July 25, 2012

Let the Games begin!

Sports Columnist

The opening ceremonies of the 30th Olympiad are coming up on Friday in London. The competition actually begins a couple days earlier in soccer (they call it football) but after Friday it will be pretty much all Olympics all the time until August 12.

This is the third time the Games have been in London, making it the first city to host three times. The estimate is that four billion people will watch the television coverage of the competitions.

Some Ocean City residents have taken a shot at the USA Olympic Team. Renee Tomlin got to the semifinals of the trials this year. John Richardson had a shot at it. Back in the 1940s, Archie Harris would have qualified, possibly even been a favorite for gold, but the Games were cancelled because of World War II. Jack Kelly rowed in the 1948 games in London, though he did not medal. His father, John B. Kelly, won three golds in 1920 and 1924. The Kellys actually lived in Philadelphia but had a summer home in Ocean City.

One Ocean City guy that did qualify is John Pescatore, who graduated from Holy Spirit High School. Pescatore competed in the 1988 Games in South Korea for the USA as stroke of the menís coxed eight in rowing. They placed third. Four years later he competed in Spain in the menís coxless pair. Then, in 2000 in Australia, he coached the coxless pair to a silver medal.

Pescatore was also in the 1987 eight that won the Rowing World Championship on Denmark. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania where he was captain and stroked the men's varsity eight to victory at the Eastern Sprints. He was the head rowing coach at Yale University from 2002-2010.

This year there are some South Jersey athletes in the Games. The two most familiar to sports fans in this area are actually competing for Great Britain. Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Andrew Sullivan both played basketball for Paul Rodio at St. Augustine Prep.

Mensah-Bonsu also played at George Washington and in the NBA with San Antonio, Toronto and Houston. Last season he played in France. Sullivan played at Villanova but did not hook on with an NBA team. He has had a long career playing professionally in England, Spain and Cyprus.

Three women who played locally in high school at The Prime Events Girls Shootout are key parts of the USA womens basketball team. They are Sue Bird (Christ The King NY), Asjha Jones (Piscataway) and Tina Charles (Christ The King). All three played their college ball at UConn.

Others from South Jersey on Team USA include Michelle Vittese (Camden Catholic) and Rachael Dawson (Eastern) in field hockey; Steve Kasprzyk (Holy Cross) in rowing; Matt Emmons (Pemberton) in shooting; Carli Lloyd (Delran) in soccer; and Jordan Burroghs (Winslow Township) in wrestling. In addition, Jill Loyden of Vineland is an alternate on the womenís soccer team.

There will be some moments in the 2012 Olympic Games that will never be forgotten. There have been almost every four years. Do you have a moment that sticks with you?

Certainly Michael Phelps, with 14 gold medals, is on many lists of memorable moments. There is Mary Lou Retton earning the first 10 in gymnastics. George Foreman walking around the ring waving an American flag after winning his gold. Carl Lewis sprinting into Olympic history. Greg Louganis hitting his head on the diving board, getting stitches and then winning gold. Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals in one year, then selling a million posters.

Plus, Kerri Strug continuing to compete in gymnastics after spraining her ankle and then being carried to the bench. There was the Dream Team, the first time the USA used NBA players in the Olympics. You canít forget Florence Griffith Joyner winning three gold medals as a sprinter. Nadia Comeneci registering her own 10s in gymnastics. Bob Beamon setting an impressive world record in the long jump. And, though most of us did not see it, sprinter Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in Berlin in front of Adolf Hitler was pretty memorable.

There are also moments off the field of competition that will always be remembered.

John Carlos and Tommie Smith created controversy when they raised their black-gloved fists during the medal ceremony to protest civil rights struggles at home. There was the tragedy in Munich when members of the Israeli team were kidnapped and murdered. In 1996 in Atlanta, a pipe bomb exploded by anti-abortion extremist Eric Rudolph killed two and injured 111.

There have been lots of moments from the Games that will never be forgotten. But the moment that tops my list was in 1996.

At the end of the Opening Ceremony, celebrated former Olympians took turns carrying the torch. It was not announced in advance which athletes they would be. Swimmer Janet Evans took the torch from Evander Holyfield and headed up the aisle seemingly to light the torch. But, at the top, she passed it to boxing great Muhammad Ali, who had won a gold medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960. Though his hand was shaking from Parkinsonís disease, he lit the torch that symbolized the opening of competition.

It was one of the most emotional moments in sports history and it happened before any competition had begun. You can still see it online at YouTube.

There should be many more memorable moments coming up in the next two weeks.

Read more of Tom Williams' columns