Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Rowing Stones

The opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics are two weeks from Friday.

The first Olympics that TigerBlog can really remember clearly were the 1972 Summer Olympics. Those were the ones in what was then West Germany, with the murder of these 11 members of the Israeli delegation:

David Berger (weightlifting)
Ze'ev Friedman (weightlifting)
Yossef Gutfreund (wrestling referee)
Eliezer Halfin (wrestling)
Yossef Romano (weightlifting)
Amitzur Shapira (track and field coach)
Kehat Shorr (shooting coach)
Mark Slavin (wrestling)
Andre Spitzer (fencing coach)
Yakov Springer (weightlifting referee)
Moshe Weinberg (wrestling coach)

The day that the Israelis were taken hostage is really the first day of any Olympics that TB can remember. That, and Mark Spitz - himself Jewish - and the seven gold medals (with seven world records) he won in Munich.

At first, TigerBlog thought that the TV announcers said that terrorists had attacked the Australian contingent, which made little sense. He quickly realized they said Israeli.

He doesn't remember watching the 1968 Olympics on TV. He does remember watching the Mets win the 1969 World Series and the Jets win Super Bowl III a few months earlier. Those are his first sports-on-TV memories.

His most vivid memory of 1976 actually was the amazing downhill run of Franz Klammer of Austria in the Winter Games, which back then were in the same year as the Summer Games.

In 1980, there was the Summer Olympic boycott by the United States. If you don't remember it, the Games in 1980 were in Moscow, which the U.S. boycotted as a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

If you were an American athlete who was primed to compete in 1980, the boycott came at a really bad time. Here you were, ready to have what likely would have been a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and it was yanked away by politics.

Back then, there was a certain Olympic ideal of amateurism and purity and all of those things. Politics wasn't supposed to be a part of it.

One of the athletes who never got his chance was a rower named Gregg Stone. Now, all these years later, his daughter Gevvie is going to Rio as a singles sculler, for the second straight Olympiad.

Not that it's exactly clear cut.

If you've been following these Olympics at all, you've heard about the potential problems that are on the horizon. None of these issues are bigger than the threat of the Zika virus, especially for women.

Gevvie Stone is a Princeton grad, Class of 2007. She barely missed out on the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and then finished seventh in her event in 2012.

Now, for 2016, she's earned a return trip.

The question for athletes, especially women's rowers, is whether or not she should accept it. Yes, it's her last chance to win an Olympic medal. But at what cost?

The issues in Rio - Zika, security, among others - has put athletes in a terrible position. In 1980, there was no choice. The U.S. didn't go, so you didn't go if you were a U.S. Olympian.

This time, it's a personal choice. Do you want to accept the potential risks to be able to reach your life's dream?

Gevvie Stone has decided to go. And she has done an incredible job of explaining why.

If you haven't already read her piece in The Players' Tribune, then you definitely need to read it. You can do so HERE.

Here's a sample:
When people ask me if I’ve thought about skipping this year’s Olympics, I think of the whole journey — the commitment, the hard work, the sacrifices and the opportunities that I have let pass — and I tell them no. Not once. I’ve got too much invested in this. I’ve heard about all the problems in Brazil right now (about the Zika virus, about the polluted bay in which I’ll be competing, about the crime and poverty in Rio de Janeiro, and about the political unrest that is roiling the whole country). Both U.S. Rowing and the USOC have been great about keeping our team informed about what is going on. I don’t take any of the concerns lightly. At all. I’m a doctor, and I try to be very rational about everything. But how can I be completely rational about a once-in-a-lifetime (or in my case, a twice-in-a-lifetime) opportunity like the Olympics?

TigerBlog has never met Gevvie Stone. He knows her name and has followed her career, but he never met her.

After reading the piece, he feels like he knows her well.

For one thing, he didn't realize she was a doctor. Also, he didn't realize her family history in rowing.

Mostly, though, she does such a great job of putting words together and of explaining her decisions. And you can feel through her writing how passionately she feels about her sport and the opportunity, even while the doctor in her is talking about practicality and precautions. She even mentions using hand sanitizer on the handles of her oars.

Her first race is on Day 1 of the Games.

She is one of 13 Olympians from Princeton. They each have their own decisions to make and their own stories to tell.

Gevvie Stone told hers in a very public way.

And she did so perfectly.