Rio Roundup: Day Five

SPECIAL NOTE:

Wednesday saw tragedy in the sports world, as longtime ESPN anchor and reporter John Saunders died at the age of 61.  Hannah Storm initially broke the news while reporting from Rio.  His nearly 30 year run for “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” brought instant credibility and plenty of good humor, especially when trading interesting comments with Basketball Hall of Famer Dick Vitale and the late, great North Carolina State head basketball coach Jim Valvano before his tragic passing from cancer in 1993 a few weeks after giving his most memorable speech during the first ever ESPY Awards.  He will especially be missed on Sunday mornings during ESPN’s answer to popular talk show fests like CBS’ Face The Nation and NBC’s Meet The Press in a show called appropriately enough, The Sports Reporters.

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Katie Ledecky does it again, USA basketball barely survives a scare from Australia, and rugby ends on a down note for Nate Ebner

That and plenty of other key news and notes from a busy first Wednesday in the land of sun, style, and sambas.

Starting out with another gold medal in swimming for the United States:

Katie Ledecky won her fourth Olympic medal of these Rio Games on Wednesday night, performing on the anchor leg along with Allison Schmitt, Leah Smith and Maya DiRado in the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay.  Their final team total clocked in at 7:43.03.

Australia’s squad claimed the silver, nearly two seconds behind at 7:44.87 and Canadan earned the bronze finishing up at 7:45.39.

The U.S. women have traditionally won gold in this event, which was introduced in Atlanta during 1996; they have won every Olympic title except during 2008 when they claimed bronze instead in Beijing.

Briefly looking ahead to Thursday…

Ledecky will join Smith in a preliminary race for the 800 meter freestyle, where Ledecky will look to defend her gold won in London 2012.  DiRado will also be back in the water tomorrow, where she will join defending 2012 gold medalist Missy Franklin in heats of the 200 meter backstroke.

Franklin along with Cierra Runge (who raced during the qualifying heats) and Melanie Margalis could also earn more gold medals depending on where they finish.

Basketball:

Australia was trading baskets with Team USA, and actually led in the middle of the second quarter.  However, unlike during Athens in 2004 when that team missed 14 consecutive three-point shots in an embarrassing loss to Lithuania, Carmelo Anthony took charge and made history in the process.

His three-point basket with 1:11 to play in the first quarter broke LeBron James’ brief record with 274 points.  He finished the night with 293 for his Olympic career in playing in his record 26th game for the Stars and Stripes.

Anthony began the game in third place on the all-time list behind David Robinson (270) and LeBron James (273). Anthony passed Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (256) on the all-time list against Venezuela.

The final score was 98-88, but the Americans had to earn every basket.  Thanks to Australia shooting a blistering 68 percent from the floor in the first half, the Americans trailed for the first time in a quarter when the scoreboard inside Carioca Arena 1 read Australia holding a five point lead at 54-49.  This was the first time that Team USA has trailed in any quarter since Athens in 2004.

Andrew Bogut played like the All-Star he has been in the NBA, while Matthew Delevadova of the Cleveland Cavaliers was dishing fancy passes to the tune of nine assists early on in keeping the American defense off balance for much of the night.

However, Anthony and Kyrie Irving were simply too much on the offensive end.

Carmelo Anthony scored a team-high 31 points to go along with eight rebounds, two steals, and one assist.

Irving finished this game with some huge shots in the final quarter.  His stat line read a respectable 19 points, five assists, two rebounds, and one steal.

Next up for Team USA, one more 6 p.m. Eastern time tip on NBCSN against Serbia.  Australia will play the host nation in the hopes of securing the second seed in Group A.

American rugby bows out to powerful Fiji

The dream of earning gold for NFL safety Nate Ebner died on Wednesday afternoon as Fiji outlasted the Americans 24-19 in a ultra competitive match.

However, Team USA came very close to reaching the quarterfinals.  To advance, they had to either win, lose, or draw by less than four points.  After Ebner converted on a try late in the second half, Madison Hughes had an opportunity to kick a conversion to pull the Americans within three, but he missed.

Keep in mind that when any player scores on a try (similar to a touchdown when a football player crosses the goal line), they have to kick the conversion from a similar spot where they placed the ball.  In other words, there are no hashmarks to mark the ball on extra points.  Instead, Hughes kicked it from an angle most geometry instruments would have a hard time deciphering and the ball went wide.

About two hours later after the stinging defeat, the Americans bounced back after trailing early to the host nation.  The final was USA 24, Brazil 12 as Carlin Isles compiled a hat trick.

The Americans final match on the pitch will be at noon on Thursday against Spain.  The winner gets ninth place.

As for the final matches to determine the gold, it will come down to these matchups:

The top seed Fijians survived a brutal 12-7 win over New Zealand, and will face an unexpected rival in the semifinals after Japan continued its remarkable run in the role of underdogs.

No. 2-ranked South Africa had a more conventional run, getting sweet revenge from Tuesday’s defeat at the hands of Australia winning going away 22-5.  Their semifinal opponent will be Great Britain, which had to convert on a try in golden-point extra time (similar to overtime by today’s NFL rules) from Dan Bibby to edge out Argentina 5-0.

The back-to-back world series champion Fijians are vying for their country’s first ever Olympic medal.  What a story that would be for that tiny island nation if they make it.

Women’s indoor volleyball continues to impress

The undefeated run for Karch Kiraly continues.

Team USA edged out a pesky group from Serbia in four difficult sets (25-17, 21-25, 25-18, and 25-19).  Rachael Adams (18 points, four service aces) and Foluke Akinradewo (16 points, four blocks) led the way.   Outside hitter Kim Hill chipped in with 13 points and two blocks.  The Americans are one point ahead of Japan to lead Group B.  So far, so good there.

Beach volleyball saw Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross survive a furious match with a pair from Switzerland in primetime.  A full slate of action is on tap beginning at 8 a.m. Eastern time on MSNBC and continuing on NBC at 2:30 p.m. with Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat hoping to advance to the medal round.  The day on Copacabana Beach wraps up after 5 p.m. on CNBC once the stock markets wrap up the trading day on Wall Street.

Brief Thought of the Day:

John Saunders during his nearly 30 year run on ESPN taught us a lot about helping people.  We always saw how generous he was on camera, but off camera–he was a heart of gold.  He leaves behind his wife Wanda and two daughters.  May he Rest In Peace and hopefully start some new virtual conversations in heaven with Jim Valvano.  I could only imagine their reactions to how the NCAA Tournament will be going forward, but that is another subject in my other blog for another day.

Hope to see you all then.  Please have a great night and have some pleasant dreams.

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