James O'Brien's Blog
 


Table Tennis and my Training Shoes

Sunday, July 29th - part 2

After two sterling table tennis performances, the NYAC’s Ariel Hsing came up against a great wall (Get it? Great wall? Yes? Anybody?) in the form of  Xiaoxia Li from China in the women’s singles competition. Although Hsing fought bravely and made it truly interesting, there was little she could could do once the experienced number two seed really hit her stride. For the record, the competition went like this: 11-4, 9-11, 11-6, 6-11, 11-8, 11-9, meaning a 4-2 defeat.

It’s not over, though. Now, Hsing and her club-mates Lily Zhang and Erica Wu turn their attention to the team competition. That kicks off on Friday, August 3rd at 10am when the US squad will face Japan. All three Americans are Olympics neophytes and their combined age is 48. I believe I’ve got running shoes older than that. 


Scores and Celebrations

Sunday, July 29th - part 1

There is a distinct problem with writing these blogs each day: where to start. Anybody who has attended an Olympic Games knows that they are an exercise in sensory overload. Between what may be termed the “Olympic Experience” - the sights and sounds of the host city, the venues, the celebratory atmosphere - there is also the fact of having to keep up with what is going on - which is, after all, the point.
As I write this, I’m sitting in the media tribune in the water polo venue watching England play Romania. (A sad experience for the host nation, it must be said. They’re currently down 9-3, with the fourth quarter just beginning). I’m here awaiting the opening game of the US men’s team, a clash against Montenegro due to start in half an hour. (It’s loud enough right now; I can only imagine the racket once the next one starts). My point is that, while watching one and waiting for another, I’m also trying to get to grips with today’s earlier NYAC results in table tennis and rowing. (In case you need instant gratification while I meander to the details, the news is all good). 

Ariel Hsing, our 16 year-old table tennis prodigy was the first winged footer in action today. She advanced from the first round of the women’s singles in demonstrative style yesterday, and kept the momentum going today. In her clash this morning against Luxembourg's Xia Lian Ni, Ariel prevailed 4-2 (11-9, 10-12, 11-9, 11-5, 10-12, 12-10). That put her into the third round, scheduled for 9pm GMT this evening. Facing her across the table will be the tournament's second seeded, Li Xiaoxia from China. If things were serious before, this will be when they break out the cans of WA. (That’s ping pong smack talk, if you didn’t know).

I’ll be back later with news from the table; but with the US water polo game due to start in 10 minutes (and with Great Britain having just gone down 13-4), let me let you know wassup with rowing. (That’s rowing smack talk, in case you didn’t know).

The biggest news was that the women’s eight - world record holders, as they are - dominated their prelim today, leaving Australia, Germany and Great Britain far in their wake and making a powerful statement of intent for the final, which takes place on Thursday, 2nd. (Get ready for that day. Kayla Harrison will also be chasing a judo medal). NYAC women in this boat are Caroline Lind, Taylor Ritzel, Caryn Davies and Erin Cafaro.

Also on the water today was the men’s lightweight four, with Nick LaCava as one quarter of the squad. That foursome won its repechage this morning and so goes to the semis on Tuesday (July 31st).

To be noted: the men’s eight, with David Banks in the boat, won its prelim yesterday and advances to Wednesday’s final (August 1st). Also yesterday, Megan Kalmoe, rowing in a tough heat in the women’s quad sculls, placed second - to world champions, Germany - a place earning a spot in tomorrow’s (Monday’s) repechage. That race will determine if her boat will appear in the final, set for Wednesday (August 1st).

Bringing things totally up to the minute, as the second quarter of the water polo match comes to and end - meaning half time - the score stands at USA 4-Montenegro 2. Making this all the more interesting is that the US and Montenegro have played once this year already - an 8-8 tie in a warm-up match in March. Even interestinger is that the US team, having won the silver medals in Beijing, have made a habit of placing fourth in the four years since: 4th in the 2009 World League, 4th in the 2009 World Champs, 4th in the 2010 World Cup and fourth in the 2011 and 2012 World Leagues. Don’t worry, though; they struck gold at the 2011 Pan Am Games - thus, earning their place in London - and 10 of those Beijing silver medalists are back on the team, including the NYAC’s Tony Azevedo, a four-time Olympian and the team’s captain. Keep your expectations high and your fingers crossed.

If you’ve never been to a water polo match, I encourage you to make the effort. For intensity and atmosphere - and noise - it’s hard to beat. It’s  like rugby in the water, and with good music. (Elvis, right now, if you’re wondering). As I write this, I’m watching two guys brutalizing each other in the swimming pool, nowhere near the ball, and with the ref, nor anybody else, taking the slightest bit of notice. Even the brutalizers don’t seem overly concerned. It puts me in mind of that old rugby adage: “Never mind the ball, get on with the game."

As we approach the final moments of this game, a little tension can be excused. The US has a one goal lead, 7-6, and there’s only 1:23 remaining. Everybody wants to win their first game, understandably, and set themselves on a correct path for the remainder of the tournament. More than that, a win or loss in water polo can have big consequences for who you come up against later on.

Tony Azevedo obviously knows that. He just drilled one into the back of the net with only 60 seconds remaining. But, this is not over. Montenegro gets one back. Forty six second remaining and these boys are getting serious(er). The US slows it down, holds the ball in the Montenegro half, loses possession, then Montenegro calls a time out. Seventeen seconds left, one goal in it, Montenegro attacks, more brutalization, but time runs out. And the place goes bloody mad. 

With all due respect to the Montenegro fans and the British who lingered from the previous match, if they gave medals for spontaneous celebrations, I figure there’d only ever be one winner. Go USA.

       
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