just been getting better and faster in their respective sports. But they haven't been the only one. Teams from China, Australia and Russia have been getting better in certain sports as well. Especially host nation China, who ranked second in the medal count in Athens.

There have been other bright spots in sports for the past four years. Italy won the World Cup while Brazil's women's football team captured the World Cup in China last year. Commonwealth nations like Canada, England and Australia shined at the Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne in 2006 while China dominated the Asian Games that same year.

We'll be taking a closer look at the past four years in each sport when we begin to preview the Olympic Games, sport-by-sport, beginning tomorrow with athletics.

Thanks very much for reading, hope you'll come back tomorrow.

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