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Golden again, US wins 1st Olympic title since '96

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Golden again, US wins 1st Olympic title since '96

By NANCY ARMOUR LONDON (AP) -- The Americans grabbed hands and backed up, eager to get a better view of the scoreboard. There really was no need. That Olympic gold medal was in the bag the minute they took the floor. The Americans lived up to their considerable hype and then some Tuesday night, routing silver medalist Russia and everybody else on their way to their first Olympic title in women's gymnastics since 1996. Their score of 183.596 was a whopping five points ahead of Russia and made their final event, floor exercise, more like a coronation. Romania won the bronze. With the Russians on the sidelines crying, the Americans stood at the center of the floor, clapping, cheering and basking in a winner's glow. When the score for captain Aly Raisman flashed, the Americans screamed and a chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" rang out around the arena. The women held up their index fingers for the cameras -- just in case anyone had a doubt. The Americans had come into the last two Olympics as world champions, only to leave without a gold. But this team is the strongest, top to bottom, the USA has ever had, and the rest of the world never stood a chance. After the U.S. opened with a barrage of booming vaults, everyone else was playing for silver. Now all they have to do is find themselves a catchy nickname, like "The Magnificent Seven" from 1996. Some have suggested "The Fab Five," but that belongs to Michigan basketball's Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Co. Others have tossed out "The Fierce Five." How about "Best Gymnastics Team in the World. By A Lot." Some teenagers might find that pressure tough to bear, but the Americans reveled in it. When they saw the Russians and Romanians peeking in the doorway during training sessions, they would add some extra oomph to their routines, the better to intimidate the competition. And when the gold was on the line, the Americans were simply spectacular. They essentially won the gold medal with their first event, vault, putting on a fireworks show right in front of the Russians. All of the Americans do Amanars, one of the toughest vaults in the world -- a roundoff onto the takeoff board, back handspring onto the table and 2.5 twisting somersaults before landing. It's got a start value -- the measure of difficulty -- of 6.5, a whopping 0.7 above the vault most other gymnasts do, and they ripped off one massive one after another. World champion Jordyn Wieber went first and did perhaps the best one she's ever done, getting great height in the air with her legs locked together. When her feet slammed into the mat on landing, she threw up her arms and smiled broadly. Anyone who wondered how she would recover from the shock of failing to qualify for the all-around competition got their answer. Gabby Douglas went next and her vault was even better. And then came McKayla Maroney, who let everyone know why she's a heavy favorite to add the Olympic gold to her world title in vault. She got so much height on her Amanar it's a wonder she didn't bump her head on the overhead camera. She hit the mat with tremendous force yet didn't so much as wiggle, triumphantly thrusting her arms in the air as she saluted the judges. The Americans strutted out of the event with a 1.7-point lead, and never looked back. Russia erased all but four-tenths of the deficit on uneven bars, where Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina defy the laws of gravity, but the team began falling apart on balance beam. Mustafina swayed and wobbled so badly on the landing of a leap it's a wonder she didn't fall off; Komova almost stepped on the judges on her dismount. The Americans, meanwhile, made the 4-inch slab that stands 4 feet in the air look like child's play. Kyla Ross, the only American who wasn't on that world team last year (she was too young), looks like a ballerina with her long legs and gorgeous lines. She landed one somersault with her left foot curled over the edge of the beam, yet never flinched. Douglas has struggled on balance beam all summer, with a fall the second day of the U.S. championships costing her the title. But she has been clutch in London, delivering the highest score in qualifying and again Tuesday night. She whipped off a series of backflips as if she was still on the ground, a look of intense concentration on her face. She had a small balance check on a leap, swaying slightly and waving her arms to steady herself, but it was a minor error. Her score of 15.233 would all but seal the gold for the Americans, and they strutted over to floor exercise eager to close out the night with a big show. While the Russians struggled -- Anastasia Grishina stumbled forward on one pass and botched another when she all but came to a dead stop in the middle of the floor, and world champion Ksenia Afanaseva landed her dismount on her knees -- the Americans kicked off their victory party. Wieber's bright smile grew as she danced and tumbled, the crowd clapping in time to her techno pop music. Fans the world over are going to have the "Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo" from the start of Douglas' music in their heads, and little girls are sure to be bouncing in their backyards trying to get as high as she does on her leaps. Raisman closed it out with a rollicking routine to "Hava Nagila." While her teammates cheered, Raisman soared high on her tumbling passes yet she landed so securely she may as well have been stepping into a bucket of cement. Coach Mihai Brestyan was jumping up and down as Raisman finished, the tears already starting to fall. But as she fell into her teammates arms, the tears turned to shrieks of joy.

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NFL revamping players' pain management and prevention programs

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NFL revamping players' pain management and prevention programs

NEW YORK -- The NFL and the players' union have two new agreements to address player health in the areas of pain management/prescription medications, and behavior well-being.

The joint agreements, announced Monday, are designed to lead to advancement and understanding of dealing with pain and to improve potential treatments. The league and union also will add to programs already established in education, prevention, and overall behavioral health throughout the league.

"I was hired two years ago and when I was hired I was asked about areas of concern," said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's medical chief. "And I said these were two areas I saw from my knowledge of someone taking care of athletes for over two decades. I felt a real need there."

"We've been working together with the players' union to come up with something that would work proactively for both. We have the same goal, to take care of the whole player and in a holistic way, and to focus on prevention."

Among the stipulations in the pain management area will be formation of a committee of medical experts appointed by the league and union that will establish uniform standards for club practices and policies in pain management and the use of prescription medication by players. The committee also will conduct research concerning pain management and alternative therapies.

That committee will receive periodic reports from a newly developed prescription drug monitoring program that will monitor all prescriptions issued to NFL players by club physicians and unaffiliated physicians.

Each NFL club must appoint and pay for a pain management specialist before next season.

All this builds on the programs in place.

"We've had an electronically submitted health record for each club in place for a number of years," Sills said. "Medical providers enter the prescriptions they have given to the players. Periodically, our medical advisory committee and the NFL Physicians Society would issue white paper guidelines around strategies. The important change here is obviously it creates a committee tasked with overseeing our educational efforts -- the best practices around pain management."

All 32 teams now must retain by the start of training camp a behavioral health team clinician focused on supporting players' emotional and mental health and well-being. The old bromide of "toughing it out" when someone has such issues has long been discarded, Sills said.

"This is not novel to the NFL or to sports," Sills added. "It applies across all levels of society at all age groups and walks of life, and we know these are issues we need to address."

While the NFL and NFLPA have had previous joint programs in these health areas, Sills and NFLPA President Eric Winston note these initiatives are a major step forward in medical care.

"These agreements are positive developments for our membership as they will provide new and important resources to help players and their families," Winston said. "Our union has always advocated for advancements in health and safety and we think this work with the NFL is another important step to improve care for NFL players."

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: OTAs Day 1

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: OTAs Day 1

Kick off your Tuesday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news including a recap of the first day of OTAs.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. Yesterday, (Monday) was the first day of the Ravens' OTAs. OTAs continue today (Tuesday) as the Ravens work on developing a new offense. Check out some of the highlights here. 

2. The Baltimore Ravens have officially announced the full 90-man roster that will be competing for an official team roster spot in OTAs this summer. 

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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