Well, the Jewish Olympics.
On Thursday, the opening ceremonies were held for the Maccabiah Games, the international event held in Israel every four years that pits the best Jewish athletes from around the world.
And between now and July 30, when the event wraps up with the closing ceremony, you can root for these Quakers:
The rising Penn senior will represent the United States in women’s basketball. And Team USA – which opens against host Israel today in the preliminaries, before facing Canada on Sunday and Australia on Tuesday – would be wise to get the ball in Baron’s hands. The first team All-Ivy honoree led the Quakers in scoring last season and has been known to hit some clutch shots (see video below).
Fresh off helping the Penn softball program to its first-ever NCAA tournament berth, two Quakers will look to add to their already impressive year as members of Team USA. Gorney, a rising senior, and Turchin, a rising junior, were both key starters and all-Ivy honorees for Penn. They begin their quest for gold on Sunday against Canada and will play round-robin games the rest of the week
Why yes, a Penn alum is part of Team USA’s Table Tennis squad. A doctor by day and a former junior Olympian, Simon ranks among the top five percent of the 7,500 active tournament players in the United States. And the ping-pong star believes this U.S. squad can take home gold. (Full disclosure: I’ll have a profile on him in the next print issue of the Gazette.)
When I heard about the death of rowing giant Harry Parker C’57, I immediately thought to reach out to Peter Mallory C’67. Last year, I interviewed Mallory for a Gazette alumni profile on his book – The Sport of Rowing: Two Centuries of Competition – and found him to be passionate and extremely knowledgeable about crew. And knowing he wrote entire chapters on Parker – the rowing icon who coached at Harvard for more than 50 years – I called him this week to ask about one of his fellow Penn alums. Below is the interview:
Penn Gazette: What was you reaction when you heard Harry Parker had died?
Peter Mallory: Well, it wasn’t a surprise. He looked like he was going to die two years ago when he first contracted the cancer and they essentially bought him a couple of years with aggressive chemo. At the same time, when I did see him three weeks ago at the Harvard-Yale race, he looked frail and was walking slowly – but he seemed hale and hearty and there was color in his cheeks. It was really quite a remarkable performance on his part. There’s something about a man of that strength of personality where part of you wants to say this is going to go on forever. But it can’t. For a rower that’s part of the American rowing family, Harry is kind of the lynchpin. He’s just been there forever. Your emotional side says he can’t die.
What was your personal relationship like with him?
Harry knew me by name for nearly 50 years and I got a thrill every time I would walk up to him and reach out my hand and he would say, ‘Hello Peter.’ I never rowed for him but he’s known me literally since I was an undergraduate at Penn. And that has felt like such an extreme honor. Harry was one of the first people I went to when I started researching my book. And he was extremely generous with his time. He was an early mentor to the book.
What was he like as a person?
Harry was probably the most competitive guy I’ve ever met. I know a lot of Olympians and one of the common threads of an Olympic athlete is their incredible competitiveness. It’s not enough just to play harder or train harder; you have to have so much drive for so many years that it has to become part of your DNA. And Harry certainly had that. And it never stopped. His Harvard guys would tell uproarious stories about Harry competing with them – whether running at Harvard Stadium or playing croquet at their compound—and how he was always all about winning.
In terms of his coaching personality, he seemed to emulate his mentor at Penn, Joe Burk C’34. Joe was a man of very few words but Joe also had an incandescent smile. When Joe smiled, the whole room would light up. The interesting thing is I only saw Harry really open up twice. Once was in 2006 when my wife and I hosted a party at our house for the 1955 Penn Heavyweight Eight because just a couple months before Joe had passed away. And Harry was telling stories like he was 18 years old again. And they were laughing at all of them, just remembering so fondly the year of 1955 when they were the fastest eight in the world, won Henley and toured Germany undefeated. And the second time was three weeks ago when there was a reunion of the 1968 Harvard crew that went to the Olympics for Harry. And Harry came over and everybody was hugging him. Everyone had to be really careful because he seemed frail. But then everyone gathered around, he sat down and off he went – all of the nostalgia, wonderful stories, everyone laughing, people peppering him with questions, just wonderful anecdotes all around. I’ve never seen him more alive those two times.
Do you have any favorite stories from your book about Harry’s time at Penn?
Joe Burk was, at the time, experimenting with the idea that the best way to select the varsity crew would be to see how people do day in and day out throughout the year. So what he did was he sort of allowed the guys to pick the boats every day like a playground kickball type thing where you pick two captains and each one would pick one guy one at a time. And he eventually had to cut that out because what happened was Harry figured out really quickly who the fast guys were, so he would pick the guys no matter what they looked like and Harry’s boat kept winning day after day after day. So within a number of years, he went to a completely random selection of boats and he would have a deck of cards and would assign each person a particular card and just deal them. And that way no one could game the system. But the fun thing was that Harry Parker, even as a relatively small sophomore, had figured out a way to beat everyone else on the entire team. And he certainly followed through on that for the rest of his life in everything he did.
Did Penn still mean a lot to him even after he spent so much time at Harvard?
Harry was a man of few words and I’m not aware of him ever going back to a reunion on campus. But I know that he retained a great personal friendship and connection to his 1955 teammates for the rest of his life. Crew was the crux of his undergraduate life and that meant a great deal to him. He soon became synonymous with Harvard rowing but I don’t think he felt there was any contradiction in that or any conflict. His goal in life was to teach young men to go fast. There’s a quote of his that basically said, ‘Jeez, a lot of you say that you learned all these life lessons and you applied them for the ret of your life; I just wanted to teach you to go fast.’ I’m not sure whether he was being facetious because when guys would come up to him and tell him he was like a father to them and that they had gone on to various successes in whatever they’ve done, Harry was very touched by that.
Can you describe what he meant to the sport?
Harry raised the bar. Harry redefined what you had to do in order to be the best in America. But he refused to be the inspiration for all rowers. He said, ‘I coach the Harvard crew. If you want to row for me when I’m an Olympic coach, fine. But it’s not my job to go around the country and spread some new doctrine.’ Nevertheless, by Harvard’s example, everyone else was deconstructing and reverse-engineering what he was doing. If you wanted to beat Harvard, this is how fast you have to go. And from the East coast to the West coast, everybody rose up in an attempt to stay with Harvard or surpass Harvard. And that’s what he did for the sport. For Harry, it was just setting the bar high. I think his influence will continue for many years. As long as the people that knew him – whether as coach or as a colleague or as just a friend in rowing community – are alive, he will be alive.
One of the highlights of the past year in Penn sports happened last month in the NCAA Division I Softball Championship. Making their first-ever postseason appearance (more on this in the next issue of the Gazette), the Quakers lost two straight games but earned a terrific memory in the process when first baseman Georgia Guttadauro made SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays with a diving catch.
Guttaduaro’s priceless reaction to the moment was chronicled by the Penn Sports Network and is now on YouTube – with over 3,000 views. And this got me thinking. What are some of Penn’s other great moments on YouTube? So naturally, I compiled a Top 10 list:
10) Georgia Guttadauro watches herself on SportsCenter – 3,068 views (as of June 17)
“I’m Georgia and this is as famous as I’ll ever be.”
9) Alyssa Baron nails buzzer-beater in women’s basketball postseason tournament – 2,355 views
The call is almost good as the shot.
8) Penn men’s basketball beats Columbia on Fran Dougherty layup – 7,299 views
How about another buzzer-beater?
7) Penn baseball prepares for 2012 season – 58,778 views
Who knew running could be so dramatic? No other Penn sports video has more YouTube hits (as far as I can tell). The director of this video, Jeremy Maas C’11, also has a great YouTube moment here.
Duke has won two national men’s lacrosse titles in the last four years but couldn’t stop this behind-the-shoulder goal from Penn’s Rob Fitzpatrick.
5) Miles Cartwright dunks on Princeton’s face – 9,748 views
The only thing better than a great dunk is a great dunk against Princeton.
4) The final out of a softball perfect game – 1,013 views
Relive the last out of Alexis Borden’s perfect game last year – the first for an Ivy League pitcher since 2006 – and the celebration that followed.
3) Penn men’s basketball upsets No. 6 Temple – 4,373 views
Watch some end-game highlights and a great court-rushing after the Quakers’ huge Palestra upset of the sixth-ranked team in the country 15 years ago.
2) Penn beats Harvard at :00 to win 1982 Ivy League football championship – 1,078 hits
There aren’t too many historical moments on this list for obvious reasons (if only YouTube existed during the glory days of Penn sports) but this video of Penn’s game-winning drive and late-game drama to famously win the 1982 Ivy football title is pure gold. The announcing of Eagles broadcast legend Merrill Reese makes it even better. (For an older – and longer – video of Penn sports, check out this.)
1) Penn erases 14-point lead with 6:40 left to stun Princeton in 2005 – 38,411 views
About half of the 38,411 views might be from me. Try not to get goosebumps watching this awesome highlight package on one of Penn basketball’s most memorable victories.
Fran Dougherty wore a black shirt and a blue sling. Steve Rennard wore a gray shirt and a black boot.
Sitting near them on the Penn bench were two other players in street clothes, freshman Julian Harrell and sophomore Simeon Esprit, as well as at least one hobbled player in uniform, freshman Darius Nelson-Henry.
Such is the way it’s gone for the Penn basketball team over the past few years: lots of injuries, lots of bad luck, and now, it appears, a sixth straight season without an
Ivy League championship.
Days after Penn head coach Jerome Allen revealed to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia that key junior starters Dougherty (dislocated elbow) and Rennard (plantar fascia tear) were likely done for the year, Penn fell to Yale on Friday at the Palestra for its third Ivy League loss.
Despite responding with an impressive 23-pount rout of Brown the next night, the loss to Yale effectively eliminated Penn (5-17 overall, 2-3 Ivy League) from Ivy
title contention. Only four times before (in 2001-02, 1986-87, 1984-85 and 1979-80) has Penn still captured an Ivy title with three or more league losses, and the league is a lot more top-heavy now than it was in those years.
There’s an interesting post on the Penn message boards that lays out all of the injuries, as well as players transferring, quitting or being ruled ineligible, since the title drought began in 2007-08. Of course there have been other problems – but it’s hard not to look at that long list and wonder if the state of the program might be better if not for some bad luck.
Few players have had as much bad luck as Dougherty, who was enjoying a breakout junior campaign this year before getting sick with mononucleosis and missing eight straight games. And then after smiling from ear-to-ear after returning for last Friday’s game vs. Columbia, he dislocated his elbow the next night vs. Cornell.
And then there’s Darien Nelson-Henry, one of the most exciting freshman prospects in years. The burly center didn’t play during crunch time in Friday’s game vs. Yale – certainly a contributing factor to the loss – and then sat out the whole game vs. Brown with his left knee heavily bandaged.
Nelson-Henry’s status for the rest of the season is uncertain at this point. But if recent history is any indication, luck won’t be on the Quakers’ side.
Anna Aagenes C’10 (above) had a very clear message last night while speaking to more than 100 people at Houston’s Hall’s Bodek Lounge.
“Now is the time to go,” the former Penn women’s track captain said. “We’re ready. We’re not going to wait for the pro athletes to come out. Now is the time.”
Such was the theme of Thursday’s official rebranding of a national organization called GO! Athletes, standing for Generation Out. The group, which is designed to connect LGBT student-athletes around the country, was founded in 2008 under the name Our Group, but was relaunched with Aagenes, a proud bisexual woman, serving as executive director.
This is nothing new for Aagenes, who was the former chair of PATH (Penn’s Athletes & Allies Tackling Homophobia) and a leader in Penn’s LGBT community when she was a student. PATH is believed to be the first college group serving as an outlet for gay athletes, while GO! Athletes is the first national organization of its kind – all of which makes Aagenes something of a pioneer for gay rights.
And as a leader of the cause, she hopes GO! will foster a friendly environment in which gay athletes no longer feel like they need to remain closeted from their teammates and opponents – by networking with other members of the group.
One example is Daniel Gutnayer, a senior on Penn’s swim team. He spoke at Thursday’s event and told the audience that he came out to all of his teammates in dramatic fashion and that there are now five gay members of the swim team.
“I had no idea my one voice could make such a difference,” he said.
Then there’s Brian Sims, who was the first openly gay college football captain when he played at Division II Bloomsburg (I once wrote a long feature on him, which you can read here) and soon to be the first openly gay state legislator in the history of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Sims introduced the keynote speaker, openly gay professional soccer player Joanna Lohman.
“When the history of LGBT athletics is written, it will be chapter 10 before they ever mention a man,” Sims said. “Before they ever do, they will mention Joanna Lohman.”
Lohman – who starred at Penn State (“Everyone always mistook Penn State for Penn and I never took that as an insult,” she told the Penn audience) and on the Philadelphia Independence before the Women’s Professional Soccer league folded – is now engaged to former teammate Lianne Sanderson.
And she spoke of some of the difficulties she and Sanderson have faced when they travel the world to help boost the social status of young girls in developing countries by using soccer as a vehicle (through an organization they started called JoLi Academy). Lohman said children from Jamaica often didn’t believe that she was a girl because she has short hair and muscles.
“What is it like every day as a gay woman around the world?” she said. “It’s hard. It’s complex. It’s draining. It’s uncomfortable.”
But she believes it will get easier, thanks in large part to organizations like GO!, which will aim to break down the barriers that still exist in sports (it’s well-documented that there has never been an openly gay man to come out while actively playing in any of the major pro leagues).
“When I started my journey,” Lohman said, “there weren’t groups like GO! Athletes to help. Now there are. Start your own journey and let us be your cheerleaders.”
We got a good glimpse of it Thursday in England when one Penn rowing Olympic medal-winner (Anita DeFrantz L’77) put a gold medal around the neck of another Penn rowing Olympic medal-winner (Susan Francia C’04, G’04).
Moments before the emotional ceremony, Francia had captured gold in her second straight Olympics when her women’s eight team outlasted second-place Canada and third-place Netherlands in a dominating wire-to-wire victory in the 2,000-meter finals, repeating their championship performance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
On the medal stand, the announcer said Francia seemed “happiest of them all,” and he was probably right. It’s been a tough journey for her, after all, as she had to fight back from a severe herniated disk and broken ribs to earn her spot in the women’s eight boat for a second consecutive Olympics.
But there she was in England, smiling ear to ear and collecting a second gold medal from DeFrantz, who captained the women’s eight to bronze at the 1976 Olympics and later became the first female vice president of the International Olympic Committee.
Before Francia, the last Penn alum to win gold was wrestler Brandon Slay in 2000. Slay is back in the 2012 Olympics as a Team USA wrestling coach.