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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

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Closing in: Michael Phelps won the 17th medal of his Olympic career on Sunday, leaving him one short of the record held by Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina. AFP-JIJI

OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK

Latynina watching Phelps' achievements with interest


Staff writer

LONDON — For 48 years, former gymnast Larisa Latynina has held the record for most Olympic medals (18). And now that swimmer Michael Phelps is closing in on her record — he helped the United States nab the silver in Sunday's 4x100-meter freestyle relay, an upset loss to France, by the way, for medal No. 17 — Latynina is in London to observe the contemporary icon's pursuit of a once-unthinkable feat.

The Russian closed out her illustrious Olympic career with six gold medals at both the 1960 Rome Summer Games and the 1964 Summer Olympics.

She's expected to be poolside for Phelps' potential record-breaking final.

"I'll be happy for him if he does it, because he deserves it," Latynina, now 77, told reporters. "The only sad part is that he's not from Russia."

According to published reports, Latynina asked the IOC if she could present Phelps with his 19th medal, but she doesn't expect that request to be granted.

"It would be a real pleasure, really great to give him his 19th medal," she was quoted as saying in The Independent. "I suggested it to the IOC, but I don't think they want me to. The IOC has got many honored people and everybody wants to do that."

Fast and furious: Who says handball isn't entertaining? There's lots of scoring and it's played at a fast, aggressive pace. It's easy to follow, too: defend and attack.

And, as one reporter noted the other day, the ball, roughly the size of a cantaloupe, is easy to grip,

Watching the Denmark-Sweden women's match on Saturday at Copper Box, it was evident that a number of the teams' top athletes, including Isabelle Gulden of Sweden, could, with proper training, excel in other sports, including baseball or softball.

The skills required to throw from a leaping or running position after catching the handball are comparable to what a shortstop and second baseman possess, and a handball star's skills could, in time, help one be especially adept at turning a double play. Quick wrists and elbows and strong shoulders are all a part of the handball thrower's mechanics.

As Denmark and Sweden traded goals quickly throughout the match, this reporter developed a greater appreciation for the sport.

Denmark's 21-18 victory brought plenty of excitement to one Scandinavian nation, and frustration to another.

Not forgotten: Norwegian swimmer Alexander Dale Oen, who died of a heart attack on April 30 in Flagstaff, Arizona, was remembered by rival Kosuke Kitajima after Sunday's 100-meter breaststroke final at the Aquatics Centre.

"He is not here, (but) he would have performed well if was here today," said Kitajima of Dale Oen, the 100-meter world champion in 2011 in Shanghai. "I believe (Olympic gold medalist) Cameron (van der Burgh), me and everyone think like that. I am missing him and people in Norway also were sad about that.

"He competed with me four years ago (in Beijing) so I wanted to do something for him today. But my performance was a bit poor."

Kitajima finished fifth, missing out on an unprecedented third straight 100-meter gold.

Injury update: Women's marathon world-record holder Paula Radcliffe withdrew from the Aug. 4 race due to foot problems.

"However hard today is, finally closing the door on that (Olympic) dream, at least I can know that I truly have tried absolutely everything," said the 38-year-old Radcliffe.

Nadeshiko Japan vs. Blue Samurai: Goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda offered the following critique after Japan's 1-0 win over Morocco at St. James Park on Sunday:

"The Japanese media are very critical of the men's team, so to win this game was great to show it's not just the women's team who succeed. There is a little bit of pressure on us, but I believe the women's team have a lot more as they have to retain their title and improve themselves. Whereas, in comparison, there is very little expectations on the men's team."

It's a small world after all: On my flight from Narita airport to London, I sat next to a woman who had a strong rooting interest in women's weightlifting.

The reason? Her family is close friends with weightlifter Hiromi Miyake, the silver medalist in the 48 kg division on Saturday, and her family, including Miyake's father, Yoshiyuki, a bronze medalist at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

Promoting its mission: For the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Bid Committee, now's the time to generate interest in every facet of its bid. For example, The International Herald Tribune on Monday published a quarter-page advertisement to solicit entrants for its new National Stadium's design.

Miscellany: Retired NBA center Yao Ming is serving as a Chinese TV commentator, including Team USA's blowout win over France on Sunday. . . . In the Japanese Swimming Federation's English media guide, synchronized swimmer Mariko Sakai's birthplace is listed as New Jerger; actually, it's Glen Rock, New Jersey. . . . Adding to the party-like atmosphere for beach volleyball on Saturday at Horse Guards Parade, the "Benny Hill" theme song was played during a break in the action.

The last word: "The support of the Japanese people in London is wonderful. I feel like I'm playing at home. The venue is perfect." — Ai Fukuhara said after defeating Russia's Anna Tikhomirova 4-0 in their third-round table tennis match at ExCel on Sunday.



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