John Smallwood: Women fuel U.S. Olympic success

A performer is airborne during the Closing Ceremonies.
A performer is airborne during the Closing Ceremonies. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: August 14, 2012

SO, THE London 2012 Olympic Games are done, and now we wait another 4 years until the greatest athletes in the world gather again - this time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.

And as we reflect on the United States' success over the past 2 weeks and what lies ahead in Brazil, we can say we are a nation defined by the strength of our women.

Perhaps it was inevitable that considering this was also the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender bias in education programs and activities that receive federal financial aid, so many U.S. women would shine so brightly while the Olympic flame blazed.

For the first time ever, the USA sent more female athletes (269) than males (261) to an Olympics.

And man, did the ladies come through big-time.

It wasn't just that United States women won more medals than their male counterparts, but they established some of the greatest feats in Olympic history.

By crushing France on Saturday, the United States' women's basketball team won its fifth consecutive gold medal - an unprecedented streak in Olympic team sport competition for women.

On Thursday, the United States women's soccer team won its third straight Olympic gold by avenging its 2011 FIFA World Cup loss to Japan.

Carli Lloyd, of Delran, N.J., scored the gold medal-winning goal for a second straight Olympics. The men's soccer team has never medaled in an Olympics and failed to qualify for London.

The women's water polo team brought home its first-ever gold medal.

United States women won three of the six gold medals available in artistic gymnastics, including just the second team title and third individual all-around (Gabby Douglas).

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings beat Jennifer Kessy and April Ross in an all-American final in women's beach volleyball.

For all the publicity USA men's swimming got because of Michael Phelps, the women won just as many gold medals - eight.

Dana Vollmer in 100-meter butterfly, Missy Franklin in 200 backstroke and Rebecca Soni in the 200 breaststroke set world records, as did the women's 4 x 100 medley relay team.

The men set no world records.

In track and field, American women won six events to just three for the men.

The 4 x 100 relay team won the gold in 40.82 seconds, shattering the world record set by East Germany in 1985 when that former nation was leading the world in performance-enhancing drug development.

At the Penn Relays in April, the same USA order of Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter won the World race, but in slow time of 42.19.

Felix struck gold in the 200, 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 to join Usain Bolt of Jamaica as the only triple gold medalists in track and field.

Kayla Harrison won the USA's first Olympic gold in judo, and 17-year-old high school student Claressa Shields got the USA's only gold medal in boxing by winning the middleweight class of the first women's tournament.

Shields and flyweight Marlen Esparza (bronze) were the only American boxers to medal.

Kristin Armstrong won America's only gold medal in cycling and the women's eight won the only one in rowing.

Serena Williams won the singles competition in women's tennis and then teamed with her sister, Venus, to win the gold in women's doubles.

College can wait

With her four gold medals, 17-year-old swimmer Missy Franklin stands to make millions of dollars in endorsements, but only if she turns professional.

The Colorado high student isn't sure that's the right move for her at this time.

Franklin said she still thinks "that college is what's going to make me the happiest girl."

Yes, but swimming is expensive, and that endorsement money will more than cover those expenses. Besides, Franklin can still go to college if she turns pro, she just won't be able to compete at the collegiate level.

Considering Franklin will be putting the same amount of time in the pool whether she's a collegian or a professional, she might as well get paid for the next 4 years leading into the Rio de Janeiro Games.

When you've gotta go . . .

Now that he's retired from swimming, 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps has revealed that he, just like friend and rival Ryan Lochte, relieved himself in the pool.

"I think everybody pees in the pool," said Phelps, who has a record 22 Olympic medals. "It's kind of a normal thing to do for swimmers.

"When we're in the water for 2 hours, we don't really get out to pee. As far as health concerns, chlorine kills it, so it's not bad."

Sorry, Mike, but I'll take a pass on your next pool party.

McKayla Gump

In the movie "Forrest Gump,'' actor Tom Hanks was imposed into many moments of modern history.

Now, through the wonders of Photoshop, United States gymnast McKayla Maroney and her sour-face look of disappointment on the medal stand while receiving a silver medal for the vault is getting the same treatment.

Making the rounds on the Internet is Maroney's medal-stand image being placed into current events with the tag line "McKaylaisnotimpressed.tumblr.com."

Maroney's scowling image has shown up in the viewing room where President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others followed updates on the attack that killed Osama bin Laden, and at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Technical knockout

The United States finished an Olympics with just one medal in men's boxing.

The U.S. Olympic Committee is not happy.

"We're going to sit down and take a hard look at why we are where we are and make some changes," USOC CEO Scott Blackmum said. "I don't want to say anything beyond that.

"We're disappointed in boxing. We want to do better, particularly in men's boxing. I don't mean in the people. I mean, we're disappointed that we didn't do better in boxing because I know that we can do better and have to focus on that."

Actually, the United States has been on a standing eight count since 1996, when Philadelphia's David Reid won gold at the Atlanta Games.

Andre Ward, in 2004 at Athens, is the United States' only Olympic champion since.

"We have to fix that," Blackmum said.

Well, that's all from London. Next time we'll "Blame it on Rio."


Contact John Smallwood at smallwj@phillynews.com

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