James O'Brien's Blog
All You Need Is Love. A Few Medals Help, Too
Saturday, August 4th
If you’re a fencing fan, you know what today was. If you’re not, all you need to know is that it was a day for the history books. The US women’s epée team claimed bronze medals, with three of the four recipients - sisters Courtney and Kelley Hurley, and Maya Lawrence - being members of the NYAC.
Maybe you’re not a swimming fan, either; but, you should be. This evening, the US 4x100m individual medley relay team claimed the gold medal, aided by Michael Phelps on leg three. The NYAC’s Tyler McGill contributed the butterfly leg in the heats; thus, McGill also gets a gold medal, which is fair enough. If the team hadn’t come through the heats, there would have been no final.
So, this is one more big day, and the fourth consecutive on which NYAC athletes have won medals. As of now, the tally is six golds (Kayla Harrison, Tyler McGill, Caroline Lind, Taylor Ritzel, Erin Cafaro and Caryn Davies) and five bronzes (Reese Hoffa, Megan Kalmoe, Courtney Hurley, Kelley Hurley and Maya Lawrence). There has also been a glut of fourth places; but, more of that below.
With all due respect to Tyler McGill (his medal was not unexpected), it was the fencers who created the thrills and chills today. Even though they were seeded fourth, there were few who would have bet the farm on the US foursome - the NYAC squad, plus Susie Scanlan - filling the role of giant killers. I’m not saying that you should have bet the farm; but, you should have.
Things really started to roll in the quarter-finals, when the US came up against Italy, always a powerhouse in international fencing and the number five seed here. The turning point came when Maya Lawrence and Courtney Hurley both prevailed in their bouts, leading the US to a 45-35 win.
That set up a semi-final clash with the mighty South Koreans. The US lost that match, meaning that next up came a bronze medal bout verses Russia, the second ranked team in the world. That’s a bronze medal bout you don’t want to have. But the Russians didn’t know that the NYAC’s Courtney Hurley was on fire.
With the score tied at 30-30, Hurley faced Russia’s Anna Sivkova in "one touch wins" overtime. This would decide the contest and the medals. Pressure? NBC reported: “After a simultaneous touch, the two engaged, both missing their target. Each continued to attack, with Hurley landing the point of her epée on Sivkova, while the Russian’s attack failed to land.”
That was the point of victory. With it, three more bronze medals will come to the City House. (Not literally. The people who win them get to keep them).
"Every time she attached, she hit me," explained Hurley (Courtney). "And every time I attacked her, I got her. So I knew I had to attack her right away instead of waiting. So, I just did it right off the en garde line."
“The team came together perfectly,” commented Hurley (Kelley). “The only goal for the day was to not get creamed by Russia. And then we won! I can’t believe how well it all came together. It’s like a dream come true. It’s like it’s not happening. It’s the best moment of my life so far. We have a medal. It’s awesome. I didn’t even see her (Courtney’s) last touch because I had my eyes closed and I felt like I was going to throw up.”
Not sure about the throwing up part, but not getting creamed - that’s a good goal at the Games. Come to think of it, it’s a good way to win medals.
There was more high drama today, even when medals didn’t accrue, most particularly in the women’s triathon, which was simply an amazing race. If you compare the triathlon with, say, the discus, you’d have to admit that there’s quite an age discrepancy. The first discus competition took place around 708BC. The first triathlon took place in 1974. The discus has been an integral feature of the Ancient and Modern Olympic Games. The triathlon only made its Games appearance in Sydney in 2000. At the time of the Beijing Games in 2008, the NYAC did not have a triathlon program. At these Games in London, the Club had two tri competitors, both women, both on the starting line this morning, one of whom, Sara Groff, placed a sensational fourth. Truth be told, the 38th place of the second NYAC competitor, Gwen Jorgensen, was pretty darn good, too.
Jorgensen suffered a flat tire that, essentially, ended her Olympic dreams. But, Groff had a dream race. From the outset, the 31 year-old native of Cooperstown was among the contenders: 11th after the 1500m swim (followed by the fastest transition in the field) and 8th after the 43km bike segment, though in a sizeable pack of more than 20 contenders who had closed ranks during the cycle segment. As the 10K run began, Groff was deep in the midst of the gang of athletes, all still carrying the flame (not literally). As these kinds of races invariably are, this was a war of attrition, a relentless application of pressure that would pare the cumbersome group down to the triumphant trio.
Mid-way through the run, Groff herself fell victim to the building momentum. As the third lap came to an end, she found herself four seconds adrift of a lead group that comprised Great Britain’s Helen Jenkins, Erin Densham from Australia, Lisa Norden from Sweden and Nicola Spirig from Switzerland. You would have been safe in saying that Groff’s day was done. Except that it wasn’t. She applied that relentless pressure and clawed her way back into contention. As the last 2.5K lap was underway, the lead group was suddenly four - Densham, Norden, Spirig and Groff. With just one kilometer remaining, it was all there to race for.
That was when Densham injected a surge that opened everything up. A blistering run for the line saw Spirig and Norden cross side by side, with the former getting the decision, both with the same time, 1:59::48. It was Densham who won the race for bronze in 1:59:50, with Groff finishing just 10 seconds later at 2:00:00.
“My goal, going into this race, was just to be there with 1000 meters to go,” explained the NYAC woman. “I was. I’ve got to be proud of that. Fourth is the worst position to be in; but, at the end of the day, I’m an Olympian. I get to showcase this awesome sport to millions of people. I’m really proud to be on this team.”
As she should be. She and Jorgensen competed like Olympians. Can you ask more than that?
The NYAC is collecting its share of fourth place finishes at these Games. In addition to Groff, in that “worst” of positions has been Travis Stevens (judo), Seth Kelsey (fencing) and David Banks (rowing). Everybody wants a medal; but, fourth in an Olympic Games - that’s something of which to be immensely proud.
The next of today’s NYAC action also took place on the streets of London. The men’s 20K race walk featured teenaged US phenomenon, Trevor Barron. Not only has Trevor been intent on re-writing the record books in the past year - and this while still a junior - more impressive is his resilience in overcoming obstacles that would have forced a less committed individual to the sidelines.
Originally, Trevor was a talented swimmer. He had to forego that sport once he started experiencing epileptic seizures in the pool. In 2006, he had surgery to remove the offending part of his brain; he has been seizure-free since - and he has proved himself to be a man with the potential to return US race walking to levels last reached by Curt Clausen (world championships bronze medalist in 1999). Not coincidentally, Curt is co-chairman of the NYAC track and field program. Also, not coincidentally, the records that Trevor is breaking are often those of Tim Seaman, his own coach and, still more not coincidences, an NYAC member. This is nothing if not team-work.
Curt was out on the course this evening to cheer Trevor to his 26th place finish. That may not be a placing to set the bells ringing, but it does augur very well for the future. Trevor’s time of 1:22:46 was just 33 seconds shy of his best ever for the distance, set earlier this year, and was over two and a half minutes better than the best ever US time at an Olympic Games, that belonging to Seaman from 2004. Trevor was on track to be even faster, but two red cards before the 12K mark forced him to be more cautious. You see, it’s all about the context; with that, you can tell that Barron is only getting started.
Wrapping up today's NYAC action, Jillian Schwartz, competing for Israel, cleared 14’ 5 1/4” in the women’s pole vault qualifying round and did not advance to the final. The US men’s water polo team clashed with Serbia, a team that took the opportunity to show its gold medal intentions. The team from the stars and stripes went down, 11-6, a deflating defeat, though they should still finish second in their group. Next up for the USA is their final group play match on Monday (August 6th), versus defending Olympic champions, Hungary. Warfare.
In theat clash, among those facing the US team and its cadre of NYAC members will be Tamas Kasas, a Hungarian water polo legend. Guess which club he plays for.
It’s often over-stated that you had to be there to believe it; but, that was really the case in the Olympic Stadium this evening. A heaving and partisan crowd was treated to what is already being dubbed the greatest night in the history of British track and field (although, they call it “athletics” over here). A rocking stadium was treated to thrilling competition after thrilling competition and three gold medals for the home nation - in the men’s long jump, men’s 10,000m and heptathlon. The atmosphere, the noise and the emotion - I could never do it justice. But the capstone on it all came during the delay while awaiting the medal ceremony for the heptathlon.
To pass the time, the music struck up. First, David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Then, “All You Need Is Love.” It caught fire. There’s something about 80,000 people singing that song full volume and swaying along that can’t help but bring a lump to your throat. John Lennon would have been proud. Then the big screen picked out his partner, Paul, in the crowd, waving a flag and singing his heart out. It was a magical moment. The victory ceremony then started and the crowd is cheering still.