Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hometown Hero Potential: Minnesotans in the Olympics

Kelci Bryant (L), Minnesota's first London medalist

It's currently about 4 am in London, which means that Day 5 of the XXX Summer Olympiad (brought to you by IBM, Chevrolet, and the fine folks at Rick's Cabaret) has wrapped up. The Games are now about 29.4 percent complete, which seems like a natural (?) point at which to meet and greet the Olympians with ties to Minnesota; call this your super-abridged cheering guide if you want. I wanted to get this out about a week ago, and then Silky came along with that great Wolves off-season recap and the ol' lazy summer dog days mentality kicked in. And here we are, with you, our loyal readers, ready to peruse a list of "people to watch," and you can't even watch some of them anymore, as their events have already handed out all their medals.

It's this kind of dogged determination to get the story out with unparalleled timeliness that makes us the 13th or 14th best sports blog in Minnesota.

Anyway, root for these folks.

Men's Basketball:
Kevin Love (USA)
Alexey Shved, Andrei Kirilenko (RUS)--With the recent acquisitions of Shved and Kirilenko, the Timberwolves sport the 3rd-most Olympians of any NBA team (The Spurs and Thunder both have four Olympic ballers). Minnesota would be tied for first, too, if not for the necessary ACL rehab of Smilin' Ricky Rubio.

Love has shoved some lackluster performances in the exhibition run-ups to the preliminary round squarely in the rear-view mirror; he has been among the USA's top two scorers in each of the team's first two contests, blowout wins over France and Tunisia. Meanwhile, Shved and Kirilenko have looked like worthy investments, showing a cohesion that must have been augmented by being teammates at CSKA Moscow last season. The Russian pair have dazzled in their first two contests, connecting on a handful of alley-oops in a win over Great Britain and leading their team in scoring in a victory over China today.

Look out, Brazil. He must break you.

Women's Basketball:
Seimone Augustus; Maya Moore; Lindsay Whalen, Hutchinson (USA)--The defending champion Minnesota Lynx can claim the distinction of being the most-represented WNBA team on the U.S. Olympic squad, as three Lynx starters comprise one-fourth of the national roster. The U.S. women's basketball squad is one of the strongest bets to place first in the entire Olympics; some betting sites had placed Team USA's odds of winning a gold medal at a ridiculous 1-10, meaning you would have to bet $100 to win $10.

The Americans have certainly looked like the class of the women's tournament so far, crushing Croatia by 25 and annihilating Angola by 52 in their first two games. Augustus, Moore, and Whalen have all been coming off the bench for the U.S., combining to score 15 points against the Croats and a more impressive 33 points (on 15-23 shooting) against Angola.

Cycling (BMX):
Alise Post, St. Cloud--Post is a medal contender in the relatively new BMX event at the Olympics. The 21-year-old is a two-time national champion and comes into the Olympics second in the UCI Supercross World Cup rankings. She placed 8th in this year's BMX World Championships, but has placed as highly as 3rd in that competition in 2010. This is Post's first Olympics; she probably would have made the U.S. team for BMX's debut in 2008 if the minimum age for the event was not 19. She will be a sophomore at the University of San Diego this fall, and she'll be competing in three semifinal runs--and, hopefully shortly thereafter, the finals--on Friday, August 10.

Kelci Bryant, Gophers--Bryant, a communications major at the University of Minnesota, qualified for her second Olympics and a chance at redemption in the 3-meter synchronized springboard earlier this year. The 23-year-old finished fourth in the same event in Beijing, but on Sunday, she became the first Minnesotan to score a medal at these Games, capturing a silver with her teammate Abby Johnston on the first full day of competition last Saturday. The Springfield, IL, native improved by 7.5 points over the 2008 score for her five dives, which helped her leapfrog two teams and win that elusive medal.

Brittany Viola, St. Paul--Brittany is the daughter of the Minnesota Twins' 1987 World Series hero, Frank Viola, and will compete in the 10 meter individual platform competition in London. She placed first in two national championship competitions in 2011. Viola was considered a rising star in the world of gymnastics as a pre-teen when she became burned out at age 13. She then took up diving, developed and then beat an eating disorder at age 16, and has persevered to become one of the U.S.'s top female divers over the past year. Her Olympics will begin Wednesday, August 8, with her event's semis and finals taking place the next day.

Here's Frank Viola, and I think one of those two girls is Brittany.

Susie Scanlan, St. Paul (Epee)--The 20-year-old Scanlan qualified in the epee discipline (which utilizes, according to Wikipedia, the "modern derivative of the dueling sword") and entered the Olympics ranked 41st in the world at her event. A junior at Princeton University and graduate of St. Paul Central, Scanlan took time off from school to train and became one of the youngest members of this year's U.S. fencing squad. She lost her first-round match to Olena Kryvytska of the Ukraine, 15-13, on Sunday, and now has about two weeks to just chill around the Olympic Village.

Alex Meyer, Rochester--Meyer was born in Rochester, but mostly grew up in upstate New York. He qualified in the 10k open water freestyle swimming event by placing 4th in last year's World Championships in the event, making him an outside medal favorite in London. The 24-year-old won the 2010 25km open water World Championship as well, and I got tired just thinking about swimming 15 miles quickly. He'll compete on Friday, August 10.

Rachel Bootsma, Minneapolis--At 18, Bootsma is one of the youngest members of the U.S. Olympic team. She qualified for the 100m backstroke by finishing second in the event at the national Olympic trials. She'll head to UC-Berkeley as a freshman this fall. Rachel finished 11th in the event--finishing with a better time than 3-time medalist Kirsty Coventry from Zimbabwe--which was won by U.S. teammate and breakout star of these Games, Missy Franklin. How many other freshman at UC-Berkeley will be able to say they are one of the 11 best at something in the world? I say 20, maybe 25 other freshmen tops.

Jillian Tyler, Gophers (CAN)--The Didsbury, Alberta (pop: 4,957), native won the NCAA championship for the Gophers as a senior in 2011 in the 100-yard breaststroke and qualified for the Olympics for the second time in the same event. She finished 13th at Beijing and was eliminated in the semifinals once again this year, finishing 14th in Saturday's semis.

Track and Field:
Amanda Smock, Melrose--The 30-year-old Smock (Finally! Someone older than me! You're tellin' me there's a chance!) will be the United States' only representative in the triple jump competition after she won this year's national championship with a jump of 13.94 meters. The top competitors in her event usually hit around 15 meters; as such, Smock is not really seen as a medal threat in London. She was a three-time Division II triple jump champion at North Dakota State, and (FUN FACT ALERT!) her husband is a patent attorney.

Lindsey Berg, Gophers--Berg is a Honolulu native, but for some reason she chose to come to Minnesota for college and was a fixture on the All-Big Ten volleyball team from 1999 to 2001. The 32-year-old setter was a co-captain on the 2008 national team that won a silver medal, and London will be her third Olympics. Berg is a two-time USA Volleyball Female Indoor Athlete of the Year, and her team is expected to be a medal contender once again. The U.S. women are tied atop their preliminary group right now; they beat Brazil, who clipped them in the gold medal match in 2008, on Monday three sets to one.

Lindsey Berg, setter. She will--she WILL--........set you.

Ali Bernard, New Ulm--Bernard wrestled for New Ulm High School and in college at the University of Regina up in Saskatchewan. The 26-year-old finished fourth in her weight division in Beijing, and she'll wrestle in the 72kg division in London. She kind of backed into her spot on the team; she lost to Stephany Lee in the finals at the Olympic trials, but she gained a berth on the team when Lee tested positive for marijuana. She competes on Thursday, August 9.

Chas Betts, St. Michael--Betts is a former Minnesota high school champ who will compete in the 84kg Greco-Roman division in London. He's finished second and third and fourth and fifth in a bunch of competitions; I don't really know what any of these are but some of them sound pretty cool.

Sam Hazewinkel, Rosemont--Hazewinkel will compete in the lowest freestyle weight class at the Olympics: 55kg, or 121 pounds. He's won the U.S. national championship twice and is currently the 2nd-ranked American in his weight division. Sam went 140-0 in his high school career, which is a lot more impressive than a 139-1 record would have been.

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