Let the Games Begin
You would think the London Olympics have been going for weeks, what with all the noise about striking transport workers, no-show security workers, angry cabbies, mile-long Will Call queues, two broken rail lines, half a dozen drug positives, and — shocking! — accusations that leaders of the International Olympic Committee have expensive hotel rooms, free catered meals and their own private traffic lane. I say, Let the Games begin!
The Opening Ceremonies, set for Friday evening Greenwich Mean Time (noon for those of us on the Pacific coast; the stretching and bewitching of time zones will be a nonstop part of these Olympics), have already been shortened because the Tube gets dicey after midnight. What do you think this is, New York?
Thus far, the British — its capital becoming the first city to host three Games (1908, 1948) — have shown little capacity for actually staging these. But, old chap, at least they speak the Queen’s English!
The first competition took place on Wednesday in Glasgow, Scotland, but barely, when the North Koreans — they let them in the Olympics!? — threw a fit when the South Korean flag was mistakenly displayed on the women’s-soccer scoreboard. They sat in the locker room and refused to come out. Only in the Olympics can a country that is closed off to the rest of the world claim to be insulted. Who even knew what the North Korean flag looked like? (It’s red, white and blue with one big red star in a circle, kind-of like Texaco.) Now the IOC and the British will have to apologize to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a nation of 25 million people that is neither democratic nor a republic.
New Yorkers galore
Once Athletics begins, in one week, you will see plenty of competitors with New York connections, including graduates of St. John’s, Columbia, Manhattan College, Stony Brook, UConn, Rutgers, Montclair State, LIU, Cornell and Princeton. In the internationalist spirit of NYC, they are representing Croatia, Liberia, Grenada, Guyana, Senegal, Trinidad, Jamaica, Israel, Dominica, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, New Zealand, and in a couple of instances, the US of A. We will include a scorecard for you below.
Some of our New Yorkers have never even lived there, like, for example, 22-year-old Matthew Centrowitz. Matthew has been to New York many times, in part because his father, Matt Centrowitz, grew up in the Bronx, went to high school in Manhattan, attended Manhattan College, and first made his mark as a runner on the old wood floor of the 168th Street Armory.
His son, Matthew, ran at the Armory as a prep — for Broadneck High School in Maryland — as a collegian — for the University of Oregon, his father’s alma mater as well — and as a professional, winning the building’s inaugural Wanamaker Mile five months ago under the Nike banner.
Matthew Centrowitz is running the 1,500 meters, the same event his father ran in the 1976 Olympic Games. They are one of only three father-son combinations in U.S. Olympic history in track & field.
Less than a year ago, in the World Championships in Korea — South Korea — Matthew finished four-tenths of a second behind Asbel Kiprop of Kenya and won the bronze medal in a gigantic upset. The last American that close to winning the Olympic 1,500 was a New Yorker, Abel Kiviat, who lost the Stockholm final by a tenth of a second 100 — one hundred — years ago. The last American to win that gold medal was Mel Sheppard who did so in 1908 — in London.
“This is my first Olympic team,” Centrowitz told Chris Korman of The Baltimore Sun. “So I’m very excited to represent the United States in the Olympics on the biggest stage for track and field.”
It has been a rocky season for Centrowitz, however. When he cruised to what appeared to be an easy 3:53 mile at Millrose, Centrowitz looked on his way, but he hardly raced at all in the spring, and no one in his camp would say why. That’s because he had injured his knee when he hit it against a table, and when training became difficult, they took the extreme step of arthroscopic surgery in early April — something not divulged until recently.
It was months before he could train properly, and that showed when he finished eighth at the Prefontaine meet in June — his first race in nearly three months. He looked rusty at the U.S. Trials but ran well, finishing a close second to Leonel Manzano in the 1,500 final.
“Really, he wasn’t in great shape,” said his coach at Oregon, Andy Powell. “He was not where you want to be. But now I really feel that he’ll be that way as he hits the Olympics.”
New Jersey, too
The one person from the metropolitan area to win an event at the Trials in Eugene is from across the Hudson — Julie Culley, the surprise winner of the 5,000, a native of Lebanon, N.J., graduate of Rutgers and member of Frank Gagliano’s New Jersey/New York Track Club.
“I think it’s such a special thing,” Culley told Peter Gambaccini of Runners World. “Especially as a 30-year-old; it’s not as if I’m 22 and just went after it and it happened. This has been years and years and years of knowing and believing that something like this could happen. There are people who supported me through that and have watched me grow and have picked me up when I had injuries and struggles and wanted to quit."
After college, Culley moved to Washington, where she was coached by, of all people, Matt Centrowitz, the head coach at American University there. From there she tried her hand at coaching, serving a stint at Loyola College in Baltimore. But she wanted to give her own running one more try.
“I’m not someone who won anything,” Culley said. “I never won a Big East title. I never won an NCAA title. I was decent in high school, I was decent in college, and for my family and the people who have watched me through all the struggles, it’s just really cool.”
Another Garden Stater of note is Jeff Porter, the surprise third-place finisher at the U.S. trials in the high hurdles. Porter, a 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Somerset, ran a lifetime-best 13.08 to make the team. He will be joined in London by his wife, Tiffany Porter, a fellow Michigan alum, who is also competing in the Olympic hurdles, but for another country!
Tiffany, nee Ofili, is one of the so-called “plastic Brits.” She was able to switch her athletic representation from the United States, where she was born, to Great Britain, because her mother, Lilian, was born in England.
That is also the case for the New Yorker Shana Cox, a 2004 graduate of Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, Nassau County.
Cox, whose parents were born in London, burst onto the national scene when she set the national high school record in the 300 meters at the Armory a decade ago. She went on to Penn State, winning the NCAA championship in the 400 and anchoring a winning Penn Relays 4x4. At the Olympics, she is in the relay pool for Great Britain.
Half a dozen athletes from Upstate New York have made the Games:
Lopez Lomong — Graduated from Tully High, after emigrating from Sudan as a boy. Will run the 5k; ran the 1,500 for the U.S. in 2008 in Beijing, where he carried the American flag in the Opening Ceremonies.
Morgan Uceny — A Cornell grad, native of Plymouth, Ind.; ranked No. 1 in the world last year in the women’s 1,500, and a medal contender in that event in London. The United States has never won the women’s 1,500 in the Olympics.
Brigetta Barrett — NY state champion in the girls’ high jump for Ketcham High (Wappingers Falls) before moving to Duncanville, Texas, after her sophomore year. She cleared a lifetime-best 6-7 at the U.S. Trials and has a year left at the University of Arizona, where she was NCAA champion.
“She has a 50-50 chance to get a medal,” her coach, Sheldon Blockburger, told Greg Hansen of the Arizona Star. “If she has the meet of her life, she could win it.”
The multitalented Barrett is also a singer, writer, videographer, actress and pianist.
Jenn Suhr — A graduate of Fredonia High and Roberts Wesleyan College. Suhr, 30, is the American recordholder in the pole vault and a contender to win the Olympic championship. She was the silver medalist in Beijing.
Molly Huddle — A graduate of Notre Dame High (Elmira) and the University of Notre Dame. Huddle, 27, is American recordholder in the 5,000 meters and was second to Culley at the U.S. Trials.
Muhammad Halim — NCAA champion in 2008 for Cornell in the triple jump. Halim, 25, will compete for the U.S. Virgin Islands in London.
Colleges & More
A number of colleges in the New York area have alums competing in London:
Columbia — Erison Hurtault, 27, will run the 400 for Dominica; Lisa Stublic will run the marathon for Croatia. Stublic, 28, is the Croatian recordholder in the 3k, 5k, 10k, steeplechase and marathon.
St. John’s — Phobay Kutu-Akoi, 24, captain of the 2008 St. John’s team, will run the 100 for Liberia. Kutu-Akoi, who attended high school in Maryland, was born in Monrovia.
Manhattan — Aliann Pompey, 34, will compete in her fourth Olympics for Guyana. Pompey won the NCAA 400 for the Jaspers and was Commonwealth Games champion 10 years ago.
Seton Hall — Kenia Sinclair, 32, is running the 800 for Jamaica. She is the national recordholder (1:57.88) and was a finalist in Beijing.
LIU — Julius Mutekanga is running the 800 for Uganda, Jeremy Bascom the 100 for Guyana.
Stony Brook — Lucy Van Dalen, 23, the NCAA indoor mile champion this winter, is running the 1,500 for New Zealand.
Montclair State — Enrique Llanos, 32, is running the high hurdles for Puerto Rico.
Princeton — Donn Cabral, 22, the NCAA champion this spring in the steeplechase, is running that event in London. Cabral, who is from Glastonbury, Conn., anchored two winning relay teams for the Tigers at this year’s Penn Relays.
UConn — Phylicia George, 24, ran a lifetime best (12.72) for second place in the 100 hurdles at the Canadian Trials.
Other New Yorkers expected to compete in London include Edino Steele (Sheepshead Bay and Pacific School, Brooklyn), 4x4, Jamaica; Dominique Blake (Truman, Bronx), 4x4, Jamaica; Moussa Dembele (Essex County), HH, Senegal; Lalonde Gordon (Mohawk Valley, Zenith Velocity), 400/4x4, Trinidad; Neisha Bernard-Thomas (Tilden, Brooklyn), 800, Grenada; Jillian Schwartz (coach, Columbia), pole vault, Israel.
It is still not known if Natasha Hastings (A.P. Randolph, Manhattan) will be added to the U.S. roster in the 4x4. Hastings may be added because of the recent drug disqualification of Debbie Dunn.