It’s Okay for Carmelo Anthony to Be Honest About Winning

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Many players who have played in the Olympics often talk about how there is nothing quite like it in sports. They’ll tell you that the Games are different from regular athletic events because players are competing for the love of sport and country instead of just for a team. Inevitably, players who win medals are compared to those who win championships in their sport. The debate turns to whether or not winning a championship in a sport is the same as winning a gold medal in the Olympics.

And that’s where we turn our attention to Carmelo Anthony.

You know Carmelo Anthony as one of the unquestioned leaders of the United States basketball team and one of the most well-known players in the NBA. Participating in his fourth Olympics, he has basically seen it all in his decade-plus of international basketball. The other thing you know about ‘Melo is that he’s never won an NBA championship or even gone to an NBA Finals. He’s almost more famous for his failure than he is for his success, even though he’s never had a great team around him in the NBA career. While he’s earned two Olympic gold medals and a bronze medal in 2004, he’s never earned what many refer to as the most cherished prize in sports: a championship.

So when he talks about the comparison between a gold medal and a ring, it’s probably something worth noting. Sure enough, he expounded on the subject in an interview with ESPN; this is what he said:

Most athletes don’t have an opportunity to say that they won a gold medal, better yet three gold medals. I would be very happy walking away from the game knowing that I’ve given the game everything I have, knowing I played on a high level at every level: high school, college, won [a championship at Syracuse] in college and possibly three gold medals.

I can look back on it when my career is over — if I don’t have an NBA championship ring — and say I had a great career.

First of all, notice how he seamlessly worked in the phrase “if I don’t have an championship ring”. Not only did that line add context to his remarks but it also likely saved him from further scrutiny among fans and the media. That critical insertion made it sound like an NBA championship ring would be the holy grail of his career and anything else would be viewed as a disappointment.

But there is a multi-pronged debate to be had over whether or not an Olympic gold is more significant than a championship ring, regardless of what Anthony actually believes.

For starters, not every competitor in these Olympics has the chance to say that they play in a league that has a championship. For athletes like swimmers and gymnasts, the Olympics are absolutely the be-all, end-all of their athletic careers. They’re also unlike some professional athletes in that they don’t make the same crazy, lucrative salaries that players in other sports make. After all, a guy that played 24 minutes per game last season just received a new contract for four years and $50 million because there was just that much money in the NBA this year.

Yes, I’m sure there are some Olympic athletes who would kill for that much money. But then again, some athletes train their entire lives just to be part of the Olympics. Take America’s two new favorite sports (gymnastics and swimming), for example. Athletes such as Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Aly Raisman, and Katie Ledecky don’t necessarily compete in prestigious leagues or even any league at all. There are world championships that many athletes compete in either to qualify or prepare for the Games, but these championships pale in comparison to winning big in the Olympics. Those athletes can’t sympathize with what Carmelo is talking about because they aren’t in situations where you can choose between one or the other.

Going back to ‘Melo, though, it’s understandable that he would value (or play up the value) of winning a gold medal over winning an NBA title. Anthony’s career has taken him many different places but he’s never gone to the supposed promised land of winning a title. Therefore, he has to think of his promised land as the Olympics and the ability to compete for the United States. It’s clear that ‘Melo has gained a lot of perspective over the course of his career and has definitely matured from his younger years. That should be applauded, even as he’s failed to win in his NBA career.

At the same time, he did kinda sorta admit that he’s probably not going to win a championship anytime soon, if ever. That might not sit well with the Knicks organization or the team’s fanbase, but the sentiment is absolutely based in reality. Despite Derrick Rose’s claim that the Knicks are a super team (yes, he really did say that), the team is closer to being an 8-seed than an NBA champion. Anthony realizes that and knows that he’s not going to have a chance to win a title in the coming years.

With all of this being said, I have no problem with ‘Melo taking a stand and speaking his mind on exactly what is important to him in his basketball career. And this is the reality of the situation: not every star can win a championship in the NBA. Winning a title is really, really hard; we saw this with the Golden State Warriors, the greatest team of all time, this past season. They couldn’t finish the deal against the Cavaliers in the Finals, showing us that going the distance in the NBA is very difficult, even as a 73-game winner.

Some people will undoubtedly be ruffled by Anthony’s comments. They’ll say that he doesn’t care about winning and he’s making the Olympics about himself and so on and so forth. Some people will also reject Anthony’s notion on the grounds that winning a ring is the single most important thing in an athlete’s career. Personally, I understand both sides of the argument. It’s up for interpretation.

But let’s respect Carmelo for being honest with us about what really matters in his career and his life. After all, it’s all we say we ever want out of our athletes.

Is Yulia Efimova Really the Villain We Think She Is?

Photo Credit: Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press

If you’ve been following the Olympics over the past couple of nights, you’re probably aware of the evolving spat between swimmers Lily King of the United States and Yulia Efimova of Russia. But if you’re not up on things, here’s a recap of recent events:

Efimova and King were swimming in two semifinal races on Sunday to qualify for the 100-meter breaststroke final on Monday. Efimova swam in the first race and won her heat with a time of 1:05:72. After the race, Efimova, while still in the pool, faced in the direction of a television camera and gave a Dikembe Mutombo-esque finger wag. King, Efimova’s top competitor, was watching the race on a television monitor in preparation for her heat and had this priceless reaction to Efimova’s celebration:

King would have another response to the Russian in her race, winning her heat to qualify for Monday night’s final. Her time? 1:05:70, or two one-hundredths of a second faster than Efimova’s interval. She responded exactly as you would expect: with a finger wag. After winning her semifinal, King had this to say about Efimova and the finger wagging:

Basically, what happened this morning was that I finished and then I waved my finger a little bit, because that’s kind of how I am. Then tonight just now Yulia got done with her swim and I am watching in the ready room — and there she is there shaking her finger. So then I got done and I beat her time so I waved my finger again. People probably think I am serving it up a little bit but that is just how I am.

That’s just my personality. I’m not this sweet little girl, that’s not who I am. If I do need to stir it up to put a little fire under my butt or anybody else then that’s what I’m going to do.

Some background: Efimova tested positive for Meldonium in March but was cleared right before the games to compete (more on that later). But wow, that’s some pretty strong stuff. An Olympic athlete openly saying that she’s basically a mean girl is not something you see every day. King’s comments set up an epic final for Monday night, one that would seemingly pit good versus evil, dirty versus clean, and honest versus dishonest.

Before the race, as the swimmers were standing behind the blocks waiting for the commencement of the proceedings, King had this comical “exchange” with the Russian:

Many were in King’s corner, too: Efimova was booed as she was introduced before the start of the event. After this absurd, WWE-like buildup, though, the race began. It went fairly predictably, with King and Efimova swimming one-two for most of the 100-meter duration. Despite a late charge from Efimova, the 19-year-old American held off the competition to win gold in the event. After winning the race, King commented that it was incredible to win a gold medal, especially “knowing I did it clean”. The implication was very, very obvious; Efimova had cheated her way into the race and King was calling her out on it.

Since her crusade against Efimova and basically the entire country of Russia began, King has been hailed a hero by many in the American media. Finally, here was an Olympic athlete who won against drug cheats and criticized the system that allowed them to compete in the Olympics in the first place. And King didn’t just denounce the Russians for their doping: she later said that Americans such as Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin, who had both previously tested positive for banned substances, should also be banned from the Summer Games. To her credit, she’s an equal-opportunity offender; she calls out all athletes who cheat instead of only those from one country or those she’s competing against.

But the problem is that Yulia Efimova is being painted as a villainous cheater today. Her story, in actuality, is really not that cut-and-dry.

In 2013, Efimova was given a 16-month ban from competition after testing positive for DHEA, a prescription steroid. Efimova served her ban and returned to the water; however, she would fail another drug test this past March, this time for Meldonium, a drug added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances at the start of the new year. Since January 1, it has been reported that “hundreds” of Russian athletes have tested positive for the substance, including tennis star Maria Sharapova, Efimova, and many others. The catch? WADA freely admitted in April that it had no clue how quickly or slowly the drug can enter and leave the human body after consumption; because of this finding, the agency was forced to admit that it could not determine for sure if the athletes who had tested positive for the drug had taken it before January 1. Because WADA could not determine how long it took the drug to leave the body, Efimova and other Russian athletes were controversially cleared to compete in the Olympics.

That being said, it is impossible to defend Russia against its state-sponsored doping ring, one that got the nation’s entire Paralympic team banned from the games as well as many athletes in Summer Olympics. It was very surprising and yet totally unsurprising that the Russians were not banned from competition altogether (this is the IOC we’re dealing with here). Efimova is far from alone in her participation with Russian doping; however, it is fair to wonder whether or not she fully knew of the drug’s presence on the banned substance list and if she took it before January 1. Granted, as an Olympic athlete, she should probably be keenly aware to WADA’s banned substance list. But I’d be willing to bet that the Russians don’t exactly inform their athletes of what substances they can and cannot take under WADA’s rules. In fact, it’s evident that the Russians have been breaking those rules for some time now.

And this is meant in no way to take away from Lilly King. She was very courageous, not only in winning the race but calling out her main competitor for supposedly cheating her way into the event. It is 100% true that the IOC should treat drug offenders with the same toughness that King exemplified in her words to the media over the past couple of days. King won fair and square, without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs or any other substance that would have given her an artificial edge over her competition. She should be applauded for her stand.

However, we should also ask ourselves to reconsider our strong stance against Efimova. While I am in no way defending the use of performance-enhancing drugs, there is no concrete proof that Efimova has been using during the calendar year. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that there were any banned substances in her system during the race. No matter what happened in previous years, it is more likely than not that Efimova was clean during her race against King. That means that they were on the same plane when they competed against each other and the other swimmers. King won, Efimova did not. While it’s possible that Efimova could have been doping, there is no proof.

So please, go ahead and hail Lilly King a hero today. I have no problem with that; she’s a warrior who pointed out the inadequacies of Olympic drug testing for all to see. It’s true that she’s cast correctly in this motion picture.

That’s not necessarily the case for Yulia Efimova.

The Rio Olympics Are a Mess and There Is Plenty of Blame to Go Around

Photo Credit: Agence France-Presse

Police and Firefighters in Rio de Janeiro have recently taken to greeting tourists who arrive for the Olympics with a sign that reads “Welcome to hell” (pictured above). Who knew that just one sign could tell the entire story of a city and a Summer Olympics currently in dire straits.

The most recent hit to the complete disaster that is these Olympics came on Monday when the Australian Olympic Delegation deemed it unsafe for its athletes to enter Rio’s Olympic Village, the location where the competing athletes stay. The reason why was because of the city’s failure to ready all of the buildings in the Village for their world-class inhabitants. Yes, a week and a half before the games kick off, a majority of the buildings in the Village are not ready for athletes to move into them. The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts reported that 19 of the 31 buildings in the Village had not yet passed safety tests and were not yet allowed to welcome guests. The good news is that the Australians feel good enough about the progress of the buildings’ construction that they’ll be moving into them tomorrow.

The bad news is that the government of Rio, like many other times throughout this process, exacerbated matters further through their handling of this situation.

This is due to comments from the city’s mayor, Eduardo Paes. He said that he “almost feel(s) like putting a kangaroo to jump up and down in front of their building”, which is a reference to the disproportionate kangaroo population of Australia. He also said that Rio “want(s) them to feel at home”, and if that means disrespecting an entire country and culture, then so be it. Making the athletes feel at home is one thing, but making a culturally insensitive comment is something completely different. And yet, this isn’t even one of the major problems plaguing the Rio Olympics.

By now, you get the picture: the 2016 Summer Olympics are going disastrously for the city of Rio, its citizens, the Olympic athletes, the city’s workers, and basically everyone even loosely associated with the games. This Olympics has been such a disaster because of a perfect storm of issues, corruption, and greed that has left the participants, citizens, and even the local environment in the dust. About that environment: recent tests have concluded that a motley of viruses and pathogens awaits aquatic athletes when they begin competition next week; these include rota-viruses and even a “super-bacteria” that can kill those who even have a slightly weakened immune system.

The worst part of this discovery, though, is the government inaction that allowed the viruses to enter Guanabara Bay, the site of many aquatic events, in the first place. As a condition of the city’s bid for the Olympics in 2009, it promised to clean up the Bay in time for this summer. Needless to say, it didn’t quite happen. Now, athletes are forced to deal with contaminated waters that could kill them if they aren’t careful. The United States rowing team will be using antimicrobial suits to try to combat the water pollution they are about to encounter; however, as studies have shown, the suits may not be enough to protect the athletes from the toilet bowl that is Guanabara Bay.

So we’ve addressed the polluted, unsafe water and the status of the Olympic Village. Have we gotten to the story about Rio de Janeiro having no money? Okay, I guess not.

The interim Governor of Rio de Janeiro, Francisco Dornelles, recently declared a financial “state of calamity” as the city is completely out of money. The city is so broke that it can’t even afford to pay police officers and public servants, both of which are pretty important to the city’s ability to conduct a safe Olympics. Also, hospitals and military officers are running on greatly reduced budgets, which could create a total disaster for those who will inevitably sustain injuries during the games. Finally, the city’s bankruptcy may render it incapable of paying off the costs of hosting an Olympic games. You see, the financial problems in Rio would be major issues even if there was no Olympics in town. The fact that the city must pony up for the steep cost of the Olympics only aggravates its compromised financial state.

So that takes care of the human cost of the games (for now). What’s going on with the International Olympic Committee? Oh, nothing much, just another corruption scandal involving another country.

The Committee recently announced that it would not ban all Russian athletes from participating in this Olympics, a result of a statewide doping program that many athletes purportedly participated in. (The committee did decide to ban 37 Russians from any participation in the Olympics, so not all was lost.) Maybe not so coincidentally, Russia won the most medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics which just happened to be held in…. Sochi, Russia. Yeah, definitely no conflict of interest there.

The worst part about this situation, though, is that disasters such as these Olympics could occur again in the future if the IOC is not careful. This can be prevented by having a more organized system of deciding Olympic host cities. For instance, four cities have hosted multiple Summer Olympic Games (London, Athens, Los Angeles, Paris). Cities like these have experience in hosting Olympic Games and understand everything that goes into putting it on. Those cities could theoretically be placed on a shortlist of cities that would be allowed to host the Summer Games. Then, other cities could be added based on financial status, safety, and past Olympic hosting experiences (if they went well). Finally, each city would have to be interested in hosting an Olympics, which is far easier said than done. Facilities and other factors (weather, location, size of city) will also be at play.

And then it would be simple: create a rotation that includes those cities and no others. Make the Olympics like the Super Bowl in that only very select locations receive the opportunity to host it. And hold those cities accountable when things go wrong, and when necessary, remove them from the rotation based on the seriousness of their transgressions. We would need a competent IOC to make this happen, and that is something we clearly don’t have.

The Rio Olympics may go down as one of the most disastrous of all-time and that distinction will have almost nothing to do with the events themselves. Obviously, Olympics past have had problems, too; consider the Munich tragedy in 1972 and the Atlanta bombing in 1996. But the disasters plaguing Rio could have been prevented by its government and the IOC, two groups that cannot be counted on to provide a safe Olympic Games.

And that is the biggest shame of this entire situation.

Some Thoughts on the Waterways of Rio De Janiero

Did I ever think that I would actually be writing about the quality of water in a South American country?  No, but that’s life, and that’s become sports, too, recently.

To catch you up on recent events (if you haven’t been following), the Associated Press published an investigation into the water that the athletes of the 2016 Rio Olympics will be swimming and rowing in next August.  Here’s an excerpt:

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Athletes in next year’s Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.

An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues — results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea.

It is the first independent comprehensive testing for both viruses and bacteria at the Olympic sites.

Brazilian officials have assured that the water will be safe for the Olympic athletes and the medical director of the International Olympic Committee said all was on track for providing safe competing venues. But neither the government nor the IOC tests for viruses, relying on bacteria testing only.

Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites.

As a result, Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.

Despite decades of official pledges to clean up the mess, the stench of raw sewage still greets travelers touching down at Rio’s international airport. Prime beaches are deserted because the surf is thick with putrid sludge, and periodic die-offs leave the Olympic lake, Rodrigo de Freitas, littered with rotting fish.

That’s disgusting.  FIFA and Sepp Blatter look at that and say, “that’s despicable”.  But this is no laughing matter.  And lest you think it won’t get worse, it does.  Back to the report:

The AP also measured fecal coliform bacteria, single-celled organisms that live in the intestines of humans and animals. Fecal coliforms can suggest the presence of cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid.

In 75 percent of the samples taken at the Olympic lake, the number of fecal coliforms exceeded Brazil’s legal limit for “secondary contact,” such as boating or rowing — in two samples spiking to over 10 times the accepted level. The Marina da Gloria venue exceeded the limit only once, while at Rio’s most popular tourist beach, Ipanema, fecal coliforms tested at three times the acceptable level in a single sample. At Copacabana, the AP tests found no violations of fecal coliform counts.

Fecal coliforms have long been used by most governments as a marker to determine whether bodies of water are polluted because they are relatively easy and cheap to test and find. Brazil uses only bacterial testing when determining water quality.

In Rio, the fecal coliform levels were not as astronomical as the viral numbers the AP found. That gap is at the heart of a global debate among water experts, many of whom are pushing governments to adopt viral as well as bacterial testing to determine if recreational waters are safe.

That’s because fecal coliform bacteria from sewage can survive only a short time in water, especially in the salty and sunny conditions around Rio. Human adenoviruses have been shown to last several months, with some studies even indicating they can last years.

That means that even if Rio magically collected and treated all its sewage tomorrow, its waters would stay polluted for a long time.

The diseases mentioned (cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and hepatitis A) are all bad, so bad that they all have death rates.  While these death rates are minimal, they increase dramatically when untreated.  A swimmer/rower coming down with this disease and not treating it is very plausible, the athletes may not be aware of the symptoms.  These athletes may also want to push through that pain, especially because of the absurd amount of training that goes into the Olympics.  Nonetheless, the risk of death exists for two reasons: the IOC and the Rio government.

The IOC stands for International Olympic Committee, and it essentially runs the Olympic games.  Most importantly, it’s a corrupt organization that has fallen under a multitude of controversies just in the last ten years.  So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when this was announced just yesterday:

RIO DE JANEIRO — The International Olympic Committee ruled out conducting viral tests of Rio de Janeiro’s sewage-laden waterways ahead of the 2016 games, a top official said Wednesday, despite an Associated Press study showing dangerously high levels of disease-causing viruses at all aquatic venues, with experts saying athletes are almost certain to be exposed to pathogens.

Speaking at a news conference dominated by questions about Rio’s sewage pollution problem, Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi said the IOC will be sticking to World Health Organization guidelines recommending only bacterial testing.

The AP’s independent analysis of water quality showed high levels of viruses and, in some cases, bacteria from human sewage in all of Rio’s Olympic and Paralympic water venues, including the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, where rowing will take place, the Guanabara Bay, where the sailing competition are to be held, and at Copacabana Beach where distance swimming events will take place.

In two separate emailed statements following the AP’s July 30 publication about its study, the World Health Organization said it was advising the International Olympic Committee “to widen the scientific base of indicators to include viruses.”

However, in an emailed statement Monday, the organization backpedaled and said that “WHO has not and will not issue an ‘official recommendation’ on viral testing.”

So, the IOC’s reaction to human sewage, bacteria, and disease-causing viruses is, basically, “Yeah, whatever.”  You may have heard stories like the one that came out of Rio last week, in which thirteen of the forty rowers on the United States Rowing Team fell ill with stomach problems.  The team doctor believes that the sicknesses are due to impurity in the Rio waters that the team was training in, and she’s probably right.

But the IOC, in another episode of being the IOC, not only deemed the waters safe but also denied the doctor’s claims.  Nawal El Moutawakel, the leader of the inspection team in charge of checking the waterways that will be used in the Olympics, said this:

The IOC puts on the highest priority the athletes and our friends around this table are doing their upmost so that this issue of water quality is being heavily dealt with so the athletes can compete in secure and safe environments.

Yeah, sure you do.  I’ll take hypocrisy for $1,000, Alex.

Answer?  Daily Double.  Daily Double because she said that the athletes and the playing conditions are the two highest priorities, both taking precedent over special interests.  This is a double dose of BS from a company full of it.  Is there more?  Of course there’s more!

The city of Rio De Janeiro was awarded these Olympics in 2009, giving them seven years to prepare, and preparing for the games includes cleaning up the water.  Per the International Business Times, the Rio government didn’t exactly do that:

Rio’s Olympic officials vowed in 2009 to address 80 percent of the area’s water pollution before the 2016 games began. Earlier this year, city government officials said funding for cleanup efforts would be drawn from an $8.8 billion budget devoted to “legacy projects,” such as water pollution and transportation infrastructure, USA Today reported. But Andre Correa, Rio’s environment secetary, acknowledged an 80 percent cleanup was “not going to happen” and said it would cost about $3.8 billion to establish a sewer system capable of fully addressing Rio’s needs.

A monthslong Associated Press investigation found in July that all of Rio’s Olympic waterways were brimming with bacteria and viruses from human waste. In one case, the level of water pollution was more than one million times worse than an acceptable standard on a California beach, the AP reported.

Oh yeah.  The fun starts with the money being taken out of the “legacy projects”, which were supposedly being used to help the city’s infrastructure and pollution.  However, the goal of an 80 percent cleanup was obviously never going to happen, so why did the government promise to get it done?  It’s obvious that the city did not want to let the IOC down, but an 80 percent cleanup was still unrealistic.

And even this is on the IOC, too.  With the knowledge that the water was contaminated and even a total cleanup would still leave a good deal of the pollutants in the water, why did Rio get the games?  With swimming and rowing events occurring in these waters, how did the country with the most polluted water get the right to host them in the largest worldwide competition there is?

As you can imagine, these pieces of news, along with the handling of the situation by the IOC and the Rio government, have drawn complete outrage from many.  The loudest critic of the IOC recently has probably been ESPN’s Mike Greenberg, and he said this today on his radio show, Mike & Mike:

Interestingly enough, this question was actually asked to the IOC officials last week.  This is how that scenario went down, per CBS News:

Asked whether they themselves would swim in the bay to prove the water’s quality — as Rio’s state environmental secretary did on a television program earlier this year — the officials laughed jocularly and shifted in their seats.

“We will dive together,” said El Moutawakel with a giggle, pointing to other IOC officials she said would take the plunge with her.

But honestly, if you really think that the IOC officials are going to dive into the polluted water together, you are probably losing a grip on reality.  It’s not happening.

The IOC and the government of Rio have combined to make this the most dangerous Olympics in recent memory.  We have to get past the corruption and bribery of Olympics past, because this is worse. Human lives are now at risk.

There wasn’t any bribery with these Olympics (that we know of). There wasn’t much controversy until now.  But there may be some major illnesses for the athletes involved, which is the real shame in all of this.

Every athlete in the Olympics has pushed himself or herself to his or her maximum potential.  Making the games is a dream come true for everyone involved, and, as I said before, these games are a once in a lifetime opportunity.  And, for swimmers and rowers, that once in a lifetime may involve cholera, dysentery, or other ills that put these athletes in very real and serious danger.

Danger brought about by the Rio government and the IOC.