Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Olympic Trials Takes (by Day)

Night 8
8 days complete, London bound

In several cases, a trip to London came down to only a few tenths for some. But tonight, only .09 of a second stood between 45-year-old Dara Torres and her sixth trip to the Olympic Games. She told me she felt "pretty good," then followed it up with "Maybe my start was a little deep, but really Summer, 9 one-hundredths?!" She was holding her daughter Tessa, who is two days older than my daughter Skye, while talking to me. It was really sweet. I asked her if her pre-race routine was any different than when she was 15-year-old, and her response made me smile. "No. I get so nervous. You don't even want to know. It's ridiculous." I know she will toss and turn over those 9-one-hundredths, but deep down she knows she gave it her all. And what a ride it has been.

In the end, Jessica Hardy qualified for her second individual event, winning the women's 50 free, and I'm fairly certain she's still shocked that she's not a breast stroker at these Games! And Kara Lynn Joyce qualified for her only event...in a big way. When she looked up at the scoreboard, she couldn't tell if it said 2 or 7. But when she learned it was 2, emotions pored out in fist pumping, water pounding and a huge open-mouth smile!

The men's 1500 free, the race was between only two in the end, and they had no idea they were the only ones. Andrew and Conner raced 1450m without much of a kick, only to turn into motorboats on the last lap! It was amazing to watch. And we are really glad Conner only swam 1500...in the prelims he lost count and swam extra (1575)! Classic and awesome.

And so, the 2012 Olympic Trials have come to a close. It is one of the largest swim teams the US has put together. A fella named Michael qualified for 8 events and is swimming 7, a guy named Ryan is swimming 7, and a 17-year-old named Missy is also swimming 7, becoming the first American woman to do so. There is incredible potential on this team, and No doubt that the world is looking at the USA as the ones to beat in London. For now, the team will head home for four days and then reassemble at camp in Knoxville to begin their journey to Olympic gold.

Night 7
The end is near

Although it’s not over for all, it’s over for most. You could almost see the feeling of the meet coming to an end and everyone settling into one night of relaxation, readying to get back to training.

Missy Franklin made one more statement in the 200 Back and set the bar for her Olympic Games, qualifying for a historic seven events in London. Elizabeth Beisel started the event off on night one, and came back night seven with another stellar performance to qualify her second event. Phelps finalized his docket for London with a tight .01 touch to win the 100 Fly, adding his eighth event.

But the two highlights of the night for me were the men’s 50 Free and the women’s 800 Free. I can’t love the 50 Free anymore – the excitement, the energy in the venue before and silence at the start, then the roar of the race for 22 seconds of power and speed. And all I can say about the 800 is holy cow Katie Ledecky! This kids, who is only 15 years of age, can race and will definitely break some records. And while she surprised herself by making the team, I think she’s going to surprise herself even more in London.

Check out more of my insights on Yahoo!Sports

Night 6
The final showdown before London

It was a busy night in the pool, especially for the two top dogs. So busy that when I interviewed Lochte after his first of three events, I almost forgot which event it was for- the 200 Back. His swim was smooth, and while Clary pushed him, it was no problem for the reigning gold medalist. Then came the 200 IM showdown, and I was so impressed. Watching the race reaffirmed why it's my favorite event. I appreciate how much both Phelps and Lochte LOVE to race! They are the perfect competitors for that event.

As we are nearing the end of this competition, you can start to see the athletes turn their thoughts towards their goals in London…one by one...as they punch their tickets. Speaking of end, it is not the end for one of America's golden girls, Natalie Coughlin. While she didn't have the meet she wanted, she fought to make it into the top six spots in the 100 Free. Keep those Speedos handy, Nat, you will most likely be named to the team tonight .

For more of my take on Lochte's busy night and the 200IM, check out these videos on Yahoo!Sports.
Lochte makes history with 3 races in 57 minutes
Phelps takes round three

Night 5
It was Recognition

Tonight was about making the team and being recognized for it! I get the opportunity to interview each Trials event winning, the top four freestyle finishers for the relay, and tonight the second place finishers who were officially named to the team.  I was so honored to have the opportunity to honor each of them. It's a fight to make those top two spots and earn your shot to wear the red, white and blue in London.

Night 4
Power of Persistence

The heartache of getting third at an Olympic Trials...it's like waiting in line for hours for your favorite ride only for it to close down right as you reach the front times a zillion. Because unlike most things, where the next chance to ride is merely minutes or days away, the next shot at the Olympics is four years down the road. So my take today is just to celebrate the athletes so far that have experienced that heartache, but have pushed through with pure courage, determination and passion to make this Olympic Team.

Tyler Clary happy to touch 2nd in the 200 Fly!
So here's to you Caitlin Leverenz, who just missed making the team three-times in 2008, coming back to nab two spots in 2012. And Tyler Clary, who suffered the same feat twice in 2008 and once again here, gutting through to grab his 2012 spot. And to everyone else who's found the passion for persistence or redemption to continue on for one more shot at their Dream to represent the red, white and blue.

My Yahoo!Sport Wrap-ups
Franklin & Schmitt 
Why do swimmers scratch?

Night 3
In the action

The crowd arrived early and was ready for finals action. The second round of the title fight between Phelps and Lochte was intense. The two stayed with each other for the entire race, almost eyeing each other with each breath. And as it often does, the race came down to pure grit and the last 10 meters, where Phelps literally won because he whipped is arm around faster in his last stroke, winning by .05 of a second. Both were disappointed in their times, but Phelps was smiling for the first time at these trials. He loves to win.

Then Matt Grevers charged everyone's emotions with his reaction, jumping out of the pool with the energy of a 10-year-old after swimming the second fastest time IN ISTORY. He immediately ran to hug his family, coaches and friends with such force, I was worried they might be seriously injured.

And the ladies wore their hearts on their sleeves as well. Missy Franklin, the new Olympian and American Record holder, conveyed the maturity of a 3-time Olympian but the youthful essence that brought her to tears on the awards podium at what is sure to be just the beginning of her Olympic journey. Then surprise winner of the 100 breast Breeja Larson capped off the night. The 20-year-old who has only been swimming seriously since she was a senior in high school, is now an Olympian! Amazing. Check out more of my takes in my Yahoo! Wrap ups :)

Yahoo Videos
Changing of the guard

Night 2
Adding Names

Redemption was the order of the night for Dana Vollmer, as she wiped away the disappointment of the 2008 Trials, winning the women's 100 Fly just off world-record pace and punching her ticket to London.
Vollmer's 100 Fly
Image: Matt Ryerson/US Presswire

In the men's 200 Free semifinals, it was same result, different event in the Phelps vs. Lochte showdown as the two went head-to-head with Lochte again touching the wall first. Can't wait for the competition to continue in finals, and not only for the top two, but the top six!

Then, nothing demonstrated love of sport and competitive spirit more than Brendan Hansen's performance in the men's 100 breast. We saw pure joy as he touch the wall, completing he comeback for himself and the love swimming, marking his name down again as a member of Team USA.

Finally, there was Allison Schmitt, who with the crowd on their feet, pushed the first 200 meters of the women's 400 Free to a second under world-record pace and finished with her name on the list for London.

This is why Olympic Trials are so great! One moment we can feel the frenzy of excitement from a world-record paced race; then empathy for former champions like Janet Evans and Amanda Beard who don't make finals; and in the next breath pure joy for surprises like a Clair Donahue's, who comes out of Lane 1 to make the team, or a 15-year-old making her mark with every stroke like Kathleen Ledecky. At Trials, it's all about THIS moment!

Night 1
First day under our belt

Even the big swimmers with the most experience love having one day done and in the books. Even if they haven't competed yet, they have been itching for this moment for what feels like an eternity and they are stoked to get the ball rolling.

Image by AP
Last night was the perfect way to start things off..."The Showdown" in the 400 IM between Lochte and Phelps got everyone's blood pumping. And Lochte proved he's ready to take the reins.

Then "The Smackdown" by Elizabeth Beisel made the statement to everyone that she came to play. Years of hard work...and it all comes down to this...

Bring on day 2.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Olympic Trials, Olympic Dreams

We are a nation of incredible talent.  Talent in every area of life, and that certainly carries over into athletes and those who play/compete in Olympic sports. Olympic Trials have begun, and this week the big three -- Track & Field, Gymnastics and Swimming -- are all taking place.  

Trials are such an amazing, yet challenging time for every athlete. Because no matter how good you are or how many world records, world championship, or Olympic golds you may have, when it comes to swimming and track and field, all that matters is you HAVE to qualify by touching the wall or crossing the finish line in the top 2 or top 3, respectively. Your record or potential contribution don't factor into it. You place at Trials or you don't compete at the Games.

The pressure and tension at swimming's Olympic Trials is so incredibly intense.  I remember my Olympic Trials like it was yesterday...even though it was more than 20 years ago. The moment you step onto that pool deck, you can actually feel the weight of what you're about to attempt.  So much work has gone into getting to this moment, and so many dreams are at stake. In most elite swimming races in the U.S., the top eight finalists could go on to the Olympics and win a medal.  So touching the wall first or second at the U.S. Olympic Trials is an incredible feat, and often a feeling and moment an athlete remembers better than the Games, themselves. 

I don't know about you, but I can't wait for the finals to begin in Omaha. GO USA! 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

17 Days of Chaos

The chaos of the Games.

The Olympic Games…they are an amazing 17 days of pure, crazy chaos.  And covering the Olympics is a fantastic blend of challenge, excitement, anxiousness, drama, adrenaline and awe-inspiring moments with a little exhaustion mixed in. 

I feel so blessed every time I get to be a part of the action, and I try to carry that sentiment with me every day of work and competition.  It is not as easy as it was back in 1996, 2000 or 2002.  Back then, it was just little ole me; I had no one else to worry about.  Now, it’s more of a family affair…my own little European vacation minus the Griswold’s. 

As a reporter, analyst and host, I realize I am not there to cheer for Team USA. But as an American and Olympic champion, I will be cheering my head off for all of my peers and friends. The 2012 Games will be my ninth Olympic Games as either a spectator, competitor, or reporter.  Each Games is unique and equally amazing.  Just like parenthood, it is a chaos that I love, appreciate and relish! 

We’re less than 43 days now…Bring on Opening Ceremonies!

Friday, June 8, 2012

My son on a dirt track

My son has been trying to teach me something since he was about 9 months old.  The lesson has been both subtle and in your face.  He is trying to teach me to let him be brave, and maybe a little dangerous.  At least I see it as dangerous. He sees it as "what he likes to do.” He is, after all, is father’s son in that department. 

His dad spent 25 years going 70 mph down a sheet of ice on a pair of skis. So, you can only imagine what his dad was doing the 14 years before that.  I, however, don't have to imagine it…I'm living it with Spider.  You see, Spider was one of those kids who started riding his bike at two and a half, without the help of me or training wheels. He started skate boarding at 3.  And because Park City has such amazing terrain, he has quickly fallen in love with dirt biking as a four-year-old. 

I watch him cruise down the course, and it isn't until he reaches the bottom that I realize I have been holding me breath.  It makes me so nervous. Spider tells me, “Just breath mom…and stop saying "AHHH,” it freaks me out.”  So now, as I watch his face and see it go from deep concentration to complete elation when he finishes a run, I silently cover my mouth and breathe. And I become a little more comfortable each time with taking that step back and letting him do his thing.

Lesson…almost learned…