Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Medal For Ashleigh Johnson, History For Donn Cabral

Ashleigh Johnson's day started on "The Today Show" and ended with an Olympic medal.

That's not too bad of a day, right?

The remaining question for Johnson is what color her medal will be? She won't find that out until tomorrow, when her U.S. women's water polo team takes on Italy in the gold medal game.

Win and it's gold. Lose and it's silver.

Oh, if you want to see "The Today Show" piece, you can click HERE.

And if you want a much more in-depth view on Johnson, including quotes from her Princeton coach Luis Nicolao, then you'll want to go to the Sports Illustrated podcast HERE

So far, nobody has beaten either of the two teams in the final, both of whom are 5-0 after going unbeaten in group play and then winning two knockout games.

The game with the most pressure is the semifinal. A win there assures a medal and allows a team to focus on winning a championship. A loss and a team has to regroup quickly, understanding that the shot at gold is gone and that another loss means that even the bronze has slipped away. That means going from the euphoria of the medal round to out of it in seemingly no time.

Actually, even worse than that is when you lose the semifinal and there's an upset on the other side, and suddenly you're playing a gold medal favorite for the bronze medal.

The U.S. defeated Hungary 14-10 in the semifinal yesterday. It wasn't the best performance the Americans have ever had, possibly due to the whole semifinal mental thing. There wasn't really any time in the game, though, where it seemed like the team was in any trouble.

Johnson has been one of the leaders for the U.S. team, which won the gold medal four years ago as well. She will go from Rio back to Princeton, where she will play as a senior this coming academic year.

Not to get ahead of anything, but TigerBlog thinks that Princeton has only had two athletes ever win a gold medal at the Olympics and then come back to compete for the Tigers. One was Bill Bradley in basketball in 1964. The other was Robert Garrett, who won two gold medals in track at the first modern Olympics in 1896.

That means that Johnson, should the U.S. win tomorrow, would be the first female gold medalist ever to come back to compete for the Tigers. Unless TB is forgetting someone. 

No matter what, it'll be a must for any sports fan to get to DeNunzio this spring to see Johnson play.

Johnson's medal, silver or gold, will be the second for Princeton in Rio. The first was the silver won by Gevvie Stone in women's singles sculls.

There is one other possible medal for Princeton, and that will be in women's soccer, where Diana Matheson and Canada will play Brazil in the bronze medal game. Matheson has already won a bronze medal, four years ago in London, over France 1-0 on a goal Matheson scored just before the final whistle.

Donn Cabral didn't win a medal in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, though Evan Jager did (the silver), becoming the first American since 1984 to win a medal in the event.

Cabral finished 10th, no ninth, no eighth - crossing the line 10th and then moving up one spot and then another when two other runners were disqualified after the fact, including the bronze medalist.

One way to look at it is that Cabral didn't win a medal. The other way to look at it is that Cabral now has two top eight Olympic steeplechase finishes, making him one of the greatest American steeplechasers of all time.

How many American steeplechasers have finished in the top eight in two different Olympics? How about six. Cabral, Jager, Brian Diemer (1984, 1992), Henry Marsh (1984, 1988), George Young (1964, 1968) and Glen Dawson (1932, 1936).

If you look all-time, there have been 22 times in which an American steeplechaser has finished in the top eight at the Olympics. Of those 22, there were 13 who did it between 1920 and 1948 and four others who did it between 1952 and 1968.

So yes, Cabral is one of the greatest American steeplechasers of all time. And he's only 26. Will he be back in four years?

Robby Andrews and Priscilla Frederick, assistant coaches at Princeton, compete today, Andrews in the 1,500 semifinals and Frederick in the high jump. The gold medal water polo game and the bronze medal women's soccer games are tomorrow. The finals for the men's 1,500 and women's high jump are Saturday.

Lastly, TigerBlog wants to say one more thing about Abbey D'Agostino and Usain Bolt.

It turns out D'Agostino has a completely torn ACL, a torn meniscus and a strained MCL and yet she got up and ran more than four laps after getting hurt in the women's 5,000 the other day. It brought her international headlines, including the front page of the New York Post.

TigerBlog wonders how much worse D'Agostino's knee got in those four laps. He also thinks she probably doesn't care, because she was determined to finish no matter what.

That whole incident, with D'Agostino and New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin on the track, helping each other up and then both finishing, is one of the most heartwarming moments TB can remember in a sporting event. It actually is more than that.

As for Bolt, has any champion athlete ever made competing look like more fun than he does? Has any heavy favorite ever been easier to root for than Bolt?

On top of that, Bolt is completely respectful of everyone and everything around him. He knows he's the show. He knows he's the one everyone wants to see. He knows that most of the people who race against him would love to get their picture with him.

Did you see him getting interviewed after his 200 semifinal last night? Not on TV. Off the track, when he was talking to a few reporters at once. You couldn't hear what anyone was saying, but the interviewers were all laughing.

Even beyond that, he earlier cut an interview short because a national anthem was playing during a medal ceremony for a different event. That's mostly unheard of in 2016.

It's a reminder that in this day of me-first, notice-me, in-it-for-the-obscene-money, let-me-stare-down-my-opponent-when-I've-done-the-simplest-things, no-taunt-is-unacceptable that there still exists something that used to be called "sportsmanship" before it started to be destroyed little by little.

And yet it's still out there. And because of that, there's hope for the entire sports world.

Courtesy of a Dartmouth grad. And an Jamaican sprinting legend.

1 comment:

D '82 said...

TB, don't forget Nelson Diebel, who won golds at the 1992 Olympics in the 100-meter breaststroke and as a member of the 4x100 medley relay.