Five More Important Things Than Ryan Lochte: Rio Olympics 2016

I’m sick of hearing about Ryan Lochte. Overall, I’m sick of entitled idiots getting in the way of a good time or taking the spotlight away from people who’ve earned it. So this is the last time this article will mention his name. Instead, lets focus on the athletes that have proved themselves as strong, determined and selfless.

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1. US Women’s Team Sweep the 100m Hurdles

Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin took the Gold, Silver and Bronze, with Rollins in the lead with a 12.48 seconds finish. For the first time in modern Olympic history, a women’s team swept a track event. All 61 prior sweeps were recorded by men’s teams, with the most recent being the 400m and 400m Hurdles at Beijing 2008 Olympics.

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2. Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin Became the First Iranian Woman to Win an Olympic Medal

In the Bronze match against Sweden’s Nikita Glasnovic,  Zenoorin outscored her opponent to take home the medal in Women’s Taekwondo. Nicknamed “The Tsunami” in Iran, her achievement is significant as she becomes one of a handful of women to compete for Iran at the Olympics since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Zenoorin is already well-established in Taekwondo, at the young age of 18. In 2015, she won both the bronze medal at the 2015 Taekwondo World Championship and gold at the World Taekwondo Grand Prix.

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3. Ashton Eaton Wins His Second Decathlon

As ever, Ashton Eaton’s determination and positive spirit continues to leave an impression among all those around him. He lead through the first 8 events of the Olympic Decathlon, but faced tough competition from Canada’s Damian Warner and France’s Kevin Mayer. At the pole vault event, there was definitely a feeling Eaton’s lead would be in danger when Mayer successfully completed an insane 5.4m attempt that surged him past Warner, into second place. But at the final event, the 1500m, Ashton’s composure paid off, as he used strategy to remain within 7 seconds-pace behind Mayer, in order to safegaurd his decathlon gold. At the final stretch, Ashton pulled ahead of Mayer, and finished the decathlon with 8,893 points, a new Olympic Record.

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4. USA’s Helen Maroulis Takes Home The First Gold in Women’s Wrestling

The most intriguing thing about Olympic competitors is how they are able to juggle admiring and competing against the greats of their respective sports. It’s almost as if the level of respect they have for those they’ve followed and that have inspired them somehow feeds into their need to one day face and beat them. It’s not about bad-mouthing their opponents; it’s all about what makes them equals in their sport. For Maroulis, facing Japan’s Saori Yoshida at her first Olympics was a dream come true. At 24, Maroulis has seen Yoshida, 33, compete and retain her World Champ status throughout her career. Saori Yoshida is definitely a tough competitor, who is a 16-time world champion attempting her fourth gold in Women’s Wrestling. Undefeated, Yoshida’s prowess has diminished in recent matches, and Maroulis proved too much for her. “I’ve been dreaming about wrestling Saori for so long,” Maroulis said. “She’s a hero. She’s the most decorated wrestler in the sport. It’s such an honor to wrestle her.”

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5. Sportmanship At Its Finest: Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin

Olympic medals aren’t what it’s about. Even making it to the Olympics isn’t what it’s about. As you can see, even assholes can make it to the Olympics and win. The Olympic Spirit, the merit of the games, is defined by how its standard-bearers treat one another. There’s no better example of that spirit than America’s Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin. At the qualifying heat of the Women’s 5000m, Hamblin unexpectedly fell and took some spikes to the back of her right thigh. Before anyone knew it, Abbey D’Agostino toppled over her, injuring her knee. “Get up. We have to finish this.” Those were the words Abbey uttered to Nikki, helping her to her feet as they attempted to finish the race together. For the two, it was no longer about winning; it was about showing the World what mental toughness can achieve when you work together. The IOC rewarded both an opportunity to compete at the 5000m final. Hamblin was able to compete, with her shoulder, thigh and ankle injuries – she finished dead last. D’Agostino watched from the stands, suffering a torn ACL and meniscus. For us mortals, way beyond the age or physical ability to compete at the Olympic caliber, it’s the random acts of kindness that ring truest because it doesn’t take being an athlete to do good in this World.



Laurie Hernandez Got the Nation’s Attention and New Jersey’s Respect

By Matt Alcalde

First and foremost, who do I have to talk to in order to get Ryan Lochte to meet with Laurie? If anyone on the Olympic Committee is reading this, please make the girl’s wish come true!

If you live and breathe gymnastics, you’ve most likely heard about Laurie Hernandez. But for everyone else in the US, who may not watch as much gymnastics as we should, Laurie gained our attention after her brilliant floor routine. For those of us lucky enough to live in NJ, we were ahead of the curve, thanks to local media, like, giving a shoutout to all the Olympic Athletes from NJ heading to Rio.

“Hey, that’s the girl from Old Bridge!” has pretty much been spoken by every New Jerseyan. Let’s just say NJ is proud, and we have every reason to be. In a climate that tends to stereotype the younger generation as “lazy millennials,” it’s always great to see someone accomplish so much at 16. She’s someone that people, young and old, can look up to as an example of what it takes to win and, more importantly, how to keep your composure when things don’t go your way.

When Laurie wasn’t chosen for a spot on the Olympic All-Around, she could have allowed that setback to eat away at her. Instead, she understood that her life’s work has never been absent of challenges. In 2014, after a bad vault landing, Hernandez dislocated her right knee cap, tearing her patella ligament and bruising her MCL. Surgery was required to fix her knee, which included attaching a cadaver’s ligament onto her own. But she came back, stronger and more competitive than ever. When Laurie found out she didn’t make the All-Around in Rio, she likely realized that nothing in her life had been easy, so why start now.  Throughout the Olympics, she showed grace, rooted for her team and was rewarded with Gold and Silver.

Culturally, New Jersey is a very diverse state. As you can imagine the Latino population is 100% behind Laurie, a descendant of Puerto Rican grandparents. Born in New Brunswick, NJ, Laurie Hernandez is the first US-born Hispanic athlete to make the the US Women’s Gymnastic Olympic team since Tracee Talavera at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. As the Olympics are being held in a Latin American country, Brazil, she’s a guaranteed favorite among all that see her perform.

The future is definitely bright for the 16-year-old. Tokyo 2020 is already on the mind of many, including Laurie Hernandez, who as of the foreseeable future will be part of the US Women’s Gymnastic Olympic team. But that is still four years away, and there will be plenty of other things to keep her focused in the meantime. Now, Laurie Hernandez will be facing an entirely new test: how to stay focused when everybody knows your name. If her Twitter account has any reflection of the newfound fame she will have when she gets back to the States, it’s going to be a tough challenge. New Jersey isn’t worried. With that personality, it’s easy to have faith that Laurie will persevere. 

Will NY Mets Take Advantage of a Stanton-less Marlins?

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By Matt Alcalde

Marlins Manager Don Mattingly announced over the weekend that the club slugger, Giancarlo Stanton, had suffered a groin injury and would make a trip to the disabled list. MRI results show he has a grade 3 left groin strain, a far worse diagnosis that will likely end Stanton’s season. Let’s just say, this isn’t the best news for the Marlins, who have held their own under Donnie Baseballs’ helm and are only 0.5 games out of the NL Wild Card.

To put things into perspective, let’s look at the numbers. Out of 381 at bats in 2016, Giancarlo is hitting .241/.329/.496. At 25 home runs, he was on par to mushroom his entire 2015 HR total of 27. And let’s not even mention his OPS…okay, I can’t help myself! His on-base plus slugging is an insane 0.826, 2nd in the Majors. His bat and outfielding will be surely missed by the Marlins…but 1,300 miles North, there’s a sigh of relief coming from Queens.

Giancarlo Stanton has been a complete nightmare for the NY Mets. All their World Series caliber pitching can’t seem to stop him from not just getting on base, but from running down multiple base hits. (Stanton has an OPS of 1.115 against the Mets this year.) 1.115!!! (Yes, I am scream-typing!) His Triple-Slash Line against the Mets is better than his 2016 season numbers (.293/.383/.732). 

So with this in mind, will the Mets be able to take advantage of the Marlins’ loss of their power hitter? My heart wants to say “yes,” but my rational side says, “no.” Mainly because the problems plaguing the Mets are a sum of many parts, not one of which can be resolved by an injury to their divisional rivals. Stacked injuries, a starting rotation that looks otired from a long 2015 season and huge problems with situational hitting – it all looks too much for the Mets to overcome.

But does it help that they won’t be facing Giancarlo for the rest of the season? Sure, why not. As of August 15th, the Mets are 2.5 games out of the NL Wild Card. With seven regular season games against the Marlins, any advantage the Mets are given, they’ll take. The real question will be if they choose to determine their own destiny, or continue to wait for their opponents to announce bad news. 

Michael Phelps: All-Time Olympian Learns Life Is More Than Swimming

(Photo Above: Michael Phelps ; Source: NBC Sports)

You know you’re part of something greater than yourself when the people around you scream for you to never retire. You know you’re loved when those who raised you storm away in anger, only to come back to make sure you’re okay. You know you’ve earned the respect of your teammates and competitors alike, when they choose you to carry their banner.

This is the story of Michael Phelps – a man who has evolved from a furious competitor in Beijing 2008, to a reluctant Olympian in London 2012 and finally, a legend with a clear conscience in Rio 2016. Those calling him for to return in 2018 (Tokyo) are his teammates, huddled together after winning Gold at the 4×100 meter medley relay final. It’s not surprising they’d want him back because he is just that clutch. In the third leg, with the US trailing Great Britain by 0.61 second, his teammates trusted…needed Phelps to regain command. And with that, Phelps’ strong butterfly stroke gave Nathan Adrian a 0.41 second lead that USA would not relinquish.

Bob Bowman has coached Phelps since he was 11 years old. For any of you out there whom have ever loved another, which I’m going to bet is a lot of you, you all know that love comes at the expense of anger. You can’t truly allow someone to enter your heart before you first let them under your skin. And for Bowman, watching Phelps grow up into a fierce competitor and stubborn young man – it must have been difficult trying to keep Phelps out of trouble. A coach and father figure, Bowman had to balance training a winner and raising a good man in the face of so much temptation. As expected, there were clashes and Phelps made mistakes, like his DUI arrest in September 2014.

Bowman was there through it all. He may have been disappointed, but he understood the burden weighing on Phelps. Imagine that from a young age, everyone saw you as a great physically talented athlete and chose to dedicate much of their lives to helping you hone your craft. Raw talent meets determined training and the result is pure victory. Time and time again, you prove you’re more than hype. With every win, your fanbase grows, the expectations of your coaches increases and the pool of haters begins to overflow. It’s a lot to take in, no doubt. Phelps made mistakes not because he’s a bad person, but because he is actually a human being. Coming to terms with that isn’t easy when your young, let alone an accomplished Olympian. He shut out his coach, the fans, his detractors and wanted nothing to do with the London Olympics. Phelps had four years after London to realize what drives him isn’t the expectation of countless people, but rather the love of swimming and coming to terms with his human imperfection. What a relief it must have been to free himself from all that stress, and it made him a better champion once he did. For what it’s worth, which is a lot, Bowman stayed with him and allowed him to grow, and their relationship as partners and friends is better for it.

Phelps has proven to be the difference between Gold and Silver for his team countless times, but winning isn’t the reason why they believe in him. Hundreds of years ago, kings would rally their bannermen to protect the realm. There was honor in carrying your sigil into battle, representing your country. A smart king wouldn’t just surround himself with the strongest knights that guaranteed victory. No, he would summon his most loyal noblemen – those he could respect and who respected him. In similar fashion, Phelps’ teammates chose him to be the US standard-bearer at the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony. The decision to have him bring in the US flag is a testament to the respect he’s earned and redeemed.

Phelps came to understand that being driven to win is like keeping your foot on the accelerator – eventually, if you don’t let up, you’ll burn out. Phelps has finally learned to appreciate the road, savoring every triumph and setback along the way. He inspires his team not by placing them on his shoulders, but by being himself. Before his final race at the 4×100 meter medley, Phelps was quoted as saying, “I don’t have anything to say, but let’s go out there and kill it.” He could have pretended he was some inspirational orator and tried to come up with a long speech, but that’s just not him. He spoke from the heart and sometimes that gets the best response. Ryan Murphy, who was revved up by these words, lead the US off with his world-record time in the 100 backstroke. I’d say that was pretty inspiring.

Michael Jordon, Brett Favre, Martin Brodeur, Mike Piazza – all greats in their respective sports and days, and all have had to deal with the passing of time. It’s never easy seeing your sports heroes move into their golden years, and it’s even harder for the athlete to come to terms with retirement. The real greats don’t live in the past but seek to do new and better things onthe public stage. The sports legends live on because they know that the rush of winning is a temporary high as opposed to living honest. For Phelps, winning his 28th career Olympic medal and his 23rd gold was “the cherry on top” of a great career. For now, there’s a sense of closure for Michael Phelps. As Bob Bowman puts it, “There is a baby and a house and a wife. He can see the next chapter of his life. And he can’t wait. I don’t worry about him anymore. He’s on a great path, and I think that’s the biggest difference.”