Fun Fact of the Day: Team USA’s Men’s and Women’s basketball teams are staying on a luxury cruise liner at the Rio Olympics, instead of living in the precarious Olympic village. But this isn’t anything new. The USA basketball team has been opting out for posh living arrangements ever since pro basketball players were allowed to participate in the games in 1992.
Earning his stars and stripes. These Rio games will be Michael Phelps’s 5th Olympics. Despite winning a record-high 22 Olympic medals (including 18 golds), this will be his 1st time carrying the U.S. flag in the Opening Ceremony. Why the sudden surge in responsibility? Phelps didn’t always have the best track record outside the pool. He was arrested 2x for DUIs: once at age 19 after the Athens games and again at age 29, with a lot of partying in between. For the past 2 years, he’s tried to show he’s changed by completing a stint in rehab, pressing pause on drinking until after the Olympics, and becoming a father. Now he’s even hinting that he could be back to compete in Tokyo 2020.
Kiwis crushed. The Olympics Opening Ceremony is Friday, but the U.S. women’s soccer team is already hard at work in the Group stage. Yesterday, they defeated New Zealand 2-0, thanks to goals from Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan. While the team didn’t have many scoring opportunities, they still went home with the win. The U.S. women’s team is the heavy favorite to win their 4th straight gold medal, after their big World Cup victory last year.
Thunderous applause. Rumor has it that Oklahoma City Thunder’s star point guard Russell Westbrook will extend his contract with OKC for the next 3 years, instead of becoming a free agent at the end of next season. Westbrook has been with OKC his entire 8-year career, but everyone was wondering what he was going to do next after his on-the-court partner-in-crime Kevin Durant left unexpectedly for the Golden State Warriors. Would Westbrook stay to try and win one for OKC or leave to go chasing rings too? So far it looks like he’s staying put a little bit longer.
Spotlight on Ibtihaj Muhammad
Ibtihaj Muhammad is a remarkable fencer. She is also an African-American Muslim woman, who will make history this Olympics as the 1st U.S. athlete to compete in a hijab. Here’s your spotlight on this incredible athlete:
How’d she get into fencing? Muhammad was always a competitive athlete, but she felt uncomfortable in many sports because she had to adjust her uniform to fit her faith. Her parents stumbled upon fencing, because the athletes wear long pants and jackets. She felt like she belonged because she was able to wear the same uniform as her teammates.
She’s a late bloomer. Muhammad started fencing in middle school, which is pretty late for an Olympian. All of the other 14 fencers on Team USA started fencing internationally at the junior level except for Muhammad. She is now 30, and competing in her 1st Olympic games after missing the cut off for the London games.
It’s a tough and often thankless job. Fencers have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to compete in the international circuit to qualify for the Olympics. And as you can imagine, it’s usually not a huge endorsement draw. While training for the games, Muhammad pinched pennies by living at home with her parents, coaching fencing, substitute teaching, founding a modest clothing line, and collecting a small stipend from the U.S. Olympics Committee.
It’s a new sport. There are actually 3 different types of fencing, depending on the weapon used—foil, epee, and saber. Saber is supposed to simulate cavalry fighting, because you can use the entire length of the sword to attack your opponent anywhere above the waist. Women’s saber was only recently added to the Olympics in 2004, because the sport was considered “too violent” for women.
A voice of reason. Muhammad has been a vocal advocate on behalf of Muslim Americans, particularly against Donald Trump’s recent proposals to ban Muslims from the U.S. This year, many people thought she should be the U.S. flag bearer in the Opening Ceremony to make a social and political statement about inclusion.
Seen and Heard
Mean Boys. Football playing brothers Martellus (TE for the New England Patriots) and Michael Bennett (DE for the Seattle Seahawks) sat down with ESPN the magazine and gabbed about everything from their past teammates to inequity in the NFL. And they did not hold back. They called Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler the “worst QB in the NFL” and Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt “corny.” One of the nicest ‘compliments’ (sorta) they paid was to New York Giants QB Eli Manning, who Martellus called “a normal white guy you see at the park trying to teach his kids how to play soccer and you know he can’t really play soccer himself.” If you have time to settle in for a long read, it’s pretty entertaining.