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Whine Away

LONDON -- Well, it's obvious that the Olympics are in full swing. You can tell because the Americans are conducting a virtual medley relay of complaining:

Leadoff leg: Since I'm at the gymnastics team finals, I'll give the baton to John Goddert, the long-time coach of gymnast Jordyn Wieber. Goddert called it an "injustice" that Wieber won't be included in the Olympic all-around competition later this week. She finished third to her teammates, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, in team qualifying. International rules allow only two athletes per team in the all-around.

Wieber, who was expected to vie with Douglas for the Olympic all-around title, hasn't finished outside the finals of an all-around since becoming an elite gymnast. She'll pass the baton to:

John Leonard, swim coach and executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Assocation. Leonard called it "unbelievable" when China's Ye Shiwen broke the world record in the women's 400-meter individual medley on Saturday night. He said he meant it literally. Well, Ye's final 50-meter split was faster than Ryan Lochte's in the men's 400IM. So you have to wonder. Oops, almost missed the handoff to:

The U.S. track and field athletes, who have made a big stink about Rule 40 of the IOC charter, which prevents athletes from displaying or mentioning any non-Olympic sponsor, a de facto one-month blackout during the height of public interest in the sport. The IOC argues that major sponsors provide much of the financial support for the Games. It's a tough rule, but major corporations own the Olympics. We knew that. It's too bad that most of the American athletes struggle to support themselves and have to watch all those corporate billions go to a few elite performers. Now, the anchor:

Hope Solo: The goalie for the U.S. women's soccer team continues to make waves. She complained about former World Cup hero Brandi Chastain, who had the gall to suggest that the American women's defense wasn't quite up to snuff on a recent telecast. Solo made her comments on Twitter.

My only complaint is that Twitter seems ubiquitous among the athletes. I wonder if any of them bother to read newspapers. Maybe I'd better go tweet something. On to the gymnastics.

 

 

Buffalo Convention?

LONDON -- You never know who you're going to run into over here. Early this afternoon, I was in the weight room of the U.S. training facility in East London, waiting to interview American super heavyweight lifter Holley Mangold -- yes, sister of the Jets' Pro Bowl center, Nick Mangold.

Suddenly, I noticed Jenn Suhr working out just a few feet away from me in the small weight room. Her husband and coach, Rick Suhr, joined her in the room. Jenn, the Fredonia native and pole vault star, went through a light workout, which included  doing pullups on the eight-foot high bar and lifting herself upside down toward the ceiling, as she would during a vault. Pretty impressive stuff.

Other than two weighlifters, coaches and half a dozen press, the Suhrs were the only people in the room. I spoke with them briefly before having a nice half-hour chat with Mangold, one of the brighest and most charming athletes I've had the pleasure of interviewing.

After the interview, I looked up and saw a familar face standing in the doorway. It was Christian Laettner. The Angola native and original Dream Team is in London to do color commentary for Fox Sports. Laettner had poked his head in while waiting for the U.S. men's basketball team to arrive for practice. 

It was pretty surreal, I have to say. What are the odds of two athletes dropping by during the weightlifting practice -- both of them from the Buffalo area? Until Jake Kaminski won silver in archery the other day, in fact, Laettner and Suhr had been the last two Buffalo athletes to win silver or gold medals at the Summer Games.

 

 

U.S. Men's Hoop Team Rolls

LONDON -- The U.S. men's basketball team was a little sloppy during their exhibition tour. But they appear to be hitting their stride at the right time after taking apart a talented France team, 98-71, in their Olympic opener on Sunday afternoon at the hoop venue.

Kevin Durant had 22 points and nine rebounds for the Americans, who led by only one point after the first quarter but quickly kicked things into another gear over the final three periods. The U.S. attacked in transition and finished with 22 points on the break. They were credited with 27 assists on 31 baskets. Some generous official scoring, perhaps, but it was an indication of how devastating they were on the run.

"That's one of our goals, one of our strengths," said LeBron James, who had nine points and eight assists in the facilitating role he served four years ago in China. "We have speed and athleticism, so we try to take advantage of that."

France was seen as one of the sleeper teams of the tournament. They have six NBA players on the roster, including star San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker. Parker, playing with goggles after suffering an eye injury when he was caught in the crossfire of a bottle-throwing bar brawl in New  York City last month, had 10 points and only one assist.

The U.S. defense was outstanding, challenging every pass and limiting the French to just 2 of 22 shooting from three-point range. The Americans are a bit vulnerable in the paint. Their only proven center is Tyson Chandler. France shot 55 percent inside the arc. But they paid dearly when they forced the issue and tried to defend the U.S. break.

"Our strength is our defense," James said, "getting out in transition and letting our scorers do what they do. I mean, Kobe (Bryant) and 'Melo (Carmelo Anthony) and KD (Durant) are three of the best scorers the league has ever seen. So we kind of ride them offensively and do other things."

That's a scary thought -- James, who averaged 30 points in leading Miami to the NBA title, not counting himself among the top threats. James, asked about the shooting conditions in the arena, said it didn't matter. "I'm not a shooter," he smiled.

Kevin Love, who has struggled in camp, had 14 points in 14 minutes. All 12 Americans played at least eight minutes. All of them scored. The Americans play next at 10:15 Tuesday night against Tunisia.

USA Men's Hoop Up At Half

LONDON -- The U.S. men's basketball made an early artistic statement in the first half of its opener here Sunday afternoon, making several eye-popping plays and rolling to a 52-36 halftime lead over France.

LeBron James, playing the sort of team game he did in Beijing four years ago, was terrific. He made a 60-foot bounce pass through traffic after taking an outlet pass and found Kevin Durant for a dunk. Durant was sensational. He gives the Americans an added weapon that makes them near impossible to guard in the open floor.

France trailed by only one at the end of the first quarter, 22-21, but the U.S. began to find its three-point range in an 11-0 lead to start the second. The Americans do appear a bit vulnerable defensively in the paint when Tyson Chandler isn't on the floor, but they have the overall talent to compensate.

Tony Parker is playing in goggles and seems on his game for the French, who also have Boris Diaw, Rony Turiaf and Nick Batum. But the U.S. seems simply too good and too deep.

Silver For Archers

LONDON -- The U.S. men's archery team came a point short of its gold-medal goal Saturday at the Lord's Cricket Round, falling to Italy, 219-218, in the final match.

The three-man squad settled for a silver medal, the first won by the USA in these Olympics. Michele Franghilli shot a 10 on the final shot of the match to give Italy the gold. Elma native Jake Kaminski shot a 8 on his final arrow after making three 10's in succession. Kaminski outscored his teammate Brady Ellison, the world's top-ranked archer, over the semifinal and final rounds.

U.S. Archers Stun Korea

LONDON -- The Americans said not to put too much stock in South Korea's dominance during the ranking round. They were right. The U.S. team, led by the clutch late shooting of Elma native Jake Kaminski, upset South Korea, 224-219, in the semifinals to earn a chance at gold against Italy.

The U.S. men started slowly again in the semifinals. But they hit their stride late, as both Kaminki and Jacob Wukie scored 10s on the last three of their eight arrows. Korea's Im Dong-hyun, who smashed his own world record in Friday's qualifying, wasn't at his best before the enthusiastic crowd in the stadium.

Brady Ellison, the No. 1 ranked player in the world, wasn't at his absolute best, either, but his two American teammates carried the day when it counted. The U.S. ended South Korea's reign of three straight Olympic gold medals. They will attempt to begin their own streak against Italy in the 6:01 BST final.

 

Archers Squeak By

LONDON -- Archery matches are typically close at the elite level. Still, it's hard to imagine a contest being decided by such a narrow margin as the U.S. men's team victory over Japan in this afternoon's Olympic quarterfinals.

The Americans survived, 220-219. The difference was like splitting a hair, and it was an arrow from Elma's Jake Kaminski that provided the margin in a thrilling, comeback victory. Kaminski shot a 10 midway through the match that was near the 9 and originally ruled a 9 by the judges.

But moments later, the shot was changed to a 10. A measurement determined it had made it into the middle area of the yellow bullseye, the 10-point score, by one millimeter. So the favored Americans, who started slowly and were down by three points at one stage, moved on to face South Korea later in the afternoon in the semifinals.

Kaminski had a particularly rough start. He shot a 7, about a low a score as you'll see at this level, on the fourth of his eight arrows. Things were looking grim for the U.S. until Japan's threesome faltered late, shooting back-to-back 8's in the next-to-last round to fall behind by two points.

Brady Ellison, the top-ranked player in the world, shot a 10 to put the Americans ahead by 29 points in the final round of three arrows. When Japan's leadoff man hit an 8, it was mathematically over -- that is, once the judges made their final ruling on Kaminski's borderline 10.

 

Hunger Games?

LONDON -- I figured that headline might grab you. I'm sitting the press box at Lord's Cricket Ground in northwest London, site of the Olympic archery competition. Archery is super hot in the U.S. these days, thanks in large part to the success of the "Hunger Games" books and film, in which the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, uses her archery prowess to survive. 

The U.S. men, including Elma native Jake Kaminski, will be taking on Japan in a quarterfinal of the men's team competition in a little over an hour. Depending on the developments in swimming, the men's archers could be the first Americans to win a medal here. Two wins would assure that. If they lose in the semifinals, they would play for the bronze medal late this afternoon. The gold-medal match is schedule for 6:01 p.m. Why the extra minute, I can't say.

This is a really cool venue. The Cricket Ground is like a mid-sized minor league baseball park, with two levels of stands and a lovely old pavilion at the open end opposite us. Cricket was first played here in 1787, shortly after the Brits lost to us in war.

On the opposite end of the cricket ground's grass field are two temporary grandstands, set up for fans to view the archery. The archers will be shooting from the far end of the field, in front of the pavilion. I'll be heading down in a while to watch the match from the press "tribune" seats atop the balcony of outside the second floor of the paviilion.

The Americans earned a bye by finishing fourth in Friday's ranking round. Four of the 12 teams got byes and there were four pre-quarterfinal matches this morning. Japan, which was fifth in the ranking round, sqeaked past No. 12 India in a shootout. The three-man teams were tied, 214-214, after regulation. Japan won the shootout, 29-27. Each of the three team members shoots one arrow in the shootout. Ten is the top score for one arrow, so that means Japan got two "10s".

As a fan of hockey and soccer shootouts, I'd love to see the Americans get to a shootout. It must be incredibly exciting to see an Olympic match riding on one man shooting an arrow at a 122-centimer diameter bullseye from 70 meters. Maybe Kaminski can be in that position and come through for the country.

Things go a lot faster in the Olympic round. Each archer shot 72 arrows in the qualifying. In the team matches, each archers gets only eight. You really have to make them count. That's why Brady Ellison, the star of the American team, said it'll be a lot tougher for the South Koreans today. They'll be shooting in the stadium, in front of a packed grandstand. There were no spectators allowed on Friday.

Of course, I'm told the Koreans, who won team gold in 2004 and '08, often practice in front of baseball crowds to simulate crowd noise. I'm guessing they're no strangers to crowd noise or pressure. Their top archer, Im Dong-hyun, is legally blind. He seems to be doing OK. He broke his own world record in the Friday ranking round.

The U.S.-Japan quarterfinal will be the second of the afternoon. South Korea plays Ukraine at 3. Barring a big upset, the Americans would run into the Koreans in the semifinals at 4:40 p.m.

Live Blogging From The Opening Ceremonies

12:40 a.m. -- Paul McCartney is on now, as predicted, and singing "Hey Jude". It's a tough song at his age, but he'll have a lot of help with the refrain.   

12:32 a.m: The flame is being carried around the stadium by seven young people, each one nominated by one of seven British sporting legends.

12:26 a.m. -- Sir Stephen Redgrave, who won gold medals in rowing for Britain at five straight Olympics, is carrying the Olympic flame into the Stadium. The oaths are being taken on behalf of athletes, officials and coaches. It looks like a communal lighting of the flame is in store.

12:22 a.m. -- Muhammad Ali was just introduced. A small correction. "Tubular Bells" and "Ziggy Stardust" were obsessions during my FRESHMAN year at Mizzou. The blog regrets the error.

12:16 a.m. -- Sorry. I had to write a column. It's still a part of my job description. Jacque Rogge is speaking now. Sebastian Coe delivered an eloquent talk, saying he has never been prouder to be British. "There is a truth to sport," Coe said, "an intensity, a drama that makes it irrersistible to compete in and watch." He said it will "inspire a generation."

Queen Elizabeth II just officially opened the Games. Next we'll find out who lights the Olympic flame.

10:36 p.m. -- Sizable contingent from Brazil, which will host the next Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro four years from now. Love the flag with the blue globe and white stripe. British Virgin Islands, take a bow. Wonder how many of the 205 were once part of the British Empire? Another one for Sporkle.

10:28 p.m. -- Another favorite game of mine is guessing the country by the flag when it emerged at the end of the tunnel on its way in. I don't do very well. I need to get back to Sporkle. OK, here comes a black, blue and yellow flag. Nice. It's the Bahamas. I like the light blue coats, too. What is this, Project Runway? Here's Bahrain, one of my favorite Bahrs. Bangladesh is next. My driver the other day was a young guy whose parents came from Bangladesh. I told him I remembered George Harrison and the Concert For Bangladesh. Sad that George couldn't be around for this.

10:24 p.m. -- The parade of nations has begun, beginning of course with Greece and ending with Great Britain, the host. I'm always amazed how long it takes to get through the A's. I always forget Andorra, American Samoa, and Antigua -- which now goes by Antigua and Barbuda. That's not to be confused with Barbados, which is coming soon with the B's. There's 19 of them. Long parade. Settle in.

10:07 p.m. -- Been sitting and enjoying this latest section, which has been mainly music and dance. Frankie chases June through a bunch of clubs that play songs from the 60s, 70s, and up to today.  Nice to see a forgotten song, Bowie's "Star Man' from the Ziggy Stardust album, given its due. I went into a major Ziggy phase after I was done with Tubular Bells my senior year at Mizzou.

9:52 -- Clearly, the English don't take themselves as seriously as the Chinese. The crowd and the world viewing audience was just treated to a clip of comic actor Rowan Atkinson pretending to conduct the London Symphony in "Chariots lf Fire,' then tossed into a clip of the actual movie and blithely running with the young Brits. The crowd went wild. I loved it. So did everyone around me.  

9:36 -- Now a blast from my past. Mike Oldfield performing from "Tubular Bells" his hit album from 1973. I spent countless hours in my freshman of year, listening to that album in something close to a trance. Now they have the entire field encircled by hospital beds and nurses doing swing dance with partners of various sizes and shapes. A bit of a nod to the Health Care System here. I'm sure Michelle Obama, who is here to represent her husband, is very pleased with it.  

9:28 p.m. -- Sorry, I'm recovering from the 15 minute Pandemonium, a tribute to the British role in the Industrial Revolution. It was the most thrilling segment I can remember in an Opening, with pulsating drums and smokestacks rising out the ground. Now we're seeing a staged film of James Bond (Daniel Craig) picked up the Queen to deliver her to the Games.

9:09 p.m. -- Branagh's last words were "until I try to dream again." Uh,good choice to recite, I would say. Now loud drumming, must be Dame Evelyn Glennie, the famed Scottish percussionist. Powerful stuff. The pastoral scene now giving way to workers from the Industrial Revolution. The next 15 minute segment remembers the excitement, upheaval and hardship of that time.  

9:06 -- They're showing children singing from all four places on video. Kids in Northern Ireland did "Danny Boy." Wow. Intersprersed with shots from soocer, er, football. Just saw Kenneth Branagh get out of a coach in a big top hat, carrying some text. I suspect he'll be reading the words from The Tempest, one which this part of the Ceremony is based.

9:04 -- Bradley Wiggins, the first British winner of the Tour de France, comes out to ring the opening bell.

9 p.m. -- They just played the start of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" ... you know, teenage wasteland. Now it's London Calling, of course, for a few bars. Music loud. Hey, it's rock.

8:58 p.m. -- The pastoral scene in the middle of the stadium is in full swing. There are girls swinging around four maypoles,one to represent each of the four nations in Britain: England, Northern Irealdn, Scotland and Wales.


8:55 p.m. -- The London Symphony Orchestra has begun to play. Moving stuff. You know I'm a semi-regular at the BPO with Melinda. The music at the start of a Ceremony always gets me. Five minutes away. The countdown should be awesome. There will be 96 children releasing balloons for the final 10 seconds, one at a time.

8:25 p.m. -- A man and woman I've never heard of have been addressing the crowd for the last 10 minutes, giving them instructions on what to do during the ceremony (including giving deaf applause after the national anthem). It's a far cry from the restrained and quiet lead-up in China. I remember it being pretty dark that night, and being stunned when the 2,008 fou drummers came out of their motionless states and began pounding.

Sure enough, it has begun to rain, barely 30 minutes before the official opening.  The instructors told the people it wouldn't be London without rain. The people cheered, sort of. What they don't need is an untimely shower at the very start. You can see the rain coming down fairly hard below the lights atop the stadium.

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Just saw a video shot of Yelena Isinbayeva, the two-time defending champion in women's pole vault. It reminds me, in their preview issue Sports Illustraed predicted that Jenn Suhr, the pride of Fredonia, wouldn't medal. I wonder what her coach/husband, Rick, thought of that.

But I was talking on the media bus with SI's Tim Layden, an old colleague from Newsday. Tim said he thinks Suhr has a great chance to win gold. He said Isinbayeva no-heighted last week in Monaco and might not be in top form for London. Of course, you never can tell with the Russian diva.

Things are developing here. A group of people walked into the stadium with a bunch of farm animals. The people appear to be dressed in clothing from the 1700s.

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LONDON -- Welcome to the Olympic Stadium, at a little past 7:30 p.m. British Summer Time. I attempted a live chat earlier and failed miserably. All right, it was my fault. But a live blog is better from an event like the Opening Ceremony. I can do without the usual edgy back-and -forth of the live chat. Way to put your mouth in your mouth again, Mitt!

The crowd is filling in here. Four fake clouds are being paraded around the stadium. Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire"), the mastermind of the Ceremony (and it is singular, I've discovered), will use the clouds to simulate rain during the show. There's been little rain this week. I didn't see any until late this morning. But it's clear now and supposed to be fine tonight, a great relief to the London people and the organizers. London had the rainiest June in its history -- which is like Buffalo setting a record for snow in January.

The video boards atop the stadium just went on. The first image was sprinter Usain Bolt. No surprise, since he's the highest-paid track and field athlete in the world, and the biggest star of the Games who doesn't play for the U.S. men's basketball team.

Guess what? They're going to use the Sex Pistols' song, "God Save The Queen" in the show. It is not a flattering metion, as I recall. My brother was a big Pistols fan back in the day. Maybe that's why he still lives at home with my parents.

 

Live Chat With Sully

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