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Rio 2016: Seven Canadians To Watch

Canada Olympic

I admit I’ve come to accept it after the Sochi Olympics. Since the late-90’s Canada has become a winter sports superpower but field a very good Summer Olympics team. In past Olympic Games, both Canada’s summer and winter teams were on the same levels. Very often the summer team would outperform the winter team. That has changes since the late-90’s as you can tell by the medal totals with each Games.

However it’s not fair at all to say our Summer Olympic team is lousy. Here in Canada, we have a lot to deliver. The 2015 Pan Am Games and the recent World Championships in various sports have shown we have a lot of athletes in contention. Sure we only won a single gold out of our 18 medals back in London but we have a solid team this year. Sports Illustrated predicts Canadians to win a total of seventeen medals including four gold.

Anyways you saw my focus on foreign contenders in Rio yesterday. Without further ado, here are the seven Canadians of focus:

Brianne Theisen-Eaton – Athletics: The last time a Canadian woman won a gold medal in track and field was in 1928 and that was the very first Olympics track and field events for women were contested! Canada was one of the best countries in women’s track and field in 1928 winning two of the five events and two additional medals. Yeah, what has happened since? Well the drought could very well be over. When Brianne Theisen graduated from high school, she went to the University of Oregon and it was the best decision. She represented Canada in London and finished 11th. She would later marry American decathlete Ashton Eaton and she’s been on a roll since finishing second at the last two World Championships. She also won the Goetzis HypoMeet this year with a points total that’s the highest of 2016 and has propelled herself as the favorite. She will face stiff rivalry from defending Olympic Champion and reigning World Champion Jessica Ennis-Hill and Worlds bronze medalist Laura Ikauniece-Admidiņa of Latvia. 2016 could just be Brianne’s year. Also look to see if Brianne and Ashton become the first married couple since the Zatopeks in 1952 to both win athletics golds in the same games.

Shawnacy Barber – Athletics: Canada is not known for its pole vaulters. Our last Olympic entry was back in 1992. Our only two medals in the men’s event came all the way back in 1908 and 1912. That can all change thanks to New Mexico-born Shawn Barber. He didn’t qualify for London at the tender age of 18 but his talent was obvious that year as he already broke the Canadian record. He has improved in both his vaulting heights and his competitive consistency over the years and even won the World Championship last year. He even vaulted six metres for the first time ever during an indoor meet this year. He will face challenges from defending Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie of France, American newcomer Sam Kendricks and even home-country threat Thiago da Silva. Whatever the situation, Barber is sure to deliver.

Brooke Henderson – Golf: Here in Rio there won’t be any new sports on the program but there are two sports that were part of the Olympic program in the past that were cancelled out. The two returning sports are Rugby, albeit in Sevens format, and Golf. Golf was contested at the 1900 and 1904 Olympics. The last Olympic gold in golf was won by a Canadian: George Lyon. Professionalism may have a lot to do with that. Since there’s now no such thing as ‘amateur’ anymore, it seems right that golf returns especially since it’s international enough. Canada has a strong shot at winning through 18 year-old Brooke Henderson. Already displaying a combination of talent, drive and youthfulness that has best been seen in the past through Se-Ri Pak and Nancy Lopez, Henderson has already won three LPGA events. Her last two– the KPMG women’s PGA Championship and the Cambia Portland Classic–came this June and propelled her to 2nd-place World ranking. She’s a heavy favorite to win in Rio but she will face challenges from World #1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand, latest American great Lexi Thompson and last year’s British Open winner Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand. Win or lose, Brooke has a bright future ahead of her.

Mark de Jonge – Canoeing: Until 2008, there were the 500m and 1000m events in flatwater canoeing for men. In 2012, the program replaced the 500m events with 200m sprints. That has worked for the advantage of Canadian kayaker Mark de Jonge. The Calgary-born Dalhousie grad won bronze in London the first Olympics it was contested. Since then, de Jonge has moved up in the ranks from silver at the 2013 Worlds to gold at the 2014 and 2015 Worlds. De Jonge will face challenges from France’s Maxime Beaumont and Sweden’s Peter Menning who finished second and third to him respectively last year. It could just well be de Jonge’s moment here in Rio.

Rosannagh MacLennan – Trampolining: Ever since trampolining has been introduced to the Olympic program in 2000, the Canadian team has left each Olympics with at least one medal. The women’s event has always had a Canadian medalist with Karen Cockburn winning 2000 bronze, 2004 silver and 2008 silver. In London, Rosie MacLennan became Canada’s first ever Olympic champion in trampolining. Rosie also had the bizarre distinction as being Canada’s only Olympic champion at those Games. Rosie has since won the 2013 World Championship and finished second the following year. She found herself out of the medals in 2015. She plans to return to her winning form in Rio but she will face the rivalry of 2015 champ Li Dan of China and two Belarussians: 2015 bronze medalist Tatiana Piatrenia and Hanna Harchonak. 2016 will be the arena for her to prove herself on top again.

Brittany MacLean – Swimming: Canada is known for its medal-winning swimmers. Sports Illustrated predicts Canada to win no medals. However one that could prove SI wrong is distance freestyler Brittany MacLean. The Etobicoke native who swims for the University of Georgia has a reputation in the distance freestyles with a 7th place finish in the 400 in London. However she was too injured in the 2015 season and had to miss out on the Worlds. This year, MacLean has the 6th-fastest time in the world in the 400 free and the 4th-fastest in the 800 free. Sure the distance freestyles are where Katie Ledecky is all the talk but Brittany MacLean just could win Canada’s first Olympic medal for a female swimmer since 1996. That feat could also be achieved by backstroker Kylie Masse or butterfliers Penny Oleksiak or Noemie Thomas. Actually Canada has its strongest women’s swim team in a long time. While the men’s team could only qualify ten swimmers. Looks like it’s the girls’ turn to shine.

AND ONE TEAM:

Canada’s Women’s Soccer Team: I’ll admit I didn’t review them when I did my pre-Olympic preview for London. And good reason why not. Back at the 2011 WWC Canada lost all three of their Group Stage games. However the turnabout the team made under the new coach John Herdman was evident as the team left the Olympics with the bronze medal. Their performance won the hearts of so many Canadians, I referred to them as ‘Our Girls.’ Canada has continued to show consistency with a quarterfinal finish at the 2015 WWC. Since then, the team have won most of their games losing only to Brazil, Denmark, USA and France. Canada won this year’s Algarve Cup and 19 year-old defender Kadeisha Buchanan was named the best player of the tournament. They’re not expected to win a medal in Rio but the team could just surprise the world again like they did four years ago.

And there you have it. My review of Canadian athletes to look out for in Rio. Notice that I reviewed the four Canadians Sports Illustrated predicts to win gold? Whatever the situation, I’m sure they’ll do our country proud.

 

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Rio 2016: Fourteen To Watch

London Flame

The Rio Olympics is coming our way. Of course the media being what it is, it chooses to focus on all the bad news with the bad construction problems and the Zika virus and the slow ticket sales. The story of the Russian track team being systematically doped added to the fire and has led to scrutiny of the whole Russian team in recent weeks. However there have been tales of woe before past Olympic Games and they’ve gone off excellently so it would be fair to give Rio a chance. So without further ado, here’s my focus on thirteen to watch–eight individual athletes, a duo, and four teams:

Rio 2016

The Rio 2016 logo features three characters in the Brazilian colors in a triple embrace resembling Sugarloaf mountain.

-Katie Ledecky/USA – Swimming: You all thought Michael Phelps would be the top swimmer of focus in my blog, right? Wrong. He will be looked into in a focus on another swimmer later in my blog but now the swimmer of top focus here is the US’s next big swimming sensation: Katie Ledecky. As a 15 year-old, she competed in London as the youngest member of the US Olympic team. She won gold in the 800m freestyle and broke the American record along the way. Since then, she has become a distance freestyle ace with world records in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyles along with World Championship golds in those events as well as the 200 free. She is poised to win gold in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in Rio: a feat only achieved once before by American swimmer Debbie Meyer in 1968. Katie can even add a bonus gold with the 4*200m free relay. Her chances are good as her best time in the 800 this year is 12 seconds faster than the second-best and her top 2016 time in the 400 is 1.5 seconds faster than that of American teammate Leah Smith. However the 200 will be her toughest event to win as Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom’s 2016 best is less than .1 faster than Katie and just .12 behind her is Italy’s Federica Pellegrini: 2008 Olympic champion who finished fifth in London. Nevertheless it will be a brave attempt from the 19 year-old.

-Simone Biles/USA – Gymnastics: Women’s gymnastics has become a complicated sport ever since it was revolutionized by ‘pixies’ like Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci. It seems a gymnast’s career at the top is very short. It’s very hard to develop consistency especially with time encroaching. However one gymnast who can beg to differ is 19 year-old Simone Biles. She has shown a consistency in World gymnastics not demonstrated since Ludmilla Tourischeva back in the 70’s. In the past three World Championships starting in 2013, Biles has won fourteen medals including ten gold. She has also won the last three World all-around titles. Biles appears invincible but she does face rivalry from her own teammates Gabby Douglas (defending champ from London) and Laurie Hernandez as well as Russia’s Angelina Melnikova. Rio could just be the arena to crown her greatness in the sport.

-Ashton Eaton/USA – Athletics: There have only been two decathletes who have won back-to-back Olympic gold medals: The US’s Bob Mathias and the UK’s Daley Thompson. Ashton Eaton looks poised to become the third. He first burst onto the scene at the 2011 Worlds as a 23 year-old when he finished second behind his American teammate Trey Hardee. Hey, the US is known for their decathletes as they have won a total of 28 medals including thirteen gold. The following year, Eaton beat Hardee at the US Olympic Trials with a world record points total. Eaton went on to win gold in London as well as the last two World Championships. Eaton appears invincible having the year’s best result at the US trials but he does have rivals in Germany’s Arthur Abele and Canada’s Damian Warner who finished behind Eaton in second at the Worlds. Rio could just be the arena for a great to deliver.

-Usain Bolt/Jamaica – Athletics: What can I say? The ‘Lightning Bolt’ has proven himself to be the biggest thing in athletics since Carl Lewis. He has an unmatched streak at dominating sprinting in major events. It all started when he won the 100, the 200 and the 4*100 relay in Beijing in 2008 all in world record time. Since then every Olympics or Worlds he entered, he’d leave with golds in all those events each time with the exception of the 100 in 2011 where he received a false-start disqualification. Already people are ruling Bolt to achieve the triple-triple here in Rio. However it’s not 100% guaranteed. Bolt had to pull out of the Jamaican Olympic trials because of a pulled hamstring injury. He has since recovered well and even won a major 200 in London a few weeks ago. However the 100m has three runners that have a faster year’s best than Usain. Topping the list is 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin. The 200m features four runners who ran a faster time this year than Usain’s 2016 best. Topping that list is American LaShawn Merritt: 2008 Olympic 400m champion. Win or lose, chasing Olympic history will make for an exciting show from a legend.

-Mo Farah/Great Britain – Athletics: Seven male distance runners have won both the 5000m and 10000m runs in the same Olympics. However one–Finland’s Lasse Viren– has done it twice back in 1972 and 1976. Mo Farah, A Somali who moved to the UK when he was eight, appears poised to duplicate Viren’s feat. Farah’s last loss of a major 5000 or a 10000 came at the 2011 World Championships. Since then he has taken gold at the 2012 Olympics and both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships in both events. There will be rivals trying to block his path like Ethiopian Muktar Edris, American Galen Rupp, his Portland training partner, and Kenyans like Caleb Ndiku, Paul Tanui and Geoffrey Kanworor. Whatever the situation, Farah’s pursuit will be one to watch.

-Cate and Bronte Campbell/Australia – Swimming: Admit it. You get intrigued when you see a pair of sibling athletes either competing together or against each other. Enter the Campbell sisters from Australia who are at the top of the world in sprint freestyle. 24 year-old Cate is the one with Olympic medals–two bronze in 2008 and a relay gold in 2012–along with 100 free gold at the 2013 Worlds. 22 year-old Bronte won the 2015 World Championship in the 50 and 100 free with Cate winning silver in the 50 and bronze in the 100. However Cate that this year’s fastest times in the world in the 50 and 100. Bronte has the second-fastest in the 100 and fifth-fastest in the 50. Ah, don’t you wish sibling rivalry was this civil? However the Malawi-born Campbell sisters are not alone at the top. They will face challenges from Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom who also made the 2015 Worlds podiums in both events and 2012 Olympic champion from both events Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. The Rio stage should provide for some fun drama. And after all that rivalry, the two could just team up for a gold in the 4*100 free relay!

-Laszlo Cseh/Hungary – Swimming: All eyes will be on Michael Phelps. He may have won it all with 22 medals over three Games including 18 gold but he’s making a comeback after a troubling time since London which included his second DUI arrest. Who’s also worth looking at is 30 year-old Hungarian Laszlo Cseh. When Phelps won six golds and two bronze in Athens, Cseh won 400 individual medley bronze. While Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, Cseh won three silvers. While Phelps won four golds and two silvers in London, Cseh won 200 IM bronze. In all cases, Phelps was the Olympic champion. Here in Rio, we have a different scenario. We have Phelps trying to get back his old form while Cseh appears to be in the best form of his life. Cseh has the world fastest times this year in both the 100 and 200 butterflies. Cseh is a heavy favorite for the 200 but he does face rivalry from Phelps, American Tom Shields and Poland’s Konrad Czerniak in the 100. Cseh has never been called ‘Phelps’ Shadow’ in his career but Rio could become the first Olympic arena to finally beat Phelps and win Olympic gold.

-Majlinda Kelmendi/Kosovo – Judo: 75 nations competing in Rio have never won an Olympic medal. Two nations–Kosovo and South Sudan– will be making their Olympic debut. Kosovo’s team will consist of eight athletes in five sports. Leading the team is 25 year-old judoka Majlinda Kelmendi. Back in 2012, Kosovo was not officially recognized by the IOC and Kelmendi opted to compete for Albania. Since then Kelmendi has won gold at the World Championships in the lightweight category in 2013 and 2014. She missed out on the 2015 season because of an injury but is poised for a comeback in time for Rio. She has already won this years’ European championship. She faces rivalry from Japan’s Misato Nakamura and Brazil’s Erica Miranda. Whatever the outcome, be sure she’ll do her country proud. She will also be the flagbearer during the opening ceremonies.

FROM THE HOST NATION:

Rio 2016

Vinicius, seen left with Rio Paralympic mascot Tom, is the 2016 Olympic mascot. Vinicius is a mix of Brazil’s mammals. Both mascots are to represent Brazil’s diverse people and culture.

Of course there is to be some focus on athletes of the host nation. I make it a priority as it makes some of my favorite Olympic moments with athletes winning gold or a medal in front of their home crowd. And in Rio, Sports Illustrated predicts Brazil to win 20 medals including six gold. The most medals Brazil has won in a single Olympics is 17 back in London. The most golds, five in Athens in 2004.

Focus on the two teams later. Here are the duo and individual of focus:

Isaquias Queiroz and Erlon Silva – Canoeing: Brazil has won Olympic medals in thirteen sports but canoeing isn’t one of them. In recent years, Brazil has fielded a canoeing duo who have emerged at the top of the world in the 1000m event. Isaquias won the Worlds in 2013 and 2014 in the individual 500m. Erlon was part of the bronze medal-winning 200m pair in 2014. However both were competing in events that won’t be contested in Rio. Leading to last year’s Worlds, the two were paired together and trained for the 1000m pairs event. They entered that event at the Worlds and won. They will face challenges from the duos of Hungary and Poland. They could just make Brazilian Olympic history here in Rio.

Fabiana Murer – Athletics: Brazil is not expected to win any medals in athletics, according to Sports Illustrated. Overlooked must be pole vaulter Fabiana Murer. She’s a 2011 world champion and she finished second at last year’s World but is known for Olympic choking. In 2008, she finished 10th. In 2012 she failed to qualify for the finals. 2016 looks to be a good year for Murer as she set a new South American record back in July. However she faces challenges from London Olympic champion Jennifer Suhr of the US, last year’s World champ Yarisley Silva of Cuba, last year’s World bronze medalist Nikoleta Kyriakopolou of Greece and American Sandi Morris who’s the only vaulter to have a higher 2016’s best than Murer as of now. Whatever the situation, the home country has her back.

TEAMS:

Refugee Olympic Athletes Team: In the past, you had to have some citizenship ties in order to compete at the Olympic Games. Refugees in the past have been overlooked as they were believed to have bigger problems than sports to deal with. Some would have to wait many years to represent the nation they’ve been adopted into. At the last Olympics in London, some refugees participated as Individual Olympic Athletes. IOC president Thomas Bach has taken note of the current worldwide refugee crisis by trying to break barrier for refugee athletes who want to compete at the Olympics. In March of this year, Bach announced his intention to create a team of refugees to compete in Rio taking into account the athletes’ sporting ability, personal circumstances and United Nations-verified refugee status. A $2 million fund created by the IOC was used to help train the athletes for Rio. At these Olympics, there will be ten athletes competing as Refugee Olympic Athletes. Five are runners from South Sudan who reside in Kenya. One is an Ethiopian marathoner who sought refuge in Luxembourg. Two are Congolese judokas living in Brazil and two are Syrian swimmers who have sought refuge in Belgium and Germany. They may not have much of a medal chance but they will already achieve victory by just competing at the Olympics.

United States Women’s Football Team: If there’s one team that one can call the class of the field, it’s the American women’s football (soccer) team. The US Women have won three of seven Women’s World Cups and four of the five Olympic gold medals. Those who saw last year’s Women’s World Cup know about how well the American women continue to play brilliantly. Here in Rio, fourteen women from last year’s WWC squad are part of the Olympic squad including stars Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. There are also four newcomers including Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn. Since their WWC win, the team has won all but three of their matches since, losing only once to China 1-0 in a friendly back in December. WWC finalists Japan may not have qualified but it’s not to say the US won’t face some tough rivalry from China, France and even hosts Brazil. Nevertheless if they’re as brilliant together in Rio as they were in Canada last year, magic can happen again.

TRIVIA: Being WWC-holder is actually bad luck for the Olympics. In the previous five Olympics, no team that was the WWC-holder at the time has won Olympic gold. They’d make the Olympic podium, yes, but never the top step. Can the US break this bad-luck spell?

FROM THE HOST NATION:

Brazil’s Olympic Volleyball Teams: Football may be Brazil’s #1 sport. It’s safe to say volleyball is Brazil’s #2 sport. Ever since the men’s team won Brazil’s first ever court volleyball medal, Brazil has been on a roll winning a total of nine Olympic medals including four gold. They’ve also won 11 of the 30 Olympic medals awarded in Beach Volleyball including two gold medal-winning duos. Brazil is expected to dominate here. In beach volleyball, Brazil’s pairs won five of the six medals with only the men’s silver conceded to a Dutch pair. Brazil is not as dominant in court volleyball at the Worlds but the teams have what it takes to deliver as the women have won Olympic gold back in 2008 and 2012. Here in Rio, the women will face tough competition from the US and China who finished ahead of them at the 2014 Worlds. The men appear heavy favorites to win but they will face challenges from 2012 Olympic champs Russia and 2014 Worlds champs Poland. It could be possible the home crowd’s cheering could propel them both to win gold.

Brazil’s Olympic Football Teams: You’d figure Brazil, a country that has won a total of five World Cups, would have at least one Olympic gold in football, right? Wrong! It’s all because of eligibility rules in football over the years. Before 1984, footballers couldn’t even make a penny off their sport if they wanted to compete. That would allow the Eastern Bloc countries to field their best for the Olympics and propel them to the podium while World Cup-winning countries like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy could only field ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which would finish in a shabby ranking or not make the Olympics at all. Brazil was able to qualify for six Olympics in that period but failed to win a medal.

In 1984, the Olympic door was open to professionals despite some restrictions or two. In 1992, professionals as long as they were 23 or under could compete. Since 1996, each squad had to have all but a maximum of three footballers under 23 with the other three being anyone they wanted. The opening of the floodgates to pros has boosted Brazil’s men’s team as they’ve qualified for six of the eight previous Olympic competitions and have stood on the podium five times. What they want here in Rio is to stand on the top step for the first time. In London, Brazil fielded a kit featuring a 20 year-old Neymar Jr. and won silver with Mexico taking the gold. Here in Rio, Neymar is back and the other 17 members of the Olympic squad are part of pro teams from Brazil, Spain, France and Italy. The Olympic squad may have finished third at the 2015 Pan Ams but the team has been consistent in friendly play over the last two years losing only to Nigeria back in March. Most of all, the team wants to return the football spirit to the country that left the nation broken-hearted at the 2014 World Cup and achieving shabby results at the last two Copa Americas. Whatever the situation, Brazil may just lift the spirits of their country.

Oh, did you think I’d forget the women’s football team? I didn’t. Women’s football isn’t as restrictive as the men’s competition. Every woman that competed at last year’s WWC is eligible to compete in the Olympics. As for Brazil’s women’s team, they have two Olympic silvers from 2004 and 2008. However they have had difficulties in the last major tournaments with losing in the quarterfinals at the 2012 Olympics and losing to Australia in the Round of 16 at the 2015 WWC. The team has since had their ups and downs with losses to the US, France, Canada and New Zealand they’ve trained hard under coach Vadao and have had mostly wins. Stars Marta, Formiga and Cristiane will be there. Hopefully the Brazilian women will be as victorious as their men and these Olympics here could be the arena for it.

And there you have it. Some of the athletes who to look out for at the Rio Games. Remember the gold medal does not go to the hardest worker, the most deserving, the most talented, the one with the most pre-Olympic accolades or even the best athlete. The gold goes to the one that’s the most there. And Rio will be the arena to decide the Olympic champions. These seventeen days will allow the athletes to “live their passion.” My review of Canadians to watch was printed the following day. Just click here.

World Cup 2014: My Prediction For The Final

Netherlands v Spain: 2010 FIFA World Cup FinalWhat can I say about the World Cup? All I can say is that it starts with 32 teams, takes a month and at the end, only one country’s left smiling. And so after 62 games and loads of surprises, they’ve weeded out the thirty pretenders and gave us the two contenders: Germany who has won the Cup three times before and Argentina who have won it twice before. The Maracana will be the stage for deciding the World Cup winners. Here I’ll do a rundown of the two teams and even make my prediction on who I think will win the Cup.

First an interesting note I came about. Isn’t it ironic that both the final for the Cup and the 3rd-place match are both like rematches of quarterfinals of the last World Cup? Anyways I’ll get on with it.

World Cup

Past Head-To-Head Results:

Germany and Argentina have squared off against each other 20 times. Argentina has won the most often with nine times. Germany has won six and five were draws. Both Germany and Argentina have scored 28 goals against each other. Germany and Argentina have crossed paths at seven World Cups starting in 1958. Surprisingly this is the third World Cup in a row they both challenge each other. The previous two were in quarterfinals. In 2006 when Germany hosted, they tied 1-1 and it took a round of penalty kicks to decide Germany the winner. Last World Cup it was Argentina that had their own version of the Mineirazo as Germany won 4-0. Also as surprisingly, this is the third World Cup Final they both face each other: the most World Cup finals pairings ever. The first was in 1986 when Maradona and the boys won 3-2. The following World Cup they met again and it was German revenge 1-0. In both cases, that was the last World Cup either team won.

Argentina FootballARGENTINA: One word that can best describe Argentina here at the World Cup is consistent. They won all three of their Group Stage games: 2-1 against Bosnia, 1-0 against Iran, and 3-2 against Nigeria. They also won their Round of 16 match against Switzerland in extra time 1-0, their quarterfinal against Belgium 1-0 and their semifinal against the Netherlands in a penalty shootout.

There’s another word to describe Argentina’s play at this World Cup: lackluster. The phenomenal big play that Argentina has been known for was missing. Instead it looked like they were focusing on the conservative.  Sure, the conservative style worked for France last world Cup but this is not what you’d expect from Argentina. Sure Lionel Messi has been one of the stars of the tournament and has lived up to his reputation during the World Cup but other Argentinians like Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria have been playing rather modestly than what they’re reputed for. That scoreless draw should be cause for concern since it was mostly a contest of ball control and very little attacking. In fact I remember a scene near the end of regulation where it appeared Dutch players were lollygagging with the ball.

Whatever the situation, conservative play will not come in handy, especially against a team that annihilated the host country on Tuesday. That game has to be the biggest signal to Argentina that if they were to win the Cup, they will be pressed to pour it on like never before at this Cup. There’s no doubt Messi and Higuain have what it takes here. They have to be prepared for a similar attack like Germany gave Brazil on Tuesday. It’s evident that Germany can take full advantage of an opponent’s vulnerability and come down hard on them. They should know because Germany beat them in the quarterfinals at the last World Cup 4-0, just after winning every other previous game they played.

As for the team, I’m not worried about Messi. I think of him as Maradona without the ego. Especially since it’s evident he knows what he needs to do to deliver here and he’s done that. Sergio Romero has been an excellent goaltender as he has delivered each time and has only conceded three goals. The rest of the team will have to be prepared for anything from Germany whether it be conservative play or an all. And with Angel di Maria out, they will have to step up their midfield. Coach Sabella knows the job he has to deliver and I’m sure he’ll mean business, especially to bring Argentina back on top after 28 years.

Germany FootballGERMANY: What can I say? They are not called the Mannschaft for nothing. What we have is a team that is lacking in superstars and celebrity. Heck, Miroslav Klose has scored the most goals in World Cup history and he doesn’t have the star power as say Neymar, Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead we have a team full of players that are focused, know what they have to do and deliver. And they definitely know how to pour it on as evident in the Mineirazo and their opener of 4-0 against Portugal. You can bet Germany is a team that knows how to deliver.

Or do they? Sure, they had big wins against Portugal and Brazil but they have had their share of tight matches at the World Cup, like when they temporarily trailed Ghana before they tied 2-2. Or even going scoreless against Algeria in regulation before winning 2-1. It’s evident in those matches that Germany has weaknesses of their own and could be made vulnerable by Argentina. Argentina is a team very familiar with them and knows how to rival them. It’s also very possible Argentina will want to avenge Germany for the last two World Cup quarterfinals. Sure, Argentina has not been too spectacular but they could just pour it on when they have to. It’s happened before in major play.

One thing about Tuesday’s game, it’s that coach Joachim Löw doesn’t want that big win to make his team overconfident. Even Miro Klose stated that he doesn’t want the win to get to the team’s head. What they’ll have on Sunday is a new team and will need a new plan to win. It’s evident with each passing match, it’s all about knowing the rival, controlling them and monopolizing on your chances. And that’s what Germany will have to do on Sunday to win the Cup for the fourth time and for the first time ever as a unified nation.

MY PREDICTION: Okay. So here goes. My prediction for the winner of the 2014 World Cup. I believe it will be Germany 2-1 in extra time. Wow! I’ve been making a lot of predictions where the score is 2-1, haven’t I? But that’s what I believe it will be. Germany have that edge in terms of delivering goals and will continue to be the case if Argentina don’t step up their game. Argentina know how to defend and control opponents but they lack the ability to monopolize on their chances. So that’s why I give Germany the edge.

So there you go. It was fun making predictions for the World Cup. I hope to do football/soccer predicting again sometime soon. Maybe my next chance will be for next year’s Copa America. Provided if TSN or ESPN broadcast it.

Brazil 1950: A Country’s Shining Moment Ends With A Country’s Heartbreak

The World Cup in 1950 was to be Brazil's shining moment. Instead it delivered a heartbreak that still haunts them to this day.

The World Cup in 1950 was to be Brazil’s shining moment. Instead it delivered a heartbreak that still haunts them to this day.

You may remember a while back I talked about Brazil’s football legacy but refrained from talking about 1950, the first time they hosted.  The first time they hosted was intended to be a grand moment for the country and especially their football team. In fact the Maracana was built to be the grand stage for Brazil’s win. Unfortunately the Cup ended with a heartache that still haunts the country to this day.

WAR IS OVER, THE WORLD CUP IS BACK

1950 was to be the fourth time the FIFA World Cup would be held. It started in 1930 but the 1942 World Cup had to be cancelled because of World War II. The 1946 World Cup was also cancelled as the world was still recovering from the end of that war just one year earlier. Just like 1948 was the year that brought the Olympic Games back to life, 1950 was the year the World Cup came back. However Germany and Japan were still part of the international sanctioned list and were banned from competing, just like they were banned from the 1948 Olympic Games. Brazil and Italy were given automatic berths: Brazil as host country and Italy as defending champions. The four British nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland returned to FIFA after seventeen years of ‘exiling’ themselves.

WE WANT OUT

The 1950 Brazil team. Before 1950, Vrazil's best finish at the World Cup was third in 1938.

The 1950 Brazil team. Before 1950, Brazil’s best finish at the World Cup was third in 1938.

Seven spots were allocated to European countries, six to American countries and one to an Asian country. If you think it’s hectic getting teams to qualify for the World Cup, you should hear about 1950. Not because of competitive play but more because of international politics and football politics. Iron curtain countries like the USSR and two countries that participated in 1938–Hungary and finalist Czechoslovakia– refused to participate. Argentina, Peru and Ecuador withdrew after the qualifying round, possibly because of a dispute with the Brazilian Football Federation. The Philippines, Burma and Indonesia withdrew leaving India to receive the Asian berth by default. Austria declined to participate in qualifying feeling its team wasn’t good enough and Belgium withdrew from the qualification tournament which allowed Switzerland and Turkey to qualify without playing their final round of matches.

With the qualification done, it was off to the World Cup, right? Scotland withdrew because the very prideful chairman of the Scottish Football Federation insisted Scotland would only travel to Brazil as winners of the Home Championship. When England showed up, Scotland withdrew, even though England planned to attend even without the Championship. Turkey withdrew because of the huge cost of traveling to Brazil. FIFA invited two European nations who failed in qualifying–Portugal and France–to fill the gap. Only France accepted.

Now with the fifteen teams set for Brazil, that should lead to straight competition, but that led to more withdrawals. First came the draw on May 22, 1950 in Rio de Janeiro. India was the first drawn team to withdraw because of travel costs. France then withdrew because of the cost and time to travel between the cities. That left the World Cup with a field of only thirteen teams. Just like 1930 again! After all that, here’s how the teams worked out:

  • Group 1: Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland and Yugoslavia
  • Group 2: England, Chile, Spain and the United States
  • Group 3: Italy, Paraguay and Sweden
  • Group 4: Uruguay and Bolivia

ON WITH THE CUP

After all that hassle, the World Cup finally began on June 24, 1950. This would be the first world Cup since the inaugural 1930 World Cup where group play would be contested and would be the only World Cup where group play would decide the winner. It was Brazil’s idea to do this because more games meant more ticket sales to help compensate for the expenses of the stadiums. FIFA at first rejected the idea but agreed when Brazil threatened to pull out as hosts. The matches were held in six stadiums in six cities: Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, Porto Alegre and Recife. Four of the six stadiums were long into existence before the World Cup. There were only two that were build especially for the Cup: Estadio Raimundo Sampaio in Belo Horizonte and the Maracana in Rio.

Because of the uneven number of teams per group, it was decided that only the team that finished first advances. Group 4 had no problem deciding the advancer as that only required a single game, which Uruguay won 8-0 over Bolivia. In Group 3, Sweden was the winner with a win against Italy 3-2 and a draw against Paraguay 2-2.

Groups 1 and 2 were the two fully contested groups and they provided the most action. Group 1 was a no-brainer right from the start. Brazil delivered an attack style of play that would take them to the top of the group with a 4-0 win over Mexico, a 2-2 tie against Switzerland and a 2-0 win over Yugoslavia.

World Cup 1950 wasn't all Brazil, Brazil. It also was the stage for the American's 1-0 upset over England.

World Cup 1950 wasn’t all Brazil, Brazil. It also was the stage for the American’s 1-0 upset over England with Joe Gaetjens (right) scoring the winning goal.

Group 2 was not exactly remembered for its winner Spain or for Spain’s wins of 3-1 over the US, 2-0 over Chile or 1-0 over England. Instead Group 2 was known for one of the biggest soccer upsets of the time. The US vs. England match first appeared to be England’s for the taking since England, known then as the ‘Kings of Football,’ had the pros on their team while the American team was made up of part-time players who made their income from the jobs they worked. However the English and the 13,000 in attendance at the Estacio Independencia in Belo Horizonte were stunned when American Joseph Gaetjens, who was actually not an American citizen, scored the first goal in the 38th minute. Despite strong challenging play from both sides throughout the game, there were no other goals scored. The Americans’ 1-0 win over the English is still considered one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

The aftermath of this was also interesting. It made huge news in World Cup countries and almost made huge news in England but was trumped by the news the English cricket team lost to the West Indies for the first time ever. The English were nitpicky about the win saying that the team ‘had arrived through Ellis Island,’ referring to the assumption most Americans on that team were children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. For the record, three members of the American team including Gaetjens were not yet American citizens. In the United States, the win only made sidelined news. The Americans were still disinterested in soccer as they still promoted their ‘all-American’ sports like baseball, football and basketball. The win would gain appreciation by the Americans over time and especially in the last 25 years with the Americans slowly welcoming soccer especially after hosting the 1994 World Cup and the formation and success of MLS (Major League Soccer). The game has recently been dubbed by the Americans as the ‘Miracle Match’ and even spawned a small 2005 film “The Game Of Their Lives.’

ANOTHER SET OF GROUP PLAY?

Because of the uneven numbers of the groups in the first round, it was not only decided that only those that finish first in their group advance but also that it be group-style play to decide the winner.Also that ticket sales thing also has a lot to do with it too. This would be the only time in World Cup history in which group play would decide the winner. In group order, the finalists were Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay. All of the games in the ‘winners group’ were played either in Sao Paulo’s Estadio de Pacaembu or the Maracana. All teams played all their matches on the same day and at the same time. Brazil’s matches in this round were all contested at the Maracana.

The group play of the winners started July 9th with a 2-2 draw between Uruguay and Spain. Brazil delighted a crowd of 139,000 with a 7-1 win against Sweden which included four goals from Ademir. On July 13th Brazil continued their winning ways in front of a crowd of 153,000 with a 6-1 victory over Spain which included the Cup’s only ‘own goal’ by Spaniard Jose Parra Martinez. Uruguay gained some boost with a 3-2 win over Sweden with the winning goal coming with five minutes to go. The two games on July 16th were still group games however many still believed they played the role as 3rd Place Final and Final because of the end result and the team’s overall placing. Sweden beat Spain 3-1 in Pacaembu with a measly attendance of 11,000 and would finish the World Cup in third place.

A FINAL GAME TO BE REMEMBERED

“Down through its history, only three people have managed to silence the Maracana: the Pope, Frank Sinatra and me.”

-Alcides Ghiggia

Okay, here it was. This was Brazil’s for the winning. They were in excellent position to win the World Cup. They’ve already proven to the world their greatness. Even if Brazil tied Uruguay, they could still win the World Cup because Brazil had two wins while Uruguay had a win and a tie. The general public were not the only ones claiming Brazil to be the victors days before the match even started. The specialized press were too. In fact the Brazilian newspaper O Mundo printed an early edition paper that day with the Brazilian team on the front page with the headline ‘These are the World champions.” There was a song composed days before the game entitled Brasil os vencedores (Brazil The Victors) and was to be played once Brazil won. Even Julie Rimet, president of FIFA and founder of the World Cup, anticipated Brazil would win and even had prepared a speech in Portuguese to congratulate anticipated winners Brazil after their win. Unlike now, medals were not awarded to teams at the World Cup who finished in the Top 3 but the Brazilian Football Confederation has already made 22 gold medals with the names of the players engraved on them.

On the morning of July 16th, the streets were already full of energy and there was even a ‘makeshift carnival’ with thousands of signs celebrating the world title and chants of ‘Brazil must win!” The Maracana was bustling in its own way. One thing we should remember is that the Maracana stadium consisted of two tiers of stands and much of the stands were standing area. This is the reason why unlike today they could field a capacity of over 100,000. At this match, the official paid attendance registered 173,380 attended while many estimate the actual attendance was over 210,000. This still remains as a world record for attendance for a team sports match.

As Brazil were in the dressing room, confident of victory in their spiffy white shirts and blue collars, Uruguay has other plans. Uruguay’s captain Obdulio Varela brought as many copies of O Mundo that had ‘These are the World champions” on the front page, laid them on their bathroom door and encouraged his teammates to urinate on them. In Uruguay’s locker room prior to the match, coach Juan Lopez informed the team that their best chance of surviving of surviving the powerful offensive line of Brazil would come through adopting a defensive strategy. After he left, Varela stood up and addressed the team himself, saying “Juancito is a good man, but today, he is wrong. If we play defensively against Brazil, our fate will be no different from Spain or Sweden”. Varela then delivered an emotional speech about how they must face all the odds and not to be intimidated by the fans or the opposing team. In response to his squad’s underdog status, the captain delivered the memorable line, “Boys, outsiders don’t play. Let’s start the show.”

The goal scored by Alcides Ghiggia (centre) in the 79th minutes stunned the Maracana silent and would break the hearts of Brazil.

The goal scored by Alcides Ghiggia (centre) in the 79th minutes stunned the Maracana silent and would break the hearts of Brazil.

As expected, the game began with Brazil playing aggressively and attacking against the majority of the Uruguayan defensive line for the first half. However unlike Spain and Sweden, Uruguay was successful in maintaining their defense and the first half ended scoreless.

First blood was drawn at the 47th minute when Sao Paulo forward Friaca shot low past the goalkeeper to give Brazil the first goal of the game. Captain Varela immediately took the ball after the goal and disputed its validity, arguing that it was offside. Varela’s argument was obviously intentional to the point he even forced the referee, Englishman George Reader, to bring out an interpreter. The protest was unsuccessful but it succeeded in calming the crowd down. Then Varela took the ball to the centre of the field and shouted to his teammates: “Now it’s time to win.”

Uruguay was able to find control of the game and Brazil soon had its defensive frailty exposed. Juan Alberto Schiaffino scored the equalizer for Uruguay in the 66th minute. Then in the 79th minute, Alcides Ghiggia ran down the right side of the field, dribbled past Brazilian defender Bigode and scored another goal. The crowd was virtually silenced; Uruguay was now the leader. The silence continued for the remainder of the play until Reader blew the final whistle. It was official: Uruguay won the Cup by defeating Brazil 2-1.

THE AFTERMATH: BOTH IMMEDIATE AND IN THE LONG RUN

“The maximum punishment in Brazil is 30 years imprisonment, but I have been paying, for something I am not even responsible for, by now, for 50 years.”

-Moacir Barbosa

When the sudden news was official, many said there was a ‘traumatic and disturbing absolute silence’ except for the celebrating by the Uruguayan team and delegation. In Brazil, many newspapers refused to accept the fact that their team had been defeated. Radio journalist Ary Barroso retired, albeit briefly. At least two or three people on the top tier of the stands of the Maracana were so distraught by the loss, they committed suicide. Yes, there were peole so distraught over Brazil’s loss, they committed suicide. One man in the stands even had a heart attack. The gold medals were immediately disposed of. The song Brazil the Victors was never played. The nation was just heartbroken over the loss. The game remains one of the biggest upsets in football history and Brazil commonly refers to that game as the Maracanazo, or “blow at the Maracana.” Even Pele talks of how his father cried saying: “Brazil lost!”

In the years to come, the game was influential for a lot of superstition. For one thing, Brazil refused to have a white-and-blue uniform and would soon adopt their famous yellow shirt with blue collar that still exists today. White is seen as bad luck in Brazil. The players of the time were vilified by the fans and were sometimes seen as bad luck. Many went into silent retirement while some never played for the national team again. Only two players that didn’t play in the final played for Brazil’s team in later World Cups. The defeat would weigh down on Brazil’s team so much, they brought a psychiatrist to the 1958 World Cup to remove the haunts of the memories of that game. Whatever the situation, the Brazilian team of 1958 which featured a 17 year-old Pele capturing the world’s imagination won the World Cup: the first of five total World Cups won by Brazil.

Brazilian goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa would be blamed and even vilified for Brazil's loss for the rest of his life.

Brazilian goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa would be blamed and even vilified for Brazil’s loss for the rest of his life.

However of all the players from Brazil, it was goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa that got hit the hardest. He received the biggest flack and biggest blame for the Maracanazo and it seems like Brazil never forgave him. He was still able to play professionally for another thirteen years and was even part of Brazil’s national team until 1953 but he was commonly shunned by the nation. There was even one time he was in a store in Brazil and a mother pointed at him and said to her small son: “Look at him, son. He is the man who made all of Brazil cry.” Little changed over the years. In 1993 the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation refused to let him be a commentator. In 1994, the Brazilian national team did not want him to visit them because they feared he would give them bad luck. If there was one good thing, his wife stayed married to him for a total of 50 years until her death in 1997. He managed administration at the Maracana but was always at a shortage for money after leaving. He did however received assistance from sources such as Brazilian football team Vasco da Gama and his wife’s friend after her death. The friend remembered his last years: “He even cried on my shoulder. Until the end he used to always say: ‘I’m not guilty. There were 11 of us.'” Moacir Barbosa died of a heart attack in 2000 at the age of 79. He was penniless at the time.

One interesting note is what happened to Alcides Ghiggia who scored that heartstopping goal. He would continue to have a prolific career as a professional player until 1968 and was even signed onto European teams like AC Milan and AS Roma during a time when it was extremely rare for South American players to play for teams outside their home country. As of today, the 87 year-old Ghiggia is the only surviving member of Uruguay’s World Cup winning team from 1950.

Interesting note is that on December 29, 2009, Brazil honored Ghiggia by celebrating that decisive goal by having Ghiggia plant his feet in a mould to take his place along greats like Pele, Eusebio and Franz Beckenbauer. The reception to Ghiggia was surprisingly warm and Ghiggia himself was overcome by emotion to the warmth. Ghiggia also made a return appearance to Brazil during the draw for the groups of the 2014 World Cup in December 2013. Each country that had won a World Cup in the past was allowed to send one of its great players to participate in the draw. Uruguay sent Ghiggia. There was however one negative thing as of recent. Ghiggia has been invited to the opening games of both the 2006 and 2010 World Cup but it was revealed by him that he was not on the guest list for this World Cup. I wonder who did it too? Whatever the situation, FIFA spokesperson Delia Fischer insisted the day before that Ghiggia and a guest will have at ticket. Ghiggia has also commented on this World Cup: “I hope Brazil become world champions, so they can all enjoy it here.”

The Brazilian team this year are hoping to finally make that bad memory of 1950 a think of the past. So far Brazil have been doing very well even if they’re not the most spectacular team out there. They opened with a 3-1 win over Croatia but left people shocked with a 0-0 draw against Mexico. They did reassure people that they will win with a 4-1 win over Cameroon to close out the Group Stage. They did win the Round of 16 match against Chile on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw. For those concerned since that, don’t be. There have been many teams in the last 28 years that had a match lead to penalty kicks before they played in the final for the Cup and won.

Brazil is often praised and even fancied in the way they treat football like a religion. However their reaction to their loss in 1950 is a negative side of that. Sure the loss to Uruguay was a shock but it’s a shame how they went about it. You know how when the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series and fans then showed a sign saying “We forgive Bill Buckner” in reference to Buckner’s Series-costing fumble in Game 6 of the 1986 Series? I hope that if Brazil wins the World Cup, there should be someone in the stands with a sign saying: “Nós perdoamos Moacir Barbosa  (We forgive Moacir Barbosa).”

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: 1950 FIFA World Cup. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1950_FIFA_World_Cup>

WIKIPEDIA: Uruguay v. Brazil (1950 FIFA World Cup). Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruguay_v_Brazil_%281950_FIFA_World_Cup%29>

Bellos, Alex. “Obituary: Moacir Barbosa” THE GUARDIAN. 13 April 2000 <http://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/apr/13/guardianobituaries.alexbellos>

The Confederations Cup And Protests In Brazil

One of many protests in Brazil that occurred during the time of the Confederations Cup.

One of many protests in Brazil that occurred during the time of the Confederations Cup.

The Confederations Cup soccer tournament began on June 15th. Also what started around that time was a protest in Sao Paulo about transit fare inflation. Protests soon grew in Brazil. I’m sure the Confederations Cup competition and the worldwide media attention to that event had a lot to do with the growth. But what are the protests about? And why are they happening all of a sudden?

First it’s important to look at the country of Brazil. Most people will consider Brazil a poor or developing country. It is true to an extent. What most people don’t know is how much Brazil’s economy has grown since the 1980’s. Its biggest growth was in the industries of oil, mining and agriculture which grew at 47% or 3.6% per year since 2000. Its industrial growth rate is also impressive with an 8.8% back in 2008. Brazil’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world and actually now ranks 7th in the world and has the highest GDP per capita in South America and 53rd in the world overall. Its gross national income of $10,721 US in 2011 classifies itself as upper-middle income: an income on par with many countries of Eastern Europe. It can be attributed to many factors. Some say it could be Brazil’s move to democracy that started with an Amnesty Law in 1979 and developed into its own Constitution in 1988.

The quality of life has also gone up considerably in the last 20 years and Brazil has worked to establish methods to either keep it that way or improve it. Despite huge urban sprawl in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, its cities have some of the finest public transit systems that have been copied and studied by many major cities in the world. Brazil has also reformed its Social Security programs and tax systems. There was even a Law Of Fiscal Responsibility that controls public expenditures by the Executive Branches of all government levels. Export, Industry and Trade has been increased while allowing Brazil to keep itself from vulnerabilities by methods such as not exporting the oil it consumes. It has also halved its debt through exchange rate-linked certificates which has allowed exporting to grow to as much as 20% a year and put a limit on its inflation rate to 4%. It also has an average life-expectancy rate of 72.7 years (2009) which is comparable to that of many Eastern European countries.

So what are all the protests about? Even before I get into the nitty gritty of the protests there are some facts to send a message that a bubble was about to burst. We must remember that while Brazil has improved a lot in past years and especially this century, there’s still a lot of development to go. Despite its improvements, the 53rd best GDP in the world shows they can do better. Its gross national income is roughly 1/4 of what developed countries like Canada are receiving. In addition, the minimum wage translates to an annual income of an unenviable 8,086 Brazilian Reals (R$) or roughly $3,600 American. Even in government despite being a democracy, Brazil still ranks as the 69th least corrupt country in the World according to Transparency International with a score of 43 out of 100.

The first protests actually started on June 1st, two weeks before the Confederations Cup was about to begin. The first major protest was in the city of Sao Paulo of a transit fare increase from R$ 3.00 to R$ 3.20. The first protest started on June 6 and grew over time. The real turning point came when police fired rubber bullets at the protesters and journalists on June 13th. This was widely criticized by Amnesty International and even Brazilian Amnesty Groups.

Soon after, and while the Confederations Cup was progressing further, the protests grew to as many as 250,000 in various major Brazilian cities on June 17th protesting. Rio de Janeiro had the biggest that day with 100,000. Even Brazilians in other world cities stages their own protests. By June 20th, protests grew to millions of people in 100 cities and grew over the next few days. As negotiations and government involvement in matters occurred, which I will discuss later, the protests calmed down but not without incidents.

Interesting enough is not just the number of protesters and cities involved growing but the issues too. What started off as one protest over a transit fare increase grew to a wide array of issues being protested against or demanded:

  • A bill (PEC – 37) that hindered Public Ministry to investigate.
  • The distribution of petroleum royalties to the appropriate causes.
  • Lack of criminalization of all forms of Corruption and Embezzlement.
  • Secret Voting in Congress for forfeiture of office.
  • A bill (PEC – 33) allowing decisions made by the Supreme Court going to Congress.
  • Having a Privileged Forum.
  • Taxing in Public Transport.
  • Demands to the National Pact for fiscal responsibility, control of inflation and proper distribution of funds to education, public transport and health.
  • Demands to implement means of political reform in the country.
  • Demanding 10% of the GDP be devoted to education.
  • Demanding a free-pass for full-time university students.
  • Demanding a revocation of a ‘gay cure’ bill (PDL – 234) authorizing psychologists to treat LGBT people.

Evident enough is that the growth in numbers and issues happened as the Confederations Cup matches were occurring. I still remember telecast of Confederation Cup matches on CBC that even included security updates of what was happening in the cities. Even though the protests have been successful in leading to solutions of problems being protested over, there was still last chances for opportunity as violent clashes occurred in Belo Horizonte as it was hosting a semifinal match on the 26th and in Rio de Janeiro as it was hosting the final on the 30th.

You could understand why the Confederations Cup had a lot to do with the increase in protests. With a major world event happening, it’s obvious the protesters want to highlight Brazil’s problems right while the eyes of the world are watching. Mind you these next three years are going to be very big for Brazil as they will play host to many major international events. Besides the Confederations Cup that finished yesterday, Rio will host the Catholic event World Youth Day later this month. Next year Brazil will host soccer’s World Cup with twelve major cities contesting the competition. And 2016 will have Rio hosting the Summer Olympic Games. I don’t know of any other country that has had to host this many major events in a matter of four years. For Brazil it’s a chance for them to show the world their image as a well-to-do nation as they will be the first developing country since Mexico in 1986 to host a World Cup and the first developing country since Mexico again in 1968 to host a Summer Olympics. In fact the World Cup was even the subject of protests that received less notice than most other protests. Many were protesting the government giving a lot of the budget ($12 billion US) to these sports events instead of on living conditions.

I mentioned that many of the issues being protested upon have been approved within this two-week span of time. You can assure the media attention to this had a lot to do with it. Among those approved by the governments and senate are: public transit prices reduced and taxes eliminated; petroleum royalties destined to education (75%) and health (25%); reform and improvement demands to the National Pact being granted; secret voting ended; Bill PEC – 37 being revoked; all forms of Corruption and Embezzlement being criminalized; and implementing a Plebiscite to politic national reform. Even though the Confederations Cup is over and a lot of reform and improvements have been politically approved, there are still demands outstanding. Some like the 10% allocation of the GDP to education, revocation of bill PDL – 234, and the Free Pass for students are currently under negotiation by Congress while issues of ending of Privileged Forum and the elimination of Bill PEC – 33 still remain undiscussed. On top of it, time will tell if the approved reforms are carried out and if carried out successfully or not. Another thing to look for in the future is how much impact it will have on President Dilma Rousseff. Her popularity has already been hit by the protests. It remains into question whether she will win the next election.

Even though many of the protester’s demand have been met and even though many are still pending as of now, don’t expect all the action to end just as the Confederation Cup has ended. I’m sure as long as Brazilians see injustice or wrong ways of doing things, there will continue to be protests even without the anticipated major events happening and even after they all end. Nevertheless it’s excellent opportunism to make improvements happen to a developing nation that has improved so much in recent decades but still has more to improve upon.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Economy Of Brazil. Wikipedia.com.  2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Brazil>

Uncredited Author . “Brazil: One Million People Demand Accountability” Transparency International. 21 June 2013. <http://www.transparency.org/news/feature/brazil_one_million_people_demand_accountability>

WIKIPEDIA: 2013 Protests In Brazil. Wikipedia.com.  2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_protests_in_Brazil>

London 2012: A Games To Remember

So the seventeen days of Olympic action has ended. History was written in London. Some of these athletes’ dreams came true, some dreams had to be put on hold for another four years, and some died right there. Nevertheless they were a seventeen days that gave the world lots to cheer about.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS AND NAMES IN HISTORY

One of the unique things of these Olympic Games were that two of the biggest stars from the Beijing Games were back to thrill the world again. An aging Michael Phelps was back in London proving to the world he still has it. He left London with four gold and two silver, successfully defended his gold medal for the third straight time in two different events, set a career Olympic medals record with 22 over three Olympic Games, and ended his Olympic year as arguably the greatest Olympian of all time. Another great from Beijing, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, won the 100m, 200m and anchored Jamaica’s 4*100m relay to gold as he did back in 2008. He too solidified himself as one of the greatest Olympians of all time. It wasn’t just Bolt and Phelps who added more glory to their Olympic careers in London. There was the American beach volleyball team of Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor who won gold for the third straight time. There was British cyclist Chris Hoy whose two gold medals at the Velodrome gave him a career total of six gold medals. No other cyclist has won more. Also British yachtsmen Ben Ainslie won gold for the fourth straight Olympics. Only one other sailor, Denmark’s Paul Elvstrom, has won as many yachting golds.

Even with greats adding to their legacy here in London, this was also the arena where great were born. American swimmer Missy Franklin won five medals, four of the m gold. American sprinter Allyson Felix won three gold medals. British distance runner Mo Farah dazzled the home crowd by achieving the 5000m-10000m double. American decathlete Ashton Eaton and British heptathlete Jessica Ennis gave brilliant wins. Right after the US won the women’s team event in gymnastics, it was American Gabby Douglas who won hearts and the all-around gold. Swimming wasn’t only Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin. American Ryan Lochte also provided some great rivalry for Phelps in the pool. The women’s swimming also saw double golds from China’s Ye Shiwen and the Netherlands’ Ranomi Kromowidjojo. Tennis made a double-winner out Serena Williams in both individual and doubles with her sister Venus. There were also brilliant team efforts in London too. China dominated badminton and table tennis while the Americans dominated basketball. China also won six out of the eight diving events. While the American women’s gymnasts were the clear winners, it was China again who was the class of the men’s field. And the football contest showcased the gold medal-winning brilliance of the Mexican men and the American women.

Despite all the sports action, one of the biggest attractions of these Games were the attendance of members of the royal family at events. The most notable were Prince William, Prince Harry and Kate Middleton. They were seen taking in the athletic action and cheering for Britain. Some of the most notable appearances of them were at the men’s team gymnastics tournament, the swimming finals where they saw Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin in action, the track cycling events where the British women’s pursuit team set a world record in front of them, and the equestrian competition where they cheered Duchess Zara Phillips to a team silver in the eventing competition. Her medal was placed around her neck by her mother Princess Anne: a former Olympic equestrian rider and a member of the International Olympic Committee.

As for medal totals, the most medaled male athlete of these games was once again Michael Phelps with six: four gold and two silver. The most medaled women were three swimmers–Austrailian Alicia Coutts and Americans Missy Frankin and Allison Schmitt– who won five medals each. The American team won the most medals with 104 as well as the most golds with 46. Next in line was China with a total of 88 medals, 38 of them gold. Russia was third in total medals with 82. However it was the host country of Great Britain with the third-most gold medals with 29 which I will elaborate on later in this article.

As for Canada, Canadian athletes won eighteen medals over eleven sports. The eighteen medals was the same medal total as in Beijing but Canada only won a single gold. Canada’s only gold medalist was trampolinist Rosie MacLennan. Canada’s other medals were also worthy of respect too. Both of Canada’s rowing eights teams took silver. Wrestler Tonya Verbeek regained her past winning form to take silver in her category. Canada’s female synchro diving pairs both won bronze. Christine Girard became Canada’s first female weightlifter to win a medal, a bronze. Swimmer Brent Hayden won bronze in the 100m freestyle in his third Olympics. Derek Drouin was a surprise bronze medalist in the men’s high jump. And it was Canada’s women’s football team that won the hearts of the country after their controversial semifinal loss against the Americans and their win in the bronze-medal game. There were even non-medallists like Jessica Zelinka, Damian Warner, Mary Spencer and Canada’s women’s gymnastics team who won the respect of the nation.

The Olympic Games here showed that inspiring a generation doesn’t strictly mean winning a gold medal. For the first time in London,  all Olympic sports had events for women or were mixed. Also every competing country sent female athletes with their delegation. This was especially victorious for women of Muslim nations as they could finally compete for their country. There was also individual achievements here in London too.  There was marathon  runner Guor Mariol from South Sudan. South Sudan was just formed as a nation one year ago and has not yet formed its own national Olympic Committee. Guor was given the option to compete for Sudan but refused. Because Sudan it is the country responsible for the genocide of two million of his people, including eight of Guor’s own brothers and sisters, he believed competing for Sudan would be a betrayal to his people.  The IOC agreed to have him compete as an Independent Olympic Athlete, one of four at these Games. His appearance could lead to a South Sudan team for the 2016 Olympics. There was South African double-leg amputee runner Oscar Pistorius who had only run in the Paralympics previously and won a long battle with the IAAF to run as an Olympic runner. He ran as part of South Africa’s relay team and in the men’s 400m event. He only made it to the semifinals in the individual 400m but the highlight was at the end as eventual Olympic champion Kirani James did a name tag exchange with him as a sign of respect. There was the American men’s 4*400m relay where the first runner Manteo Mitchell broke his fibula halfway through his run but still ran to the exchange to help the US qualify for the finals. In the finals, Bryshon Nellum who was shot in the leg three years earlier and was told he would never run again ran as part of the silver-medal winning team. He would be chosen as the American flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. And there was delight in the home crowd as British diving prodigy Tom Daley wanted to win a medal for his father who died one year earlier. Those in Britain and the diving world were well aware of the close relationship he had with his father whom wholeheartedly supported Tom during his lifetime. He faced a tightly competitive field in the men’s platform diving but won the bronze. You don’t have to win a gold to be a hero.

THE NEW POSSIBLE: NEW RECORDS SET

Have you been seeing all those ads from AT&T where they show a winning moment and a young athlete writes it as their goal followed by the tagline: “Here’s to the new possible?” The new possibles have been celebrated as new World Records and new Olympic Records countless times here in London.  Archery saw the world records fall in the ranking rounds of both the men’s individual and team tournaments.  Athletics saw the Olympic record broken in twelve events: four of them new world records. The most amazing had to be the American women’s 4*100 relay team breaking a 27 year-old world record held by East Germany by more than half a second. Cycling saw ten world records broken in four events. All but two were set by British cyclists. Shooting saw seventeen Olympic records and seven world records broken or equaled. Both Modern Pentathlon events saw new Olympic record totals set. Swimming saw the Olympic record fall in twenty events and the world record fall in eight events. The women’s events were the ones with the most change as only two events saw the old Olympic record still standing. Weightlifting saw nineteen Olympic records set, eight of them world records. They say records were made to be broken. Makes you wonder how many of those new records will be broken in 2016?

THE FIRST OF THEIR COUNTRY

Remember how I made mention in my segment of Botswanian sprinter Amantle Montsho that one of my favorite Olympic moments is when a country wins their first ever Olympic medal? Here in London, seven nations won their first ever Olympic medals here in London.  Botswana was one of them but it wasn’t Montsho; it was Nijel Amos who won silver in the men’s 800m run. Bahrain’s first ever medal was a bronze in the women’s 1500m run won by Maryam Yusuf Jamal. Montenegro’s women’s handball team won their country’s first medal, a silver. Guatemalan race walker Erick Barrondo brought his country on the medals table for the first time ever with a silver in the 20km walk.  The victory ceremony of the men’s heavyweight category in taekwondo saw Gabon’s flag raised for the first time ever at the Olympics for silver medalist Anthony Obame. Cyprus arrived on the medals podium for the first time ever thanks to sailor Pavlos Kontides winning silver in the Laser event. And finally the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada with a population of only 110,000 had an Olympic champion in 19 year-old sprinter Kirani James in the men’s 400m run. With that Grenada set a unique Summer Olympic record for most gold medals per population, beating The Bahamas in 1964 when they had a population of 130,000. The Winter Olympic record is another story. Anyways back to the focus of this segment, one of the reasons why I like seeing a country win their country’s first Olympic medals is because you know they will come home to their country a national hero. That’s the biggest example of the London Games motto “Inspire a generation” happening here. No doubt they’ll inspire their country’s children to excel like them.

HOST NATION PRIDE

The British Olympic Committee has existed possibly ever since there was an Olympic Games. However things changed in the late 90’s after the Atlanta Games of 1996 where Britain won a total of 15 medals and only one was gold. The Olympic Committee revamped itself as Team GB in 1999 and meant to unify the team as one body, irrespective of one athlete’s particular sport. It’s formula appeared to pay off as Team GB, had set targets of medal achievements in each sport at the London Olympics and a total medal target of at least 48 medals; one more than the total won in Beijing. That seemed a pretty high target considering Beijing had one of Britain’s biggest medal hauls ever. It actually turned out to be a very realistic target as Great Britain won a total of 65 medals including 29 golds in a total of 17 sports. It all started with a silver medal won by cyclist Lizzie Armistead in the Women’s Road Race and ended on closing day with pentathlete Samantha Murray winning silver in the women’s modern pentathlone event.  In between were loads of reasons for the host country to cheer, especially on Saturday the 4th when Britain won six golds on what will be known as ‘Super Saturday’.

One of the benefits of Team GB’s sport unity was the ability for Brits to excel better than ever in sports Britain was never much of a power in. Taekwondo had only one British medal in the past and here in London they had their first Olympic champion. Previously underrated tennis player Andy Murray won the men’s singles tournament and later won silver in the mixed doubles tournament. Britain won its very first triathlon medals here through the Brownlee brothers: Alastair taking gold and Jonathan taking bronze. British canoeists won more gold medals than ever. And the British gymnastics team here in London won a silver and three bronze; the same total of medals British gymnasts have won in all past Olympic Games combined. There were also some sports where Britain used to dominate in the past that saw a return to the dominance here in London. British boxers won medals in five of the thirteen categories including three wins. Britain’s equestrian riders won gold in three of the six events. And British sailors won medals in five categories including a gold medal for Ben Ainslie in the Finn class: his fourth consecutive.

However it was in the sports that Britain has consistently done best in over the years that saw their biggest successes. It was the sports of cycling, rowing and athletics that most gave the home country something to cheer about.  The GB cycling team that included greats like Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins always got the crowd cheering especially in the velodrome as they won twelve medals, eight of them gold. No other country did better in cycling. British rowers won the most medals winning in nine of the fourteen categories including four gold. Athletics saw huge success with four gold and six total medals but it was on ‘Super Saturday’ August 4th that Britain had three Olympic champions: Mo Farah in the men’s 10000m; Greg Rutherford in the long jump; and Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon. There hasn’t been that many athletics wins by a host country in a single day since the Los Angeles games of 1984. The only sport Britain fell short in was swimming where they targeted five medals at the least but wound up with only three. A far cry from the six medals won in Beijing. There were other sports where Britain made no target and no medals resulted. Even in soccer Britain’s teams lost their quarterfinals: the women to Canada and the men to South Korea via (what else?) penalty kicks. Nevertheless it was their biggest Olympics since 1908 and it gave the whole of Great Britain something to cheer about and a Games to be proud of.

OLYMPIC LOWLIGHTS

Even though these were an excellent Olympic Games, it’s not to say they weren’t without their problems. First was to do about their security. In the days leading up to the Games, the media made highlights of the security inadequacies. This lead the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG)  to bring in British troops from even as far away as Afghanistan to help. Another was to do about the use of Twitter by some athletes. The bad tweets got most of the attention but two athletes–a Greek triple-jumper and a Swiss soccer player–wrote tweets bigoted enough to get them taken off their team.

There were lowlights during the events. First was news about all the empty seats at some events. despite ensuring fans that tickets were all sold out. Even the non-ticketed qualifying rounds of archery held just before the opening ceremonies raised eyebrows. Another controversy was a man from the stands threw a bottle at the track just before the start of the men’s 100m final and was subsequently arrested. One boxing referee was dismissed from the Olympic for awarding a win to an Azerbaijani fighter who was knocked to the canvas six times by his Japanese rival. A women’s fencing semifinal was given extra time because of a clock malfunction. That allowed German fencer Britta Heidemann to win the match against South Korea’s Shin A-Lam. A-Lam protested with a one-hour sit-in to no avail. One scoreless judo quarterfinal led to the judges unanimously deciding the win on the Korean fighter at first then changing it to the Japanese fighter with no explanation.

However of all the lowlights outside of actual cheating, the two most notable came in the gymnastics events and women’s soccer. Gymnastics first  saw scoring problems first in the case of two scores–one by a Japanese gymnast in the team competition and another by American Aly Raisman in the balance beam final–leaving the individual and team out of the medals. Their country’s respective official immediately appealed the score in both cases and both were changed to a score that allowed the gymnasts to win their medals. Another case came when British gymnast Louis Smith and Hungarian Krisztian Berki were both given the same score in the pommel horse final. However Berki won the gold because of a higher execution score. This broke the hearts of both Smith and the British people especially since had Smith won the gold, he would have become Britain’s first-ever Olympic champion in gymnastics. No doubt gymnastics scoring will be debated and reassessed by the FIG in the years before the 2016 Olympics. And a woman’s soccer semifinal received a rare delay-of-game call against the Canadian goalkeeper which allowed an American player to get a penalty kick to tie the game. The American team won the semifinal and went on to win the gold medal. The Canadians were disheartened but not enough to win their bronze-medal match three days later.

CHEATER CHEATER

The biggest Olympic  lowlights are always the cheaters. Usually the Olympic cheaters that make the biggest news are often those that test positive for drugs. Here at these Olympics the cheaters that made the biggest news were the ones that cheated through different means. The biggest news came in the women’s doubles badminton tournament. Four teams deliberately lost in their preliminary bouts so they can get a more favorable position in the elimination round. When it was revealed, all four teams were disqualified. Also newsworthy was the stricter rules in sports such as the no-false-start rule which means even a single false start in swimming and athletics would get one disqualified. It almost happened in two swimming finals but both false-starters were allowed to compete as the starts were on technical malfunctions. Another case of stricter rules came when Canada’s men’s 4*100 relay team was third across the finish line but was disqualified of the race as one of their runners stepped on the lane’s line only once. In the past runners were allowed a maximum of three steps.

There were even some cases of cheating later admitted and cheating being questioned now. First was the swimming feat of China’s double-gold medalist Ye Shiwen. Her 400m Individual Medley win was set in world record time with her final 50m swum comparable to the time of the men’s winner Ryan Lochte. Despite the controversy, she tested negative in all of her drug tests. Another swimming shocker came in the men’s 100m breaststroke when South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh won in world record time. He later admitted to using more than one allowable dolphin kick during the race. He was not disqualified. Britain may have provided some of the biggest highlights of the cycling competition but the Men’s sprint team provided a lowlight as member Philip Hindes crashed and the team was given a restart. Hindes claimed in an interview that he crashed deliberately after a slow start to get the restart for his team. He later retracted his statement and so far no action has been taken against him. And then there’s men’s 1500m run champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria. On the day before his gold-medal run, he withdrew himself from the 800m heats after 200m. The IAAF disqualified him feeling he didn’t give an honest effort. He was later reinstated after providing a medical certificate showing that an ailment hampered his efforts. Whatever the truth is, Makhloufi will continue to be under suspicion. One thing about these incidents of potential disqualification is that it shows the sports feds need to get their acts together.

And then there are the positive drug tests. The IOC and the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) have developed tougher doping rules over the last few years such as having half the competitors of the London Games, 6000 in total, being tested between the start of the Olympics and the end of the Paralympics. All medalists and fourth-place finishers will be tested. The Olympic anti-doping agency will test up to 400 samples a day for more than 240 banned substances. Samples will also be stored and tested over a time period of four year for in the case of additional substances added to the banned list. Even WADA set an ‘in-competition’ time starting July 16th and declared that any athlete can be tested during the in-competition time without notice. During the in-competition period, thirteen athletes from thirteen countries tested positive for banned substances and sent home with suspensions. The only Olympic medalist to test positive was women’s shot put champion Nazdeya Ostapchuk of Belarus. She tested positive for Methenolone and was stripped of her gold medal. New Zealand’s Valerie Adams, second-place finisher behind Ostapchuk, now has the gold medal. One thing about all this cheating is Canadian magazine Maclean’s wrote an article about it asking: “Whatever happened to sportsmanship?”

RIO 2016: A LOOK AHEAD

The next Summer Olympic Games will be held in Rio De Janeiro in 2016. This marks the first time ever a South American city will host an Olympic Games. There’s no doubt Brazil is hoping to use these Games to showcase themselves to the world. This comes at a busy time as Rio will also be facilitating to two more major events within the next four years: World Youth Day in 2013 and the World Cup in 2014.  These Olympics already have their own official motto: “Live your passion.” They will begin on August 5 and end on August 21. There are expected to be 304 events in 28 sports. There will be no new sports introduced to the Olympic program in Rio but there will be one making a comeback. Rugby will be making its Olympic return since it was last contested in 1924 although the Olympics will stage Rugby sevens instead of the Rugby union conducted in the past.

The city of Rio is planning on hosting most of the events within the greater city. There are four districts of Rio where the majority of facilities are planned: Deodoro, Maracana, Copacabana and Barra. Deodoro is planned to host most of the modern pentathlon events as well as whitewater canoeing and mountain biking. Copacabana is the perfect place planned to host events in rowing, canoeing, yachting, marathon swimming and beach volleyball. Barra will be a hub for contesting sports such as swimming, gymnastics, hockey, tennins, boxing and wrestling. Maracana will have the biggest hosting of events with the legendary Maracana stadium for football events and the ceremonies, Joao Havelange stadium for athletics, the Maracanazinho arena for volleyball and the Sambadrome which normally host Carnival will host the archery and marathon events.

Most of the events will be held in facilities that already exist like the Maracana, the Joao Havelange Stadium, the HSBC Arena, Pio Olympic Velodrome, the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre and the multipavilion Riocentro. There are some temporary facilities planned strictly for the Olympic Games like the Copacabana stadium for beach volleyball, the Deodor Modern Pentathlon Park, an Olympic Hockey Center, an Olympic Hockey Park and a temporary pavillion at the Riocentro. There are only six new venues planned for these Games like the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, the Olympic BMX Centre, an Olympic Tennis Centre and an Olympic Training Centre consisting of four halls and a total seating capacity of 50,000. The only competition venues held outside Rio will be soccer stadiums in four different Brazilian cities.

As for the Brazilian team, Brazil’s team here in London won a total of seventeen medals including three golds in eight sports. That’s their biggest medal haul ever although the most golds they won were five back in 2004. Brazil is one country whose Olympic prowess has really grown in the last twenty years. The first Olympics where Brazil ever won ten or more medals was back in 1996 and the Brazilian team has left every Summer Olympics since with ten medals at the very least. There’s no doubt Brazil wants these Games to have their biggest medal haul ever. What they will have planned in preparation for their Olympic team for these Games will be decided and carried out gradually in the next four years.

The Olympic flame won’t be lit again until the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. By now all the Olympians are either home or heading home. Each nation’s Olympic Committee will be taking home the one of the 204 pedals of the cauldron that has their country’s name on it. One has to agree the London Games gave a lot of great memories and once again brought the world together. The Olympic flame may be extinguished in London but the flame still burns in the hearts of the athletes. That’s what continues to make the Olympic Games so great. Its ability to unite the world, put on a show and inspire the young. The motto of the Games was “Inspire a generation” and you can be sure there were many children watching that were inspired here. Thank you London for a job well-done.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Summer_Olympics>

WIKIPEDIA: 2016 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Summer_Olympics>

WIKIPEDIA: Controversies at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controversies_at_the_2012_Summer_Olympics>

WIKIPEDIA: Controversies at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_GB>