The 2016 Olympics kick off in just over a week. The summer games, which are the second-best kind of Olympic Games, take place mostly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Besides political unrest, bodies washing ashore, the Zika virus and some buildings not being completed, Rio is all set to host the world’s best athletes.
I rank the warm-weather games as second-best because you can’t take an event seriously if it includes ping-pong and badminton. Any sport your dad might have played at a college frat house while wearing plaid shorts shouldn’t be a sport.
Changes for this year’s Olympiad include the additions of golf, rugby and kite-surfing. Baseball and softball were removed before the previous summer games. Perhaps the International Olympic Committee found those sports to be boring, and so replaced them with the fast-paced excitement of golf. It’s about time some rich kids got a chance to be in the Olympics. Rugby is new this year, too. Rugby sevens (seven players instead of 15) debuts, as rugby has become internationally hot. It’s football without all that silly over-protective equipment. And say goodbye to windsurfing and hello to kite-surfing. Sorry to all the old-school windsurfing enthusiasts; the new sport is similar but just a little more dangerous.
This year’s roster of athletes doesn’t contain as many Pittsburghers as in the past, but they all have one thing in common: They’re all women. Pine-Richland’s Meghan Klingenberg, the World Cup-winning, President Obama-meeting, ticker-tape-parade-having soccer all-star is in her first Olympics as a starter. The 2012 Olympic alternate wants to add gold to her already impressive résumé. Last week, this column haphazardly omitted a women’s Mount Rushmore, honoring Pittsburgh’s female athletes. So to set the record straight: Meghan would be on this list along with Lauryn Williams, Swin Cash and Suzie McConnell-Serio. Klingenberg, the current Portland Thorn, is even featured in the FIFA 2016 soccer video game — the first time women were included in the game.
Now back to the Olympics. From the halls of Oakland Catholic High School comes swimmer Leah Smith. How Pittsburgh is she? She is the great-niece of Pittsburgh boxing legend Billy Conn. Smith’s high school is not far from the road named after her great-uncle. Leah qualified in the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle this year. She had a standout career as a Virginia Cavalier and set many school and Atlantic Coast Conference records in her four years there. Pittsburgh breeds football players, wrestlers and boxers, but now we have swimmers too. Not bad for a city with 30 days of sunlight a year.
Our other Olympian, rower Amanda Polk, also went to Oakland Catholic a few years before Smith. Her college career at Notre Dame ended with her becoming the most decorated rower in the program’s history. A four-time All-American as a Fighting Irish rower, her career in Pittsburgh was almost as remarkable. She went undefeated in her senior year as a rower and was named captain of her basketball team. A year before that, she was a state champion. Rowing in the Olympics is generally dominated by Great Britain. Now, with that country’s recent uncertainty in the world, it’s time to take advantage and beat the Brits once again! Plus, the entire Russian team might be banned for drug use. All the cards are falling into place for Pittsburgh to bring home some gold.
Here we go, soccer, swimming and rowing, here we go. The Olympic Games always change with the times. They used to have art competitions until 1948. Motorboating — no, not that kind — used to be an Olympic sport as well. Tug-of-war, too, was on the list, although I think they should bring that one back. Dueling with pistols has also fallen by the wayside, as has croquet. And while those events might sound silly, remember, we still have ping-pong. And once cornhole gets its Olympic credentials, we’ll quickly see more Western Pa. Olympians on this list.