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Thursday, October 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: With the Olympics on hold until next year, all we have are our memories

Three-time Olympic gold medalists Tadahiro Nomura, right, and Saori Yoshida light the torch as Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, left, watches during Olympic Flame Arrival Ceremony north of Tokyo on Friday. (Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press)
Three-time Olympic gold medalists Tadahiro Nomura, right, and Saori Yoshida light the torch as Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, left, watches during Olympic Flame Arrival Ceremony north of Tokyo on Friday. (Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • This summer’s Olympics are officially done, even before they began. The IOC announced this morning they would be held in 2021, though they will still be the 2020 Olympic Games. Interesting. But then again, the summer games are always interesting. 

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• I’ve been an Olympics fan since 1968. You will know why when you get to the end of the column. To be clear, I’m not a huge fan of what the games have become since then, at times a political football, at other times a money machine for an outdated organization.

But what the athletes accomplish. That’s a wow. Even some of those who don’t win a medal can take your breath away, as my list of favorite Olympic-related moments attest. If you were wondering, that’s what follows. It seems like the right time for it, as we now will have to wait some 16 months again for our Olympic fix.

10. Darlene May becomes the first woman to officiate an Olympic basketball game (1984): Many of my favorite Olympic moments are personal, and this is one. May was the head basketball coach at Cal Poly Pomona. And a good one. She won 519 games, a Division II record. But she also officiated and, in Los Angeles, she became the first woman to officiate an Olympic game, working the contest between South Korea and Australia. I watched the game intently. What’s the connection? In 1979, while working as the assistant sports information director at UC Irvine, I kept the book at the women’s team’s road games. The Anteaters were getting blown out at Pomona but the official scorekeeper missed a basket – and refused to admit it. I made the timer blow the horn and was explaining to the two officials the problem when May walked over, angry the game was held up with a huge lead and little time left. She said something about it wasn’t important. My 22-year-old self wasn’t going to take that. I said something like “getting it right is always important” in a huffy way. It would make a much better story if May had said “you’re right,” but that didn’t happen. Instead she made a noise and informed the official scorekeeper to add the points and get the game going again. After that, I kept track of all her accomplishments until her untimely death from breast cancer in 1996.

9. Derek Redmond being helped by his dad (1996): I will admit I remembered the moment, but not the particulars. Google helped with that. Redmond, a Brit, tore his hamstring halfway through the 400-meter semifinal. He was a favorite to win a medal. The injury ended that. But not his will to finish. He dragged himself around the track until, finally, his dad jumped the rail and ran to him. The scene from Barcelona still resonates. Fathers and sons, jeez.

8. Steve Scott finishes 10th in the 1,500 (1984): This is another of those personal moments. Scott was a dorm suitemate at UC Irvine when we were sophomores. He also was America’s most accomplished miler. The boycott took his best chance for a medal in 1980, but Los Angeles was his home and he qualified for the 1500-meter final four years later. But it wasn’t to be. He didn’t have it that August day and finished 10th, almost seven seconds behind gold medal winner Sebastian Coe. (Remember, in 1982 he had set the American mile record of 3:47.69, a record which lasted until 2007.) It was one of the sadder moments in Olympic history, at least from my perspective. And yet, still a favorite.

7. Carl Lewis wins the long jump (1996): If I had not put in the year, you might have thought I was writing about 1984 or 1988 or 1992. All important, and all part of Lewis’ nine track gold medals. But I remember the Atlanta the most, mainly because Lewis was 35 years old. It doesn’t seem all that old now, but back then it was amazing he could still jump 27-10 ½ to win another medal.

6. Kerri Strug sticks her landing (1996): The U.S. gymnastics team was about to cough up the gold when Strug injured her right ankle on her first (and part of the team’s final) vault. She had to score well for the U.S. team to win. Despite her sprain, she was able to stick her second landing and score just enough for the home team to win the gold. Call me a sucker, but the performance hit a chord.

5. Gold medal basketball game (1972): I don’t believe I saw this one live from Munich, a star-crossed Olympics if there ever was. But I’ve seen the ending enough times to put it on a favorites list, though in an “I-can’t-belief-that-happened” way. Three times the Soviet team was granted a chance to score the winning basket and the third time they did it. Even watching it on tape, 16-year-old me was pretty ticked.

4. Katie Ledecky’s comeback in the 200-meter relay (2016): Ledecky was the star of the London Games, at least in our house. She won four gold medals and set two individual world records. But her performance in the anchor leg in this relay really stood out. Diving into the water almost a full second behind Australia’s Tamsin Cook, Ledecky blew by her and won by almost two seconds.

3. Dave Wottle wins the 800 (1972): I love the 800. Always have. It is the toughest race to run. In 1976, Dave Wottle was not a household name, at least not in our Southern California home. But his come-from-behind win in Munich, while wearing a golf cap, certainly made him one. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. He tied the world record (1:44.3) in the U.S. Trials. But his irreverence – he forgot to take the cap off on the medal stand – endeared him to many, including this teenager.

2. Bob Beamon flies through the air (1968): Most memories from our pre-teen years are fuzzy. Not this one. Maybe it’s because we’ve all seen Beamon fall to his knees, his head in his hands, so many times it seems as if we were right there. Thanks TV. Anyhow, Beamon’s leap of 29 feet, 2 ½ inches was magnificent, crushing the existing world record by nearly two feet and standing as the record for 23 years. His dramatic reaction afterward will stay in our minds for even longer.

1. U.S. Olympic Trials, Lake Tahoe (1968): I’ve written on this subject before. My dad was good friends with Payton Jordan, the Stanford track coach who was in charge of the Olympic team. We drove from our Lake Almanor vacation cabin to the wooded area near Lake Tahoe – the Olympics were in Mexico City, so the trials were at altitude as well – to watch. It was a different time, as this grainy video shows. I do believe one of the cars you can see is my dad’s. Anyhow, we stood by a little fence while my dad and Jordan talked, all the while guys like Jim Ryun were running by. Unbelievable? Today, sure. But then it seemed normal.

• The S-R has a new page called Water Cooler, put together by a golfing buddy, Madison McCord. It’s full of cool items for the homebound in this time of sheltering in place. Today is dedicated to sports activity, including videos to watch and tips for indoor practice. We also enjoyed this older story from Kip Hill about NFL video games.

• The North Idaho Hall of Fame banquet has been canceled, though the 2019-20 nominations were revealed yesterday. Dave Nichols has more in this story.

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Gonzaga: The college basketball awards season is winding down as well. The Zags’ Filip Petrusev was named to another All-American third team as well as joining a couple teammates and coach Mark Few on the NABC All-District 9 teams. Jim Meehan has both stories. … Larry Weir has his latest Press Box pod, talking with The Slipper Still Fits’ Steven Karr about next season. … Elsewhere in the WCC, a couple of BYU players were also on the All-District 9 teams. … Pacific’s Damon Stoudamire won a prestigious award.

WSU: Around the Pac-12, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu was a unanimous choice as the AP women’s basketball player of the year. … The uncertain recruiting calendar is affecting all basketball coaches. … Utah’s Kyle Whittingham has time to talk. … UCLA’s Mick Cronin was District 19’s coach of the year. … Here’s a list of USC’s top 10 moments from the sports year. … Where is Arizona on the preseason basketball prognostications?

EWU and Idaho: With the Big Sky’s decision to cancel all spring activities, neither Eastern nor Idaho will have spring football this year. Theo Lawson has the story.

Whitworth: The Pirates’ season was cut short in the middle of the NCAA Division III playoffs. Dan Thompson highlights the year and looks ahead to the next one in this story.

Chiefs: The WHL has surrendered. The season is over.

Olympics: We have our favorite Olympic memories above. Paralympic athlete Susannah Scaroni hopes to be able to build her top memory in 2021. Dave spoke with her yesterday about the impending postponement.

Seahawks: With rumors flying all over the place about Jadeveon Clowney’s price and availability, the Hawks went out and made a trade that should really help the defense next season. All it took was fifth-round draft pick to acquire cornerback Quinton Dunbar. … Jon Ryan has skin cancer, though he doesn’t think it’s serious.

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• Yes, I’m going a bit stir crazy. But hopefully you aren’t. And what we are doing here helps. Until later …

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